Through Vangi-tinted glasses

Perspectives from an African

“It’s the esteem of the SELF B!*@H” February 28, 2012

Filed under: From Consciousness straight to you — Vangi Gantsho @ 12:29

Tyler Perry was on Oprah a while back, talking about his childhood and “the dead years” of his life.  He spoke of how his father used to abuse him physically, how he was molested by three different men (including one from church) and how a woman in lingerie locked him in her house and made him find the key inside her vagina.  He told Oprah (us) about how he spent his teens and most of his twenties trying to work through the maze of guilt, shame and confusion these situations had given him, a period he calls “the dark years” of his life and how he had to find a way to let go of all of that because it was not his to carry. While Tyler was talking, my friend and I began to discuss the nature of sexual abusers and the effects of abuse on one’s sexuality, especially if one is young.  The conversation took a turn for the tears when I said that abusers can usually tell who they can do these things to.  That they see something in their victims of choice that makes them soft targets, a weakness or insecurity of sorts.  I couldn’t really finish that sentence because I was trying to find a way of saying all this without classifying myself as one of those weak/insecure victims, but my dear friend finished the sentence for me: “they see something in you that let’s them know that they can do this to you.”

Hearing that was, in the words of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, “like taking a bullet”…in the chest.  Her words stung and left me quite paralyzed. I realized that as much as I was saying this about other victims of sexual violations, I did not want to believe that I was also like “them” in any way.  That something in the way I had interacted with Thabiso and Akho (because sometimes rapists have names and beautiful faces and charming personalities) could have somehow led them to believe that they could do that to me. But I was.  And they did.  “The best thing parents can do for their children is to teach them to love themselves” because children who grow up loving themselves (truthfully), grow up knowing that they deserve better, carry themselves like they deserve better and ultimately, get better.  Sexual offenders (and any offenders for that matter) thrive on that doubt that some of us (yes, it still hurts) have.  Our insecurities are released when we say yes instead of walking away, when we smile instead of moving on… when we need the attention instead of knowing that we are so much better than that.  And these insecurities, in the presence of perversity, say: “Yes, you can do this to me”.

It’s been years since that night and even though there are moments when I find myself back on that futon, I genuinely thought that I was over it.  That I had healed…forgiven them even, but I haven’t. During that conversation (somewhere in between the tears) I realised that Thabiso and Akho still have a hold over me and that I have allowed that experience to shape so many of the fears and insecurities I have been carrying with me through my “dark years”.   Worse yet, I realised that I had some of these insecurities with me long before that night, and that they contributed to that night turning out the way it did.  The great and wise Mr Katt Williams once said, about women who blame men for their low self-esteems, “How the hell you gonna accuse me of fucking up your self-esteem?!  It’s the ESTEEM of the SELF bitch!” I know that it’s not the most eloquent of quotes to use, but it makes sense.  The truth is, something in me was damaged long before Thabiso and Akho came along.  And as painful as it is to admit to myself, that damage was probably one of the reasons why they knew that they could rape me and get away with it.  They could have chosen any one of the many young women at Newscafè that night, but they didn’t.  They chose me, because I was a soft target.  They saw that damage that I couldn’t even aknowledge to myself and they took advantage of it.  What they did was wrong and bazakuyixoxa noThixo wabo leyo (They will discuss it with their God), but as Phylicia Rash?d”s character says in For Coloured Girls: “You gonna have to take some responsibility in all’a this…Now how much of it you take is entirely up to you.”  And that hurts.  A lot!

In all these years, I have realised that I have not been entirely truthful with myself.  I have not been willing to admit that, honestly, I don’t love me.  Because if I did love me, truthfully, I would treat me with love.  I would protect me and defend me and cherish me.  I would be enough with me and there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind (stranger or friend) that this woman will not take any form abuse from anyone.  If I had been truthful with myself, I would have spent more time working on my self-esteem instead of fussing over the superficial confidences of walking upright and being well-presented.  (Not that those things are not important, mind you.  They are just symptoms of a far more important root: the “esteem of the self”)  In truth, had I loved myself enough, I would not have been a soft target.  This isn’t to say that bad things don’t happen to people who love themselves, or that I deserved what those shit-heads did to me, or that Tyler Perry was to blame for all that happened to him.  It just means that I would have realised my own strength a lot sooner.   I wouldn’t have needed that attention and would therefore probably left with my cousin instead of telling her I’d meet up with her a bit later.  And that maybe … just maybe, I wouldn’t have been raped that night.

