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Monday, 1 July 2013

Recollections of the Voelvry Tour.


What follows is the text from my book of photographs of the Voelvry Tour, that incredible time in 1989 when young Afrikaners rose up in their thousands and said "We've had enough of this shit" to their leaders.

 I am back in the darkroom again, after an absence of 6 years. I never went digital. Instead I became a songwriter, after being a photographer for 20-odd years. But now I have started shooting again. And I was persuaded by a young Afrikaans friend to dig out and exhibit my images of the Voëlvry Tour for the KKNK.
 
 So here I am in the only darkroom east of the Sundays River, at Rhodes University, where I had studied from 1989.  This time I am staying with friends on a farm just outside Riebeek East, and driving into Grahamstown each day. Each day I churn out my lith prints. They require long developing times, 6 or 7 minutes, and as the developer becomes exhausted, much longer. Longer than standard black and white prints. For the first 5 minutes one sees only a faint, ghostly image. Then the blacks start to come, and quickly they spread over the whole print, like a fire out of control. It’s then that you have to pluck the print and throw it in the acid stop-bath.
 
  Watching the ghostly figures of James Phillips and Johannes Kerkorrel appear is unsettling. The darkroom is a good place for being unsettled, for thinking. Each night I drive the little dirt road back to Riebeek East. The same road James was on when he had the car smash that led to his death. More than any of the others these last few weeks, I find it is Phillips who I think about the most. He was the only one I never met. I met Kerkorrel several times. I gave him prints, and designed a poster for his show in PE. I shared a commune with Koos for 6 months, and he and Valiant Swart stayed in our house during a Grahamstown Festival. But even though by many accounts it was Phillips who started it all, he is an enigma to me. And he was a soutie, like me.
 
  My father is English/Irish. My mother is English-speaking but is a direct descendant of Jacob Cloete, who came here in 1652. Some Cloetes moved to the Eastern Frontier in the 18th century. In the early 1800s when all those boats arrived full of Scottish and English girls, many of the Boers in the Eastern Province learned to speak English pretty smartly and married Settler girls. So I have Afrikaans blood, but I’m a soutie.
 
  I never knew Afrikaaners when I was growing up. I made my first Afrikaans friends when I was 18. I thought my father would dislike them. He hated the government vehemently and would hurl abuse at the TV screen every night. I guess I heard my dad shout “Turn that bloody tit off!” often enough and for long enough before I heard “Sit Dit Af.” He was referring to PW, of course.
 
  But he seemed to like my Afrikaans friends.
 
  In many respects I was a typical English South African, culturally. I listened to all the music my older brothers listened to, music from overseas. I first heard Dark Side of the Moon when I was seven and was completely captivated by it. When I was alone in the house I would play it very loud.
 
  My first experience of a local band was going to watch Juluka in PE when I was 17. It was a life-changing experience. From then I attended the Four Winds Folk Club every Sunday night, in a dingy downtown hall. But there wasn’t much in the way of protest music, and certainly nothing in-your-face. But it was live, and that was all that mattered.

 In 1989, I went to study photography under Obie Oberholzer at Rhodes University. My best friend was a guy called Roger Christian from Cape Town. He had all these subversive Shifty Records tapes: The Kerels, Corporal Punishment, Illegal Gathering and Kalahari Surfers. But I never liked them much. I was outta reach by then.
 
  You see, I had come to loath all the eighties music. Maybe because it spoke of nothing. What did a band like AHA have to say to me, living in a country at war with itself? I hated all those bands. Modern Talking, OMD, Howard Jones, all those horrible keyboards. People who say the eighties had the best music have rocks in their heads. When I hear white South Africans reminisce about the eighties and say it was all about bad hairdos and great music I wonder what planet they were on. The eighties were about riots in the townships, civil war, PW, brutal repression and the Total Onslaught. They still play Modern Talking on Radio Algoa in PE, can you believe it. Never heard them play Koos or Kerkorrel. And James Phillips? Forget it.
 
  At high school I had begun listening to some of the eighties junk coming from overseas. But when I left school and spent 3 years at the PE Tech Art School, I joined the Bluesway Record Library. And that was the end of the eighties for me. I went back in time, back to all my brothers’ music: Neil Young, Dylan, Van Morrison, Rodriguez, The Doors, Pink Floyd. And I discovered some of my own: John Martyn and Nick Drake. So I guess, musically, the stuff Roger played was too anarchic for me.
 
  Then in 1985, I heard the Waterboys' This is the Sea, and U2’s Joshua Tree, and watched with delight as all that keyboard rubbish died, and heartfelt guitars were back. I found out years later that This is the Sea had been a favourite of Koos Kombuis and his friends. There was something in that album that was incredibly transcendental and redemptive, and very real and sincere, too. And I guess that’s what we all wanted: redemption. We carried so much guilt and so much anger. It was a crazy time, especially in a conservative city like PE. You could easily pretend it was all OK, and not think about it. But if you did think about it, the truth would, like Riaan Malan said, "bury its poisonous claws in your head and drive you insane."
 
  So by the time Voëlvry passed through Grahamstown I had, to a large extent, drifted off, musically speaking. But I went with Roger to the gig that night, in the town hall.
 
