Archive | September 2012

Nyanga township is Cape Town’s murder hotspot

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Sex and drug crimes, hijacking and kidnapping have all increased in Nyanga township, named the Western Cape province’s murder hotspot.

Nyanga failed to show a drop in almost every crime on the list when the national police ministry released its crime statistics in September.

“God is probably punishing us. It’s been going on for long now,” one woman who lives in the area told City Press.

She did want her name published because “someone can attack me.”

“I’m afraid it will come back to me if I say something. It’s not safe around here. There are gangs and criminals in our community. Some of them (criminals) are still in primary school. They stab people if they want a cell phone.”

Thirty-five more murders were reported in Nyanga from April 1, 2011 to March 31 this year, compared to the same period the previous year. Murder jumped from 198 to 233. In total, 2,300 murders were reported in the Western Cape in the statistics year.

Masamdiswe Mpiliswano, a second-year accounting student, said she heard about murders, robbery and residential burglaries in the township where she was born.

“I was once robbed outside the (Nyanga) police station. These guys stole my phone and earrings. I went into the police station and the police looked around to find the guys. They couldn’t find them,” said Mpiliswano.

“Crime has gotten worse. There are more gangsters now. They don’t work and they rob people. I feel scared when I hear about all these things.”

Mpiliswano said that “police are trying to do their job” but needed to “drive around (to patrol the area) all time and not only during the night.”

“They can do a better job. People go to the police station and report crimes but some are tired of waiting. That’s why they beat criminals,” she said.

Her aunt Pulane Mpiliswano, who sells meat at a sidewalk braai spot, said she had seen robberies at the four-way stop where her business is located.

Pulane Mpiliswano. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

“They rob you. It happens right here next to the road,” she said.

Theo Sir, who works for a courier company, said Nyanga residents are ready to “take the law into our own hands.”

“They (residents) beat gangsters, especially the young ones, when they commit a crime. They first let him (criminal) commit a crime. Then they call a group of people together. They go straight to where the criminal stays to teach him a lesson,” said Sir.

Theo Sir. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

“It’s not a good thing to beat the criminals but the police don’t do their job properly. There is nothing I can say about government. They are also criminals. I no longer trust them. They don’t deliver.”

Locals complained about crime at every stop and turn in the township. Frail, unemployed and aging Nolinethi Gqwetha said there “are lots of gangsters all over Nyanga. It’s not a good life.”

Nolinethi Gqwetha. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Pumzile Nqabelele, a technician with the South African Navy, said “most people in Nyanga are unemployed and that might contribute to crime.”

“We know most of the criminals. But people are scared to report them to the police because it’s a risk pointing fingers. People also don’t want to go to the police station to report a criminal because they have done that before but only to find that three days later he (the alleged criminal) will be back again,” said Nqabelele.

Pumzile Nqabelele. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

He also said that Nyanga residents “need another police station.”

Iphendule Mdu, who sells vegetables at a street stall, agreed: “Government must employ more police. We want to see more police in the street.”

Western Cape provincial police commissioner Arno Lamoer reportedly said he hoped a second police station would open in Nyanga within the next three years.

Premier Helen Zille meanwhile issued a statement on Tuesday, two days before the crime statistics were released, saying that the police service in response to “on-going gang violence and murders has to date been inadequate” in the Western Cape.

She said that “84% of murder and attempted murder cases originating from five gang hotspots in the Western Cape end in acquittals.”

“There is an average of only 12,7% of murder cases ending in a conviction over a five-year period for Hanover Park, Lavender Hill, Elsies River, Manenberg, Bishop Lavis,” she said.

Zille said she has battled with President Jacob Zuma to “provide peace-keeping and visibility patrols (from the South African National Defence Force ranks) to relieve the police and enable them to undertake their investigative work” in the Western Cape. Zuma has to date dismissed her request.

“The Western Cape government and the City of Cape Town are doing everything, within our limited powers and more, to address the high instances of violent crime, including gang violence in the province,” said Zille.