*FIRST PUBLISHED BY *( April 2011)


If the Kitty Kat could speak, what would it say?

Filed under: From Consciousness straight to you — Vangi Gantsho @ 12:28

“If my vagina could speak, what would it say?”  “If your vagina could speak, what would it say?”… These were the echoing thoughts of The Vagina Monologues that were held in Newtown from 17-19 May 2010.  The Vagina Monologues is one of my all-time favourite initiatives, because it allows women to Talk Frankly!  None of that politically correct bull-dust that generally washes down the truth and leaves you comfortable and often unchanged.  Most importantly, however, The Vagina Monologues has a purpose. To liberate and to celebrate! To allow women to reclaim their womanhood:  through the proud proclamation of the word vagina,  it encourages women to begin the healing process from within.  Because we may not be able to change the attitudes of rapists and violators, but we can fight victim mentality.

The Vagina Monologues were originally written and performed by Eve Ensler in 1996, after a series of interviews and conversations with 200 women on sex, relationships and violence against women. Ensler found that a woman’s empowerment is deeply connected to her sexuality because violations such as rape, incest and abuse are all connected to the vagina.  So she wrote The Vagina Monologues, initially to celebrate the vagina and so empower herself and the women she had spoken to, but gradually used the play to fight violence against women and girls.  This play now forms the cornerstone on The V-Day campaign, held world wide to benefit various organisations fighting abuse against women and girls.

The Vagina Monologues are made up of eight core monologues, but different productions often add one or two extra poems here and there depending on the directors.  The eight poems are called:

I Was Twelve, My Mother Slapped Me, which is a chorus describing a young girl’s first menstrual period.

My Angry Vagina, which comically rants and raves about the different “struggles” a vagina has to endure:  such as tampons, scented soaps and visits to the gynaecologist.

My Vagina Was my Village, a chilling look at a woman’s experience in a Bosnian rape camp.

The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could, a controversial journey through a young girl’s various traumatic sexual experiences and how they eventually lead her to a “healing” sexual experience at the age of 16 with a woman in her mid 20s.

Reclaiming Cunt, which is quite self-explanatory really.  This is a celebration of the word cunt, despite all the negative connotations that have been attached to it.

The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy is quite an explicit account of a female sex worker’s career in pleasuring women.

Because He Liked To Look At It is a conversation with a woman who used to think her pubic area was ugly until she met a man named Bob, who loved to spend hours looking at it…

And finally:  I Was There In The Room, which actually describes the birth of Eve Ensler’s granddaughter.

In The Johannesburg Vagina Monologues, the directors, Rifilwe Nkumo and Gugulethu Mayisela also included:  Hair (a woman’s celebration of her pubic hair as a sign of being a grown woman); The Vagina Workshop; and The Teenage Girls’ Guide (a heart-wrenching survival story of a young woman who was abducted at the age of 16, raped and forced to wed a soldier in a nearby village – in Xhosa it’s called ukuthwalwa).


After seeing the show, I found myself increasingly haunted by the question of what our vaginas would say if they could speak.  So I decided to explore the plight of the vagina, particularly in the African context.  Now, believe it or not, I am the daughter of a very conservative and religious mother (who was Punk’d and given an inquisitive, open-minded daughter who asks way too many questions for her own good), so generally, this was no easy fete I tell you.  Thankfully, however, I have an outspoken and feminist aunt who was willing to indulge my curiosity.  But I realised that that’s where it all begins really:  at home.  As young women, we are generally taught that ladies do not to talk about their genitalia, especially not in public.  Even when in a doctor’s consulting room, one will find women referring to their “lower areas” or “va-jay-jays” because bold words such as vagina almost sound profane… like something a prostitute would say just before she got on her knees in a dark alley.  That word is certainly not the kind of word a lady would use.  This, consequently, also makes it difficult for women to take control of their own sexual health because women can’t even check their vaginas with a hand mirror without it being turned into something perverse.  There are women who don’t even know that the hole you put your tampon in and the one you pee out of are two separate holes… hence “a virgin’s pee supposedly digs a hole into the ground and a non-virgin’s pee scatters all over the place”.  Generally, women are even reluctant to see a gynaecologist, not to mention discuss vaginal concerns with their partners, because it is seen as taboo.