  We were a bit late and had missed Koos’s set. Not that I would have known. Few of us in Grahamstown had heard of him. We walked in on Bernoldus Niemand en die Swart Gevaar.
 
  It was a brutal assault on my senses. From never having seen a rock band in my life I suddenly found myself being blasted into orbit by what was probably the tightest, loudest outfit in the country. What struck me like a sledgehammer was the sound of Hanepoot van Tonder’s trombone. It was so fucking loud, in that small space! As if having just walked into a war zone, I hauled my camera out and immediately began shooting. By the end of their set I had shot off almost all my film. I think I had only brought two or three rolls anyway. I know I must have shot at least a few of Kerkorrel that night, because three months later I weasled my way into his Grahamstown festival show for free by giving him a print of himself. And it was there, that night, that the strangest most bizarre coincidence happened.


  Once again I had only taken two rolls of film with me. We shot carefully in those days, no banging away like a monkey that people do in the digital era. Two rolls was enough. And Obie was teaching us how to see well, and expose well, and think before you shoot.
 
  I came to the second roll and shoved it in. What I didn’t realise till the next day was that it was a roll that had already been exposed. I had shot a few rolls a few weeks prior as part of a little photo essay I did on a guy called Louis, who was the church organ player at the Anglican cathedral. I photographed the rituals he went through before he practised, how he ascended the narrow little flight of stairs to the organ bare-footed, and took shots of him putting on the shoes he would leave there, tying the laces, then some of him at the organ. So that’s what I saw when I took the film out to hang in the dryer: Kerkorrel super-imposed over a kerkorrel.

  I was devastated. It was a mistake, and Obie told me I was a fuck-up for being slapgat with my film. That was the way we all worked. Chance played no role in photography. That all changed with me over the years, but at that time, that’s the way I was. I liked the fact that it was Kerkorrel over a kerkorrel, but it hadn’t been intentional. It wasn’t precise. I printed only one or two shots from those gigs, and carried on my photographic journey, which was at the time not a documentary one. I only looked at those shots again many years later. After the Voëlvry book came out.
 
  The year after Voëlvry, my digs-mates and I got a call responding to an add we placed in the Mail and Guardian, offering accommodation during the festival. It was from some guy in Stellenbosch called Louis and he was bringing some bands to Grahamstownt. The bands were Koos and Valiant Swart’s bands.
 
  So I am one of the clever God-despising liberal students Koos writes about in Short Drive to Freedom. I am the one who went pale when I saw the pile of dagga Acid Alex was contemplating, and disappeared for the remainder of the festival. It makes for a good story, but the truth is more mundane. I did indeed go pale, because our house often got raided by the cops, as there were NUSAS people living there. But I had my first exhibition at the festival, so I had to sit at the venue every day. And I also had a job as assistant to the exhibitions manager for the festival. Besides, in those days I didn’t despise God at all. I was too shy to say boo or bah to anyone, let alone God. That was Jimmy Roth and Mark Stein, who would go on about how they’d like to fuck God up the bum, but Koos only got to know them the following year, and I only got to know Koos the following year too, when he returned to live on the property for about 6 months. I think he liked Grahamstown 'cos none of us treated him like a big star. I think what Koos has done is blend me, Jimmy and a few others into one persona. But it made for a good story, and a good story it is.
 
  Those 12 days with the Swart Kombuis living in our house were completely insane. Especially to our landlord, who nearly had a baby when he saw the wreck they left. He threw his toys. Breach of contract, this that and the next thing. Fortunately Jimmy got most of the blame, because he was an economics student and "should have known better."
 
  On the last day the plumbing collapsed, flooding the bathroom and passage. They never used the dustbin. Acid Alex did most of the cooking. Potato peels, chicken carcasses, leftover rice and all the rest were simply thrown in the corner of the kitchen in a pile that got very large. Their manager, this Broodryk fellow, seemed to operate at an extremely high frequency. You never saw him at the house. But you’d see him all over town in his kombi putting up posters, handing out flyers, constantly on a mission. I began to wonder where he found the time to even take a shit.
 
  My question was answered by Irene, the lover of my friend Vos Van der Merwe. They had come to stay for a few days and one day she was taking a bath. Suddenly the door burst open and the volcanic eruption of energy that was Louis marched past her to the toilet, stating, more than asking: “Mind if I have a shit?” and simply pulled down his pants and took a dump with Irene still sitting in the bath.
 
  Another friend from PE called Gary came to stay for a few days, but only lasted one night. He was straight out of school and the Swart Kombuis was all just too much for him. When he came across one of the groupies taking a piss standing over the toilet, with the door wide open, he fled.
 
  Various people made the lounge their home, and if I or one of my friends woke up in the night, it was easier to go take a piss in the garden than to negotiate one’s way through the lounge past all the bodies, some sleeping, some passed out in post-coital slumber and some still copulating.

 Both the lounge door and my bedroom door opened onto the veranda, and one night, on hearing a knocking, I opened the door on a small very dishevelled man. He looked like he had been in a fight and he had scabs on him. He reminds me a bit, now that I think back, of Conrad Botes the time I met him in Cape Town, when he had just, a few days before, fallen off his motorbike. Come to think of it maybe it was Conrad Botes. He was often in Grahamstown those years, selling Bitterkomix.

