Pregs Govender, activist for human rights and gender equality, was recently featured in the City Press as part of the 21 Icons series.
Each of the icons featured in 21 Icons, by Andy Ellis and Michael Hathorn, was photographed by Adrian Steirn in a setting representative of his or her character and achievements.
In Govender’s portrait, she is balancing on a rock in the middle of a stream. This reflects how she managed to achieve so much all while maintaining her steadfast stability.
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Govender is a brave woman who has triumphed in a political and social climate that once undermined South African Indian women, and she continually fights against racism, the ills of capitalism, prejudice and gender inequality.
In an intimate conversation with photographer Adrian Steirn, Govender talks about how she was very aware of injustice, poverty and inequality from an early age. “I wanted to end poverty by the time I was 40 years old and I want to reach nirvana by the time I turn 60.”
She believes there are many women like herself, as well as young girls, who innately understand that inequality is wrong and unjust, and that the perpetuation of gender stereotypes restricts our freedom to be fully human.
18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013
Saint, hero, icon, saviour and unquestionable moral titan to some; perpetually misunderstood political hero, reconciler and complex human being if you think about him for a while.
Cartoon by Zapiro, Sowetan © 2000. All rights reserved
There’s not much new that we can tell you about Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Everybody knows the basics. How he was born into a Thembu dynasty, how he tended cattle as a boy in 1920s Transkei. How he went to Fort Hare, where he met Oliver Tambo, and then Johannesburg, where he met Joe Slovo and Ruth First, and was mentored by Walter Sisulu. You know about the ANC, MK, Rivonia and Robben Island; about his release from apartheid prison in 1990, and how he was voted in as South Africa’s first (truly) democratic president four years later. About his subsequent global-icon status and the way the world mourned when he finally passed away in late 2013. And if you don’t, well, you’re not going to find too much of that stuff here.
The picture you have in your head of Mandela is a mirror into your own soul. But if you stop and think about it for a bit, it’s possible you might not like the reflection.
The gravest misrepresentation is that Mandela was just a nice old gentleman, a benign and happy grandfatherly figure who only ever wanted black and white people to get along. Something like the personal embodiment of the McCartney song Ebony And Ivory, and about as complex. In this incarnation all Mandela desired was to end apartheid, draw a line under the past and put his feet up while fondly tousling the hair of the bouncy giggling Rainbow Nation. Then the crying would stop, and the beloved country would frolic off into an idyllic future.
Add to that a fuzzy sense of saintliness, as though this was a man who has never done any wrong, and the end picture can become a wilful misunderstanding of the past – and, dare one suggest it, somewhat racist. Many people seem to like the idea of an affable, harmless darkie content with the status quo. Historically, though, the moment Mandela ever said anything vaguely revolutionary, condemnation was rapid.
So when he told the British government to engage in talks with the IRA in the 1990s, people were outraged, even though John Major did just that after he came to power two years later. When he denigrated Dick Cheney as a “dinosaur” in 2002, the White House briefed against him. He strongly condemned NATO’s action in Kosovo in the late 1990s. He caused fury when he said that Tony Blair was the “foreign minister of the United States”. He was apocalyptically angry about the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
When still in the public eye, Mandela was in fact the perpetual activist, forever calling out injustice where he saw it. And he saw it in places those who dared to dismiss him as a congenial old simpleton didn’t like.
It may seem like madness to some, but there are people who really don’t understand that Mandela, quite naturally, viewed political liberation as only the first step to uplifting black South Africans from a subservient existence bequeathed to them by more than 350 years of oppression of one sort or another. The first democratic elections of 1994 were, of course, just the start to fixing things. Mandela may have been keen to forgive – famously keen, in fact – but he sure as hell wasn’t interested in forgetting.
So, for example, the image of Mandela portrayed in Invictus is, for want of a better word, unabashedly white. Mandela did not, in fact, spend his entire presidency making friends with Afrikaner rugby players. Yes, he worked famously for reconciliation, and for many white South Africans the memory of the great man appearing on the Ellis Park pitch at the 1995 World Cup final wearing a Springbok jersey is the defining image of the post-liberation era. (See François Pienaar.) There is no doubt he had a gift for making iconic gestures. But for many, many more South Africans, Mandela’s time in charge was marked by something most middle-class South Africans can’t even imagine. Like getting a house to live in. Or a constant electricity supply. Never mind a vote.