On my journey towards giving the African vagina a voice, I found out that apparently there are cultures in Sub-Saharan Africa wherein women, from a young age, are taught to stretch their clitorises and labia gradually (with stones) until they hang; a practice referred to as ukudonsa.  Apparently it is believed that this will make the woman “warm” in bed; as the clitoris becomes wrapped around the penis during sex.  This means that the clitoris is constantly being excited by the thrusting of the penis and the penis is stimulated by the sensation of both the clitoris and the vagina at the same time.  Now I don’t know what these vaginas would say, but I do know that there is an old wives’ tale saying that if your man beds a woman who has done this… then hardy for you.  He’s gone baby.

I then went on to learn about the weeping vaginas of Eastern and Central Africa, wherein women can experience one of two kinds of circumcision:  the cutting of the clitoris, or the cutting then stitching of the vagina. One of the reasons why some women’s clitorises are cut off is because it is believed that women are not meant to enjoy sexual intercourse.  And the primary reasoning behind the stitching of the vagina is so that the husband can experience a virgin-like tightness when he penetrates his wife.  So she is sown tight, and then he rips her open.  Not only do these kinds of practices leave the women severely mutilated and often with repulsive infections, they also rob women of their rights to their own sexuality.  These women are taught that their vaginas are not their own.  That they belong to their husbands and sex is a duty that a woman must perform and not enjoy.

But it doesn’t end there!  The things women will put their vaginas through is incredible.  And shocking, to say the least.  There is a medical procedure that a woman can go through to make her vagina tighter, but I found out that, less affording, women have used Oros (yes, the orange squash), Savlon concentrate, snuif and Allain (which is apparently a really sour grain – resembling a grain of course sea salt – commonly used to help with sore throats) to shrink their vaginas!!  Yes.  All in the name of having a tighter vagina for their men…because sex is always about the man right. Apparently there are also some women are not allowed to wash their vaginas because it makes their men suspicious:  who is she washing off? (I can’t say for sure but I’m guessing those vaginas are begging for fresh air)  And I haven’t even touched on virginal testing yet:  where girls get their vaginas checked to see whether or not they are still virgins based of whether or not their hymens were still intact.  (I shudder to think how many young girls lost their virginities while playing tennis and consequently missed out on being part of The Reed Dance because they were no longer intact)  It is said, however, that some girls who had lost their virginities at school and had to go home to face virginal testing developed a clever trick whereby they would take the iris of a CHICKEN’S EYE and put it in their vagina.  This would then fool the testing ladies into thinking their hymen was still intact.

All this made me realise that the vagina has got to be the most oppressed organ of the human body… ever!  It has been waxed, torn, cut, sewn, drowned, suffocated, mutilated, stuffed, deprived and devalued.  It has even been the Sara Baartman of South-East Asian ping pong shows.  The vagina has “been degraded, Exploited…NOT Celebrated! I generally try to steer clear of judging cultural practices I don’t fully understand because I think that education tends to give us a false sense of superiority, but I can honestly say that I am grateful I live in the time and place I live in.  That I was not born into an immediate community that would condone my vagina being treated in this way.  I feel grateful that my sexuality is my own.  That my vagina is mine.  My vagina has rights and freedoms and EXPECTATIONS!  It has a history and a future.  But there are many vaginas out there that aren’t as lucky as mine.  And if they could speak, I believe they would quote Amistad, and say:  “Give us Free!”

