We’re All Guilty

We’re All Guilty

pistoriusWhether Oscar Pistorius intentionally murdered his girlfriend or not, better than anyone he embodies the deep racism in many South African whites.

That’s hard for me to say, for two reasons in particular. First, I don’t think anyone anywhere is completely free of racism. Second, I personally know several white South Africans who eclipse Rev. Al Sharpton politically and socially.

And there are many, many more – perhaps a majority in some places like The Cape – who are far less racist than a random community in Texas.

But what the world is seeing in Oscar Pistorius’ life trial is a perfect reflection of racism.

If he is the premeditated murderer the prosecution contends, the anger that fueled such action followed by an attempt to disguise it as a reflexive response to a presumed home invader, is about two millimeters if that apart from Florida’s stand-your-ground laws.

And that, my friends, is racism through and through.

Yes, he’s also a murderer then as well, but my point is to show how deep and pervasive racism among some whites still is.

If on the other hand his self-defense defense isn’t a gimmick, but for real, that also reveals a trigger-happy mentality to shoot anything black in the dark.

I really have no sense whether Pistorius is guilty or not. My friends in South Africa are split, as I expect many friends and acquaintances of the growing number of self-defense accused in Florida are.

And South Africa, I believe, is trying to deal with racism a lot better than Florida is.

The South African Human Rights Commission is one of the best and most efficient mediators of racism on earth, a stand-out in a country built on such stellar principles, that is today in other respects breaking up miserably.

The commission reports of 10,000 cases it investigates annually, 80% are of racism.

Bad actions driven by racism are terribly tragic. They often reveal the schizoid nature of an individual who is racist, pitting a loving soul against a hating one, in the same body.

We like to think the loving soul will be the stronger, but it often isn’t.

Racism doesn’t begin willfully. Ending it requires great will, but the point at which someone’s behavior is governed by racism is not a conscious choice.

Their family, their community, their schools all contribute to creating a mind-set that makes judgments reflexively. Moments of life-and-death push racism to its extreme, because in such instants it’s hard to reflect carefully.

So whatever the Pistorius outcome is, it will likely be as incomplete and unsatisfying as the outcome of the George Zimmerman case. And guilt will never surely be known except for one thing:

The actions and the outcomes were determined no more by facts than racism.

Send Speelman to Sochi!

Send Speelman to Sochi!

speelmanHelp a black native South African kid go to the Olympics. Sive Speelman qualified and was invited by the IOC to Sochi, but an antiquated racist quasi-government authority has forbid him from going.

Invictus no more.

Nine mostly fat old South African men and only three women, most incapable of croquet, issued a finding last week that Speelman was not good enough to represent their country, noting that he’s ranked 2,290th in the world of skiers.

(I’m ranked 5,497,213,455th. By the way, I would like to point out that the composition of SASCOC with only three women violates the gender equality clause of the South African constitution.)

Click here to sign the petition that at the very least will embarrass SASCOC. And who knows, if enough of you sign, perhaps Speelman will be set free.

And support the kid: like him on his Facebook page.

Here’s the thing, South Africa. The Olympics is not just about winning. It’s about competing, and Sive Speelman can ski circles around your martinis.

Speelman is an 18-year old native South African who actually learned skiing and trained as a skier in South Africa, and that’s not easy. He would have been one of only 7 African contenders at Sochi, (which is terrible by the way).

And of the remaining 6, Speelman would have been one of only two (!) who are truly through-and-through African!

Only 17-year old Kenza Tazi of Morocco was born and lives in Africa (although she trains in France and spends a lot of time, there). Mathilde Petitjean Amivi (Togo) was born in Niger and lives in France.

Adam Lamhamedi (for Morocco) was born and lives in Canada. Mehdi Selim Khelifi (Algeria) was born and lives in France. Alessia Afi Dipol (Togo) was born and lives in Italy.

And 21-year old Luke Steyn, the only real contender, was born in Zimbabwe but has lived virtually all of us life abroad and is currently a student at the University of Colorado.

Speelman was born, raised, continues to live and train in the far eastern Cape, one of the few places in South Africa where there is regularly enough snow to ski.

“Any other nation in the world would jump at that opportunity and I’m as puzzled as many people are… It’s just sad,” Snow Sport SA president Peter Pilz said.