The fact is that Nelson Mandela’s presidency marked a fundamental revolution in the way this country approached the governance of the land and the people living in it. How could it not? With able assistance from his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, Mandela pursued a radical agenda to change, as fast as he could, the lives of poor black people. He launched the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), introduced the Land Restitution Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Labour Relations Act, and heralded the creation of a progressive and world-acclaimed new constitution. This was radical stuff, especially considering just how cowed and conservative South Africa was in the early 1990s.
But he didn’t just realign the architecture of the country. He worked on the ground too, and got things done. The Mandela presidency – only one term, remember – saw the building or upgrading of 500 clinics; nearly three million people were housed; two million were connected to the grid; three million got running water; 1.5 million children were brought into the education system. And amazingly, some people still wonder why the majority of South Africans vote for the ANC!
Indeed, the sentimental picture of a doddery, gentle, kind Mandela does a great disservice to the ANC, especially at a time when its reputation is in crisis. Under the corrupt and seemingly disinterested leadership of Jacob Zuma, following the paranoid and ultimately divisive Mbeki era, the party has rapidly haemorrhaged its reputation as a progressive nation-building entity. It is – to call it bluntly – in the process of looting the country and reducing to tatters our status as a gateway to Africa. But still. The ANC of old liberated South Africa.
Though Nelson Mandela was strategically promoted as the personification of the struggle, he did not ride in on a white stallion and, God-like, gift us all a chance at a future all on his own. Many brave men and women liberated this country. Mandela was certainly the greatest of the lot, but he was the quickest of them all to acknowledge the collective role of everyone involved.
Mandela was a tough, brave and ruthless leader in a liberation movement. Having initially adhered to the ANC’s nonviolent approach, as per the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, he changed tack after the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. The following year he co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe, the Spear of the Nation, and was sent abroad to drum up support. He received military training and studied tactics of warfare, and went on to oversee bombings on government buildings and institutions that were symbolic of apartheid. The Umkhonto leadership had identified four forms of possible violence: open revolution, terrorism, guerrilla warfare and sabotage. They aimed to use the latter approach only, avoiding human casualties at all costs, but Mandela later admitted that the ANC violated human rights during the struggle, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that the organisation routinely used torture. This is not something we lay at Mandela’s feet. But it is because he was willing to face up to the ugly truth about the way in which some of his comrades acted, and to do so publicly, that we mention it. Mandela had no delusions of saintly grandeur. He left that to us – to the likes of the embarrassingly twee and middle-class suburban muppets who liked to sing him songs on his birthday, as if he were a child.
No, Mandela features here not because he was a kind and gentle old man. We love him greatly and admire with awe his legacy of reconciliation and his genuine desire for a nonracial South Africa. Of course. We bow to his huge contribution towards averting violence and killing and general mayhem, especially after the murder of Chris Hani in 1993, a time in our history when civil war seemed almost inevitable. We are forever grateful for his insistence that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, white or black, and we can never thank him enough for his speech at the Rivonia Trial, which ought to be writ large in the halls of Parliament. We marvel at his capacity for the symbolic gesture, for having tea with Betsie Verwoerd (in Orania!), for insisting that his assistant be a young Afrikaner girl. We’ll love him forever for making PW Botha look so doltish and stupid, and for out-living him too.
But that’s only one element of the story. Mandela was a complex, fascinating, flawed human being. As his third wife, Graça Machel, described him, he was “a symbol, but not a saint”. So he finds himself in these pages because, generally, he could never be excluded from a list of fifty brilliant South Africans. But specifically he is here because he was a militant and radical revolutionary ready to die, and to bomb, for the cause – after half a century of nonviolent protest by the ANC at the treatment of black South Africans, it was unfortunately what this country needed to wake it from its moral slumber. It was a lengthy process, but eventually it succeeded – and so it is Mandela, the warrior, we salute.
