It’s two years until the World Cup. No, not the Germany World Cup where we were robbed of hosting opportunities. The less said about THAT World Cup the better. Fuck New Zealanders. Although there were some good matches but I won’t talk about that. I’ll talk about this 2010 World Cup that I’m looking forward to. South Africa’s World Cup. Africa’s World Cup. No African country has won the Cup yet unless we choose to include the African-immigrant team of France in 1998. There is plenty of excitement in the air. Politics. Football. Most Africans I talk to are convinced that this time around, the trophy will stay on this continent. Bafana Bafana are doubtful though. Young black South Africans have been returning back to the country from England and America in droves. Lured by advertisements of a South Africa alive with possibilities.Young white South Africans have been departing in equal numbers to England, America, Australia. Crying about reverse racism and lack of jobs due to employment equity. An English comedian we saw performing last time we were in London referred to the white Saffers in England as “them exiles from democracy”. But being that some dead men in history created the borders we now know …maybe they are just world citizens.
Mbeki just lost his third term bid to be President of The Party in Polokwane. Germaine and Noma are despondent about it. They were under some illusion that if he stayed in power he’d give South Africa its first woman President.
When Gladness overheard them she said, “Hayi sukha. We can’t have a woman for a President. If ANC decided on a woman for a President I won’t vote for them.”
Germaine and Noma looked at each other, shook their heads and Noma mouthed, “Phallic women.”
Michelle is not sure that Jacob Zuma is the best choice for the country but suggests thathe’s more congenial, more of a people’s person, and he probably won’t become President of the country anyway with all the legal issues he has. Liam and Ben are enjoying all this. Their side won. After Julius Malema told the nation he’d kill for Zuma, the two of them applauded him. “That young man is a visionary,” Liam said. “He is the future of The Party.” They believe Zuma will be President, and if he doesn’t, the country will bleed. And they’ve both been strong campaigners for Zuma,so Liamsees a cabinet post for himself after 2009. “And uMsholozi knows how to reward his friends, unlike certain people,”he is fond of saying. The country is going through a change. It is unclear, at this juncture, whether it’s for better or worse. Even investment bankers are talking politics. At meetings, at lunch, at dinner parties, at cocktail parties there are constant discussions on how politics will affect the economy. Will the rand fall? Should we have more offshore investments?
Swimming South Africa invited Zuko for trials and he’s made their Under-10 team. His coach, a guy from one of the local swimming clubs, believes he has a chance to make it all the way to an Olympic Gold in the next seven years. The coach says Zuko’s swimming butterfly faster than boys three years older than him.
Everything is changing.
I too, feel the need for change.
I knew when I started working at this investment bank that at some point I’d reach the glass ceiling. I think I’ve hit it now.I know I’ll never rise above the position I hold now at “The Firm”, as I’ve started calling it mentally. There was a time when I’d be excited about getting up and going to work, pulling in new clients. Now I feel jaded. I need a new challenge. And I’ll not find it in this place.
I meet up with Liam at a Camp’s Bay restaurant for some brotherly advice.
Before I can tell him my problems, he tells me Mxolisi ran away.
“Why? I thought he had it pretty good with you paying for his school fees and all?” I ask, shelving my problems for a moment.
“I think maybe he fell in with a wrong crowd in Joburg. Mhlawumbe I should’ve just let his mother send him to a private school instead of paying for some private school education. Kid had become ungrateful and has a sense of entitlement. But he’s eighteen anyway and he’s matriculating this year so that’s his problem.”
“Ag but his mum must be worried, no?” I ask.
“Yes she is but what can she do? She’s got another daughter emakhaya who needs her money for school fees so she’s focusing on that now,” he says. “But we aren’t here to talk about my housekeeper and her children. You, little brother, sounded as though you had something you wanted to get off your chest?”
I give him the whole glass ceiling spiel.
“So, what do you think I should do?” I ask. “I mean, I initially planned on quitting and starting consulting on my own like I told you before, but I’ve given all the worthwhile clients away anyway. And although Germaine is making good money with her ceramics and I’ve some savings that would see us through for the better part of two years, I still need to have a salary of sorts,” I say, clarifying.