“It has devastated him,” said his coach.

South Africans of all races are sports crazy. But this is even crazier. This is when winning becomes everything, when bucking the odds is tantamount to failure.

And this will be lasting. It changes forever how the world will think of South Africa, now. No longer a toughie, the image has become one of lack of self-confidence, the little guy who will never get better and so just sits in the corner, whines and refuses to compete.

The fear of loss trumps the best there is.

Just as the ANC seems to be finally evaporating from the scene, so will the latent racism that even shackled blacks carry, today, in South Africa, dissipate. This kid was born after South African independence.

He deserves more. And apparently his home country won’t give it to him.

As Africa Sees The Dream

As Africa Sees The Dream

AsAfricaSeesTheDream“Tens of thousands” gathered in Washington, a fraction of the original march fifty years ago. In Africa it was hardly noticed. Why only a sputter, now?

The answer may be the same in Africa as here at home. National spirits have been whipped to death by the Great Global Recession and the Right’s successful control of its recovery.

King’s Legacy when compared to the struggles in Africa seems unfulfilled if now not outright desperate.

Obama’s first election in 2008 was a time when Martin Luther King was evoked almost daily in the African press. Even before Obama’s election, Africans began constructing King’s legacy as leading directly to Obama’s accession:

Kenyan scholar, Jerry Okungu writing on the 40th anniversary of King’s death as Obama’s elections were being excitedly anticipated, called King “first among equals” in civil rights movements for “Americans and indeed the world.

“Many Africans at the time got inspiration from King’s movement as freedom fighters in Africa,” Okungu continued.

But today?

Almost nothing. As Obama has seemed to sputter out, so has the King Legacy:

The more important fiftieth anniversary is being reported and analyzed only as republications of global news services reports.

Searches I made in major newspapers and journals throughout sub-Saharan Africa turned up little to nothing.

Only the Times of South Africa (Live edition) and South Africa’s main television network carried more than a single story.

But those two outlets do provide some explanation for the weak interest throughout Africa:

“Despite big gains politically and in education,” Times Live reports, “far more needs to be done to achieve the colour-blind society that King envisioned.”

In the second filing, Times Live explains that one of the great accomplishments of the 1963 March was the Voting Rights Act, and now, “The future of that law has been called into question [by] the US Supreme Court.”

That same story continues, “[Black American’s] 12.6% seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in July was double the national figure.”

South Africa’s state-owned and largest television network had a correspondent at the rally, and she reported, “Social and economic gaps between whites and African-Americans have only widened over the last five decades.”

She ended her single story filing: “nowhere is [the] commemoration felt more accurately than in Washington DC itself which is still a deeply segregated city.”

South Africa, in particular, is not even a generation from its significant revolution that ended apartheid and created a fabulous new constitution for the modern age.

America is seen as dragging its feet as it bumbles its way socially into the modern age. I don’t think there’s any disrespect at all for Dr. King, quite to the contrary.

But when seen through African eyes – particularly South African – the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., is one at best a tragically unfinished and stretched out story. One, in fact, that is being rolled backwards, not forwards.

Africans are extremely polite and remarkably restrained especially when it comes to criticizing good will that’s just not working.

That, in my opinion, is how enlightened Africans saw this weekend’s march. “A dream is a wish your heart makes” but that the body America can’t quite accomplish.

Beware The Blackened Honey!

Beware The Blackened Honey!

killerbeeracismRacism on the march, from Trayvon Martin to African Killer Bees … again. From rhino horns that are not aphrodisiacs to setbacks to immigration reform.

It’s a depressing Monday in the free but dumb world.

I know a lot more about inappropriately named “African Killer Bees” than about the Trayvon Martin case, but the fact is that it doesn’t take much for anyone to know about either to realize the implications.

As has been pointed out time and again, there is no such thing as an “African Killer Bee.” It is the same honey bee, the exact same genetic honey bee, as lives all over the world. The behavior of this creature in equatorial Africa developed a bit differently than in the non-tropic world … obviously, don’t we all?

And yes, the behavior of the equatorial bee can legitimately be called more aggressive than its sisters and brothers that have to deal with winters. The best and least disturbing explanation of this was a PBS interview of bee expert, Justin Smith, several years ago.