 “Excuse me I’m looking for the Black Kitchen.” Rubbing sleep from my eyes, it took me a second or two to register. “Oh, right… Swart Kombuis. Go through this door alongside here.”

  One night I walked into my room tired, and probably a bit drunk, to find a thin figure, probably a girl, asleep on the floor, with a blanket thrown over her. I went to Koos and asked “Who’s that girl asleep in my room?” to which he replied “No, that’s your friend Ric." Ric was a sculptor from PE who I never ever saw eat anything. He just drank lots of whisky and took loads of drugs. He’d spent his first night at the festival sleeping in the autobank room on campus.
 
  And so it was that the only documentation of that time I have access to is Ric’s sketchbook, where he wrote down snippets of conversation and did little drawings. He hung out with them every day, and from him I gathered they had a routine. They would wake up around midday, long after I'd gone off to work, or to my exhibition. Then they would drink and smoke. They rarely left the house. A multitude of people would drift in and out. They never saw any shows or exhibitions or anything. Then at about 10 pm Louis would arrive in the kombi and load them all up to take them to their show in a basement at PJ Olivier Hoërskool. I went to one of their shows with Ric and Vos but all I recall is that it was very loud, and extremely hot and smoky.
 
  It is my greatest photographic regret that I did not photograph what went down in that house. My approach then was to construct images, not photograph life as it unfolded. Dumb, but it's where I was at the time. And anyway, I was too shy. I think Koos took that shyness as some kind of aloofness, or even rudeness, because after a few days he came to me and said, “Hey listen we been living in your house since, like, last week, and we don’t know you. Come have a drink with us.”
 
  So I sat with them in the room with the fireplace, and drank. Then I smoked a joint, which made me much, much more shy. It was a no-win situation. I do recall though that Acid Alex was the joint-roller. He had a huge pile of zol in front of him and for the two or three hours I sat there with them all he did was roll joints. Enormous joints. As soon as he had finished one, he would fire it up and pass it on. Then he would immediately begin work on the next one. I’d never seen anything quite like it.  
 
  Apart and aside from all this mayhem (although in no way aloof or anything) seemed Valiant. He lived in one of the outside rooms, and it was him that I gelled with the easiest. We spent a great deal of time discussing the music of Van Morrison. We thought the same albums to be his best ones. My friends from that time will laugh when they read this, and say, “Well that’s pretty much all you could talk about back then.” They wouldn’t be far wrong.
 
  The following year Koos returned to stay on the property, and I got to know him better. I photographed him and his companion, a drama student whom I knew called Laurien Myles. I took them into the studio and set up lights and all that. I thought that was the way we were supposed to do portraits. I kinda regret not doing snaps of all the lazy days sitting in our lounge talking kak and laughing, but I guess I sensed that neither Koos nor I would have been comfortable doing that. He liked the anonymousness Grahamstown gave him.
 
  After that first sojourn, he had left a small book of his poems at the house, handwritten. It was in one those cheap little Oom Dik books. I had no idea how to contact him, this being pre-cellphone era and Koos being somewhat… nomadic. So I hung onto it, knowing I would run into him again, which I did.
 
  But in the interim I returned to my parent’s house in PE for the December vacation. One day I left it on the coffee table in the lounge after I had been reading the poems again. My dad found it and called me to the lounge.
 
  “Who does this belong to?” he asked.
 
  I went sort of cold and began trying to remember how many if any of the poems had made reference to illegal substances, or goening, or anything like that.

  “Oh, uh, it belongs to this guy called Koos who stayed in our house… Why?”
 
  “These are the most beautiful poems I have ever read in Afrikaans,” he said.

  Years later, when listening to Koos (which I did a lot: Niemandsland became one of the seminal albums of my life, and for some reason we always played it loudly in our digs when we cleaned the house on Sundays. It seemed the right album to play while sweeping out the shit) I often reflected on that. And on the incredible genius of Koos, who, with a few poems, could break through all those barriers of age (my father is old, he fought in WWII) and tribe (he loathed the Nats with a passion). But I guess I kind of lost sight of the fact that my old man had never loathed Afrikaners in general. How could he? He married a kind-of-Afrikaner.  
 
  Did Voëlvry change my life? Absolutely. I sought out, from then, only musicians who sang about us here now. I became very close friends with the first two white songwriters in PE to start doing this: Anton Calitz and Dave Goldblum. Their music helped me make sense of my identity as a white boy in PE at the end of Apartheid. I designed all their posters for them. Later I discovered the music of Chris Letcher and Mathew van der Want and became a huge fan of theirs.
 
  And, more importantly to me, six months after Koos and Valiant stayed in the house, I picked up a guitar myself. And the first two songs I ever performed publicly (at a really dodgy biker bar in PE in 2004, with Merrisa Du Plooy), the songs that helped me find my voice, were Onder in my Whiskey Glas and Famous Blue Raincoat. Because Koos Kombuis and Leonard Cohen are in the same league to me.

  It also made me see my own tribe quite differently, and realise that I’m not really part of that tribe. My tribe now is not English-speaking white South Africans, but musicians and artists and writers and photographers of various colours and language groups. And outside of this little tribe I feel quite foreign.
 