“It is critical that the national government also plays the role required of them by the Constitution… We are putting pressure on national government departments to make more concerted efforts to combat gangsterism.”


Crime by numbers (Source: National Police Ministry)

Most crimes in Nyanga increased from April 1, 2011 to March 31 this year, compared to the same period the previous year.

Murder up from 198 to 233

Sexual crimes up from 368 to 398

Attempted murder up from 142 to 163

Assault with intention to inflict grievous bodily harm up from 990 to 1,046

Robbery with aggravating circumstances up from 623 to 879

Residential burglaries up from 484 to 570

Theft of vehicles up from 114 to 134

Illegal possession of firearms and ammunition from up 149 to 168

Drug-related crime up from 1436 to 1881

Carjacking up from 44 to 81

Robbery at residential property up from 50 to 99

Kidnapping up from 16 to 28


This article was published in City Press national weekly newspaper on Sunday, September 23, 2012.

Shnit short film festival hits Cape Town

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Let’s get this out the way: shnit is not a different version of a similar looking expletive, but the German word for ‘cut’ or ‘snip’, and so it makes sense that it’s also the name of a global film showcase.

So after having read this, if you hear about ‘shnit International ShortFilmFestival’, you’d obviously know your shnit from your (fill in that similar sounding expletive here). You’ll probably start hearing all about shnit soon, as this festival runs simultaneously in nine cities – including Cape Town, Singapore and Cairo – from October 3 to 7.

Cape Town organisers Sean Drummond and Kelli Lakey told ‘The Big Issue’ that it’s the third year they’re running this gig at home. And they wouldn’t dare do it if not for the shnit-loads of accompanying fun.

Sean Drummond and Kelli Lakey of the Shnit film festival. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

“It’s shnitastic,” exudes Lakey, a social media strategist, who is the media and communications manager of the local edition.

Drummond, a writer-producer-filmmaker, is the local leg’s creative director. They’re a pair of self-proclaimed “shnit stirrers”.

We begged to know though what makes their shnit so special. When we interviewed the shnitsters, ‘The Big Issue’ had news about three other film festivals happening in Cape Town about the same time as this shnit. A fourth fest had sent out a call to local filmmakers for content.

“There aren’t any conflicting film festivals in Cape Town,” thinks Drummond.

“But this is the only short film festival. It’s a taste of the global film network and it is such an expanse of films. It’s also a chance for local filmmakers to create work and know they will have a platform.

“It’s a way to explore an idea, scene, concept or feeling without having to put together a feature film project. It’s become easy to make a short film because the means of production are cheaper.”

Drummond says that shnit is incomparable to other local festivals because “it happens every year over the same weekend in different cities”.

At least 200 short films are programmed from shnit headquarters in Berne, Switzerland, where the festival was first held in 2003. Films are thirty seconds to forty minutes long.

Drummond explains: “It’s run by people in the film industry with love. We do it for fun. There’s not much return outside the fun.”

Lakey adds: “We have conviction that our films are good so we don’t have to make up for it by being serious… It’s off the wall. The festival has also created an environment for other short film festivals in Cape Town.”

Lakey loves the platform because short films “encourage more risk-taking and creativity”.

Shnit’s local component called ‘Kaapse Bobotie’ meanwhile showcases seven hours of home-grown talent. That’s a selection from the 80 local submissions they received this year.

“We’re showing the best short films made here,” says Drummond.

Lakey talks more about the festival’s three-day filmmaking competition that last year had social issues activists with a “heightened sense of social consciousness” participating. In other words, it wasn’t only about film school students who focus more on impressing with filmmaking form than meaningful content.

“It’s the second year that we have emerging filmmakers competing. We have Cape Town Studios as the location where they will shoot for a day. We have support from the local film community and it shows how much people want to see really cool local films being made,” says Drummond.

shnit happens at The Labia cinema on Orange Street in the city. Screenings also entertain at Pulp Cinema in Stellenbosch and later this year at ‘Rocking the Daisies’ festival. Details at or


shnit shows global films

Sixty-two films are competing in shnit’s international competition that carry prizes worth R800,000. Films are screened in different categories.