The bottom line is that the difference in aggression is not considerable enough to even begin to warrant the panic and racist fears that still continue, today. Just as some pet dogs are more aggressive than other pet dogs, you deal with it:

Whether you’re the owner, or the neighbor. Neither dog, and neither bee, is going to kill you if you don’t try to bite it.

But alas, what do facts have to do with any of this? Truth? It just doesn’t seem to matter.

“Beekeepers attribute the aggressive nature of [African Killer] bees to their origins in Africa, where predators range from birds to honey badgers to humans,” wrote Michael Lollar in Memphis’ main newspaper, the Commercial Appeal, just last month.

Where predators range from birds to honey badgers to humans. That sounds like Memphis.

But no, it isn’t. It’s those dastardly creatures whose “origins in Africa” make them so bad.

Lollar’s story was picked up all over the south and his wild and unsubstantiated claims spread pell-mell.

Lollar claimed that Tennessee authorities had determined that one local honey bee they tested proved 17% African. (How much is Obama?) But the Tennessee Department of Natural Resources has no such test available and has a much more realistic appraisal of bees in the State than Lollar.

That appraisal in the link above was for January, 2008, and the department has found no need to make any change.

If anything, we should be grateful for the arrival of the African honey bee, because there’s every evidence they contributed to the successful turnaround against the horrible virus that was decimating bees in North America this decade.

But here’s my real scoop, today, are you ready?

There are worse bees in Africa than the honey bee! More aggressive, better pollinators, probably more dastardly and with a stronger sting! Ouch!!

See below pictures taken just in the last few weeks in Kenya and Tanzania by dudu sleuth Dino Martins!
beautifulbees

And Beware! They’ll be in New Haven by Labor Day!

Too Much To Whom?

Too Much To Whom?

Less than three short years from the Arab Spring, ethnic domination and conflict is growing throughout Africa. Capitalism may be the culprit.

I once felt that education alone could ameliorate racism, but as demonstrated especially in places like Syria, Egypt and Rwanda, that’s not proving true. At least not when that education has occurred over fewer than several generations.

Few countries in Africa have been beset by ethnic turbulence to the extent of Rwanda, and fewer still have enjoyed such rapid prosperity in my life time. The guilt that America and France felt for having allowed the 1994 genocide was followed by such enormous amounts of aid that almost all the country, today, looks very similar to a successful western society.

Unlike the rural areas where my mother lives in Wisconsin, similar rural areas in Rwanda have fiber optic cable and access to high speed internet. The system of roads now rivals both in extent and quality that of places in rural Europe.

While the number of actual doctors is relatively low in Rwanda, the level of health service is high for an African country, as heady social services planners recognize that most of the diseases prevalent in Africa are best handled by nurses and health clinics rather than hospitals.

So as Rwanda’s ostensible peace and prosperity grows, many of its African neighbors find it increasingly difficult to plan policy based on Rwanda’s past of ethnic turbulence. South Africa announced recently, for example, that Rwandans who were given exile in the 1990s must now return.

Even the richest of African countries like South Africa feels a conflict when its national resources are used by foreign nationals. But the Rwandan exiles in South Africa are terrified of the prospect of returning home.

I am the child of second generation immigrants who spent their lives inside their own ethnic communities, and while my parents’ generation intermarried, usually one or the other parent infused us children with a certain ethnic identity. I think this is true for much of America.

And now, as a fourth generation of melded cultures, my childrens’ generation seems truly ethnic free. So it is reasonable to wonder if that’s the magic number: four generations of ethnic melding to emerge from racism.

Yet Rwanda stands as the example this is not true. The Hutus and Tutsis have intermarried for so many generations over hundreds of years, that their language has become the same. But there is arguably no ethnicity in the world that remains as hateful and separating.

The Alewites and Christians of Syria have been the persecuted for centuries, until somehow the Alewites imposed control on a region where albeit they remain a minority, they are free of their persecution. Conflict as open battle was reduced in Syria, but at the cost of many freedoms like speech and political opposition.

Compared to Rwanda, the South African ethnic problems remain in infancy, even though they were forged more than two centuries ago and reenforced throughout the modern era. Then, presto in 1993, a political system emerged that based upon its constitution remains one of the most just and fair on earth.

