Cameron ‘v’ Buhari: The case of a spade, a pot and a kettle

So this past week, our very own UK Prime Minister David Cameron, bestowed upon us a revelation of fantastical proportions. He was overheard or rather ‘over-recorded’, in a conversation with the Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, stating that ‘We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world’. This conversation was conveniently made available to us, the public, 48 hours before an anti-corruption summit, hosted by Mr Cameron himself, was to be held in London. It’s always intriguing to me how western leaders take any opportunity to show themselves as leading the way in making the world a better place for us to live in – a leaked recording justifying the need to cleanse the world of dodgy dealings might, to the inflated political ego, equate to some serious brownie points. But, we know better don’t we?

‘A spade is a spade’

The ensuing frenzy over Mr Cameron’s so called gaffe showed the lengths the media will go to whip up a political storm. Was it really a gaffe? No. Mr Cameron was just calling a spade a spade. Nigeria and Afghanistan rank at the top of the international corruption index. It’s a well-known fact, in all four corners of the globe, that Nigeria is not just fantastically corrupt, but stupendously so. Nigerians will tell you themselves, with no hesitation, just how tightly corruption is woven into the fabric of every aspect of their society – from the state house to the pulpit, threading in everything in between. In fact, Mr Cameron could have gone all the way and reeled off a long list of other fantastically corrupt countries, many of which would be found on our beloved continent of Africa, and chances are that he would have got full marks. I for one was offended that he didn’t call out my birth nation of Zimbabwe …

‘Best qualified’

The parties involved in that leaked conversation are by far the best qualified to assess who is corrupt and who isn’t: Mr Cameron who himself admitted that he has benefitted from hidden offshore assets and whose party is bankrolled by businessmen with dubious links who, in return, get titles and tax breaks; our dear Queen Elizabeth, Head of the Royal Family, whose family fortunes are founded on loot plundered from all corners of the British Empire, and are sustained in the present day by the tax payer; the leader of a religion that has long exploited those that they are supposed to protect from evil; and the leader of the House of Commons packed with Members of Parliament who inflate their expenses and land the tax-payer, again, with the bill, whilst regularly popping up as the central characters in salacious scandals straight out of a den of iniquity. Nigerian leaders, present one probably excluded, are familiar with all these tendencies; put them all together and you have a cupboard full of pots and kettles calling each other black.

‘Clean up your act too’

However, there is one person who came out less charred than Mr Cameron – Mr Buhari, the Nigerian leader. His response was class. He didn’t retort hypocritically and indignantly in the way that some of our African politicians would have, and deny (the obvious) that Nigeria is corrupt, or demand an apology (because this was not about him), or embark on some irrelevant tirade to deflect from the real issue. Instead he took it to another level, rose above it all: ‘No. I am not going to demand any apology from anybody. What I am demanding is the return of assets. What would I do with an apology? I need something tangible.’ In others words, ‘we can go round and round in the way that spades, pots and kettles do, but actually, if you’re serious, you clean up your act too’. Mr Buhari has been cleaning house in his own country so he probably knows what he’s talking about.

‘A true boss’

And interestingly, with that response, mainstream media swiftly moved on to find another story to drum up – in their eyes, this particular storm, with no mud-slinging, had turned into nothing but a damp drizzle.

Mr Buhari, handled this like a true boss – wonder how his anti-corruption colleagues and his country handle him after this…



The Sugar Crisis

This past week Public Health England (PHE) launched an app which informs parents about the sugar levels of common foods. The Sugar Smart app scans bar codes of thousands of food and drink products and displays the sugar content in cubes and grams. This app is part of a United Kingdom government-backed campaign to encourage the nation to cut down on excessive sugar intake which is contributing to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.


The cynics amongst us may say that this is another move typical of a nanny state forever telling the public what to do, whilst simultaneously jumping into bed with some private techno conglomerate that in turn gets a gigantic tax break for doing some alleged good.

Whilst I tend to err on the side of cynicism on anything remotely related to any government, in this case, this may be one move worthy of applause. See if this backstory convinces you!

First of all who is Public Health England?