‘Feel Good’ is a selection of the “most heart-warming shorts”.

‘Peeping shnit’ features “frivolous, audacious and sensual shorts centred on that most basic human instinct”.

“Indulge both the flesh and the spirit with this delectably lustful late-night peep show, which offers a whole lot more than just the old in-and-out.”

Animation, documentaries and experimental films that provide an “expedition into the twisted realm” also feature at shnit.


Made in South Africa

Thirteen films have made it to the last round of the Made in South Africa competition for local short films at shnit.

‘Umkhungo’ is one of these. It tells the story of a “disillusioned Johannesburg street thug who rescues an orphaned child with uncontrollable supernatural powers”.

“On the run, he must help the sickly boy master his gift before a superstitious family member finds them.”

Another local film is ‘Implosion’ which offers a “glimpse into the mind of a young man that suffers from multiple psychological disorders including the fear of time, the fear of sound frequencies, and multiple personality disorder”.

“The young man holds multiple identities within his mind and the film, told from the eyes of the shrink administrating the therapy, moves between himself as a boy and later as a father figure.”

‘Bokser’ meanwhile tells the story of a “young conscripted soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress, who flees from his military base and heads to the one place where he always felt at peace: his old boxing gym”.

“However, when two military policemen arrive looking for Willem, things quickly spiral out of control.”

You can catch some more of this psychological warfare on screen from South African storytellers – and some less worrying films “just like auntie used to make it” – in the Kaapse Bobotie section.


This article was published in The Big Issue magazine in September 2012. The Big Issue is a monthly publication sold by homeless persons in Cape Town, South Africa.

Judge Dredd star recalls memories of Cape Town

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

New Zealand-born actor Karl Urban, known for his roles in Lord of the Rings and Star Trek, briefly recalled that he saw honeymooners Shrien and Anni Dewani in the hotel where he lived while filming Judge Dredd.

Karl Urban. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Urban told the Cape Times, in an interview this week, he saw the honeymoon couple the day before Anni Dewani was murdered. Shrien Dewani is in police custody in the UK while his three co-accused killers are jailed in South Africa.
“That Dewani… I believe he’s still in the UK. That’s incredible. He was staying at my hotel. I saw him and his wife,” said Urban.
The Dewani couple and the leading man stayed at the Cape Grace Hotel in late 2010 while Urban was filming Judge Dredd which releases nationwide this week.
Urban spent four months in the city and is back in Cape Town this week to promote his new film but also catch up with “grate mates”.
“I had a thoroughly fantastic time here in Cape Town. I took my family on safari. Met a lot of really wonderful people. Watched rugby between the All Blacks and the Springboks. Was a great season last year. Well, for the All Blacks,” said Urban.

“The strongest legacy is the friendships that were formed. I have great South African mates now.”
A screening was held for the Cape Town cast and crew of Judge Dredd this week. Urban said it was to “say thank you to them for their hard work.”

Judge Dredd is based on a comic book hero created 35 years ago. The character is described as a “bad ass cop” who takes out villains. Urban said the film is set in a “dystopian future… a desperate time (of) chaos, crimes.”

“It is fun to be able to explore that from the safety of our own seats, but it’s not too difficult to take a good hard look at the world we currently live in and see that it’s not that far removed,” he said.
“You take away the fact that in our story there’s a bit of technology in there, but fundamentally there is civil unrest right throughout the world. Mankind continues to exploit the earth. If you showed our reality to a film audience 50 years ago they would say that’s a grim future.”

Urban’s character wears a helmet for most of the film and the actor said this created “a challenge to communicate with an audience.”
“It was important to humanise the character. That’s where the dry sense of humour was important. The helmet is reflective of the environment. It’s a tough world. It was a protective helmet,” he said.