But a generation has nearly passed since then, and basic economic inequity has not improved for the majority. There has been interesting change: the two groups of South Africans that have always held most of the financial worth, the whites and the Asians, seem to be trading places.

But the vast majority of South Africans remain stalled out at the bottom. Now it’s important to add that the overall level of all sublevels has improved. There is more wealth all around, but the relationship of the ethnic groups at the bottom hasn’t changed to those at the top, even though it is the bottom group which holds political power.

It seems to me that there is something world-wide that ensures a status quo of racism defined by ethnic domination of politics and/or economies. And South Africa is the place to study this mystery, because this is precisely where the lowest economic classes hold the most political power.

And lo and behold, similarly in America, the middle class holds political power, yet it is mired in stagnation. In America, today, economic classes are acting as if they are ethnic groups.

And in both South Africa and America, political power has not ensured economic progress.

Africa is growing rapidly in economic terms… as its ethnic travails increase. America’s ethnic travails are diminishing, but it’s economic stratification grows stronger and more inequitable.

Is this, then, the universal relation? Capitalism is racism?

King, Racism & Obama II

King, Racism & Obama II

Today is one of the most important benchmarks in the American calendar, the Martin Luther King federal holiday. When I look back a year, I see progress towards greater social justice all over the world.

It isn’t uniform, of course. What’s transpiring in north Africa seems at this moment a step backwards. The misguided South African ruling party toys with national catastrophe. Central Africa is more turbulent than ever, and the entrenched and wicked leaders in Uganda and Rwanda seem hell-bent on those countries’ global isolation and backwardness.

Dr. King was the most profound proponent of radical change by and strictly by non-violence. That means his version of social change must come either within the existing system or through non-violent civil disobedience.

It is hard to imagine how Mali, Uganda or the eastern Congo will be moved forward by non-violence.

But even during Dr. King’s days civil disobedience was not without violence. Was the threatened doctors’ and nurses’ strike in Kenya to be non-violent? Technically, yes, but thousands would have died. The many various teacher strikes throughout Africa this year were all non-violent per se, but children denied their only substantial meal of the day became sick.

What I most remember of King’s turbulent last days was unbelievable violence. My most vivid memory is as a very young journalist penned under a burning El Stop in downtown Chicago while the city raged in reaction to King’s assassination.

I remember gun fire was a regular sound in my low-rent apartment in Washington, D.C. during the summer of 1968. Or the unending sirens and tear gas around my apartment in Berkeley that fall.

King is duly revered for radically changing American society with non-violence. Yet what I remember most is fire, bullets and ambulances.

Today President Obama is inaugurated for the second time. Our first African American President, some of whose relatives still reside in Kenya. The racist opposition to him remains strong. Powerful white elected representatives in Congress still engage in racial slurs and oppose him simply because he’s not white.

During his first term he battled mounting opposition to reverse his election on the grounds he wasn’t a native born American, despite his native State of Hawaii publishing nearly a million official copies of his birth certificate.

The horrible individual gun violence which has occurred in America during his first term, in cities like my native Chicago, and in horrific incidents like Sandy Hook and Aurora is due certainly in part — perhaps large part — to the growing ethnic and social divides that cleave America apart.

King’s philosophy of non-violence, like Gandhi’s and to a much lesser but significant extent Mandela’s, were not eras of no violence. There was incredible violence, and this violence — as with the sizzling El Stop that nearly fell on me — will be blazoned in our memories forever. But with time we’re able to reflect that that violence was the reaction to those heroes’ methodical, unswerving actions for a freer, fairer society.

And that the victims of that violence, whether a young student protestor clobbered by a policeman’s baton or an innocent six-year old school child gunned down by a madman embodying the evil of his society, are the heroic soldiers in a more just war than those who fire on enemies to wear medals.

Today, my President is black. My Attorney General is black. Dozens of colleagues, friends, employees and clients are yellow and orange and black, and this compared to my father’s generation would have been all but unbelievable. The world has changed for the better.

Happy Birthday, Martin! You’d have been 84, today!

African Perspective on Romney

African Perspective on Romney

No surprise that Africans don’t like Mitt Romney. But what is surprising is that they take Obama’s reelection as a given. Romney is not considered a serious candidate.