“Listen, bra,” Liam says, pushing his chair closer to mine and putting his hand on my shoulder, “What are you stressing about? The contract of our current CEO at Mokoena Holdings is about to come to an end. I’ve to resign the day to day running of things because I’ll probably be in cabinet next year. I need someone I can rely on. Why don’t you take it on?”
“Oh no, Liam. I wasn’t bringing this up so you could give me a job,” I protest. “I just want your brotherly advice.”
“And I am giving it. Come work for me,” he says.
“I don’t know, man. Working with family can be messy and you know how you are,” I say.
“How I am? How am I? Listen, man, Martin, I’m willing to sign a document here and now of non-interference if you take up the post. I know you’re brilliant at what you do and would not do anything to run my company down. Come on now little bra,” he says.
I shake my head. “That’s not what I’m worried about. I’m worried that I will be forced to employ some of your comrades who are not up to standard.”
Liam gives a loud laugh. “Listen, man, I love my comrades as much as the next person, but I love my profits more. I’m not going to do anything to jeopardise that. Besides, having you at the helm will ensure that whenever someone asks me for a job for their cousin or nephew, I can shift it off you. I will be hands off, I promise.”
“I don’t know, Liam. Let me talk it over with Germaine and get back to you, okay?” I say.
“That’s fine. But remember, it’s a limited time offer. The current CEO’s contract runs out in September and we need to inform him whether we’ll be renewing it at least three months in advance,” he says.
“That’s fine, bra. By the way,” I say.
“Yes?” he asks.
“Now that you are politically and economically powerful and are about to just get more powerful, any word on getting the twins?” I ask.
I seem to have caught him unaware with the question. There is fleeting anger in his eyes. I wouldn’t have noticed if we hadn’t grown up together, because his eyes quickly become hooded and he says noncommittally, “I got some lawyers working on it.”
I lift my hands and say, “Didn’t mean to pry, mate. I just worry about you sometimes. You sometimes seem to live quite a distant life and…”
“Don’t worry about me, bra,” he says, punching me on the shoulder. The punch is quite painful, I feel a touch of anger in it.“I am a big boy. And besides, I have my lovely nephew to think about when I am feeling fatherly. And talking of the Lil Cadre, how is his swimming going?” he asks, in a not too subtle attempt to change the topic.
I let it be and reply. “Pretty well, actually. He just broke the South African record for his age group.”
“No shit?” he says, laughing and slapping the table in excitement. “Why the fuck didn’t you say so earlier? Maan! My Lil Cadre! Tell him I’m coming to take him on an outing this weekend. Just him and his Comrade Uncle Swart. Fuck, this calls for another whiskey,” he says, signalling the waiter.“No. Not the same. Give us something extra matured. Two doubles on the rocks,” he tells the waiter.
The waiter nods.“Absolutely, sir.”
“Sure sure, boy,” Liam nods. A major part of the reason why he loves coming to this place is that it has white waiters. Liam would never have referred to a black waiter as “boy”. But the man of contradictions that my brother is, he and his comrades will spend the night here complaining about how they took everything from us before leaving a staggering tip for the white waiters because “we must show them we are not just any darkies”.
The drinks come and we continue chatting about this and that with Liam still trying to convince me, so many years later, that I should become a member of The Party.
I know it’s time for us to leave when Liam starts talking about how much he misses our dad with tears streaming down his face. Sometimes booze is like onions. It makes you cry.
Gugulethu was my tribute to Cape Town. It had some of the most poignant and memorable scenes of the township. A hoekie here with smoke coming out of the door. A spaza shop there with a man with a scarred face. A smiling teenage girl there, fetching water from a pump. I added extra clay to make the images. And stencilled in some pictures drawn on of paper to make it all come out. Where Clandestine has been my most well known piece internationally, Gugulethu is a South African favourite.