  Voëlvry never did for us souties in general what it did for many Afrikaners. If it did I wouldn’t find myself thinking about James Phillips and crying while I drive that little road to Riebeek East. Few of us gave a fuck about him.
 
  And when people come up to me and say, after I write a funny slang song in the vein of David Kramer, “Hey Tim, you should write more songs like that. Stop all that depressing stuff about how we’ve lost our way,” I think, yeah. And be like James Phillips: bleeding in a ditch with the knowledge that people only saw him as a joke. Fuck that shit. I'd rather make a living building decks and kitchen cupboards. Which is what I do in PE.
 
  I know there are some younger people who dis the Voëlvry guys. And academics who downplay what that whole thing did. But I’ve seen on the Voëlvry documentary what those gigs on the Afrikaans campuses did. I was there when the show passed through Grahamstown. The effect was not the same. On campuses like Stellenbosch it was "a helluva thing," to quote Willem Moller.
 
  To me, the most poigniant moment of that Voëlvry documentary is when Koos tells the story of Ryk Hattingh, who comes right up to the front of the stage while Koos is playing, and crying like a baby, begs him:

  “Vat dit weg! Vat dit weg!”
 (“Take it away! Take it away!”)
 
  “Hy’t nie bedoel, “Vat ons weg” nie," said Koos. "Hy’t bedoel Vat dit weg. Vat hierdie ding weg. Julle kan dit doen. ”
    (“He didn’t mean take us away,” said Koos. “He meant take it away. Take this thing away. You can do it.”)

  And although us souties on the whole never experienced that, for me, the Voëlvry movement helped me to begin to embrace my inner Afrikaner, and leave some of the musical baggage of my tribe behind in the process.



Thursday, 2 May 2013

My response to Roland Williams' letter to the Herald this week, wherein he takes the DA to task for hijacking Mandela's legacy. Williams is spin doctor for Nelson Mandela Bay's city council.

  Regardless of the validity of his argument, Roland Williams' letter attacking the DA for hijacking the legacy and name of Nelson Mandela has got to be the the most classic case of the pot calling the kettle black I've seen in years.

   Just about everything in this town has been renamed after Mr Mandela. Last time I checked, the Art Museum, the University and the entire town itself had adopted the name of a man who has never spent more than a few hours, or days at most, of his time here. In fact I don't think he ever set foot in PE until after he was released from prison. East London, being closer to Qunu and Fort Hare, has more of a right to start naming things after him.

   "Man United can never go around claiming to be the best team in the world by making reference to Messi...who at some point in his illustrious career paid a compliment to Van Persie," says Williams.

   Similarly PE can never go around claiming to be the best city in Africa by making reference to Mandela who at some point in his illustrious career paid a fleeting visit to PE.
 
 Tell me that isn't what you tried to do by branding PE as Nelson Mandela Bay, and as "Africa's Capital of Freedom and Excellence," as all the billboards proclaimed a while ago. Preposterous hyperbole if I ever heard it. Shall we ask the 2500 swimmers, coaches and parents who've just left here thinking we couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery? Or the people who came here for this year's Splish Festival?
 
From the second biggest settlement in the colony just over 100 years ago, with a number of firsts to its name (first cricket test match ever played in South Africa, first art school ever built), PE slowly sank into obscurity, and by the 80's was practically invisible in the national media, appearing only as the butt of unkind jokes about cultural graveyards. In fact, the only thing we've ever done that has gone stratospherically global and really "put us on the map" is kill Steve Biko. Not true? Name me one other time PE has made headlines all over the world.

   There's a classic Simpsons episode where Springfield is voted Worst Town in America. At a town meeting to address the problem, Marge's sisters Patti and Selma put forward their plan:

   "The easiest way to become popular is to leach off the popularity of others. So we propose changing the name Springfield to... Seinfeld!"
 
  Come on, Mr Williams. Tell me with a straight face that wasn't what you all tried to do. PE's national image was in the mud ten years ago. Some would say it still is, others would say the water's still just a bit green. Renaming the city had nothing to do with honouring legacies. If it was about that you would be honouring Biko's legacy, or at least doing something about the sad state of Biko House, but none of you in city council ever make reference to him. Why? Because he wasn't an ANC man. It's all become so shamelessly and transparently about The Party's narrow self-interest.

   Sorry Mr Williams. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. You lot started with this hijacking of Mandela's name. I thought the Art Museum was a good idea because in all honesty who gives a toss about King George the 5th or whatever he was. But then the university, and then the entire town? Get real. It's very transparent to people in other cities.

   My two cents worth: We should just be. We are not Africa's or even South Africa's Capital of Freedom, a vague, unquantifiable term anyway. We are most certainly not Africa's capital of excellence either.  We're just a small city on the arse end of Africa. In some respects it's a bleak place, in other respects its pretty damned awesome. But we are not the centre of the universe, despite what some megalomaniacs think, and all this renaming of everything after Mandela reeks of a small-town inferiority complex similar to what you accuse the DA of.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Do we need religion to create a moral, just and fair society?