PHE was established in April 2013 to bring together public health specialists from more than 70 organisations into a single public health service. PHE’s job is to basically make the public healthier. It does this by researching ways to improve how the public understands health, come up with solutions to public health problems and advise the government on what to do to put these solutions in place. PHE publishes a range of documents that are available to the public, on various health issues and how they can be tackled.

What is PHE’s issue with sugar?

In October 2015, PHE published a 48-page report called ‘Sugar Reduction – The evidence for action.’ The report was put together by a group of experts on nutrition called the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

Their research showed that as a nation we are eating around twice as much sugar as we should be. Excess sugar in our diet contributes to and in some cases, directly causes a multitude of health problems such as:

Obesity – about 1 in every 4 adults, 1 in every 10 of 4-5 year olds, and 1 in every 5 of 10-11 year olds are obese

Diabetes – and its many complications including heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke

Tooth decay – half of 8 year olds have tooth decay

Personally my heart breaks when I see an obese child – not one that’s a little chubby – but obese, because I think of all the health problems lying in wait for them as an adult. Obesity costs the National Health Service (NHS) £5.1bn every year – money that can potentially be spent on unavoidable health problems. If we can reduce our intake of sugar by at least half of what we are taking in now within 10 years, that would improve our quality of life and save the NHS £500m every year.

What exactly is sugar?

Sugar is a carbohydrate that provides the body with energy. It is found naturally in fruits, some vegetables and honey as fructose, in plants as glucose, and in milk as galactose. Sucrose, the name given to sugar that is refined is made up of glucose and fructose, and is called ‘added’ sugar.

In foods, sugar may also be referred to as maltose, corn syrup, molasses, invert sugar and hydrolysed starch. Don’t be fooled by the different terminology – it’s all sugar.

What’s so bad about sugar anyway?

Like most foods, sugar itself does not need to be shamed. The problem is the quantities in which we consume it, especially the added sugars. Sugar is added to a range of foods and drinks to make them taste better and in some cases preserve them.

What happens to your body when you eat too much sugar?

The adult human body is not made to deal with excessive amounts of sugar; it can cope with no more than 7 cubes per day. When we eat more sugar than we need, it’s converted to fat leading to weight gain. Sugar also confuses our metabolism causing high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insensitivity to insulin, a hormone that controls sugar levels. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can lead to heart problems like heart attacks, and strokes. Insensitivity to insulin leads to diabetes.

How much excess sugar are we eating?

A National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that school children and teenagers are eating 3 times, and adults 2 times more sugar than they should be. For the average 4-6 year old this is the same as 22kg of sugar – equivalent to 10 of those 2.2kg bags of sugar we buy, or 5, 500 cubes per year. Mindboggling when put in those terms, right?

Steps such as making the Sugar Smart app available to families to help cut down their children’s intake makes sense because they are the group that are eating far more sugar than they should. Secondly, a lot of the health consequences like diabetes and heart disease develop over time, so it makes sense to target children before these illnesses set in – ‘prevention is better than cure.’

How much sugar is ‘safe’?

Per day, children aged 4-6 years old need the equivalent of 5 cubes or 19 grams, those aged 7-10 years can make do with 6 cubes or 24 grams and anyone aged 11 and over needs no more than 7 cubes or 30 grams. Note that there is no recommendation for children younger than 4 years, which in my mind means that added sugar is a ‘no-no’ for this age group. This is a really important message that I don’t think has been stressed enough.sugar-app-645x645

Where is all this excess sugar coming from?


The main sources of sugar are soft drinks especially fizzy drinks and cordials (drinks that need to be diluted), table sugar, juices, sweets, biscuits, cakes, pastries, breakfast cereals and alcoholic drinks. You can also find added sugar in the unlikeliest of places such as  bread, yoghurt, flavoured water and soups.

How do we cut down our sugar intake?

The first step is education – we should all aim to know roughly the recommended daily amount of sugar, why too much sugar is harmful, and which foods are high in sugar. You don’t need to have ‘Google’ levels of information to know what to do: the basic facts as outlined in this article, and many others, is a good enough start.