Or possibly Obama is considered invincible, and those of us at home know this is really not the case. But why do Africans think so?

The birther issue reborn a few days ago, Romney’s callous remarks about his ancestors owning slaves as reason he understands black people, and last night’s clumsy if crude endorsement by Clint Eastwood are all the types of news stories that quickly make it into the African press.

And frankly, those Romney snippets don’t portray a serious candidacy but one so far on the fringes it can appeal to only a very small group of people.

That’s, of course, where Africans are wrong, as is much of the world. Americans are credited with superior everything – superior economy, superior entertainment and superior government. But that, too, is wrong. And Romney’s appeal – however limited foreigners might think it – clearly appeals to a large portion of America.

In my opinion, it isn’t an America foreigners can’t know, it’s one they choose not to know.

There’s so much angst in the world right now, the notion that there is not a shining beacon on the hill is just something an African, for instance, would rather not believe.

The South African press in particular has been covering the election campaign quite extensively. The issue of most interest this week got little attention in the American media.

A reporter for Yahoo News, David Chalian, was caught unawares on a live webcast in conjunction with ABC News at the Republican Convention. As Hurricane Isaac approached New Orleans he remarked to a guest at his side, “Feel free to say, ‘They’re not concerned at all. They are happy to have a party with black people drowning.'”

Chalian was immediately fired by Yahoo, and that has stirred widespread disbelief that the American system is so unforgiving of impoliteness, particularly when the impoliteness happens to be true.

In a comment left after a South African report of the incident, ‘Pointman’ summed up all the other many comments that today flood South African newspapers about the story:

“The journo was most probably right. Remember the Republican party’s response to Katrina and the flooding in New Orleans- all those Black people (and whites too) stranded after the inundation and no help anywhere for days.”

“I agree,” then commented ‘Cocolucho.’ “The republicans only seem to care about bible wielding whites and no one else, which is funny cos they are such hypocrites.”

“Most White Americans including those that fired him,” added ‘Tsatsatsa’ “share the very same sentiments.”

“Americans are racist,” declared ‘DJ-Winner.’ “They go as far as calling that country a safety heaven. Safety heaven, my foot.”

‘MommaC’ said, “Shouldn’t have been fired for telling the truth.”

The comments are flooding the South African press, today. They are essentially dismissing the seriousness of people who really still question Obama’s nationality, who take Romney’s remarks about women and ancestors and abortion with hardly a grain of salt, and who would fire a reporter for what he thought was an offline remark which also happened to be true.

They are dismissing the Romney candidacy as no real threat.

Don’t be so sure.

Black and White

Black and White

Flip it, white man. What if you were, well you know, the other… color. They sang in London, but they were from Africa.

The difference between black and white, between slaves and slave masters, is the ultimate difference between race, although I agree with many that it isn’t that much different than between Kikuyus and Zulus. But it is the ultimate. You can’t go further down the spectrum.

My take of the many excellent bands and singers in South Africa is with this constantly embedded theme of difference, separation, oppression. From most of the rest of the world, it’s flipped. But today, in South Africa, it’s arguably the white who feels oppressed.

Last month in London the annual concert brought together contemporary music from South Africa to the white disaspora outside.

South Africa’s White Diaspora is one of the most interesting floating cultures in the world. Formed mostly by the 1800 people monthly that fled the country in the 1980s, it’s created huge footprints in Australia, Canada, the U.S. and England.

While some have returned, most have not, but unlike immigrants and refugees from other parts of the world, white South Africans find it difficult to integrate into other western societies.

I’ve often met, for instance, the children of those who immigrated speak with a South African accent even though they’ve grown up outside.

The tribalism of white South Africans is as strong as any black tribe on the continent.

Let the music tell the story:

Whose Creation of the World?

Whose Creation of the World?

A Congolese ballet currently moving through Europe’s summer festivals strikes a remarkable difference between American and European compassion to Africa. Maybe compassion per se.

Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula is currently restaging a near century’s old ballet called “The Creation of the World” that was first produced in France between the world wars. At that time it was widely called “The First Negro Ballet” since its depiction of emerging humankind was black, and as such, included pioneering black performers at a time when blacks worldwide were pretty much confined to trumpets and drums.