One of the most common arguments I hear for religion is that it assists in creating a moral framework to guide us in the creation of a just, safe and fair society. There is a simple way to ascertain whether or not this is the case: we simply look at the statistics. What countries in the world are the most just and fair? Where are women and children the safest? What countries have the lowest murder and rape rates? Which have the least inequality and disparity of wealth? Where are civil liberties most protected? In other words, where on the planet is life the best for the average citizen?

Conversely, where is it the worst in these regards? And now what proportion of these populations are religious?

These figures are easy to find, and after all, the bible says, “By your fruits you shall be known.”

It soon becomes clear that a number of countries feature regularly on the best and worst lists. Honduras, El Salvadore, Ivory Coast, Jamaica and Venezuela have the five worst per capita murder rates. Where I live, South Africa, comes in at number 8, with 31,8 homicides per 100 000. It also features at number 1 for rape statistics, but rape statistics are the most unreliable of all, for a huge variety of reasons.

These murder statistics, it must be pointed out, are not accurate across the board, as the governments of most African countries do not keep accurate track of births and deaths. You get born, you die, they put you in the ground. In fact it would be stretching things a bit to say that countries like the DRC and Somalia have governments at all. Added to this are the incessant civil wars and conflicts that rage at any given time across the continent. When the Nigerian police kill Niger Delta activists, are they recorded as murders? Unlikely.

The countries where you are least likely to be murdered are Palau and Monaco, where your chances are nil. But to be honest, Monaco is the size of a postage stamp, so there’s probably nowhere to hide, and Palau… well, I haven’t a clue where that is. Larger countries on the top ten list include Iceland, Japan, Norway and Austria. All northern European countries are high on the list of safe countries.

Another list of interest is the Human Development Index, which looks at life expectancy, mean years of schooling and per capita income. Here, Norway is number one, followed by Australia, Holland, Denmark, USA, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Germany and Sweden. In fact, the USA and Ireland are the only two countries in the top twenty on this list that can be described as predominantly religious countries.

Civil liberties are measured by Reporters Without Borders. This basically measures how free people are to gather together and protest, and to speak their minds without fear of persecution or death.

Norway comes in at number two here, Finland being number one. Also in the top ten are Estonia, Holland, Austria, Iceland, Switzerland, and Canada. Ireland is the only predominantly religious country in the top 20. China is 6th last on the list. Nigeria is number 126, the USA number 47.

In terms of good governance, the corruption index is a useful list. The ten least corrupt nations on earth are Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, Norway, Canada, Holland and Iceland. There are no predominantly religious countries in the top 20. Nigeria comes in at number 139, nestled next to Pakistan. Close on 400 billion US dollars in oil money has ‘gone missing’ there since the drilling began, according to the IMF, enough to build half a million very large schools with computers, desks, books and all. Or about 1,2 million churches, if they’re into that, because all you need there is just a single book, a pulpit and some benches.  If it’s a mosque you don’t even need the benches, and the book’s a bit thinner too.

I guess we don’t really need lists or research to tell us that quality of life for women and children (girls in particular) is not very good in say, Afghanistan, but very good in Norway, and so once again all the northern European countries occupy the highest positions on this list while Islamic nations are near the bottom, along with countries in Africa where they cut little girls’ clitorises out or make child soldiers of the boys. Muti murders being very high will also tend to affect where the country is on the safety-of-children list, and argue as you may, it is impossible to not ultimately admit that these killings fulfill a religious function. It might not be your religion but it is a religion, however fucked-up.

And now it’s time to see which countries are the most religious: what percentage of the population attends a religious service weekly.

Lo and behold, Nigeria is a very religious place, the most religious. 89% of its population attend church. Unfortunately, it has not succeeded in exporting its faith quite as successfully around the world as it has its money-laundering scams, criminal networks, and generally corrupt business practices. It did assist though, if I recall correctly, one of those American Evangelists with his blood-diamond and gun-running exploits, so maybe he can be of assistance to them in spreading The Word, or their peculiar version of it.

Second on the list is Ireland, with 84% attending church, and somewhat of an anomaly on all the lists. A spanner in the works if you wish to prove that a safe, just, humane society is hampered by the presence of religion. But you could be forgiven for assuming that it is usually hampered by its presence.

The top twenty on this list does not make for comforting reading if you are of the opinion that the presence of religion creates such a society. 56% of South Africans (number four on the list) take a break from the national past-time of rape to attend church weekly, although I have read other statistics that put the figure closer to 70%. More than 70% of Americans describe themselves as Christian, with 44% attending church weekly, no doubt to agonise over the fact that in terms of disparity of wealth they are at the bottom of developed nations, and are actually breathing down Ruanda and Cambodia’s necks. And us very religious South Africans will soon be giving Haiti a run for it’s money in that department if we don’t do something besides pray to the Invisible Man in the Sky.

On the other hand, the godless Japanese attend religious services the least, and somehow manage to get through each year with less than a few hundred of them feeling the need to take a human life for whatever reason, and when the weather gets nasty and the sea gets rough, all queue up diligently to help one another, unlike in say, New Orleans. I suppose their move to a secular society was helped by the fact that The Emperor was God’s representative on Earth until that incident with The Enola Gay sowed some doubt in people’s minds.

Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland are all in the top ten least-religious countries, with each having less than 6 % trotting off to church on Sundays.

