Saturday, November 15, 2014

The best they can do?

A Letter to Gwede

Mr Mantashe –

The ANC is supported by millions of South Africans. No one disputes that; the ANC won some 60% of the vote in the last elections. 
Nor can anyone dispute that within those millions there are probably at least a few murderers, a couple of rapists, some fraudsters, some thieves, some over-ambitious bigots, even some racists ... and people who could never be leaders in their own right.
And in the same way, none can dispute that within those many, many millions there are some born leaders, some people of enormous integrity, honesty and intellectual strength, some people disinterested in self-aggrandizement, people of exceptional moral stature, people with dignity and gravitas, people deeply concerned about their fellow-South Africans, who could work hard and selflessly for the common good without wishing for huge rewards for themselves. There might even be many thousands of such people in the ANC.

And yet you chose Jacob to lead you.

And your party is almost hysterical in its support of him.

Is he really the best you can do?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Afrika Day

Africa Day – the day that the old Organization of African Unity was founded, and from whence the dream of African Unity commenced. Lots of African leaders have endorsed that call, from that scumball Gaddafi to some quite honest people. But there’s a problem that no one in South Africa seems willing to address.
Given the ANC’s refusal to confront other African countries about their human rights abuses on the specious grounds that they cannot interfere in the internal affairs of another country, which of the following constitutional rights do you think South Africans will have to relinquish in order to see the continent united?
* gay rights [cf Uganda and many others]
* women’s rights [cf new legislation in Kenya]
* abolition of the death penalty [cf Botswana and most other African states]
* the right to form opposing political parties [cf Swaziland and several others]
* the right to religious freedom and freedom of belief [cf several North African states]
* the right to freedom of the media [cf Zimbabwe and lots of other states]
* the right to own land [cf several northern states]
Any answers, please? Or are we naively missing something?

Kaartman [ek is mos ook ’n Afrikaan, hay], Afrikadag 2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hello Peter ... or why I stay in touch with a murderer

Back in the Dark Ages Mrs Kaartman and I faced a dilemma ... emigrate to escape the worst excesses of the National Party government and that finger-wagging fascist, PW Botha – or stay behind and do something, anything, to ease our white consciences and the lot of the dark skinned fellow citizens of our village, Plumfoot.
We chose the latter course and amongst other things helped to set up activities for kids, a reading room stocked with second hand books, clothing sales, school feeding, etc etc. It wasn’t much but we’re proud to think that we had a hand in some of the local success stories – kids who became senior building inspectors, curators of botanical gardens, senior scientists and horticulturalists. There’s an artist and a successful hiphop band in there too.
And a great number who just became ordinary local guys and girls, who married and had half as many kids as their parents had.
And a sprinkling who died of AIDS-related causes.
And some who became abalone poachers, drug runners and gangsters.
And murderers.
Randall – not his real name – appeared on our radar at about the age of seven. He was a mildly FAS child – foetal alcohol syndrome, to those who don’t know, a syndrome caused by excessive drinking during pregnancy that results in some arrested development, especially mental.
Randall’s small size and general shortage of grey matter were not his fault.
Randall had an older brother who had been spared the ravages of his mother’s frequent visits to the papsak store, a complex kid nonetheless who sheltered his klein boetie as much as he could from the vicissitudes of life.
Finally, Randall had a father who was shot dead by a gangster from Cape Town, who mistook Randall’s father for his real target. Dialled the wrong Number, so to speak.
Randall’s father’s death wasn’t Randall’s fault, either.
Things were not good at home and eventually Randall and his brother ran away. There weren’t many places to run to in Plumfoot, population 2013, so they ended up at Chez Kaartman on a dark and stormy night.
Waifs, we called them, and we must have dealt with about thirty over the years. We took Randall and Grootboet in, and sent a message to their mother. Hoping she was sober, of course. We also called the social worker, a useless piece of work who was only in it for the salary and the free GG car – I’ll call him Mr Blank, an apt shortening of his real name. They arrived more or less together at Chez K. Mr Blank tried to persuade R and G to go home, while Mama R n G screeched at them. Finally, she klapped Randall over the head with a broomstick, the clincher for the wavering Mr Blank. He took the brothers off to a Children’s Home in the Big City.
Randall’s unhappy home and placement in a Children’s Home were not his fault, either.
R n G did their statutory time in the Home, and then returned to Plumfoot to the tender care of Mama. They were a bit older now, even if Randall was none the wiser, and they’d learned a bit of street fighting by then, so they coped a bit better than they had before. Grootboet eventually got himself a steady job, married and had a coupla kids.
Not so Randall. Ill equipped to face life without the guidance of Grootboet, who now had other things on his mind, he drifted into petty crime. He wasn’t any more skilful at that than anything else and spent a lot of time in jail, and eventually he murdered someone.
‘Hello Peter,’ said the familiar voice on the phone. 
‘Ag Peter, man, ek is in die groot moeilikheid – I’m in trouble, big trouble. I got 20 years.’
I’ve never learned the circumstances of the case – I’ve not wanted to know. It was the next line that got me.
‘When I come out, will you give me a job?’
I was stunned – then laughed. ‘Of course,’ I said. “You can push me around in my wheelchair, I’ll be so old!’
There was silence, then he laughed, too. 
He wanted stamps, so he could write to his mother – and a few bucks for himself. He promised to try to do something good in prison – he’s in ‘maksimum’, he tells me.
What could I say? He has no past. He has no present. He has a tiny ray of future light, that won’t really shine until he’s 55 years old. He has few friends and absolutely no admirers. Very little is his fault, except for one single importunate act, probably committed when he’d dulled his damaged brain with drink or drugs.
But he’s a human being whom I remember as a tiny child. I owe him nothing but a memory and, when I hear that hesitant, croaky voice, ‘Hello, Peter’, my reply.