It became impossible then, and remains impossible now, to view this ballet as anything more than white people’s fantasies about black people’s existence. Racism in its most theoretical forms.

The ballet’s storyline is basically biblical, but the world that emerges is not flowering with white lovers under a perfectly formed apple tree. Instead, mankind births into something rather depressingly horrible: skin without bodies, torsos without hearts, and babies in abject suffering. Essentially, mankind without a soul.

And in the Bible’s remarkable way of accepting suffering as simple destiny, it prevents the viewer from leaping to any remedy. There is no hope things will get better in the ballet. The story ends in misery.

Linyekula’s thundering question is “How could they not see the suffering?” The English translation was made by Radio Netherlands after Wednesday’s performance in Amsterdam, and it’s right on.

More exactly Linyekula means why did they not react to the misery during the colonial age, and now, why are non-Africans not assisting Africa more than they are?

The question begs the question about compassion. And it’s logical that those who are responding most compassionately (Europeans) will also be challenged more often (than Americans who are doing less) that they are still not doing enough. That’s what Linyekula is trying to do: tug on the European’s guilt, egg them on to even greater compassion.

“The Creation of the World” wouldn’t succeed in America, today. Like anything troubling, there is a threshold of assumed responsibility, and I believe Europeans have a greater tolerance for heavy lifting in Africa than Americans. A greater compassion.

It would take me a book to dissect the cultural facts of current European antipathy to immigration vis-a-vis its greater compassion to mankind as a whole than American’s. But I do believe that:

Americans are fast losing their compassion, compassion for almost anything but themselves. Whether Europeans in contrast are growing more compassionate and tolerant is hard to measure on its own, but in contrast to America they most certainly are, despite the wave of anti-immigration sentiment polluting Europe, today.

The ready measures of this regarding Africa specifically are foreign aid and private investment, government engagement (military or otherwise) and free trade agreements. In all these areas, Europe is racing past America despite Obama’s attempts to stay even.

Europe is in a much worse economic situation than America. Why, then, is Europe reaching out to Africa more than America? The first reason is because of America’s current obstructionist Congress. But there are deeper reasons as well.

Europe is closer to Africa than America, so trade and investment is easier. It has more immigrants from Africa and it has a more pressing problem of refugees from Africa than America. But there’s an even more important reason in my view: there’s more guilt.

Few societies in the world used and profited from slavery as much as America, and we all know where they came from. But that’s perhaps too long ago for any residual guilt to move us in any contemporary fashion to greater compassion. The colonial period in Africa which emerged as slavery was being ended was dominated by European powers and lasted for a very long time. It’s not “so old.”

That was a mostly wretched period in world history. Parliaments in Portugal, Belgium and France have all apologized and paid reparations for their society’s unjust colonial involvements. The Catholic notion of repairing past wrongs by dropping a penny in the church’s collection box is a very European notion.

(And, by the way, it often works and has a much greater impact than lovely speeches about morality and compassion.)

To be fair, though, the production is not being swallowed whole in Europe. Linyekula actually extended the ending of the original production exaggerating the “misery.”

A respected French arts critic, Marie-Valentine Chaudon, asks “Does Linyekula go too far” implying European disinterest with the African suffering she accepts was in large part caused by the colonial period.

Perhaps. But what saddens me is that “maybe too far” in the European mind is outright “extra-terrestrial” in America’s, today. And while I’m no dance critic, I think the art Linyekula clearly has turned for political and social purpose is extremely valuable.

And I sorely wish we in America could achieve the same level of self-inspection with regards to racism, with regards to our lack of compassion.

Mama Africa

Mama Africa

By Conor Godfrey

Over the past week I’ve made it out to Silver Spring, MD, for a few great African films.

Opening night of the festival featured “Mama Africa” – a cinematic eulogy to the late great South African mega star Miriam Makeba. Find the English language trailer here.

If you don’t dance in your seat I would probably just give up the ghost.

As noted in this Reuters’ review, the worst thing one can say about the film is that it would have been even better had she been alive to comment on her own life.

Miriam was involved with the making of the film up until her death in 2008.

The rest is put together with help from archival footage and interviews with a dozen former band-members, friends and relatives.