I loved my life and my friends in Cape Town. But there were times that this city felt too small for me and it was beginning to feel that way now. I still got my clay and other general craft supplies from Cape Pottery Supplies, but I had also found some speciality shops for my glazes and stains. We’d bought the house next door to the Girls’ Club because we had enough money to extend so my buddy Scarface was now our immediate neighbour – although I didn’t go to Gugs as often nowadays, unless I had my own project to take care of. There was no more training to be done. With twenty women in the ogrnaisation,there weren’t any more new intakes and I’d given as much as I could give. Nomakanjani Girls’ Club didn’t need me and I thought I should perhaps step back and just be a shareholder and not be that mlungu who holds on until she is politely told she’s no longer needed.
And there were too many of my fellow English here who disparaged everything about “this government, these people” while living the type of life they could never afford at home. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t want to be the only English person at the dinner party– although I became less and less that and more South African the longer I stayed. It just would have been nice once in a while to get some positive comments about the country at polo games or when we attended Remembrance Day at one or other of my fellow expatriates’ homes. And yes, I was getting invited to polo meets. It appeared my art had bought me the name. Noma said I should stop complaining so much.
“There are people who’re dying to be part of those aristocrat and pseudo-aristocrat English circles of yours and besides, the English who do that have integrated well. It means they have become South African,” she said.
“How is that?” I asked.
“Because, my dear, no-one does victimology like South Africans. These black people are taking our jobs according to white South Africans. And these white people can’t sell back land they never bought according to black people.We pull race cards and reverse race cards. The country will probably elect Zuma as President because he too is a victim – after all, these Mbeki people were trying to trap him and keep him down. And South Africa loves a victim because we’re all victims, see?”
All this was said to nods and much “Yes, ja, yes’s” from Michelle. So I decided maybe I wasn’t South African enough after all, although I was now officially a citizen. Regardless of that, I really felt the need to get out of Cape Town. And it looked like I wasn’t the only person in need of a change of scenery.
Dear Martin, who used to be enthusiastic about his work and would talk ceaselessly about the new big fish he had pulled, was leaving home later and later and coming back earlier and earlier. He had had some problems at the company in the past, but before he would always talk about it and we would find some solutions. Now, it seemed like he didn’t believe, he had lost it, and was just hoping someone would ask him to resign. We had enough savings and we really could’ve moved elsewhere but I waited for him to say something as he seemed to be stuck in some macho “provider” zone. I decided if he asked for my opinion I’d give it but not a moment sooner.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t as though we sat in Cape Town throughout the year and beautiful though it is, we were getting tired of the same places and same faces. I did my fair share of travelling with exhibitions and workshops and talks at least six times a year. Martin would travel to the financial hubs of the world too. It used to be Tokyo, London, New York. At some point in time the dynamics changed and it had become Beijing, London, New York. He didn’t care for Beijing. And once a year, as a family, we did a trip to some other African country. We figured it was the thing to do if one lived on a continent with 54 countries.
All the travels on the continent notwithstanding though, I was feeling caged in at the foot of Africa. The nomad in me seriously needed to be away from Cape Town.
Then one night Martin came home with a spring in his step, kissed me with his whiskey breath and said, “Baby, we need to talk.” He sounded serious.
So I went and poured myself a glass of whiskey on the rocks – if I were going to have a serious conversation with a man who’d been drinking, I needed to sacrifice some of my sobriety too. More honestly, I just really needed a drink. It had been a long day working on the Gugulethupiece. And after that I had to help out Zuko with his homework. Planets? I didn’t remember the planets. Lately I’d begun to wonder whether the homework my son got at school was to help him become a success in his future life or to just point out to him that his parents weren’t that clever.
“Er mummy, Pluto is no longer a planet,” he had said to me earlier.
“Then, if you know so much, why didn’t you just do it yourself?” I asked irritably. And why was he learning about planets anyway? I was pretty sure his teacher did not know all there was to know about planet Earth. I was sure if you asked her about neighbouring Namibia, Botswana ore Swaziland, she’d be confounded by some of the information about those countries. So why oh why was she teaching about the rest of the universe?