There are some practical things we can do without waiting to be advised by PHE. One thing I did when I had my child was to not have fizzy drinks and sweets in the house – I just didn’t buy them. So he grew up knowing that we don’t eat or drink these products. However, at parties, he is allowed to have them, because I feel it is important for children to get to know different foods, safely. We do have other sweet treats like desserts, ice-creams and biscuits but these are limited to no more than 2-3 times per week, and importantly, in small quantities. Now that he is 8, he is so accustomed to his diet that he isn’t a big fan of sweet things. Though his cousin has a sweet tooth, being raised the same way, she’s not hot on sweet drinks at all. And one of my son’s besties also raised the same way, doesn’t like juice and only drinks water. We have to remember that children will follow whatever precedent we as adults set.

Another rule of thumb in our house is that neither adults nor children drink anything that is any shade of blue, green, purple, or pink unless it has been blended in the house with identifiable ingredients – not that we blend much anyway – no time for that! That pretty much rules out blue drinks, reduces sugar and a whole load of artificial gunk.

It’s not going to be easy for everyone to cut down their sugar intake – what else is PHE doing to help us?

PHE knows that it’s not easy for everyone to get, understand and act on this information or any information on health and lifestyle changes. It’s also known that the highest levels of sugar are consumed by poorer, deprived families who are more likely to have limited access to this information. The creation and availability of the Sugar Smart app is just one step to help the public. PHE recommends that a range of actions are required such as:

  • Reducing price promotions on high sugar foods
  • Reducing the levels of advertisements of high sugar foods to children
  • Introducing a tax on high sugar foods; this has been done in some countries with good effect
  • Introducing recognised training in diet and nutrition to people who can influence the public such as those that work in catering, fitness and leisure industries
  • Controlling portion sizes of meals

 How can I get the sugar app?

You can download the app onto your smart phone from Google Play or the App Store.

How does it work?

Sugar AppThe app tells you the recommended daily amount of sugar for each age group.

  1. Open the app
  2. Allow the app access to your camera when prompted
  3. Pick a product with a barcode
  4. Scan the barcode with the app camera
  5. Line the barcode up with the red line and wait for a beep
  6. The app will then read out the amount of sugar in the product

Although about 75, 000 products are loaded into the app, there are still more to be added. If your product is not in the app, a pop-up message will tell you. So, I scanned 5 products and only 2 came up, but it worked perfectly and kids love it.

The menu tab in the app gives more information on the sugar content of food, your scan history and direction to the app’s website:

Is this app necessary?

For some people, no. But others may find it helpful when you take into consideration the age-group they fall in and the lifestyle they lead.

There is a panel on the packaging of most foods that tells us the exact amounts of fat, protein and sugars contained in that product. However, the amounts are given in grams which I find difficult to interpret because I am of the generation that worked in ounces. The Sugar Smart app uses images of sugar cubes so anyone from any era can understand the results. It’s also great for engaging children and young adults who have grown up with apps, and children are after all the primary target of this part of the campaign.

Let’s give it a try – one more app on your phone won’t hurt, and we may actually use it!


For more discussions on topical health (and life) issues listen to Matters of Life and Health on the online radio station PowerXtra Radio or via the TuneIn radio app, Tuesdays 7-830pm GMT.

A Tale of Two Boys: Emmett Till and Tamir Rice


The year that saw the public unravelling of the discriminate American policing and judicial system continues to the bitter end of 2015.

This week, just over a year after 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead in Cleveland, Ohio whilst holding a toy gun, the police officer who shot him will not be indicted on any criminal charges. In fact, it’s not immediately apparent what consequences this officer will face.

The facts…in a nutshell

The official report from the county prosecutor’s office tells us this: Tamir, who was African-American, was playing with a toy gun in a park on November 22nd, 2014; a 911 call was made reporting a man waving and pointing a gun at people; the caller did state that the gun could have been fake and the person involved could have been a juvenile; two police officers subsequently arrived on the scene and drove within a few feet of Tamir; inside 2 seconds of getting out of the patrol car, one of these officers fired 2 shots at the 12-year old; one bullet struck his abdomen; the police officers stated that they ordered Tamir 3 times to raise his hands; none of the witnesses heard these commands; neither of the police officers administered first aid to Tamir after they realised he was indeed a juvenile; one officer instead tackled and handcuffed his 14-year old sister; when his mother arrived on the scene she was threatened with arrest; both officers refused to testify at the grand jury hearing; the office that shot Tamir was deemed not fit to handle firearms; the prosecutor at the same hearing blamed the emergency services despatcher for not relaying the information that it was possible that the individual in question was a boy with a toy gun.