Makeba with Nelson Mandela

In Miriam’s case, this includes many of modern Africa’s founding fathers like Sekou Toure and Julius Nyerere, famous Black panthers like Stokely Carmichael, and world-class musicians from all over the world.

Renown South African Trumpeter Hugh Masekala (Also Miriam’s first husband and lifelong friend) fills in a lot of her early history. (Find an upbeat anti-apartheid track from Hugh here.)

She was born into crushing apartheid township poverty in the 30s, and even spent six months of her first year in jail with her mother who had been sentenced for selling homemade beer.

Her rise was meteoric once discovered.

After being caught in the film “Come Back, Africa”, filmed secretly and smuggled out of South Africa by Lionel Rogosin, she was discovered by Mr. Harry Belafonte.

Belafonte went on to introduce her to the greats of the American music scene. She would eventually sing at JFKs birthday, and record with stars like Nina Simone, Desi Gillespie, Paul Simon, and tons of international stars.

She held seven passports and 10 citizenships at the time of her death.

Before the film, I really only knew her mega hits, like “Pata Pata.”

(Or find the song live in concert here.)

During the film, she actually says she wishes that some other song, with more meaning, had become her defining hit.

I suppose there is some irony in the vocal anti-apartheid singer who’s smash hit was, in her words, “a nonsense dance song.”

But there were plenty of more substantive hits as well.

Director Mika Kaurismäki featured songs like the Khosa wedding song “Qongqothwane”, known as the “The Click Song” by English speaking South Africans.

She introduced the song in the movie by saying that “the colonizers have to call it “The Click Song” because they have trouble pronouncing “Qongqothwane” with the right clicks.

One of my favorite pieces of concert footage was “Oxgam.” This particular piece shows her potent smile to good effect.

After all, she essentially had her pick (more like pickS) of husbands wherever she went.

Find the more emotional, slower Makeba in “Khawuleza.”

I also had the pleasure of seeing my old haunts in the Fouta Jallon region of Guinea when the film explored Makeba and her husband Stokley Carmichael‘s exile in Guinea.

After the two wed, all of Makeba’s U.S. dates and deals were cancelled in protest of Stokley’s activism.

At that point, a number of African countries, including Guinea, vied for Africa’s peripatetic daughter to come live with them as she still could not go home to South Africa.

In general, the film was a beautiful tribute to a pan-African hero, a tireless activist for justice in South Africa, and one hell of a voice.

Good luck finding it though – stay tuned here.

Sorry Mr. Kristof – I Don’t Buy It

Sorry Mr. Kristof – I Don’t Buy It

By Conor Godfrey
[Song of the day: This blog is on empathy; more specifically, what elicits it and what doesn’t. Have a listen to this Tiken Jah Fakoly remake of a song you will likely recognize – his version is called “African in Paris.”) For the life of me I cannot find an English translation online, so watch the video unless you speak French (except this rather awful one).]

I have a confession to make. I really, really do not like Nick Kristof’s reporting on Africa.

A few years ago I wrote a piece ridiculing the still common tropes that weasel their way into Western writing about African issues.

This includes stories with one dimensional human characters and three dimensional animals, or articles with such relentlessly negative points of view that all positives are expressed as little points of light in a tunnel of darkness.

Nick Kristof is the unapologetic champion of this type of writing.

The documentary “Reporter” follows Kristof around Africa as he reports on various crises.

Kristof literally (no exaggeration here) walks up to someone in a Congolese village and asks if there is “anyone very sick, maybe someone who lost children…that he could speak to.”

Talk about a selection bias! This drove me nuts.

Imagine if I walked into downtown Anywhere, USA and only spoke with mothers of teenagers that had recently been gunned down in gang violence.

To make matters worse, this mythical me is the most famous journalist reporting on Anywhere, USA, and therefore my thoughts on the health of this city reach policy makers, possible investors, ordinary Americans, and other journalists who then invite me on their syndicated television shows to talk about my horrid and emotional trip to Anywhere.

Professional Africa hands –African and Euro— have been criticizing Kristof for the paternalistic tone of his writing for years.

To his credit, Kristof publicizes their critiques on his blog and attempts (unsuccessfully I think) to address them head on. Read this entry for a recent iteration of the argument.