“I had to find out who the man was beneath the helmet. What humanises the character? Where is the humour? There is a weariness about this character. He has been dealing with this kind of a day – that he has in this movie – for a long time. It was important to find out where his compassion was.”

A concept the film explores is instant justice, which Urban says was a “desperate measure for a desperate time.”
“I don’t think that the type of totalitarian regime that is in the film should ever exist.

But certainly, as a wish fulfilment, we have all wished there was a form of instant justice for situations we have been in or for crimes that we have witnessed. So in a way this film is an escapist wish fulfilment,” he said.

Urban added that one of his favourite scenes filmed in Cape Town involved speeding through the city’s streets.
“Driving the Law Master motorbike in full Dredd uniform in full daylight in the streets of Cape Town when we were filming was a highlight,” he said.

This article appeared in the Cape Times daily regional newspaper in the Western Cape province, South Africa, on September 27 2012.

Cape Town needs better bicycle lanes, network

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Local government has thrown its support behind World Car Free Day but researchers working on alternatives to motorised transport find inadequate infrastructure to enable a car-free Cape Town.

World Car Free Day was scheduled to run from midnight on September 22 to midnight September 23. Councillor Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport, roads and stormwater, said in a statement this week that Capetonians should park their cars and use this “opportunity to use public transport”.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for car owners to explore the city on our public transport network. Together trains, buses and mini-buses reach many corners of the city, so whether you want to go to the beach, a shopping centre, or the CBD, you have the chance this Saturday,” said Herron.

“Travel on public transport, by bike or on foot keeps us and our environment healthy, giving us a taste of what life would be like without the noise, stress and pollution of cars.”

Lobbyists for a city that enables locals to get on a bike to commute say that there are a number of obstacles. So while in theory a car free city sounds like a plan, the city’s infrastructure is far from ready for this.

Cyclists in Cape Town need better bicylce lanes. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

The Cape Times recently went on an inner-city bicycle ride. A bicycle lane running on Adderley Street starts at the Golden Acre but hits a dead-end at Wale Street. Bicycle lanes are generally disconnected and inconsistent.

Routes leading down Somerset Road towards the Cape Town Stadium are meanwhile obscured with trees and dust bins. Signage is not always visible to indicate where a bicycle lane starts or ends. The result was a hazardous ride through the city with cars screeching not far behind.

Herron told the Cape Times that “cycle lanes and sidewalks that stop at a ‘dead end’ (would be) expanded through new projects as funding becomes available.”

“The vision is for an improved and completed network in the future,” says Herron.

“The strategy of implementing cycle lanes city-wide is fairly new and their implementation therefore constitutes a learning experience for the City.

“While some cycle lanes and sidewalks do have trees, signage and possibly trees located in them, there are a great number of cycle lanes which are unobstructed, such as the cycle lane along the R27.”

Khalied Jacobs and Sarah Patterson, the brains at Jakupa Architects and Urban Designers, are working on plans to create nodes in parts of the city that enable non-motorised transport. They also intend to connect bicycle commuters with public transport networks.

Patterson says that a lack of a “continuity of networks” is problematic and that the City would have to “design a cycling network with a few alternatives” as “not all roads need to have designated cycle lanes.”

“Safety is the main issue. We need proper signage and instructions relating to approaching intersections. We also need appropriate surfacing (for bicycle lanes), safe drop off zones, stopping zones and secure bike storage options,” says Patterson.

“We need safe passage from one intersection to another so that cyclists don’t feel vulnerable.”

Patterson says that public transport infrastructure projects will impact on whether locals use bicycles. She says that these transport hubs should connect with bicycle routes within the metropolis.

“The inherited structure of our city is about segregation and inequality where people are moved in large volumes from what is essentially a dormitory town to place of work, via large motorways that divide and isolate areas,” she says.

“Traditionally, public transport projects are addressed simply as engineering problems where solutions are devised on the basis of origin and destination calculations. We have to move beyond this reductive way of thinking.