Two subsequent reports, the Sims report and the Crawford1 report, both concluded that Tamir’s killing was reasonable. There is guidance from the United States Supreme Court that explains why the policemen who set up an ‘officer-created jeopardy’ situation will not face criminal charges. It’s flawed, because like most things American, it’s open to interpretation, but nevertheless this guidance, or rather, one interpretation of this guidance, was upheld2.

A deeply and profoundly sad state of affairs

The onslaught of public reports of deaths of African-American men and women at the hands of those whose duty is, and who are paid to serve and protect, has been relentless. The countless editorials, opinion pieces and commentaries on these events, in the main-stream and off-stream media, from the right-wing to the liberal leaning to the conspiracy theories, all raise ugly issues and rub salt in the deep wounds that afflict American society.

I could blog a self-righteous piece based on my own worldview which is here on the outside looking in, about what a mess America wallows in; sometimes though the clearest view is indeed from that vantage point. As much as a personal rant would feel good, it would a), not shed any light on the complexity of the dysfunction within that society, b),  require an anthology of American history and society which I am not in any way qualified to write about, c), serve no real purpose other than self-gratification on my part and d), not ease the deep and profound sadness I and many like me feel about the young lives that are being snuffed out like nuisance prey by a seemingly predatory system.

A predatory system that has changed little in the last 60 years.


Emmett Till: July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955

Image courtesy of:


On August 28, 1955, 14-year-old African-American Emmett Till was killed by two white men in Mississippi after allegedly flirting with a 21-year-old married white woman. The only difference between the case of Emmett then and that of Tamir now is that the killers of now, wear uniforms.  I urge you to read the story yourself and I’m pretty sure you will find it incredible. I know that 3 years after I first came across it, I still find it to be so.

Both boys were perceived, by whites, to be older than they were on account of their physical appearances – Emmett weighed 68kg and stood 1.63m tall; Tamir was 79kg and stood 1.7m tall. So the fact that they were bigger than they should be warranted and even justified an aggressive response to childish behaviour. There is published work on how whites view and interpret the physique of black children3, and it’s very telling.

You would think it’s enough that black and brown-skinned adults are negatively stereotyped – not that we need studies to tell us that, though statistics and surveys are very useful in providing objective evidence to the naysayers. Does this deadly stereotyping really have to extend to black and brown-skinned children too? Can they not be allowed to be like all other children who sometimes do incredibly stupid things without paying for such stupidity with their lives? Even if Emmett had really made lewd comments to an adult woman, surely all that adult woman had to do was drag him by the ears to his family and allow them to deal with him. That’s how we know things to have been dealt with in the good ole’ days right? And, there is no doubt that Tamir was silly to have been brandishing any imitation weapon of any kind in public especially in the climate at that time; for generations, children have been fascinated with guns, because adults revere guns; for generations, children have played cops and robbers with fake guns, no questions asked. Are we now to accept that it’s open season on any child who engages in this past-time (though in my circles it is quite un-PC, and rightfully so, to give children toy guns)? Since when have law enforcement officers been intimidated by children playing with toy guns?

In the case of Emmett, media stories at the time even focussed on that fact that his father, an officer in the US army, had been executed in Italy during the 2nd World War for allegedly raping and murdering women, in an attempt to show that there must have been some genetic disposition in Emmett towards aggression against white women. I really urge you to read up on this case yourself – it boggles the mind. The holes in both stories are gapingly wide, yet even after the cases were bought before a judicial system and the American public, no one was found culpable in the violent death of a child.