China is also very low, however (9%), and with 80% falling under the category atheist. Not the kind of place you want to get too vocal about anything other than ping-pong, but at the same not the kind of place where you live in fear of ever being shot for your cell-phone or hi-jacked in your car.

So to conclude:

On the basis of countries like Portugal and Ireland, we cannot say that countries are hampered by the presence of religion in terms of providing a safe, just, humane climate for their citizens. But at the same time, we can most certainly conclude that the specific presence of religion is not in the least bit necessary in this regard. It’s hard to argue with the maths.


An afterthought:
One of the most common arguments put forward by Christians regarding these statistics is that the Northern European countries were all built on a Christian foundation. But they don’t follow this argument through. If they did they would conclude that the best thing to do would be to then abandon Christianity, as these countries have done. Nor do they acknowledge that the introduction of Christianity to Africa and South America did not do much for the inhabitants of these continents.  To the contrary in many if not most cases. All evidence points to the fact that the Xhosa here in the Eastern Cape, for example, had a far more just and humane society before the arrival of armies and missionaries from Europe, when they simply communed with The Ancestors and employed the logic which so impressed the early European explorers and men of the Enlightenment. All Christianity did in the case of these tribal societies was introduce much more absurd hocus pocus than what they already had, along with a good dollop of guilt regarding stuff that was all perfectly natural and human.





Saturday, 10 September 2011

10 years after 9/11


It’s the ten year anniversary of 9/11. We all remember exactly where we were when it happened, don’t we? It’s like John Lennon or JFK or the Berlin Wall was. 

I was in PE. It was 2 days before a musical event that me and some mates were putting on, in an old church. We’d spent three months working on it: making film projections (with actual old 16mm film, clips from 1950s Austrian newsreels my mate Graham had found on an Ostrich farm in Malmesbury), organising bands, building a stage-set on the alter using bits of the old Swartkops Power Station as props. Man… you had to be there: PE’s best-ever band, Strange Little Man, fronted by Kendall Beadon, brother of Fletcher from African Dope in Cape Town, and a host of other musicians. Pete Badenhorst flew in from Cape Town for it. Hagen Engler was there. Yeah… it was a hell of a thing. And for one night only! Haha! What the fuck were we thinking?

And then 9/11 happened. Man, it threw us for a wobbly. Grant Bain (the lead act, a genius guitarist but unstable at the best of times) in particular went totally mental. And Anthony Panniotti… mad Greek drummer, burned the US flag on stage. Hell of a thing…

But I’ll never forget me and Grant Bain driving that night the towers fell, to Donald Woodhead’s house to fetch something, I forget what. A sheet to use as a screen or something. Man, there was NOBODY! The streets were dead. Never before or since in all the years I’ve lived in PE have I seen anything like it. Not a soul on the streets. Everyone at home in front of the TV: Armageddon. Finally it was here.

But we couldn’t stop. The show must go on… It was a Helluva thing. I’ll never forget.

But now it’s ten years down the line. I’m older now. More clinical, more rational. Head no longer up my own arse. No more belief in magic and fairytales. Just cold hard facts. And if you can’t deal with them and want to make up fairy tales then don’t be surprised when they get shot down.

Facebook is already overflowing with comments, and links to sites peddling dubious conspiracy theories. What seems to be lacking in all this is a sense of understanding of the real working world of journalism. If I as a journalist uncover evidence that Americans themselves engineered the attack, why are my findings only viewable on dodgy websites and videos that are passed from person to person on the net, self-published books and the like? There are more than enough newspapers in countries outside America that are not controlled by American multinationals and that would pay me very handsomely if I presented them with irrefutable proof that there was nobody on those planes, that the whole thing was engineered so as to have an excuse to invade Arab countries with oil. (That it was later used as one is beside the point.)

The truth is, there is no such proof. The cold hard facts are as follows: There were real live people on that plane that went down in Pennnsylvania. Just ask the director of United 92. He spoke to their loved ones. They told him exactly what their wives and husbands had said in phone calls minutes before they died. There were funerals. Photographs. Cold hard facts. Yes, history is a construct. But certain things are irrefutable: The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and not Porto’Spain. Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not Nairobi and Hellsinki. Simple, documented fact. It was a plane that hit the Pentagon, not a rocket. Those people on that plane all died. Their families know that. Unless… what? The US government rounded these people up, took them off into the desert in Nevada and disposed of them, and then sent the planes off to their fiery doom? Without anyone spilling the beans? Despite any informer knowing that spilling the beans would make them a multi-millionaire?

When I learn that a third of Americans are running around believing this nonsense, I am not that surprised. Creeping into Hollywood films of various genres in the last 20 years has been a deep mistrust of the state, especially the FBI and the CIA. A deep paranoia seems to have gripped many in America that the state is undermining their freedoms and wants to take their guns away. Government is increasingly viewed as a meddling Big Brother, ready to pounce and close down churches, strip people of their freedom of speech and remodel the country into some kind of politically correct, multicultural gulag.