“People are most mobile on foot and therefore, the streets, sidewalks and the public spaces flanking mobility corridors must facilitate and support pedestrian movement.”

Gail Jennings, an independent mobility researcher and cyclist, says the City’s “bicycle network is illegible”.

“There are some bike lanes which are bizarre. You come to an end and face four lanes of traffic and you have no place to go. There isn’t a coherent network,” she says.

Jennings says that best practise from other cities shows that City planning gets it wrong by placing cyclists on pavements next to pedestrians. Jennings says that bicycle lanes should be between pavements and parking spaces and not directly next to traffic lanes.

“Bike lanes should be on the road and not on the pavement. We also need advanced stop lines ahead of cars so that bicycles can move off first instead of being stuck in the gutter,” she says.

Jennings also urges the City to focus not only on the central business district when rolling out bicycle lanes.

“Most people who cycle in Cape Town don’t live near the central business district. Most people who cycle live in townships yet most of the bicycle planning if focused on the CBD is limiting it to people who have access to the CBD. These are generally wealthy people or those who have a car,” she says.

The City estimates that 350,000 people travel into central Cape Town each day and 210,000 of those travel in cars. Herron says the City wants to “convince ever-increasing numbers of car owners to use public transport.”

“Current private car usage trends are unsustainable from both an environmental and urban development perspectives,” he says.

Herron says the City will next week launch its ‘Share the Road’ campaign which “aims to create awareness that all (road) users need to be aware of each other, act responsibly and treat other road users with respect.”

“The City will engage further with the public through media releases that highlight the cycle facilities provided and the benefit of cycling. The City’s Travel SMART Programme also focuses on creating awareness and supporting cycling,” he says.

Cape Town’s citizens lay claim to pedal power

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Citizen-led initiatives are creating awareness about commuters who prefer not to use cars or other forms of motorised transport to get around.

Gail Jennings is the founder and publisher the Cape Town Bicycle Map. It maps a “network of safer, connected routes; locating bicycle lanes and parking; educating cyclists about their rights and responsibilities; and informing cyclists about bicycle signage.” Jennings also blogs about biking activities at

Bicycle Cape Town is a “community generated campaign to promote bicycle culture and advocate changes to transform the city into a truly bicycle-friendly city for all.”

Its website serves as a “crowd-sourcing platform where people can share ideas and stories about Cape Town’s emerging bicycle culture and suggest ideas to transform the city into a truly cycling-friendly place for all to enjoy.”

It also campaigns for a city with paths, parking, office facilities, signage and links to public transport for those who commute with a bicycle. This “coalition of local cycling and social initiatives” includes “bicycle enthusiasts, educators and activists”.

The Bicycle Empowerment Network, established in Cape Town in 2002, aims to “address poverty and mobility through the promotion of the bicycle.”

“It imports used bicycles from overseas and distributes them to low income areas, trains recipients of the bikes in safety and maintenance,” says the network.

“The bicycle is a large part of the solution to mobility and poverty alleviation. Our training programs are ensuring that bike recipients are safe and in control of their bikes, mechanically and otherwise.”

Open Streets Cape Town encourages visibility of bicycles in the city.

“It enables citizens to reclaim public urban spaces by creating a temporary network of car-free areas and routes throughout the city. It’s a healthy space for recreational activities that link communities and foster social integration,” say its pioneers.

Councillor Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport, roads and stormwater, said this week that the City would support the first Open Streets event in October which is also Transport Month. Herron said this would “involve closing certain streets to motorised transport.”

“Our goal will be to integrate communities through promoting the use of non-motorised transport, or what has become known as ‘active mobility’,” he said.

This article was published in the Cape Times regional newspaper in the Western Cape, South Africa, on September 21 2012.

Lavender Hill residents feel ‘ignored by City councillors’

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Empty chairs where City of Cape Town councillors should have been sitting reflected Lavender Hill residents’ long wait for government services to combat gender-based violence in the area.