Of course, in between Emmett and Tamir there have been others: some we hear about like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Laquan McDonald, but most we don’t, like Kendrick Johnson4. In all cases it’s apparent that the deeply disturbed and flawed legacy of Emmett’s killers and their ancestors continues to thrive in modern day Americans. I can’t even use the word the term racist legacy because that word doesn’t really feel as if it fully encapsulates the forces at play here.

An ugly mind-set based on destructive principles

These forces appear to surmise that anyone of African origin is somehow not human, soul-less, devoid of emotion and feelings. It is this mind-set that shoots a child of colour first, then prevents that child’s loved ones from comforting him as he dies, then lies about the events that transpired, because that mind-set is confident in the fact that there is a system that will support your every devious move.

There’s no doubt that policemen see some ugly things in their line of duty; but is that justification to shoot first then lie later? Working in accident and emergency as a junior doctor some years back, I and my colleagues saw human beings at their ugliest too. But never at any time did we ever lose sight of the fact that we were dealing with human beings, fellow human beings, who no matter what, were to be treated as such. There is no reason why policemen shouldn’t have that same empathy…unless they are somehow not human, soul-less, devoid of emotion and feelings.

60 years forwards…or backwards?

Although Emmett Till’s death in 1955 turned out to be one of the catalysts for the American Civil Rights Movement, why is it that his story is repeated through Tamir Rice in 2015? The sad truth appears to be that the destructive principles that form the foundation of American society have never been dismantled. Now they are being exposed for what they are. But unless all Americans can fully and positively exploit the opportunities that are open to them to really uphold their revered Constitution, and start work on a new foundation, things will go back another 60 years.



Tamir Rice: June 25, 2002 – November 23, 2014

Image courtesy of:


















In memoriam: Jonah Lomu


_86786152_jonah_lomu1_getty[1]One week ago today, we woke up to the news that one of the greatest, if not the greatest, rugby players of modern times, Jonah Lomu, had died in his sleep at the tender age of 40. His death came nearly 3 weeks after his native New Zealand national team, the All Blacks, won Rugby World Cup (2015) for a 2nd consecutive year. During the tournament, Jonah was promoting and commentating, and even led the All Blacks in a display of the haka in London’s Covent Garden a few days before the games started. So for his family, friends, team-mates, rugby fans the world over, and probably anyone who knew his story, his death came from the rear, unseen, unexpected, like a side-blow. As I take my obsessive-rugby-fan-in-awe-of-excellence-superhero-loving hat off, and replace it with my MD cap, his unexpected death was sadly, a real possibility. Let me explain why.


A bulldozer, a bullet, and a ballerina

Jonah Lomu exploded on the international rugby scene when I was in my final year at medical school. I’d been living in England for about 7 years and up until that time, I have to be honest, I’d tried but failed miserably to engage with the sport. Growing up in the Caribbean, we were all raised on a staple diet of fast and furious American sports. If a game didn’t feature scores in double and triple figures like basketball, I wasn’t interested. If the pace wasn’t fast and furious and agile like American football, don’t even bother me. So with the ‘real’ football, where at the end of a 90 minute game the score could easily be 0-0, I often had to ask the question, ‘what was the point of all that?’ And as for rugby, with its heavy sluggish players where it was very possible that a game could be won without a touchdown, I mean a try, well…

But in that summer of 1995, as I was just coming out on the other side of my final year exams, this superstar giant of a man captured the world’s, and my imagination, at the World Cup in South Africa. That summer, because of that one man, I fell in love with rugby. Though built like a bulldozer, on the pitch, he displayed bullet-like speed and at times the daintiness of a ballerina. When you watch the playbacks of his tries that year, you can easily forget that the All Blacks didn’t even win the Cup in ’95.


A new journey

Later that year, when the news broke that he had been diagnosed with a kidney disorder known as Nephrotic Syndrome (NS), I grieved, because I knew what that meant – theoretically anyway. The grief lasted but a split second, because not having done practical training in the kidney diseases as a junior doctor yet, I hadn’t seen first-hand what the real consequences were. So my optimism kicked in, and I felt reassured that he would continue to take rugby to dizzying new heights, higher than those of the ‘fake one-country world championship of American football’; you see I kid you not when I say that I fell head-over-heels in love with rugby. I was fully converted.