It goes like this…critics claim that victims in Kristof’s writing are always black and helpless, while the protagonists are often American or European, and “doing” something about the problem.

Kristof responds that he uses that construction to elicit empathy from Western readers who are apt to turn the page if there are no “bridge characters” (Kristof-speak for white people) in this article.

He takes this even farther in his famous op-ed piece Save the Darfur Puppy, (which I actually though was quite clever as a one-off piece – too bad this is his go-to trick).

Apparently, psychological research supports the idea that “bridge characters” and both literal and metaphorical “Darfur Puppies” can build empathy with audiences unfamiliar with the topic of a given article or report.

But I don’t think this type of empathy matters.

That feeling a reader gets after reading a Kristof story about malnutrition in Niger is actually entrenched indifference and superiority masquerading as human connection.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that most Kristof articles painted an accurate picture of life in many African communities (which they do not).

How could middle class America in any way relate/empathize with a severely malnourished mother, or a torture victim, if all these people are to the reader is someone who is malnourished, or someone that has been tortured?

We need to hear about real, complete people, not one dimensional victims.

The brutal truth is that when I read about torture in Syria I feel very little beyond the revulsion conjured up by images of torture.

However, when I read about the excitement of Libyan ex-patriots returning to Libya after decades in exile, or how a young Guinean entrepreneur built a web services firm with nothing, or the difficulty of changing old traditions, even when those traditions are as harmful as genital mutilation, I feel connected to the participants in those stories.

I have felt pride in my community, I have felt the thrill of success in a difficult project, and I understand how hard it is to break ingrained habits.

This is empathy…what Kristof makes you feel is not.

“Shoot the Boer” is Hate Speech–Period

“Shoot the Boer” is Hate Speech–Period

By Conor Godfrey on April 22, 2011

Julius Malema

Julius Malema took the stand for the last time in Johannesburg today.

It has been the most colorful of trials.

Most days it seemed more like a star-studded South African concert than a trial, as cabinet members, poets, and even the controversial Winnie Mandela have all paraded through the halls of justice.

Winnie Mandela

At issue is ANC Youth League President Julius Malema’s refusal to stop singing “Dubul’ Ibhun” (isiZulu for “Kill the Boer”…depending on whom you ask, the name could also be “Ayesab’ Amagwala or “Cowards are Scared”).

Here are the first couple lines:
“yasab’ amagwala (the cowards are scared)
dubula dubula (shoot shoot)
ayeah
dubula dubula (shoot shoot )
ayasab ‘a magwala (the cowards are scared)
dubula dubula” (shoot shoot)

An Afrikaner interest group had the audacity to suggest that Malema’s repetition of “Shoot the Boer,” or “One Settler, One Bullet” constituted hate speech, or an incitement to violence.

How could they possibly have got that impression?

If a bunch of former Black Panthers staged a rally in Time Square and began singing—“One Bullet for Every WASP!,” or “Shoot the White Capitalists!,”–how would people react here in the US?

I imagine not to well. But maybe that is not the right analogy.

Malema and his star-studded defenders argue that the song is a part of history, a testament to the struggle if you will.

They claim that the lyrics are proverbial—aimed at the system of oppression as opposed to individual South Africans of European descent.

This argument is too pedantic for South African realities.

Racial violence is not a long forgotten moment in history.

It happened yesterday, and the day before, and on a massive scale, just two decades back.

In France, the national anthem (La Marseillaise) is a violent, bloody affair:

To arms, citizens! Form your battalions, let’s march, let’s march! Let impure blood Water our furrows!

But people are not arming themselves after hearing it sung at a football match and then going in search of the nearest wealthy people.

It also turns out that “Shoot the Boer” was not even an integral part of the struggle.

Some members of the Pan African Congress (PAC) sang the song in the 90’s, but it was never one of the rousing struggle anthems that Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation- armed wing of the ANC) heavy-weights like Ronnie Kasrils, Baleka Mbete and Pallo Jordan helped compile into a definitive album of struggle songs.

See here for a list of the 25 songs on this Album.

Malema is loose cannon and his mere presence ratchets up racial tension: if the court rules that the speech is protected by South Africa’s wonderfully liberal constitution, than the ANC should clean its own house.

The ANC is a big tent, with room for almost everyone—but not racists.