“Because, mummy, you said I should bring my homework so you can help me with it,” he answered matter-of-factly.
And in fact, I had.
“Oh, so now you are suddenly the child who pays attention and yet, when Gladness or I tell you to put your clothes in the laundry basket, you don’t.”
“Yes?” I snapped.
“I just wanted to say I love you.”
That took the snappy-sounding words out of my mouth. “I love you too, darling.”
And then I kissed him.
And did that overcompensating thing that mothers do when they have been a little too irritable. I hugged him tight and felt guilty for snapping.
By the time Zuko finished his homework and gave me a goodnight kiss, telling me, as he always did, that I was “the most beautiful girl in the world”, I was exhausted at playing nice mummy. All this to explain why I needed that whiskey on the rocks before listening to Martin talk. Because the truth of the matter is that when someone says “we need to talk” what they actually mean is “I need to talk, you need to listen, and you can throw in a question or two when I’m done”.
“Okay, so what’s up?” I said as I sat down on the couch diagonal to him. It had sounded like the type of conversation that needed me to look at his face.
“Liam offered me a CEO position for Mokoena Holdings,” he said.
“He has been doing that since you returned, how is that news?”
“It’s news baby because I am considering it.”
“You are?” I said.
“But what about everything you worried about when he first offered it to you, the interference, the cadre deployment in a private company and all that?” I put my hand to my mouth. Michelle and Noma were wrong. I was more South African than they realised.
Martin noticed it too and started laughing, “Did you just say ‘cadre deployment’, babe? I swear it, next you will be calling Liam Comrade Swart.”
“Ja whatever. Go on. So what does this mean for us?” I asked.
“It means leaving the South Africa you know for a new South Africa. It means moving to Johannesburg. And it means finding a school for Zuko. We have savings from all these years of not paying rent so we should finally be able to buy our own place and not live in mum’s house,” he answered.
“Leaving Cape Town? When would that be?” I asked.
“The current CEO’s tenure ends in September so ideally in July or August, do you want to think about it?” he asked.
“No,” I said shaking my head, “Idon’t want to think about it.”
He looked downcast. “So you’d rather I didn’t take it then? Because I can’t be in Johannesburg without you two.”
I looked at him with what I hoped was my most stern looking face and said, “I don’t want to think about it because I think it’s a brilliant idea. Can Comrade Swart call his networks to find a school for the boy? Ideally somewhere close to a good swimming pool?”
Martin grinned and pulled me over to him. “You tricked me!” he said, mimicking another Zuko-ism.
“I’m still good, aren’t I, O’Malley?” I said, winking.
“Oh, baby, you are better than good, you are awesome. Let’s go shag.”
“I don’t think so. This whiskey made me sleepy. Don’t you sometimes just want to be held and not be treated like a piece of meat?” I said as I put my hand in his and he pulled me up.
No sooner had Martin signed the contracts sealing our move than the country started burning. And it all started in Johannesburg.
The international and local media call it xenophobic attacks.
Liam called it negrophobic attacks.
“It’s hatred of blackness, bra. You can’t call it xenophobia since we never created the borders and in any case, there are no white or yellow people being killed in all this. Just other blacks.”
“Whatever, Liam,” I said, still shocked.“Whatever you call it, it’s unbelievable.”
Zimbabweans, Mozambicans AND South Africans were beaten up and necklaced. Their shacks were raided. On the television news, a fifty-something-year-old woman ran with a refrigerator taken from one of her non South African neighbours. She was laughing as she did it. I wondered whether she would still laugh if the footage was replayed back to her. On talk radio, a man was being interviewed in one of the burning neighbourhoods.
The interviewer asked, “Why are you killing foreigners?”
“Because they’re taking our jobs,” he answered.
“Sir, what are your qualifications?”
It turned out the man being interviewed was a primary school dropout. Even if there were no “foreigners” (and I use this word very loosely never having looked at myself as a “foreigner” anywhere in the world), he would probably be unemployed except as a manual labourer, a job he probably wouldn’t take anyway.