Food for thought:  “since we all came from a woman, got our name from a woman, and our game from a woman. I wonder why we take from women, why we rape our women, do we hate our women? I think its time we killed for our women, be real to our women, try to heal our women, coz if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies that will hate the ladies, who make the babies. And since a man can’t make one he has no right to tell a women when and where to create one” –  Tupac Skakur




Don’t set sail on someone else’s star (Swahili)

Filed under: From Consciousness straight to you — Vangi Gantsho @ 12:25

Everybody has a story to tell and a battle to fight.  It’s quite amazing actually because when one thinks of how much time one spends idolising other people’s lives, one doesn’t realise that they’re coveting that person’s problems as well.  When we look at so and so driving their BMW (at the age of 27), living in that beautiful townhouse and constantly updating about how great their weekend was, we can’t help but think their lives must be so darn perfect.  And Facebook really doesn’t help things either!  Because no one puts up photo albums called Tough Times or Barely Made it Out in One Piece.  So we have no choice but to believe that it is true: they’re always going on great holidays and probably never fight, cry or wake up feeling bloated. But the truth is we are all fighting silent battles, hiding scars and covering up tears from one point or other.

Everyday we encounter incredible people who touch us in one way or another.  Men and women, young and old, who (for whatever reason, season or lifetime) leave imprints in our lives and introduce us to a whole new world of wants.  Hippie friends, who can throw caution to the wind, live on bare minimum and still always seem to be fulfilled.  High rollers who want for nothing, holiday on beautiful islands and can afford more shoes than one heart should be allowed to desire.  Talented people who move mountains and make the earth shake in ways some of us only daydream about.  The point is most of us are coveters; never realising that the people we covet are also battling inward and outward demons of their own.  Insecurities, daddy issues, bread and butter issues… the list is endless.

But you know what the really messed up bit is?  That when we uncover these battles, after having built fantasy scenarios of how we would look in their shoes, we find ways to trip them; we belittle their problems.  Because it somehow reaffirms our own sense of self to know that we may not be coping with what we’re faced with right now, but if we were given what so and so has, life would be so much better.  So those who struggle with bread and butter issues trivialise emotional issues and sentimental bull crap.  Those with emotional issues wish those with bread and butter issues would just get over it already.  Married people think single people have it easy and those who didn’t go to school think those who did have it easier.  In essence, we find nice ways of calling people who live “perfect” lives but are still sad, LAZY.  Because once problems have been trivialised, they are overcome-able.  And failure to overcome them is a waste of something I could have done so much with. It’s so consuming actually: this coveting business.  And not even the slightest bit rewarding.  Which sucks because all that effort should at least have some kind of pay off right?

I came across a beautiful quote by Patrick Hillies that I think paints an apt picture of what coveting does.  In its entirety, he was talking about his brother but I think this particular line applies to most of us really:  “small beauties dressed in garments of tragedy”.  I think generally, we are:  Struggling with dreams that/ may never be/ in a world that will/ Never change/ to cradle [our] insecurities[1].

And when we set sail on someone else’s star, we not only dress our beauty in tragedy but we taint theirs as well. Living someone else’s dream won’t make ours come true.  And pushing someone else down won’t pull us up.  It will distract us, and rob us of the beautiful garment that is our SELF.  Instead of embracing our own Life’s Purpose and allowing The Universe to conspire in our favour, we will end up empty.  Small beauties dressed in the garment of tragedy.



[1] Extract from In Reality I Am by Vangile Gantsho


The one who milks the cow is not the same person who removes ticks from the cow

Filed under: From Consciousness straight to you — Vangi Gantsho @ 12:24

Have you ever read a book or seen a movie that made you wish you could be a part of it?  Seen a character or situation that moved you so much that you saw glimpses of yourself in them and wanted nothing more that to lose yourself in that world and claim it as your own?  Well 2010 is set to be that movie!  This year has been ear-marked to be the Golden Globes of South African history and everyone is said to be nominated.  The beginning of a new year always marks that refreshing first page of a new chapter.  A chance to remedy, clarify, improve, re-invent…whatever!  New beginnings.