  The conspiracy theories in response towards 9/11 that this mindset has encouraged would all be laughable were they not so deeply narcissistic.  There has been absolutely no credible evidence whatsoever to suggest that the Pentagon was hit by a missile and then bits of a plane placed on the scene. Thousands of people, from rescue workers to witnesses, would have to have been involved in a cover-up so vast it boggles the mind. Not to mention the logistics of taking those bits of dead passengers still strapped to their airplane seats and placing them strategically amongst the rubble (after first killing and mutilating them in Nevada, remember?). All without anyone seeing or spilling the beans. Not one person involved in this had the slightest inkling of guilt in slaughtering his fellow-Americans? Right…

What makes this narcissistic (and deeply offensive to many of us non-Americans) is the fact that the US government (and specifically the CIA) has been involved in a litany of dirty deeds across the globe - specifically in little South American states conducting harmless little experiments in socialism - since the start of the Cold War. These have all been documented extensively, and hundreds of thousands if not millions have been left dead their wake. Everybody here in South Africa knows the CIA assisted the SANDF in our little escapades in Angola.

But none of this matters really, because we in the Third World are expendable. No real live Americans were harmed or injured in any way in the making of those little films.

It would be nice if those Americans who so mistrust their government started looking seriously at the discord and dirty deeds that government has been sowing and perpetrating outside of its own borders for the last 50 years before they start cooking up laughable narcissistic theories about 9/11. But to do that they have to first take their heads out of their own arses, and realise that we’re just like them: when our loved ones die we also grieve, and we also want answers. Some even want retribution.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Fuck Oprah for Endorsing Such Crap.



  Now this is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. Now that I’m a blogger I can. And now that The Secret has been out for a while (on the shelves, I mean) I don’t have to waste my time giving you the lowdown on what the book and film is all about. You surely all know its basic premises by now: that our reality is somehow, kind of magnetically, a manifestation of our thoughts.

  Where to begin? Let’s begin with the scientific. In my limited, layman’s understanding of quantum physics, it is a big leap, in fact, a total abandonment of scientific thinking, to say that because things behave in such and such a manner on a sub-atomic level, then that’s how the world of human affairs behaves, especially when it comes to who gets what. That, after all, is what The Secret is all about isn’t it? “With, without…And who’d deny it’s what the fighting’s all about?” as Pink Floyd said. We’re all just squabbling over stuff. In our simian past it was foodstuff, now it’s plastic and shiny metal stuff.

  But the secret would have us consign the effects on humanity of the complex machinations of complex economic systems to meaningless footnotes in a non-judgmental, non-threatening fairy tale of how the rich got rich and the poor became poor. A fairy tale that absurdly implicates no-one except (and this is rich) the poor themselves!

  It would have us turf colonial expansion and the long, tragic history of exploitation by the technologically advanced over the inferior to the dustbin, and reduce everything down to ‘visualising success’. So then…what? Belgium is full of lovely grand palaces because King Leopold visualized it and willed it to be so? No, you fools! Belgium is full of lovely grand palaces because King Leopold in his lust for ivory and rubber  actively engineered the largest genocide since the Spanish and Portuguese in South America!

  This is essentially one aspect that has given The Secret such impetus and so many followers: Our need to explain human evil. All religions, every single one, have sought to do this, often with disastrous consequences for humanity, for example, for Jews (ever since the death of Christ), and for women, during the Inquisition.

  The Secret’s solution to this age old conundrum is that (and this I find offensive to the point where I would like cause injury) the poor, the downtrodden, the fucked over, the dispossessed, hell, even the victims of earthquakes and the like, have all attracted this to themselves. Rhonda Bhumm or whatever the fuck her name is seriously wants us to believe that it is impossible for bad things to happen just out of the blue, or because of something as complicated and inconvenient as history (or tectonic plates, for that matter). We have attracted it to us with our thoughts. This kind of delusional insanity (it is a hallmark of the clinically insane to believe their thoughts can be read by others, their thoughts can alter the course of events and a whole host of other miraculous powers they attribute to those thoughts) could only exist in a prosperous first world country where very little bad stuff happens to people, and you have a very high expectation of reaching old age, with all your stuff still in your possession and still intact.  

  Well lemme share something with you, Rhonda, you delusional first-world cow: SHIT HAPPENS!!! And I’ll tell you a little story from my life to illustrate, for that is the only proof you can offer for your outrageous theories in your book: unsubstantiated anecdotes.

  I live in a city in Africa where the majority of people probably only own one pair of shoes and live in corrugated iron huts that wash away when it rains. I’m lucky though. I was born white. We’re all quite rich here, comparatively speaking, us whites. Our forefathers were great thinkers: lots of very positive thoughts went into the building of our wealth. Anyway, let me reign in the sarcasm and tell you about me.

  I’m one of the most negative shits you’ll meet here. I sneer at the way people flaunt their wealth around. I have little or no faith in the future of this country. I hate the government and its vast army of corrupt civil servants. I hate the arrogant, brutal, thuggish police force. I think it’s futile to try to build anything of permanence on this continent. Only the pyramids prove me wrong, and fuck alone knows how they were built. I always watched over my shoulder, in the suburb I lived in when my story takes place, always expecting the worst. (My girlfriend never watched, and sure enough the worst happened.) In short, in most regards mentioned above, I am the same in outlook as I was under apartheid: mistrustful of the State, negative, and cynical. Except in those days I was constantly depressed. Now I don’t care. People must mos carry on.