Newspapers reported that the two major reasons for attack on “foreigners” were that “they are taking our jobs and taking our women”. It would have been laughable if it weren’t so tragic. The patriarchal sense of entitlement to everything and everyone including other human beings didn’t escape me.
Martin and I went shopping. We bought bread, milk, diapers, and sanitary towels to distribute to a nearby camp that had been set up for victims of violence in Cape Town. All our friends contributed something. I took Zuko with me to some of these camps so he could learn to love his neighbour and have a sense of how lucky he was. Alone in the bedroom, I recounted to Martin some of the horror stories: of mothers who saw their husbands being killed, of bloodthirsty neighbours who used to borrow sugar from their neighbours but had no qualms in running them out of their homes, of women raped for sleeping with foreigners. I cried at the senselessness of it all. Martin would hold me, more ashamed of his South African heritage than he’d ever been. Feeling as guilty as if he’d lit the match that killed the necklaced man.
Zuko asked him in the first week of the madness, “Daddy, why are they killing Africans?”
I saw him sit our ten year old son down and explain to him that contrary to the beliefs of his South African private school friends, African is not the other. We too are African. I’m not sure Zuko understood it all.
JOURNAL OF ZUKO SPENCER-O’MALLEY
9 June 2008
I hate watching the news.
The cover of this book says Diary 2008. It was one of the presents I got from nana and grandpa Gianni for Christmas last year. Grandpa Gianni isn’t old. But he said I should call him grandpa. The diary has nana and grandpa on the cover. She said they will give me one every year so I can improve my writing. Nana said I should use it to write my feelings or thoughts. When I am happy or sad. Grandpa Gianni said real men cry sometimes, and it is good. Comrade Uncle heard and whispered to me that real African men don’t cry, and we are real African men. Daddy said diary sounds girly and I should call it a journal instead. Mummy called it semantics and laughed. Sometimes grown-ups can be sooooo confusing! Oh, and I need to look in the dictionary to see what the meaning of semantics is.
So I am writing this in my journal. NOT diary. I had nothing to say earlier in the year so I did not write.
I wish I did not have to watch the news. Daddy and Mummy have been getting me to watch the news since I was seven and then I go to bed. So that I can know what is happening in the world. Nowadays my bedtime is 8 so I spend the last 30 minutes reading in bed. On the news the other day, I saw a man getting burnt. Mummy tried to cover my eyes but I had already seen. People were chased away from their homes. Women who sell tomatoes and onions had their things overturned as they were chased by people with sjamboks. Daddy spelt it for me. It is a South African whip. The people who were chasing others also had sticks and other weapons. At school, my teacher – Ms Clarke is her name – told us that the xenophobic (she taught us how to spell the word. Such a pretty word. Such an ugly meaning) attacks happened because the government does not know how to control people coming in from Africa. So South Africans get angry because the Africans take away their jobs and things. When I asked Daddy why they were beating up Africans he got cross. He told me I am also an African. Mummy got me to help make soup and took me to give bread and soup to one of the camps where the victims of xenophobia are staying. They stay in tents and there are some toilets. The toilets are the kind one sees at shows and things. But these ones do not flush so when I went into one it was very dirty. As mummy, Aunt Noma and their other friends were giving out the soup, I talked to some of the boys. They were not clean but they were nice. I played football with them and scored a goal. On Saturday, Comrade Uncle came and picked me up from home for shakes. I told him what my teacher said. He said Ms Clarke does not know what she is saying. Well he said she was full of bull… and I told him he said a bad word and he said sorry. So he told me that my teacher does not know what she is talking about. He told me that those Africans have a right to be here just as we do. No African is a foreigner on African soil, he said. Then he told me that the people who were beating up others were ignorant and lazy. They want the government to do everything for them. They are jealous of their neighbours instead of learning from them.
I keep having bad dreams of that man with the tyre around his neck burning while people are standing and laughing. If I were President, I would ask the army to shoot all the people who were laughing instead of helping that man. South Africans are not nice people. I am a nice person. I am not South African. Just African like Comrade Uncle said.