For South Africans, this particular year is Cape Town in White Wedding:  everyone is anxiously holding their breaths, hoping that Elvis will make it to the church on time.  Ever since May 2004, when FIFA announced that South Africa would be the first African nation to host the soccer World Cup, every South African (and probably many Africans) raced back to their drawing boards and brainstormed their “big idea” on how to get in on the 2010 action.  Even that sports-loathing sista who happens to own a flat in Hatfield couldn’t help but develop a love for diski (and dollar-paying tenants of course).  And why not?  Our government  promised us employment, urban renewal, less crime, better taxis and the Gautrain.  Our government promised us a production like nothing we’ve ever seen before; and front row seats for everyone.

Sadly though, the large majority of South Africans will remain unaffected by 2010.  Newtown will get a few splashes of paint while Hillbrow remains pretty much unaffected.  Stadia will be built, after which, employment contracts will be terminated; taxi drivers will still be taxi drivers; crime won’t change much and the Gautrain probably won’t be ready in time for the World Cup.  After all that, 2010 will end on the 31st of December and life will go on.  As wonderful as this event will be (God willing), the ordinary man who doesn’t have an apartment to rent out, or artefacts to sell, or skills to showcase will survive 2010 in the same way he survived 2009…barely.

There is a saying in Swahili, which when translated says:  the one who milks the cow is not the same person who removes ticks from the cow.  Basically, what this saying means is that is in a task (or society at large), we are each entrusted with one or more task.  Some tasks will appear to be more glamorous than others but all are equally important in ensuring that everyone gets milk.  There are people who will be entrusted with great success this year and there are those who will be tasked with great burden patience.    Those who will be great, will make millions, become famous, touch nations and be recorded as the victors of 2010.  Some of them will work hard to attain this greatness and others will stumble upon it but all will serve to inspire others whose time has not yet come.  They will be that sliver of hope that reminds us that things aren’t so bad.  And the virtuous ones… they will act as reminders that the road ahead is still long.  That man who will work hard and still just manage to scrape through 2010, will be our motivation for 2011.  He will remind the government of their promises to us.  He will remind neighbours of their responsibility to each other and he will teach us that we all move at different paces and cannot all reach the finish line at the same time.

Obviously no one wants to be one plucking the ticks, but somebody’s got to do it.  Otherwise the cow will die.  And perhaps we take comfort in this small fact:  that no journey is meaningless, no task too menial.  The way I see it is that you and I should for a moment (until June maybe) forget about what FIFA will leave in our 2010 Christmas stockings, and concentrate on the possibilities this year (decade) has in store for us.  As individuals, outside the soccer-hype.  Some will finally graduate.  Others will get married or fall in love; start families or businesses; or make that long anticipated trip to Mecca.  2010 marks the beginning of the 21st century’s second decade and the possibilities are endless.   


*FIRST PUBLISHED BY *( January 2010)


I have enough of my own insecurities to deal with, without having to deal with yours

Filed under: From Consciousness straight to you — Vangi Gantsho @ 12:23

As a young black woman who was educated in so-called “model c” schools, I get really annoyed when people say things like:  “but you’re so eloquent”, as though it’s a huge surprise that a black person can pronounce determined without saying de-Te-Mined.  Equally annoying is when someone looks at me and says:  “but you’re so beautiful”, as if fat people aren’t meant to be.    Recently, I watched a movie called Fat Like Me.  In the movie, a young girl, Allison, decides to go undercover as a fat teen in summer school to investigate how people treat fat people.  Her motivation is that fat people use their weight as a crutch and if they tried harder, they wouldn’t be so isolated and ill-treated; “I always just thought fat people needed to smile more”.  Obviously, the fact that the movie is set in an American high school changes the context immensely, but the movie does well to explore the issue of weight from different perspectives.

Many people tip toe around the word fat.  They disguise it with euphemisms such as “full-figured”, “well-insulated”, voluptuous”… whatever.  The bottom line is that although those are all lovely poetic-sounding synonyms, they still mean fat.  And you can’t hide fat.  I guess it’s similar to when white people try and find other ways of saying “black” so as to sound politically correct.  But as much as black is black, fat is fat.  And I’m sorry I just equated being fat to being black but I’m going somewhere with this so please bear with me.  After watching the movie, I had an interesting conversation with a friend and it sparked a mini-debate about weight in the African context.  For the longest time, “woman” in Africa has been associated with curves.  The voluptuous silhouette of a woman with booty and breasts is about as synonymous with the African woman as the illustration of black stick-figures with flat noses, big ears and full lips has been with black people.  Even artists have dedicated large portions of their talents to the celebration of the “black woman’s shape”.    