About 8 years later, when it emerged that he was on dialysis, it was hard to remain optimistic, even though in the intervening years he’d continued his rise the upper echelons of global sporting superstardom. By then I had completed 9 months of training on a kidney unit specialising in the care of patients with kidney failure, so my knowledge was no longer just theoretical. I had met so many patients with NS – from the newly diagnosed, to those on dialysis, to those fortunate enough to get a 1st kidney transplant to those even more fortunate enough to get a 2nd transplant, and to those who had sadly died along that journey. And what struck me the most, was how this was truly a disease of the young, and of young men in particular. You see in most of the other adult medical specialities, it feels like the average age of patients is near 70; but in the kidney unit, it felt like 30 – it really did, though in reality it’s probably in the mid-50s – itself still young. We medics always have patients we remember vividly: I will never forget the first patient I saw with NS. He was a white man, in his early 40s, who was running his own business up until the day before he came into the unit, swollen like a Michelin man from head to toe. He spent weeks in hospital undergoing treatment. His life was transformed forever. Seventeen years later I still wonder how he fared…for sure.

Jonah received a kidney transplant from a live unrelated donor in 2004, but his body rejected the kidney 7 years later, a somewhat typical scenario; and so, he went back on to dialysis. Though he retired in 2007, he still lived life to the full, becoming a young statesman of and ambassador for the sport. At the World Cup this year, he looked a picture of health to many, but to ‘us’ the signs of kidney failure were there – complexion a little off colour, grey even, big but not as bulky, and looking older than a 40 year old should. The extraordinary effort, on all levels, from so many people, that would have gone into accommodating a trip half-way round the world when he needed to be connected up to a dialysis machine for up to 6 hours 3 times per week cannot be underestimated. It seems unfair that even after the military precision behind that planning, he still died, cheating himself, his family and us, out of another 30 years of his sparkle and dazzle.


But this is where the tragedy of NS and kidney failure in young people lies. These patients and their families and their doctors and nurses know that they won’t live as long a life as they should, but many still die too young. The week before Jonah died, I interviewed another giant of a young man with the same illness, on a weekly online radio show* I host on health and medicine. He is now on dialysis, and like Jonah he lives purposefully, as he awaits a kidney transplant. He spoke about the uncertainty of his future, and because of that he wastes no time. To say it’s not easy to live with this fact is an understatement, and one cannot imagine the will and strength and faith that goes into taking on that purposeful mind-set when faced with your own mortality – a mortality that can come from the rear, unseen like a side blow.


Twelve facts about Nephrotic Syndrome

  • Nephrotic Syndrome (NS) is a combination of signs and symptoms that indicate kidney damage. The damage is in the filters of the kidney. These tiny filters normally get rid of excess salts and fluid, but in NS, they become very leaky and so huge amounts of protein leak into the urine.


  • It can come on suddenly.


  • The symptoms of NS are weight gain, tiredness and poor appetite.


  • The signs of NS are swelling around the eyes, or of the whole body which starts from the feet and moves upwards, frothy urine because of the protein, low protein in the blood because it’s all leaking out into the urine, high blood pressure and high cholesterol as the kidneys aren’t working properly.


  • It can affect both children and adults and is the cause of kidney failure in about 12% of adults (about 1 in 10 adults with kidney failure) and 20% of children (about 1 in 5 children with kidney failure).


  • Males are more commonly affected than females.


  • NS is caused by specific diseases of the kidneys. For some reason the immune system decides to attack the kidneys but no one really knows why. This is the type that Jonah Lomu had, though it is rare.


  • Other conditions like diabetes, cancer and lupus, as well as some medications, can also cause NS. Diabetes is the most common avoidable cause of NS in adults.


  • Some types of NS are more common in those of African, Indian and Asian descent.


  • It is treated with drugs like steroids to dampen down the immune system.


  • People with NS are more likely to get blood clots as their blood tends to be thicker. A blood clot can lodge in the lungs suddenly and if this clot is big or blocks a major blood vessel, it can cause the person’s heart to go into cardiac arrest. It’s possible that this is what happened to Jonah Lomu.