20 August 2008
We have just returned from holiday in England and Italy. In England, I played with my cousins Vidi and Pashi. They are not really my cousins. Their mum and my mum are best friends but they are the only sort-of cousins I have. I’m now taller than both of them although Vidi is older than Pashi and me. Uncle Anil says I will be looking down on him next year if I keep growing this fast. Aunt Priya and Uncle Anil also bought me lots of presents. I now have some cool games for PS3 and cannot wait to play some of them with Tyrone. I got to stomp on the grapes at grandpa Gianni’s farm in Italy. It was squishy and weird. One of the workers let me drink the wine. It was yucky. I do not know why mummy and daddy can drink a whole bottle. I will never drink when I grow up. Yuck!
So anyway. My mummy and daddy told me while we were on holiday that we are going to move to Johannesburg next year. I am sad that I will leave my school, my friends especially Tyrone, Aunt Noma and everyone. I asked them what I will do about my swimming. They said I can swim in Johannesburg. But my coach is in Cape Town! I was talking about it to Comrade Uncle. He told me that I should not worry. That there are swimming pools where I can practice my swimming in Johannesburg. That I should look at it as an adventure. Then he said we are moving because daddy is going to be working in his company. Daddy and mummy had already told me. Comrade Uncle says it’s better than daddy being a slave for white people because Mokoena Holdings is family business. And when I am grown, when I retire from swimming, I will take over and run everything. I will never retire from swimming though. And he said because he is mostly at the Party Headquarters now, we will get to hang out more. He told me about the rides we can go to, the zoo, Gold Reef, and a lot of other fun stuff. And he reminded me that Tyrone will be visiting his other mother in Johannesburg, Aunt Tori, during the holidays so I can always see him. He also says he will look for the best schools for me for next year. I am sad that there are no beaches in Johannesburg, but Comrade Uncle said there are better beaches in Durban. It’s warmer than here and there is Shaka Marine World. I like when Comrade Uncle calls me Lil Cadre. It makes me feel like we are best friends and I am his son. He never gets angry or tell me he is disappointed in me like mum and dad say when I do something wrong.
I guess moving is not so bad. I will try to look at it as an adventure and hope it’s a fun adventure.
Comrade Uncle is so totally my favourite uncle.
I’m just joking. “So totally” sounds like some silly girls who watch Hannah Montana. I am not a girl. I am an African man.
9 October 2008
Yes I know. I am a bad correspondent (mummy just used that word in a sentence yesterday and I looked up the meaning. It is my big word for the week that is why I am using it). I am a bad correspondent. I should write more often, but a lot has been happening so I could not write. The other Sunday we were at home. Mummy got a call from Auntie Noma telling her to put on SABC 2. So she put on the TV and called my father. My mummy kept saying “This is so wrong.”It must have been very wrong because mummy always says if you use “so” later on in the sentence you must use “that” and she did not. She just said, “This is so wrong.” President Thabo Mbeki is no longer the President of the country. We now have a new President. Only Karabo, the other African boy in my class, and I know how to say his name. Ms Clarke and my other classmates cannot say his name. He is called Kgalema Motlanthe. Auntie Noma came by the next weekend. I heard her say to mummy, “I am not voting for that Msholozi.” And mummy said, yes, as if there are not enough criminals and sexists running the world. She said it was bad enough that we have Bush and Blair and that she was so ashamed she voted for Blair. Then they got more wine and started talking about the evil that men do or something. When Comrade Uncle came by later, I asked him whether Msholozi was a bad word. He knows better Xhosa than Comrade Daddy and I did not want to ask mummy, she would say I was listening to big people’s talk. He laughed and yelled out, “Germaine, what have you been teaching your son?” so mummy asked what? And he told her my question. I thought mummy would ask me where I heard it from but she did not. She just said it WAS a bad word and then Comrade Uncle said not to listen to her, because Msholozi is our future president and will lead us to the promised land. And then mummy said only if your promised land is hell. I do not know who this Msholozi is. But he makes some people very angry and others very happy.