Kaartman, Freedom Day, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

The unimportance of being Oscar

I have to thank Linda Martindale for this blog. I don’t know Linda, but her letter to the Cape Times – also read on air by Cape Talk’s John Maytham – put recent media stuff in proper perspective for me. If you ever see this blog please contact me, Linda - I’d like to thank you personally. Your letter follows – I’ve changed nothing but some punctuation that the Cape Times mangled.
– Kaartman, Maart 2014.

Call me Murder Mystery Grinch if you like, but I am already tired of the court case that is oozing into every channel of media known to me at present. I am not even going to mention its name. 
Not only am I weary of the case and all the information that goes with trying to prove a man guilty or innocent, but I am done with all the analysis of the case at issue, and yes ... I am even tired of the analysis of the analyses.
I do not want to follow what the victim had for supper – even though it may be relevant to the man’s demise. I don’t want to follow every word spoken in court. And I don’t want to get sucked into the sick voyeurism of watching a broken person face the distressing knowledge and consequences of his actions, regardless of what led him to them. 
I want to find out at the end of the trial what the verdict is and how they came to that conclusion. That a woman died that night does matter to me. But I don’t want a sensational, blow-by-blow account of the evening in question, or the trial.
What I do want to know more about is how a 6-year old South African citizen with his whole life ahead of him, died in a pit toilet when at school getting a start to his education. I want a blow-by-blow account of how that came to be.
I want to know how a child lost his life drowning in a slush of faeces and urine, and why only now the school will get flush toilets.
Well, if I am truly honest, my breaking heart would rather hear about neither – but if I have to face reality, which I do as an engaged, mature adult citizen and believer, then at least let me hear about the one that we can prevent in the future, that is more directly linked to our past, and that is an injustice on a level that is incomprehensible in a country with the kind of resources that we have.
I know I won’t get what I want in a classist world obsessed with fame and fortune, but I am going to put it out there anyway.
A young boy died the most traumatic and horrible death imaginable. And it has barely made the news – while I duck and dive the incessant talk of beautiful people’s tragedies so public and all consuming – my heart is broken for a mother who lost her son.
And for our country who lost a child – and does not really seem to notice enough to ask why? How?
Not only did we lose another innocent child, as we have recently in gang war crossfire and other traumatic cycles of violence, but we lost a child because of a makeshift faulty “toilet” at a school.
This is not as complicated or linked to complex cycles that are (or are not) being addressed – or mysterious circumstances hidden. No, this is perhaps a simpler one in a complex world of inequality. This should be where the minimum of care and development starts – at school and its sanitation.
This is the raw face of poverty and injustice ... and the disconnect and division that makes the media think, and probably rightly so, that we, the citizens, care more about a public murder tragedy than a child who spent hours trying to claw his way out of his classmates’ poo, before breathing his last breath.