Eric Miyeni wrote a poem called Cellulite Shuffle, in which he says: “Hey, I love that killer smile of yours/I can’t help it/ I also love your cellulite/ I love those big thighs/ That bum of yours/ I can get a handle on it you know/ And know that this is a woman/ A woman for all women”.  But he was not the only one.  Who can ever forget Sir Mix-A-Lot’s:  “I love big butts and I cannot lie…”?  The black man, throughout the world has always been a fan of the curvaceous female form.  But times are changing.  With the Americanisation of Africa, more and more women are moving towards size zero.  Mtv, E-entertainment, The Style Network, Cosmo, Elle… all these mediums of entertainment are constantly telling women that the thinner the better and it takes a whole lot less to be fat now days.  So when at first glance, it would seem that it is easier to be fat in Africa than it is in the States, closer examination would prove otherwise.

It would appear that even in Africa, there is a sense that many non-fat people think they have rights over, and influence on, fat people’s body issues.  Jill Scott has a poem called The Thickness, in which she speaks of this young, “thick” girl’s experience with older men who want nothing but to sleep with her.  Jill speaks of how this girl is still just a girl, even though she is “built like a woman”.  “Don’t nobody even care what’s on her mind… she’s been Degraded, Exploited, Not celebrated.”  The fact of the matter is that fat girls are often caught up in thinking that they have no choices when it comes to men.  That they should be grateful for whatever affection comes their way, and as a result, can only land older man whose mid-life crises draws him to the youngest reminder of his wife he can find outside his home.  Outside the “conscious” brother looking to make her his queen, these girls often feel as though their Mtv-watching peers are not interested in romantic relationships with them. 

In Mauritania, the bigger the woman, the sexier she is considered to be.  In Nigeria, women with protruding butts are generally considered to be sexier than those without.  But in the more cosmopolitan cities of countries that have historically embraced the fuller figure, Beyoncé is about as big as can be acceptable.  (And thank God for her, otherwise pre-swimsuit-paparazzi-snagged-Tyra Banks would be Hollywood’s idea of voluptuous).  Fat women are sexier back in the rural homelands, artistic playgrounds and if they’re lucky enough to be in the Eastern Cape (maybe) the townships.  Size does matter…  For women as well.  And you would think that men are entirely to blame, but shamefully, that is not so.  Women are more likely to make women feel insecure about their bodies than men are.  With snide comments, side-way glances and whispered snickers.  Mostly because every woman is fighting her own insecurities, and some think that the only way they can get over them is by shining the spotlight on others’.      

There is a well known saying that no one can make you feel anything without your consent.  No one can impose body issues on a grown woman.  (But it is true that insecurities can be transferred onto children).  Be it about one’s weight, complexion, social upbringing… whatever.  There are just certain things that we have to claim, dispute or overcome.  Sadly though, there are people who will never get to know some incredible people because they refuse to look past the physical; but such is the nature of life.  It has no bearing on you if someone judges you at face value.  On the contrary, it has everything to do with them:  the demons they are fighting, the issues they are battling with.  One of my favourite sayings is:  “I have enough of my own insecurities to deal with, without having to deal with yours”.


*FIRST PUBLISHED BY *( December 2009)


The Reddish-Brown Biting Ant that breaks away from the trail is the one that turns into the big black ant

Filed under: From Consciousness straight to you — Vangi Gantsho @ 12:21

The spirit of ubuntu is an ideal that has always been recognised throughout the African continent as an authentic way of life.  It is a spirit that embodies a movement of people as one:  where the trials and jubilations of the people are shared and carried communally.  This has, for the longest time, been the driving force behind African civilisation.   Being African has always come with the understanding that I am because you are, and my strength lies in your strength, thus when you are weak, I am affected.  Sadly, however, this ideal is fast-becoming a foreign concept to our people.  In a continent ravaged by war and poverty (contrasted by corruption and stark affluence), the images of villages raising children and neighbours being neighbourly has become an urban legend of sorts.