One of the councillors eventually arrived two hours after the meeting this past weekend was scheduled to start. Another two arrived an hour after that and a fourth confirmed councillor did not attend the public meeting.

Llewellyn Jordaan, the area’s councillor who serves on the City’s social development portfolio, said that they were late because the Democratic Alliance party that they work for had called them out to Mitchell’s Plain. A by-election on Saturday meant that all councillors needed to monitor voting.

City councillor Llewellyn Jordaan and trauma counsellor Moeriedah Dien. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Ward councillor Shanen Rossouw meanwhile said she was late because she had to attend a housing meeting that morning as well.

Lavender Hill residents were unimpressed. They told the councillors they again felt ignored despite regular media headlines about violent bloodshed in the drugs and gangs danger zone they call home.

Jordaan promised residents a meeting with his portfolio committee on November 7.

“You asked what programmes are in place and that rings alarm bells. If there were programmes in place you would not be asking these questions,” he told residents.

“I want to invite the stakeholders to the social development portfolio to do a presentation. It’s important that politicians are made aware of the situation. You need to hold them accountable and ask them what they are rolling out.

“Put it on the table in front of our social development portfolio. You need to stay on board with all these programmes that you think should be rolled out and what it should entail. Nothing can be designed for you, without you.”

Residents at the meeting were a mix of volunteers and non-governmental organisation workers who assist abused women access services. An equal number of men and women were among the roughly 30 persons at the meeting.

They accepted Jordaan’s offer and plan to outline barriers faced to remedy intolerable levels of violence against women and children.

Ellen Pakkies, a Lavender Hill mother well-known for killing her teenage drug addict son, said at the meeting that government intervention should address drug abuse.

Community worker Ellen Pakkies in Lavender Hill. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Pakkies was not sent to jail for her son’s murder a few years ago but was instead sentenced to do community service. The Wynberg Magistrate’s Court declared that Pakkies already served a tough sentence after daily torment from her son. He had stolen her clothes, beat her and harassed her for money.

“Drugs are the main problem. When a child is on drugs they force their mothers to get them money. Some mothers have all four their children who are on drugs. Some of these young men on drugs rape and abuse their mothers. People don’t talk about it because they feel ashamed,” said Pakkies.

“There are no services for abused women in Lavender Hill. We are trying to do our best to help them.”

A main concern in Lavender Hill is that there are no safe homes or shelters where abused women can seek refuge. After they lay charges at local police stations they mostly have to return home where they are battered again.

Aysha Davids from the Women Hope for the Nation non-governmental organisation in Lavender Hill said that the area needed shelters because “women don’t want to leave the area because they want to be near their families”.

Davids addressed the justice system and told councillors that local police needed to be “educated on how to treat women”.

“The police should respect women who have been assaulted. They should handle them with care. You hear them speak, ‘What is your problem? What do you want?’ They don’t know how to speak to the community but they want respect,” said Davids.

“We had a rape case involving a young girl. We called the police. When they came to fetch her, she had to sit in the back of the police van and she was already traumatised.”

Davids said that police should also “help women who have an interdict against their abusers”.

“It’s almost like that interdict don’t count. The police don’t take that serious. A woman came to us and she had an interdict. She phoned the police and they didn’t come out. By the time they send out a van, that lady could be killed already,” said Davids.

Moeriedah Dien, trauma counsellor at the Steenberg Police Station serving neighbouring Lavender Hill, said that workshops would help women to understand their rights.

Dien is often one of the first persons an abused woman would talk to when she arrives at the police station after being beaten. She said that countless women would lay charges against their partners but withdraw these charges the next day.

“That is the cycle of domestic violence. We need more workshops to educate these women on their rights. When they withdraw a case they give their partner permission to beat them up again. Their partners tell them that the police won’t listen to them again,” said Dien.