This is an edited extract from 50 Flippen Brilliant South Africans by Alexander Parker and Tim Richman.
“In my hart wil ek egter steeds eerder skrywer as musikant wees.”
Só het Koos Kombuis onlangs aan Murray la Vita gesê in ‘n treffende Oop Kaarte-onderhoud waartydens hulle gesels het oor sy kontroversiële verlede, sy musiek, en die dinge wat hy al kwytgeraak het op papier. Kombuis het al baie beleef – van ‘n swerfbestaan as kind, ‘n termyn in Weskoppies tot wedergeboorte en kitaarspeel op die stoep met sy dogtertjie – en sê aan die einde van die gesprek vir La Vita:
“Mens moet dit seker nie self sê nie, maar ek is nogal uitgesort op die oomblik.”
Lees die artikel vir meer oor Kombuis, lewende legende en skrywer van boeke soos rock&roll.karoo: 33 digitale gedigte en I-Tjieng: ’n GPS vir verdwaalde siele:
Ons sit in die kombuis van ’n voorstedelike huis in Somerset-Wes om ’n vierkantige tafel. Teen een muur is ’n bal-en-klou-vertoonkas wat wit geverf is. Daarnaas ’n Hills-hondekoshouer. Dit is ’n Dinsdagoggend. Uit die sitkamer kom die klank van ’n stofsuier. ’n Huishulp is besig om skoon te maak.
Koos Kombuis hou wat hy beskryf as ’n kierie, maar wat meer soos ’n staf lyk, vas terwyl hy praat. Hy hou daaraan vas omdat hy nie meer rook nie, sê hy.
Die man wat op Wikipedia beskryf word as “ . . . ’n ikoon vir sommige Suid-Afrikaners wat hom beskou as die ghoeroe van Afrikaanse rockmusiek en die vader van non-konformistiese Afrikaanse kultuur”, het pas sestig geword. Die onderhoud vind teen dié agtergrond plaas.
Sue Derwent, author of Picturesque Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal: Adventures in Culture & Nature and Picturesque Durban and Surrounds, has written an article for the Sunday Tribune about the many religious sites that can be visited in KwaZulu-Natal.
In the article, Derwent lists seven places that offer fascinating cultural experiences. Along with brief descriptions of the monasteries, temples and caves, she includes contact details and information about available tours.
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In a world where politics, religious intolerance and fanaticism increasingly play a major role in conflicts, we in KwaZulu-Natal can feel proud of our religious tolerance.
This got me thinking that in the travel industry, KZN’s spiritual acceptance, the beautiful and interesting places of worship and the many accompanying colourful festivals, are largely overlooked assets in our province.
Jonathan Jansen, co-author How to Fix South Africa’s Schools: Lessons from Schools that Work and author of We Need to Act, has written a blogpost on his experiences in Zimbabwe, comparing a trip 23 years ago and again this year.
Jansen says there is a contrast between the fear he found in Zimbabwe 23 years ago and the sadness and guardedness he noticed on his recent trip. He says that although it seems that much has changed in the country, the underlying mood of suspicion and paranoia remains.
Jansen is Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Free State. As Zimbabwe has some of the best schools in Africa, he went to recruit potential university students. His trip led him to reflect on the relationship between freedom and education.
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I was excited to return last month, this time on a mission to recruit potential university students from Zimbabwe’s legendary school system.
“What would happen,” I asked my Zimbabwe students from our university, “if I went to speak to those people on the streets?”
They would be reluctant to talk to me, I was told, because of fear. They do not know me, and would be suspicious of why I was approaching them.
Several students warned: “No political jokes, professor. It could land you in trouble.”
Images of Chikurubi prison flashed through my mind. Of course I ignored them. I realised you could tell the degree of freedom in a country by the number of standup comedians in business. A country that cannot laugh at itself takes on a sad, morose, depressing complexion.
Despite the familiarly warm hospitality of Zimbabwean friends and colleagues, I could not help but notice the underlying sadness, the lack of spontaneity, the carefully camouflaged guardedness. What had not changed in the political culture of the country is the fear of the state as an instrument of control and coercion. The stranger is not a friend to embrace but a possible source of surveillance.