  On the other hand, I laugh a lot, and have tons of great friends. One of these friends is a guy called Joe. Joe lived two houses away from me. Joe is the most positive person I have ever met. Joe gets along with everyone. Seldom a negative word to say about anyone. He is like a poster boy for your book. If anyone should attract good things to them, it’s Joe, and on the whole he does. But then he had a minor break-in. Some kitchen stuff taken and some washing off the line. Par for the course in Africa. He had good burglar bars and all that. Then they tried to steal his car. He woke up and chased them away. Then they did steal his car.

  In all this time (twice this length of time actually) I sit in my house two doors down, festering in my cloud of maudlin negativity, writing gloomy songs, complaining about how every second person in this country is on the lookout to see what they can steal or how they can screw you over. But I have no burglar bars or security gates. In fact I would go out for spells and leave the front door wide open. If I was out for the whole day, the back door would be wide open. Never once did anyone even attempt to steal from me. You know why Rhonda? BECAUSE MY SHIT WAS PROTECTED BY A FUCKING DOG THE SIZE OF A SMALL HORSE!!!

  That’s how it works: bad shit happens because we’ve always been squabbling over shit, and if you live in a place where very few people have lots of shit, and a great many have almost fuckall, Bad Shit is going to happen, in all likelihood to you, no matter how positive you are. Our hominid-like ancestors killed each other in squabbles over yams and mammoths. We kill each other in squabbles over cell-phones and wallets. And this, Rhonda, is the nature of evil. There were tons of other types of hominid-like creatures running around but we’re here and they’re extinct because, in the fight for resources, we were the best at killing. Not so complicated at all, is it?  Being brutal is in our genes. Being evil is in our blood. Were it not so we would be extinct.

  The Secret is nothing more than a new religion for the age of rampant, conspicuous consumerism, this drive for Stuff. A new religion comprised, it must be added, of cobbled together bits of New Thought transcendentalist teachings that arose in late 19th century America.

  “Among those giving birth to New Thought in America were Mary Baker Eddy, founding mother of Christian Science, Emma Curtis Hopkins, Ernest Holmes, and Charles Fillmore. What was "new" about New Thought at the time of its inception was its departure from Calvinistic, shame-based Christianity which taught the inherent sinfulness of man, proclaiming instead man's innate goodness and perfectibility through the use of the Divine Mind which the transcendentalists believed resided at his core,” says Carolyn Baker in her critique of this book.

   Baker’s critique is most interesting in how it shows this crazy belief system to be a quintessentially American thing, so I won’t repeat what she writes. Let me instead share with you some pearls of wisdom from this daft book.

  “You cannot “catch” anything unless you think you can, and thinking you can is inviting it to you with your thought. You are also inviting illness if you are listening to people talk about their illnesses.”

  So all those millions and millions of people who were wiped out by the new germs the colonisers brought with them to Africa and South America died because they sat around talking about it? Right… And when we discovered germ theory, and invented cures? What? That sudden drop in deaths was because… Help me out here Rhonda…

  Let’s face it: the only thing you can catch by not thinking is stupidity.

  Here’s another one

  “The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts. Every negative thought, feeling, or emotion is blocking your good from coming to you, and that includes money. It is not that the money is being kept from you by the Universe, because all the money you require exists right now in the invisible.”

  I wonder what an economics professor would make of that last statement: it all exists right now in the invisible… What are we dealing with here? Tuppenny Feefo and Jinks by Enid Blighton?

  In the DVD there is footage of a little boy visualizing his new red bicycle and… presto, there it arrives. I recall one of the people interviewed saying something to the effect of “You want that new job? Visualise it. You want that new car? Put that thought out there in the Universe.”

  Well let me assure you: that poor bastard working slave wages in Korea or India making that new car, for you in the developed world, will never, no matter how much he visualizes it, own that car, or get that dream job. He can put as many shiny new red bicycles out into the universe as he likes but his kid is always going to walk to school. If the kid is lucky and both parents are working two jobs in order to send him to a better school than other kids, then maybe he has a chance in changing his material circumstances. It’s got sweet fuckall to do with visualising.

  But let's suppose it does, just for a minute. Let’s suspend disbelief here, and say that hypothetically, this is the way the world works. Now let us say, hypothetically, that every adult in the world reads The Secret. Let us say, for the sake of our argument, that they all decide they want cars. And they all visualize it correctly, fulfilling the requirements of this benevolent Universe, whatever those requirements are.  So now what? Who is going to make these cars? Where is the metal going to come from to make 4 billion new cars? Probably more, because, well, I’m not going to be happy with just one. I’d like two or three, because, you know, things get stolen a lot here in Africa, and since it’s all so easy…. Do you see how absurd and physically impossible this is? Once the steel is finished the steel is finished.

  I’m now finished too. I’ve devoted enough of my precious magical, magnetic thoughts to this absurd kindergarten fairytale of a book. Anyway, I’m visualizing breasts right now…





For Ms Baker’s critique go to http://jwlsweblog.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

PhotoGetaways

If you wish to find more about the weekend photography workshops run by Tim and Marc Pradervand, please send an email to photogetaways@gmail.com and Marc will send you the information.