“Families also tell women, ‘How can you put him in prison?’ Women will sit in an abusive situation because they don’t know where the next plate of food is coming from. They are indirectly saying, ‘It’s okay for him to beat me up because he is providing for us.’ They don’t have anywhere else to go with their children.”

Claudia Lopes, project coordinator with the meeting organiser Heinrich Boll Foundation, said they would follow up with the community workers to strengthen ties with local government.

Lopes said the town hall meeting was part of a series of talks about gender-based violence in the Western Cape and Gauteng. These talks are part of a two-year programme launched in July last year to research services aimed at helping communities find solutions to ongoing abuse against women.

“We have found out at three town hall meetings that Khayelitsha, Mitchell’s Plain and a farming area in the Western Cape don’t have programmes focused on gender-based violence,” said Lopes.

She said that working with local government has not been the easiest part of the job.

“In Khayelitsha, a ward councillor said he would organise a venue. When we got there it was locked and his phone was off. Only one ward councillor pitched out of four that said they would be there. The ward councillor that pitched was new and could not debate on these issues or make any commitments,” said Lopes.

“In Mitchell’ Plain, a ward councillor spoke about how women are setting fires leaving their hair straighteners on. Then he sexually harassed a woman from one of the organisations in front of everybody.

“She handed him a present and he said, ‘Oh are you my present or is this my present?’ I’ve tried to contact this guy again and had no feedback from him.”

Lopes said that a previous town hall meeting also turned out to be a political battle between political players in the ANC and Democratic Alliance.


A shorter, edited version of this article was published in the Cape Times regional daily newspaper in the Western Cape province in South Africa on September 18 2012.

Steve Biko: May dreams of freedom rise from his grave

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Murdered anti-apartheid icon Steve Biko’s legacy of black consciousness entranced a gathering in Cape Town this week via a public lecture by Nigerian writer Ben Okri.

It was the first time that Okri, known for his post-colonial fiction writing, visited South Africa. He delivered the thirteenth annual Steve Biko memorial lecture at the University of Cape Town on Wednesday night. It marked the 35th anniversary of Biko’s death at the hands of apartheid police.

Okri’s five-part lecture lasted an hour. During his focus on black consciousness, he said, he was not “advocating civil unrest but that the people are complicit in how their societies are run and histories turn out”.

“There is a micro and a macro dimension of black consciousness. The people cannot come awake in their oppression and fall right back asleep after their liberation. The continued wakefulness is the burden of black consciousness.”

He said also that the “challenge of our times has always been the challenge of leadership”.

“People can only be as liberated as its leaders are. Black consciousness says that in liberating your mind you should be your own leader. Everyone carries the burden of leadership,” said Okri.

“The leaders that you have say something about the kind of people that you are. Previously leadership was considered as an isolated event of responsibility. We blamed our leaders for our failures. The micro responsibility of black consciousness requires that we should blame ourselves for our leaders for they are what we have enabled them to become.”

Okri spoke like a preacher. His voice was soothing, his tone was smooth. He didn’t race through his prepared speech. He paced himself so that his words could resonate with an audience seemingly awaiting inspiration.

At some point, the gathering felt like a well-behaved political rally. Then it also resembled the Oprah Winfrey TV show with plenty of clapping hands at the right time. The gathering was wrapped up in a heart-warming aura – a trance, perhaps – and swirled in the words of a literary Olympian.

Okri reminded the audience of Biko’s writing too, mentioning the struggle icon’s book ‘I Write What I Like’. And he acknowledged previous speakers invited to deliver the memorial lecture organised by the Steve Biko Foundation.

These included former South African presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former South African finance minister Trevor Manuel, acclaimed American writer Alice Walker and Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe.

Okri reflected on Biko’s legacy: “We need Biko’s spirit now more than ever.”

“Biko is that finger pointing at the only acceptable future: a life and a society in which citizens can be proud of what they are… He is not an easy guide. He does not like laziness or lazy thinking,” said Okri.