When one examines the dynamics of African society, one cannot escape the truth of the colonial inheritance.  Exploitation, ethnic tensions, war, corruption… these are all undoubtedly consequences of the manner in which countries where colonised and subsequently gained their independence.  The way colonial powers divided and ruled, then allowed for conditional independence or facilitated full on wars, which left a beautiful, imperfect, yet communally prosperous continent devastated by war and a multitude of insecurities and dependencies.  But we were not designed to be victims!  So at what point do Africans start taking responsibility for their own situation and stop look for a time machine to go back and make things better?!

The truth is that African people hurt African people.  It is our leaders who turn on us.  Our people who sell us out.  We are the cause of our own suffering.  Because in all that has transpired, we have forgotten that umntu ngumntu ngabantu (a person is a person because of people).  Yes, slaves were bought and taken to various parts of the world, but they were SOLD by black people!  Black policemen agreed to be recruited to persecute black people during apartheid.  Black liberation fighters became black criminals in office.  Black people abuse transformation attempts such as Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment and Affirmative Action.  Black loan sharks trap black families, and black people continue to vote in black politicians who only show up at election times.  In the movie Blood Diamond, Djimon Hounsou’s character speaks of how disappointed he is in his people.  He says that there must be something in our skin, as black people, which makes us loath ourselves.  How else can one explain why we kill one other and rape one other, and promise one other brotherhood, then turn around and exploit one another?

South Africa has, for the longest time, prided itself for being the “exception” to the African phenomenon.  As a people, we have thought ourselves exempt from the fate of war because our liberation was won through negotiation and minimal bloodshed.  Then we paraded the Truth and Reconciliation process on the international stage, trying to convince everyone that we would be different.  But in the midst of all this pretence, we suppressed unresolved racial tensions and there grew a divide between black people.  Politicians got on board the gravy train and the private sector remained largely white-owned.  The black diamonds emerged and grabbed the spotlight with both hands, fooling people into believing that this was transformation, when in fact the media was filming from a merry-go-round.  The hungry became hungrier and watched as the people who promised them food ate lobster and caviar, without ever making eye contact.  And a select few moved out of the townships and rural areas, and rented mansions in the suburbs; only ever going back for weddings, some funerals and the occasional ‘shisa nyama.

The Basoga and Baganda people of Uganda have a saying:  The reddish-brown biting ant that breaks away from the trail is the one that turns into the big black ant. Apparently, the reddish-brown ants, known as the nsanafu, move fast, in wide and lengthy columns, and have a piercing, venomous bite.  If their columns are disturbed, these ants become nervous and disorderly, attacking the perpetrator through poisonous bites.  Although one big black ant (known as the kaasa) is likely to be found in every procession of nsanafu, these ants are mostly scavengers, feeding off dead ants and termites.  The kaasa, if provoked or threatened, emits a strong musky, pungent smell that can travel for a very long distance, but is not nearly as ferocious and effective in defence as the nsanafu’s bite.  According to the proverb, the kaasa is the deserter, the ant-relative who is solitary, reclusive, monopolistic and uncooperative, while the nsanafu represents the tradition of communalism and the recognition that strength lies in numbers and cooperation.  Nsanafu may be smaller than the kaasa, but they are able to protect themselves; they are survivors and triumph over imposing environments by working together.  And the small nsanafu that separates itself from the group proverbially becomes the bigger, weaker, single kaasa.

I’m not saying that we must all move back to the townships or rural areas to become nsanafu, I’m just saying that in our climb to the top, we should be cautious of becoming kaasa.  There is nothing wrong with pursuing and enjoying wealth, as long as it is not at the expense of someone else.  If tenders were given to capable people, BBEE positions filled by qualified candidates and wealth enjoyed with humility, we would be one step closer to a peaceful community.  When one understands that their domestic helper has a family to feed, they will understand that they should pay her a decent salary.  She may in turn have a little more to send her children to school with, and maybe put a bit more food in their stomachs.  They may in turn not feel the need to turn to crime to survive.  And guess what… we may have one less hijacking that month.  This sounds very idealistic, I know, but communities are made up of individuals.  Governments are voted into power by communities.  And it is the nsanafu-like communities who prosper.

