Thursday, January 31, 2008

Save The Scorpions

The destruction of the Scorpions is an issue which civil society, organised business and the silent majority within the ANC’s natural support base should use to put the quality of our democracy to the test.

Mondli Makhanya in The Times.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Leave the Scorpions Alone

One of the many things the ANC should be praised for, historically, is setting up the Scorpions. Let's pray that it will prove constitutionally impossible for them to undo their own good work.

“We shall never forget that the anti-Scorpions campaign was launched by people such as Brett Kebble and Schabir Shaik, both of whom actively went about buying influence in the ANC."

Bantu Homomisa as qouted by Don Makatile in The Sowetan.

I was in a meeting once, many years ago, where I heard Mr Kebble's spin doctor embark on this very campaign.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Vodacom Customer Care???

Dear Sir or Madam:

Re: Sony Ericsson W300i

This phone was handed in for repair at Rosebank Mall (shop165) on 02/01/2008. Nearly a month ago. It was returned with exactly the same fault on 16/01/2008. And sent back for repair once more.

As a professional free lance writer I rely on the phone for communication with clients. I have paid for a month of contract from which I have had no benefit whatsoever. None.

Please inform me ASAP as to the status of this phone. Or should I switch to a provider who does care?


James Whyle

Friday, January 25, 2008

Parting - Witsies Hoek, 1987

With sun and wind behind us giving lift,

We stand upon the hill and fly our kites,

Against the rising ramparts of the Berg.

Just cheap and plastic things. Mine wears an eagle

And his a sign unknown, and this I call the spirit.

They’re metaphors for the soul, I say,

Attached to the body by a shining thread.

This does not interest him. He wants to give

His kite more line. He’ll take it from my eagle

And climb to higher places in the sky.

A tricky thing to do with flying kites.

You have to hold the strings and tie the knots

Against the constant tug of void on soul.

Alright, Captain, I say. Go for it.

We steal the Eagle’s extra line and tie

Her handle on again. He adds the line

To his. There’s one knot left to tie when he lets

Slip. So much for Captain, he says.

We watch the kite soar up towards the cliffs.

It looks as if it wants to clear the Berg

And find its freedom in a higher land

Than ours, where kites are pulled at last to earth,

And travel back to Joburg in the boot.

Perhaps, like some of those detained, it feels

That death is to imprisonment preferred,

Or exile in a country far from home.

But in my hand the eagle tugs and calls,

And then we’re jumping down the grassy slope,

My focus split between two leaping feet,

And the tension in the line. The kite will fall

In any gap in my, or wind’s, attention.

What if the steep hill hides a mortal cliff?

But we both know what it is we want,

And so we’re moving fast and in control,

Down to the left where spirit’s tail

Points possible location of its thread.

We ease on down until the angle’s good,

And then turn right and up the valley, hunting.

Now line is firm and steady in my hand,

A steady pull from bird that sees its prey,

And leads me up the hillside to its fall.

Because then I see the eagle swoop and hang,

Lifeless, in a bright and cloudy sky.

I’m raving, winding, shouting up the hill,

It’s hooked, I shout, and wind the precious thread.

I pull them in. But then the eagle falls.

It lies, just plastic litter in the veld.

So I deduce from that that I’m a fool,

Imagining I flew and caught a soul.

The thread is slack and flaccid in my hand,

And tangled in the grasses of the hill.

I must untie the knots, and trudge back up.

Between us there’ll be only one to fly.

So, shrugging, turn to shout that I have failed.

And there it is. A vision, curving down

From edge of cloud it shines against blue sky.

It curves down, shining, till it meets the grass.

I shout. It’s moving past him as the kite gains height.

I shout. It’s there. The thread. It shines. It shines.

He does not understand. He cannot see.

It’s moving past behind him up the hill.

A change of light, and then it’s gone.

And faith with it. A beam. And there it is.

I shout. Behind you. It shines. It shines.

And then he sees, and runs to catch the thread.

I reeled my kite in from the earth, and he

I don’t know what from miles up in the sky.

It’s five and twenty years since it was done

And between us, only one to fly.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Steven Friedman for President

"Before 1994, much effort was devoted to tackling bigotry — all manner of programmes were devised to help white people confront their prejudices and recognise that talent and ability have nothing to do with race. But, because many of these efforts were meant to prepare whites for political change, they ended in the 1990s because it was assumed that the task was completed.

We now know that it wasn’t. The need to confront and combat prejudice is as great now as it was when we became a democracy. And so we must revive — and improve — the programmes aimed at challenging deeply ingrained racism. We must again place the fight against attitudes of racial superiority at the centre of our society’s agenda. The task is neither easier nor less urgent than it was when apartheid ruled."

Steven Friedman on Thought Leader

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thabo Mbeki, Mark Gevisser and the Cattle Killings

I’m nearly at the end of Mark Gevisser’s biography of Thabo Mbeki, A Dream Deferred, and ready to make a reassessment. It is a great book, and should be read by all South Africans. And anyone in the world who sincerely wants to understand South Africa.

The section on the build up to the negotiations, all through to the elections in 94, is as gripping as a great political thriller.

Gevisser argues convincingly that it was Mr Mbeki more than anyone else, even Nelson Mandela, or Cyril Ramaphosa, who brought disparate South Africans together at the negotiating table. He might have sometimes dangled carrots that were later removed uneaten, but he did the work. He saved our bacon, and he deserved to be the New South Africa’s second president.