Linda Martindale,

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Some People are more People than other People

The People’s Trail
Some years ago Kaartman wrote an article for the ‘Argus’ about the Muizenberg–St James Catwalk, one of the prettiest and most accessible-to-all walks in the whole of Cape Town. It wasn’t the article itself that got me into trouble, it was the title given by the Argus sub-editor, ‘The Trail for the People’ [see blog post at Maps for Afrika].
It turned out that the then-Head Honch of the Table Mountain National Park [hereinafter ‘HH’] had in his infinite wisdom opened the Orange Kloof–Disa Gorge path [it leads up the back table of Table Mountain] to a select group of people. Sorry, should be People, with a big P. He’d called his path the People’s Trail, and now here was that damned reactionary Kaartman misleading the public by referring to a very different path as the ‘Trail for the People’.
Don’t get me wrong. I have always supported, with every fibre of my being, the political change in my country that was sealed in 1994. I absolutely agree that the massive injustices of the past should be addressed – and certainly not fiddled with and exploited as the present governing party is doing. I agree with a level of affirmative action, and I think it was a great idea to open up a very specially-beautiful path so that groups of previously-disadvantaged South Africans could be introduced to Table Mountain, a natural Wonder of the World. The path was originally intended to be used exclusively for such people [the project has since largely collapsed], and HH, bossman of the Park, named it ‘The People’s Trail’.
Now I know that in his own favourite political party, the SA Communist Party, HH is considered to be a Stalinist. Perhaps that’s the reason why he adopted the false, misleading and cynically inappropriate language of his political heroes. We all know what the People’s Democratic Republic of this and the Democratic People’s Republic of that has meant for the real people, in modern history. Calling a trail designed for exclusive use by anyone ‘the People’s Trail’ is not just cynically and linguistically incorrect, it’s just plain stupid [and probably unconstitutional too!]
However, my three-map set of the Table Mountain National Park is officially approved by Sanparks, so doubtless HH thought he exercised some authority over me. I was duly summoned to his office at Westlake. 
I went like a lamb, thinking that the meeting was about an entirely different matter. I was completely unprepared for what followed. HH was tight-lipped as he offered me a seat. He then launched into a verbal attack the likes of which I have not had from anyone since I was a school boy [army sergeants used to shout at us National Servicemen, too, but that was merely funny]. Puce in the face and with spittle-flecked lips, HH demanded that I retract the article [recall an entire edition of the Argus?] and publish a public apology!
Well, I didn’t think I had to put up with this kind of bullying rant from an hysterical man who was half my age and who had plainly mislaid a lot of his marbles, so I turned my back and walked out. He was still shouting, in front of his whole staff, as I drove away.
I fully expected a childish form of revenge, like a retraction of approval for my maps, but events happily took a different turn. A few days later the Kaartmans were bidden to an event at which the Minister of Tourism was to be present.
Widely known as the Last Fat Nat, Marthinus van Schalkwyk was of course the previous bride-to-be who jilted the DA at the altar, anticipating Ramphele by some twelve years. He took his apartheid-party, the Nats, into the ANC instead, but most of his followers in fact preferred the DA; from that very day the ANC’s support has steadily waned, while the other guys have tended to increase theirs.
But I digress. Moments before the Minister wobbled onto the podium we were recognised by a lady who happened to be standing there next to – you guessed – the Head Honch of the Table Mountain National Park himself. Before his very eyes she, the wife of an old acquaintance of ours and the mother of a couple of Mrs Kaartman’s school pupils, swept off the stage, planted a large kiss on my cheek and proceeded to smother Mrs K with loving and super-friendly hugs n kisses.
HH recognized us too, of course, and he stood glued to the podium with glaring eyes, flinching at every hug. The lady, her affections duly disbursed, returned to the stage where to our surprise she stood firmly at HH’s side, her fingers unexpectedly entwined in his. As we later learned from two ex-colleagues of HH who were also in the crowd, it turned out that the lady and HH had both recently abandoned their respective husbands, wives and children and were now sharing the same sack, so to speak. In front of his very eyes HH had seen the reactionary bastard who had turned his back on him and walked out on his maniacal tirade, being kissed and cuddled by no less than his brand-new squeeze.
We never heard any more of the matter and, happily, HH has long since gone away to bully people somewhere else. Even more happily, the People’s Trail still leads from Muizenberg to St James, and it’s open to all people, both the big P’s and the little p’s.
The HH and his squeeze could also try it some time, if they’re still a number.
Or even if not. After all, it’s open to All the People, whatever lusts they might harbour. 

Kaartman, February 2014 [the ‘Month of Love’?]