In an interview with a Belgian TV station, Eugene Terra’blanche said:  “when the milk dies up, there will be war.  In any country” (translated).  As much as I can honestly say that this man was far from being on my Christmas gifts’ list, the truth in his words is undeniable.  We cannot live in a country (continent) wherein the bulk of the resources are concentrated in the hands of the few, while the majority scramble for scraps.  There will come a time when this provocation will lead to a revolt, and when that happens, the stink of the kaasa will have nothing on the bites of the nsanafu.

*FIRST PUBLISHED BY *( December 2009)


No matter how far a man urinates, the last drop will always fall between his legs

Filed under: From Consciousness straight to you — Vangi Gantsho @ 12:20

Sometimes it’s easier tell a lie than to tell the truth.  With a lie, a situation can momentarily be resolved; or better yet, cease to exist.  With a slight (sometimes substantial) distortion of the truth, or a convenient omission of decisive facts, a nagging wife can be silenced and a quarrel resolved.  The only glitch is that these lies just never seem to know how to stay in the closet like we tell them to!  They’re rebellious like that.  Lies like to do their own thing:  fall pregnant with more lies; and publicly expose themselves without clear warning!  

The fact is that it is never easy to own up to certain situations, especially those completely overwhelming could-lead-to-a-lot-of-trouble kinda ones.  Those situations need a special brew of imagination and in a bottomless cup of lies, it’s easy to lose yourself while digging in.  I know plenty of men who have tried to sneak into their houses in the wee hours of the morning, only to be met with a startling flicker of a light switch followed by a “Where have you been?”.  And in an attempt to save themselves from possibly being thrown out into the cold streets of single-hood, they have found themselves instinctively remixing the truth a bit.  “I was out.  With a friend.”  Meanwhile, though he may have indeed been out, the friend being referred to here is more likely to be a friend with “benefits” than someone from his regular pool of tshomis.  But this is just one of those clichéd examples.  Lies come in handy in a variety of situations, such as:  when a politician finds himself unable to pay his hundred-and-something thousand rand rent; or when a group of scientists and executives forget to tell a young girl that she is in fact going for a gender verification text (not, as she assumes, a routine drug test). 

But is there really a clear lie between the truth and a lie?  Like the guy who came home late:  if he was with another woman, she was kind of his friend, wasn’t she?  Sure, she may not have been the kind of friend a girl wants her boyfriend to have, but she was a friend.  And if that’s the case, he was telling the truth.  Right?  And when you don’t say anything at all, how can that be considered a lie?  Omitting a few facts is just practising one’s right to be silent is it not?  I mean, technically, SAAFA didn’t tell Caster what kind of tests she was going for so they didn’t exactly lie to her did they?  (And that question applies only to that particular part of the Caster situation!)  I know it seems like I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but I’m just verbalising the justifications liars (who would rather not use such a harsh word) tell themselves all the time.  If one is not completely honest, are they lying?

My mother, and many of your mothers I’m sure, would say yes.  My mother has always said that if you have to hide it, or you don’t want it to come out, then it is a lie.  In a world of grey, the difference between a lie and the truth is as clear as black and white.  A tough pill to swallow, I know.  The thing is lies (half-truths, omissions… whatever you want to call them) are like those fair-weather friends that dupe us into thinking they have our best interests at heart.  And though it may be easy for some to sit back on high horses and judge the lies other people tell, everyone tells some kind of lie at one point or another.  Be it as small as telling your girlfriend that she hasn’t gained weight when in actual fact her jeans clearly say otherwise, or as big as telling your boyfriend that your son is his (Chris Rock’s idea of the kind of lies women tell), a lie is a lie and there isn’t a single honest lie in on the planet!  The real clincher though is that no lie remains hidden for ever.  Even The Bold and the Beautiful can teach us that.  And the Ghanaian people said it best:  no matter how far a man urinates, the last drop will always fall between his legs.

*FIRST PUBLISHED BY *( November 2009)


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