But then there is his response to Aids. One has to come to the conclusion that, on his issue, Mr Mbeki has tragically internalized his oppression. Unable to follow the scientific facts: HIV causes Aids; Aids is becoming a big problem in the African heterosexual community; therefore we, as South Africans owe it to ourselves to examine and change our sexual behaviour, he chose to believe that the thing was a racist, capitalist plot. People were dying not of Aids, but of the secondary diseases. Either because they were poor, or because they had become too rich too quickly and were undone by a decadence which injured their immunity. When he said that he knew no one who had died of aids, he wasn’t lying. He really believed, and still does, that his friends had been killed by ARVs.

The sad truth is that Mr Mbeki is a great man with a tragic flaw. And that tragic flaw has been not dissimilar in it’s effects to the prophecies which led to great cattle killing. Mr Mbeki, if he had not been stopped by his party, would have had us believing in the Dreams of Nongqawuse all over again.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Muse and The Bitch

I’ve done a bit of reading over the holidays.

I read most of Hotel Hawaii, by Paul Theroux, and a wonderful Elmore Leonard. Elmore Leonard rules. Both books were fiction, and both, I’m happy to say, contained colons. There are colons in fiction, period.

I read a book on Gauguin and van Gogh in the yellow house. They believed that painting could make the word a better place, and maybe theirs did in a small way. It made me look a little more at the colours of False Bay and the mountains. Every evening there were ten minutes at sunset when the sky was a canvas and God did some brisk experimentation with hue.

I read a biography of Mao which reminded me to beware the middle class intellectual who is hungry for power. Some time in the eighties I gained some impression of Mao and heroism on the Long March. Well, the man only got included in the Long March by lying and cheating. He would send twenty thousand men to their deaths on a strategic whim whose aim was to get him onto the right committee. He hated the poor and used them as counters to buy the bomb from Stalin. He was a warlord when it suited him, and if you voted against him he accused you of “ultra-democracy” and had you purged. Communism was an excuse to appropriate the goods of those more well off. To push home your moral superiority you had them humiliated and tortured and killed. He was, to use his own kind of terminology, an I’ll-kill-you-because-I-can-ist. One grows up thinking Hitler was the greatest evil. Then you read about Stalin. Mao was worse, if only because he had more lives at his disposal than his competitors.

I got for Xmas, Mark Gevisser’s biography of Thabo Mbeki. Who is revealed to be… a middle class intellectual which grave reservations about the poor. A Leninist who advances his cause by strategically getting his people onto the right committees. A skill recently learnt by his enemies in the Jacob Zuma camp. God have mercy on South Africa. At the moment the best lack all conviction, and the worst…

There are some nice details in the book about the genuine warmth and kindness of Soviet Russia. I learnt that Mbeki was a fan of Brecht’s line about the ever present danger of fascism, “the bitch is in heat again.” The book is, sentence by sentence, well written. I’m not finished yet, but I suspect that Gevisser has been led astray. His publishers wanted a big book, and his “muse demanded it,” but his subject gave him only a six hour interview. His subject is, like a good revolutionary, secretive. So the book is unbalanced. For every plum of insightful fact about Mbeki (his family was part of the Mfengu who collaborated with the British and became middle class by incorporating European culture while the rest of the AmaXhosa were still at war for their land or engaged in a millennial national suicide) …for every little plum of fact there is a pound of icing by way of the author’s theorizing. One needs more cake, but the cake has been locked away in the offices of the secretariat.

Then I got the first of the books I ordered from Amazon (no sign of the Bufflehead Sisters yet), The Spooky Art, Thoughts on Writing by Norman Mailer. And it’s full of gems:

“I learnt to write by writing… the ability to put words on a page comes through years of experience and… bears resemblance to the sophisticated instinct of fingers that have been playing scales for a decade…”

“Writing a best-seller with conscious intent to do it is, after all, a state of mind that is not without comparison to the act of marrying for money only to discover that the absence of love is more onerous than anticipated.”

“The ideal, and as you get older you do try to get closer to the ideal, is to write only what interests you… If you try to steer your way into success, you shouldn’t be a serous writer. Rather, you will do well to study the tricks of consistent best seller authors while being certain to stay away from anything that’s well written. Reading good books could poison your satisfaction at having pulled off a best-seller. I don’t think Jackie Susann went to bed with Rainer Maria Rilke on her night table.”

“It’s counter productive to think, I’m going to put this in because it will sell copies. Usually that doesn’t work. There is an integrity to best-sellerdom – it is the best book that the author is capable of writing at that time. He or she believes in the book. …Stephen King was a desperately clumsy and repetitive writer when he started, but best-seller book readers responded to his sincerity. That was present on every badly written page. The popularity of bad writing is analogous to the enjoyment of fast food…”

(Paul Theroux, incidentally was also a little sour about Mr King’s success. Mailer does go on to say that King’s style has improved.)

“If I were in the Tarot deck, I’d be the Fool. I used to try to keep a stern separation between the public legend and myself, but you know, you get older, and after a while, you can feel at times like an old gink in Miami with slits in his sneakers. At that juncture, it’s pointless to fight the legend. The legend had become a lotion for your toes.”

Gevisser says that his muse demanded a big book. Mailer has, not a muse, but “the bitch goddess”. “Only poets and writers of short stories have a muse.” And just as the specifics of sex reveal character, so…

“A man lays his character on the line when he writes a novel. Anything in him which is lazy, or meretricious, or unthought-out, complacent, fearful, overambitious, or terrified by the ultimate logic of his exploration will be revealed in his book.”