  • If the kidneys fail altogether, people with NS need to have dialysis. They are connected to a machine, and their blood is diverted into this machine through a tube connected to one of their big veins. The machine does the work of the kidneys by filtering the blood before it is diverted back into their body.


*Matters of Life and Health airs online @Powerxtra Radio via Tune In radio app, Tuesdays 7-9pm GMT





In the week where the world remembered the mass kidnapping of young girls in Nigeria, as the savagery that is ISIS and the murderous tendencies of US police simmered on in the background, we were hit with a side-blow – xenophobia: South African style. I’m just going to think aloud on this one, as an outsider not privy to, or fully cognisant of the intricacies involved in the evolution of this nation:

We all like to think that when Nelson Mandela was freed in 1994, to declare SA a ‘rainbow nation’, all would surely be well. But in reality nearly 21 years later, South Africans, black, white and every shade in between, are basically just breaching through the perimeter of the misogynistic bubble that is apartheid. As xenophobia again rears its ugly head in SA,  the wide-reaching ramifications of this system again come centre-stage; this is just one of many chapters of the story of the rebirth of a broken nation.

When apartheid was ratified by law in the 1940’s, racial segregation was already woven tightly into the fabric of SA’s society. The Dutch had kicked it all off in the 1700s, with the British duly perfecting the regime in the 1800s. Legislation in 1948 was a mere formality for a totally irrational system where Filipinos were classified as black, because whites worked out that they were…well…black. And yet Malays were classified as ‘coloreds’. Television was only introduced in the 1970s, and when it was, it too was segregated. One cannot believe how ‘nuts’ that system was…and is.

Apartheid means literally ‘the state of being apart’ – and the system not only kept the races within SA apart from each other, but also kept South Africans, especially black South Africans apart from the rest of Africa and the rest of the world. The concept of pan-Africanism is foreign to a significant proportion of black South Africans. Apartheid led to the evolution of generations who knew and still know very little of the great continent to which they belong. My own experience is that this ignorance and insularity is not limited to black South Africans alone either. I have a vague recollection of a conversation with some white and ‘colored’ South Africans soon after 1994, during which it became apparent that these seemingly enlightened individuals couldn’t tell you the first thing about any of the countries neighboring theirs – not a thing. You could argue the same about a lot of other people, but at least Americans could tell you that some Canadians speak French, and the English could tell you that the Germans speak German, and Indians could tell you how Pakistan became separated from India. These South Africans were totally blank when it came to anything about neighboring Zimbabwe, Botswana or Mozambique.

I read somewhere that 65% of the black South African population, is between 15-65 years old. Many in this age bracket have grown up in a world no bigger than their townships, physically and mentally. And some of the harshest acts of mass violence against black South Africans was meted out in these same townships, when this group were children or young adults, a time when thought processes and reasoning are heavily influenced by one’s environment. And their parents also grew up in a world of violence and all sorts of other social injustices – substandard education, inadequate health services, broken family life, lack of cultural evolution. This mass chronic dehumanisation would surely have a disastrous psychological impact. And there are lots of studies about the way in which apartheid affected the mental health of black South African children – some of these same children who are now in that 15-65 age bracket. And forty percent (40%) of this group are unemployed, compared to, and get this, 8% of whites, 18% of Indians and 28% of coloureds. And that 40% unemployment rate eerily matches the 42% rate for education to high school level only.

Surely the great Madiba’s release in 1994 was going to relieve some of this misery. But really, can 300 years of brutality against the souls of a people be reversed by one man, in less than another 300 years? Especially when followed on by a government run by individuals, who despite putting on the right appearances, are products of the same system? I’m going to be controversial here, but this is where you can kind of see where the Castros of this world were coming from, in principle; after your country is liberated from oppressive rule and you inherit a glaringly unfair system where the disadvantaged tip the scales upside down, your first priority is to fix that imbalance pronto. Because isn’t that injustice the reason why you took up arms and got your butts exiled in the first place? So how can you now squander the opportunity to fix that which you fought for? The new SA government should have tackled inequality aggressively from the start. This was an opportunity to show us a new kind of African leadership. But I guess that would have come with too much sacrifice…of self-gratification, wealth and power.