It is an astonishing animal when you think about it. The white rhino. That magnificent beast like something out of The Lost World – not a thing we could begin to imagine were it not already here. And, of the southern variety, there were by some estimates twenty left. Just twenty, somehow eking out an existence in the remote “V” formed before the confluence of the White and Black Mfolozi rivers, the great hunting ground of one Shaka Zulu. That’s how thin the thread was, the animals shot almost to extinction by poachers and big-game hunters.
This was the early 1900s, and on the entire African continent there were only 650 white rhino remaining, the others being (quite logically) the northern variety. Today there are close on 20,000 white rhino left in the wild, more than 90 percent in South Africa, all of them southern, and all of them roaming the Earth in their primal (if still somewhat tenuous) splendour because of the efforts of two men: Dr Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela.
Their story begins in 1952 when Player moved from Johannesburg to join the Natal Parks Board and met the man who would become his friend and mentor for life. Magqubu Ntombela was deeply connected to Africa, and filled with the traditional stories and lore of his particular place in it, specifically the area we now call the Hluhluwe-Mfolozi Park, the oldest protected park in the country.
At the time, the apartheid state was a mere four years old, and the esteemed South African government was far too busy setting out the legislative regime that would properly stuff up our country in the decades to come to worry about nature conservation. Rhinos, of which there were now several hundred in the area, were not particularly high on the agenda.
Wildlife conservation and the management of vast tracts of the South African wilderness was rather different back then to what it is now. Think of the bush today and the obvious name that pops up is the Kruger National Park, which was brought into existence in 1898 in its earliest form as a “Goewernments Wildtuin” by the then president of the Transvaal, Paul Kruger. To this day, it remains a fine national park, but if the picture you have in your head is that of a green Land Rover parked in a thicket of acacias next to a leopard, or a rimflow plunge-pool in front of a five-star chalet, then you’re not thinking about Kruger proper, you’re actually thinking about a private lodge in an adjacent reserve. The advent and rise in popularity of private game reserves since the 1970s has led to a massive influx of ecotourism money into the wildlife industry. It has become big business and as a result our animals are looked after far better than they used to be. In 1964 there were an estimated 575,000 head of game in South Africa; in 2007 there were 18.6 million. Today, a disease-free breeding buffalo can sell for up to R40 million. No-one could have contemplated such a ludicrous thought back in the first half of the 20th century when sheep and cows were the beasts of value – to the extent that game would be slaughtered en masse if they were believed to pose a health risk to farm animals. For this very reason more than 35,000 wild animals were killed in Zululand reserves in the two years from 1929 to 1931, which once again threatened the white rhinos, along with an increase in illegal poaching.
So it came to two people with a shared love for the veld, and the animals that roamed it, to see what they could do about the problem – this small problem, which no-one seemed particularly bothered about, of the potential extinction of the white rhinoceros.
The times being what they were, it would require Player’s whiteness to get things done, but Ntombela’s influence was central to success. Though illiterate and speaking no English, Magqubu Ntombela schooled Ian Player in Zulu culture, history and traditions, especially on the relationship between man and his environment. And Ntombela should have known – not only did he work in conservation from 1914 to 1993, he grew up in the hills of Zululand.
By the early 1960s, the two had initiated Operation Rhino, an anti-poaching campaign that saw them chasing down the hunters and setting up security networks to protect their animals. It was also a programme that would eventually see breeding colonies of white rhino sold to zoos, safari parks and game reserves far beyond the borders of Natal and South Africa. This was the vanguard of a new era in conservation, and they collaborated with the pioneering vet Toni Harthoorn to produce a wonder drug called M99, a synthesis of morphine that would render rhinos semi-incapacitated and easy to capture. They modified boma designs and worked to minimise animal stress during capture, when only years earlier dogs had been used to frighten game into snares and pits. It seems so sensible now, but this was revolutionary stuff back then; suddenly rhinos (and other animals) could be easily transported all around the globe.