“He has the rigour of young man who will not accept that a decent life is impossible for his people… He did not trust pity. And he might have thought forgiveness not really forgiving until the fight of truth has been brought into the consciousness of the one to be forgiven.”

“May the vengeance for his torture and slaughter be the constant coming into being of a beautiful South Africa. Where the frisson between the races be always creative and compel them towards dynamic harmony.”

Okri’s call to Africans meanwhile was to “pass the word along the five great rivers of Africa… pass on the word that there are three Africas”.

“The one that we see every day. The one that they write about. And the real magical Africa that we don’t see unfolding through all the difficulties of our time, like a quiet miracle. Infect the world with your light. Press forward the human genius. Our future is greater than our past.”

On Biko he added: “From his grave, may a thousand dreams of freedom rise.”

After the lecture, Okri met Biko’s wife Nontsikelelo and his sister Nobandile.

Nontsikelelo Biko wife of Steve Biko talks to Nigerian writer Ben Okri. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Nontsikelelo Biko said that she was “happy about what I heard today”.

“I always look at the number of people that come to the lecture. I get excited when I see a lot of youth. Our focus is on youth and to continue with the legacy of Steve,” she said.

“Black consciousness philosophy is here to stay. It will always be relevant. It makes people aware of who they are.”

Okri also met Biko’s sons Nkosinathi and Samora as well as their families. Nkosinathi Biko is chief executive of the Steve Biko Foundation and said they planned to open a centre in King William’s Town, in the Eastern Cape, in honour of their father.

“A number of institutions have shifted to focus from the circumstances surrounding his (Steve Biko) death to the essence of his work… His message finds resonance in many places that are still struggling. In Brazil, black consciousness is used to encourage young Brazilians who have dropped out of school to return to education and subsequently plough back into their communities,” he said.

“We will open the Steve Biko Centre that will have a museum, archive, library, resource centre, training facilities, cultural, performance and production space. It also features Steve Biko’s home which has been declared in 1997 as a national heritage site. It has support from national government.”


This article was published in City Press national weekly newspaper in South Africa on Sunday, September 16 2012.

African media needs Internet freedom, new technology

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Media freedom and technology transfer remain two areas that African media practitioners needed to focus on, concluded delegates of the Highway Africa journalism conference in Grahamstown.

Leon Willems, director of the global Free Press Unlimited group attending the conference, said at the closing session that “we need the Internet to be free and open”.

“We need it to be outside government control,” he said.

Raymond Louw, deputy chairperson the South African National Editors Forum’s media freedom committee, said that Highway Africa should also partner with the Pan African Parliament to fight against repressive media and Internet legislation in Africa.

“The parliament’s human rights committee has been meeting to work against these laws. I suggest that Highway Africa and the Rhodes University journalism department gets involved with the Pan African Parliament and participate in the campaign,” said Louw.

Delegates raised concerns that Africa could become the dumping ground for outdated digital tools from countries that are adopting newer technologies. The media’s digital switch-over meant that technologies were needed on the continent. But this should be done according to international standards of advancement as opposed to simply accepting outdated handouts, said one delegate.

Willems also urged conference organisers to enlist more African media professionals to talk about their work at the event. He said that the gathering meanwhile enabled meetings between the “media development world and colleagues from Africa… to create future work and partnerships”.

Other delegates urged Highway Africa organisers to also consider a gender agenda as part of its future programme. This was important particularly in relation to technology as men and women in Africa did not have equal access to media tools, said one delegate.

An increase of African perspectives and revealing how much worldwide media funding was spent on the continent were other matters that the conference needed to address in future, said delegates.

Enabling remote access to conference events should also be considered alongside making conference information available on the Internet or in print form so that others could “learn from this and move on with other debates”.

The sixteenth edition of the annual gathering of media industry professionals was hosted by Rhodes University in Grahamstown from Sunday to Tuesday. Among the issues discussed on the last day were the vital role of media coverage in conflict zones and corruption in the media workplace.