So now you have a sizeable sector of the society that is frustrated and angry because there is no sign of any rainbow as far as they can see. Frustration and anger mixed in with all the other social and behavioural pathologies that apartheid created is a ticking time-bomb. Because SA is still so segregated along colour lines, most black immigrants, the majority of whom are from Zimbabwe, live side-by-side with black South Africans. These immigrants have left their homes with the sole purpose of making a better life for themselves and their families. No one leaves their homeland because they have nothing better to do; when they land wherever they land, they will work hard to fulfil that purpose. Right-wing rhetoric may have us believe the opposite – of course some do not abide by the law of the land and spiral into a treacherous underground of devious behaviour, but this is not representative of the majority.

The perpetrators of this current wave of xenophobic violence see these immigrants creating the life that they should have without realising that the ‘foreigners’ are using skills and education and drive that they, these black South Africans just never had the opportunity to develop. These immigrants never had their psyche bound by the chains of apartheid so they are not subject to the same limitations. Yes, they have their own problems in their own countries, but they are not fresh out of something as sinister as that regime was and continues to be. Unfortunately, living side-by-side means that the immigrants are right in the line of fire of all this pent-up resentment – a mild term for this in fact. The privileged, of all races, are too far away to target, because the type of perpetrator dishing out this violence doesn’t really venture out of ‘his’ immediate vicinity. No, their immigrant neighbor is easier to get to, a soft spot; and besides harsh lessons have been taught in the past about lashing out at the real oppressor: when you revolt against that system, what do you get – the Sharpeville massacre and the Soweto uprisings…

Some have termed this brand of xenophobia, ‘afrophobia’ as a result. But you know, whatever we want to call it, it’s purely academic and just about semantics. What we are witnessing is just ugly and frightening and unbelievably tragic. Reactions have been largely based around calling out South Africans for being hypocritical, because many African countries took them in during their hour of need. That is true and we are free to point that out, but we cannot dwell on that because it will not stop the maddening crowd. The great majority of South Africans, black and white, do not support xenophobic crime – some may be racist, yes – but supporting these atrocious acts is another ball game altogether that they wouldn’t want to partake in.

Instead, it should be about calling out the current South African leadership to be aggressive in protecting the victims and anyone at risk, to bring the perpetrators to justice quickly so as to deter others from following suit; to speak responsibly and appropriately to their electorate so that there is no doubt as to where they stand on the issue of violence against ‘foreigners’; and to get pro-actively creative in addressing – no, fixing – the social and economic imbalance that is the root of this current evil. Apartheid and its creators are  where all this started – there is no denying that. But we cannot go back and undo history. Progress is about being focused on the now with a view to creating a new future that South Africa deserves…that Africa deserves.


Battlecry – stolen lives and lost dreams: our girls from Chibok 2015

Exactly one year ago today, 276 girls and their dreams were stolen from their Chibok community, in the dead of night, by cowards; this is exactly what cowards do: they perform their dastardly deeds under the cover of darkness, they prey on the seemingly powerless, and they count on the silence and fear of those left behind

One year later, whilst the abductors may continue on with their deadly modus operandi, those left behind on a local, national and international level have not cowered in fear nor have they been bound by silence, as they continue to be the voice for the stolen girls. The girls’ story may no longer be headline news, but the significance of this event hasn’t faded in the eyes of the countless many who continue to do what they know how to do best to ensure that the girls are not forgotten, and that their families remain supported.

The girls are not yet back home, but in their painful absence, they have shone a spotlight on war crimes on women, men and children all over the world, on the issue of rape in all sectors of society, on the convoluted relationships within and between ineffectual governments, and on the lasting legacy of misguided policies, greed and broken covenants. They have even been the driving force for a change of leadership!

Today, one year on, let’s continue to honor the girls and their families in any way we can. Any positive action is like a seed sown to bear fruit in future generations, so they are armed with knowledge and confidence to be their brother’s keeper in the true sense of the word.

We simply must not lose hope. Races like this are ‘not for the swift or strong but for those that endure to the end’. There will be tactical shifts, and changing of batons but rest assured victory will come and must come for these girls.