In all, more than 3,500 white rhinos were moved to other areas, within their original range and all over the world and, as a result, the animal was eventually removed from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species. Player and Ntombela would ultimately succeed to the point that white rhinos have become a relatively common sight in some parks, and it is almost impossible to drive through the Hluhluwe-Mfolozi reserve without seeing them. It is sadly ironic that the success of Operation Rhino all those years ago is altogether evident in the scale of the slaughter that has taken place since wide-scale poaching returned in force in 2008; that South Africa can lose more than 1,000 rhinos in a year, as happens today, is testimony to their work.
Beyond their shared love of the wild, Player and Ntombela had something of a shared history too. Ntombela’s father had fought with the inGobamakhosi – those Benders of the Kings – at Isandlwana on the same day that Player’s grandfather, a Natal Hussar, was fighting at Inyezane.
In 1987 the two men, now both celebrated conservationists, took a pilgrimage to Brecon, Wales, headquarters of the Royal Welsh Regiment, the descendant of the 24th regiment of Foot that was slaughtered at Isandlwana. In a side chapel of the town’s thousand-year-old cathedral hangs the queen’s colour that had, in a simply gobsmacking story that requires a book in itself to be properly told, been extracted from the battlefield at Isandlwana at the cost of several lives. Kneeling down, Ntombela filled the cathedral with traditional Zulu poetry and prayer. It was, for all present, intensely moving.
Player and Ntombela went on from Operation Rhino to establish the Wilderness Leadership School, wherein a part of the Hluhluwe-Mfolozi Park was set aside for access only by foot. Player, in particular, was concerned that man had forgone life in his natural environment, the wild, and felt very strongly about encouraging city-dwellers to discover the power of the wilderness on the human soul. “You cannot stand or sleep in a wilderness area at night and not be humble,” he explained.
Together with Ntombela, he took more than 3,000 people on walking trips into the wilderness areas of Hluhluwe-Mfolozi and Lake St Lucia game reserves. He was justifiably proud of their efforts and was always quick to credit his mentor’s role in all they had achieved. “Through his patient instruction he introduced me to a new cosmology,” Player wrote after Ntombela’s death in 1993. “We worked together capturing rhino and on long patrols fighting poaching gangs… He always led with courage; following the rhino paths and stopping to explain the history of the landscape. For Magqubu the hills and trees lived.”
But Player was not averse to criticising his friend’s stubbornness: “Wherever he went he carried his little three-legged cooking pot that he had bought in 1925 for five shillings. To smart hotels or into the wilderness, the pot went with him. Once we were attacked by lions and he put his pot down as we were retreating. When he decided he was going back to fetch it we had a furious argument. I said his life was more valuable to me than the pot. He ignored me, braved a wounded lion and returned, smiling, with his pot.”
What’s also hilarious about this incident is the almost casual reference to being “attacked by lions”. It was probably elephants the next day, perhaps buffalo the day after. It was a different and extraordinary time.
And it is an extraordinary legacy of conservation that both Ntombela and Player leave a story that is not told often enough. The illiterate Ntombela, wise beyond teaching when it came to the wild, and Player who was a truly remarkable man – more remarkable even, we’d suggest, than his more famous brother Gary.
Not that Ian didn’t do sport properly. On returning from active service in World War II where he fought in Italy as a teenager, he took up canoeing, and he eventually initiated, completed and won the inaugural Dusi Canoe Marathon, from Pietermaritzburg to Durban on the Msunduzi River. It was raced for the first time in 1951, and his victory came despite being bitten by a night adder during the event. He also won in 1953 and 1954. So stick that in your golf bag and smoke it.
Ian Player died in November 2014 at the age of 87, a colossus of conservation to the last, and very much involved with the modern fight to save the rhino from the pathetic whims and affectations of Vietnamese party-goers and sad Chinese men whose penises don’t work properly. We take nothing from his great international standing when we say that he couldn’t have done all he did without Magqubu Ntombela. Together, they have inspired future generations of new conservationists to ensure the rhino, and our wilderness, lives on.
This is an edited extract from 50 Flippen Brilliant South Africans by Alexander Parker and Tim Richman.<