The Trap Of Instant Digital Gratification.

Recently I attended a two day conference at Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg called African Futures where we spoke about aliens, comics, science fiction and the pervasiveness of social media, some of my favorite topics. It was intoxicating to hear people speak with such passion about ideas that I had previously thought too far-fetched to even conduct conversations about. There was so much to take in but weeks later, one particular talk has stuck with me, speakers were asked how they use social media in their work and the answers caused me to pause.

I spend what is probably an inordinate amount of time on social media, mostly Twitter and Instagram, but of late I have been wondering how this is shaping my worldview. Asked how he uses social media, Faustin Linyekula a choreographer from the DRC, spoke of how for him it is functional but at the same time invasive. He went on to speak of how social media forces us to live in the now, not seeing the immediate past or future, how we’ve become so transfixed on the absolute immediate present, as finite as it is. A great example of this is Twitter, where it is said 9000 tweets per second are tweeted and depending on how many people or trends you follow, your timeline can become a raging river of tweets where you can easily drown in your attempts to stay current.  In Japan in 2013 this peaked at 143199 tweets per second. This is typical of other modern media sources, constantly updating the latest news story literally by the second.

We’ve become so conditioned to seeking instant online gratification that by the time we get it we are already seeking the next new shiny thing. It is a cruel, cruel irony that in our search for instant gratification that gratification itself is nonexistent. If it did exist logic follows that once we we were satisfied we would log out until the next craving.

I realized that I was as much a perpetrator as a victim of this vice. That morning I started to think critically about just how much time I spend online and what benefit I derive from it and contribute to those I interact with. How much information am I actually consuming and what am I doing with it? What is the mental shelf-life of all this data streaming past my eyes and into my sub-conscious somewhere to be pulled out in random conversation later? Do I really need to be out here as much as I am? How much of this is me actually engaging with people for greater understanding and how much of it is me feeding my ego? Retweets and those exploding red hearts can be so addictive.

I realized I couldn’t introspect whilst remaining plugged into the machine so for the first time in years, I took a Twitter break. I spent the time reading articles and instead of tweeting out every next thought, taking the time to think that thought through. Till then I hadn’t realized just how mentally trigger-happy I had become. The whole world slowed down, the immediacy ebbed away, I started having conversations with myself again.

I really must thank my cellular service provider though, without their ridiculous data charges I might never have considered tuning out as a real option. I find tuning out is therapeutic for me, I can’t live life at the speed of the next big trend, that way of life is not great for my goal-setting. Life is more fun when you decide just how fast it comes at you.

We Need To Stop Saying Boys Will Be Boys

A few weeks ago the internet went into meltdown when a photo of barely teenage boys simulating a groupsex or rape scene surfaced. There were the expected outcries about how this could happen, shock, horror and disgust were trending. Without delay, there were also those who said the whole affair was being blown out of proportion and all this attention would do more harm than good to the boys.

I went to a boarding school with very similar traditions to the school these boys attend. Both schools are founded on the English public school template designed then to produce future leaders for the British empire. Too bad nobody told these schools the empire no longer exists. Much of what was standard practice a hundred years ago was still unchanged when I was in school twenty five years ago. It is disturbingly apparent little has changed since then. Effectively, boys are still being boys and this is a problem.

In my day we called it seniority, a strictly enforced heirarchical system that positioned the school prefects and head-boy at the top with the youngest students at the bottom. The teaching staff maintaining a laissez-faire attitude as the boys effectively managed themselves only stepping in when there was some sort of crisis. It was a veritable animal farm with minimal supervision. Looking back on it now, this was clearly a recipe for disaster far beyond the gates of the school. This was a breeding ground for troubling mysogynistic attitudes, we arrived as impressionable boys and left as damaged young men.

Much as the boys who trended, we engaged in acts of sexual miseducation and violence that in most cases, were directed by seniors. These seniors were boys barely three years older than ourselves and we replicated this as we moved up the seniority chain in an effort to be seen as part of the collective. We were conditioned to be go-getters but along the way became aggressive, vicious, callous even. We were also trained to be loyal to each other to a fault, nothing was more disgusting to us than ratting out fellow students to anyone in authority. For a long time I didn’t realize how much this last lesson had affected me.

I know now that it is this code of silence that caused me to look aside when I saw questionable behavior by my peers. It was because of this that I knew I could get away with being abusive to younger boys because nobody would say anything, besides, it was expected because that’s what had happened to us. After leaving school this bond remained, growing stronger in some cases. It even led to some boys committing crimes together.

I know that this is pervasive across other men who have gone through the schoolboy system and plays itself out in everyday life in the most unsettling ways. Guys give each other a pass because of an unspoken allegiance which they cannot even fully explain. It can be traced back to how they were socialized in high school. This skewed code of silence is the result of boys just being boys and needs to stop. Saying it’s all part of growing up is wrong and destructive.

More men who went through the system need to speak against it. I wonder what one would find if they studied the ratio of violent offenders amongst men who went through the schoolboy system. We cannot, in 2015, still be raising boys the same way as we did a century ago and expect them to be better men than we are. We know better now, boys cannot be left to their own devices as the lessons they draw from each other mark them for the rest of their lives.

Do Zimbabweans Really Speak So Well?

In 1986 I was a ten year old boy going on eleven doing grade 6 at a highly rated government school in Bulawayo. One day our teacher, Mr. Lewis, a Welshman, says to me “You speak so well that if I was to close my eyes I would think I was listening to a white boy”. I was so pleased with myself I went home beaming and couldn’t wait to tell my parents about this amazing compliment Mr. Lewis had paid me. I cannot remember my mother’s reaction but my father said dryly, “and you think that is something to be proud of?” I was ten, what did I know? That day marked me for the rest of my life and informed my interest in history and how we Zimbabweans came to speak English to begin with.
I was reminded of that day when recently on Twitter I got into a debate with someone who believes Zimbabweans are superior to other Africans, especially Nigerians, because we speak English so well. Now it is one thing to think you are highly proficient in a particular language but it is totally another to laude this proficiency over others when the language in question is the result of colonial conquest and was forced upon your ancestors just as it was upon countless millions around the world. Can one really say they are superior because they have more fully adapted the ways and graces of those who formerly oppressed them?

Now don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the functionality of English as a medium in the world that we live in but I am also acutely aware of the way it has been used in the past and even today to obliterate indigenous culture, religion and thought. It is for these reasons that I see no reason for someone who is descendent from these obliterated cultures to celebrate their proficiency in English AND laude it over others who share the same scars of having their history robbed from them. I just don’t get it.

The discussions went on all day with many Zimbabweans telling the author of the claim that he was wrong in his assertions but he stubbornly held on. The low-point for me was when he responded to those who didn’t agree with him by tweeting “this isn’t going to expand anything. A lot of you are being primitive on here.” I was left wondering, if this was just his arrogance, ignorance or something worse. Had the black self-hate I read about online manifested itself in this young person? Did he really believe that his affinity to whiteness made him better than other black people? Was he really telling me of all the traits and talents he had developed, speaking English well was the one he prized most? If so, was he the only one? Soon enough others came out in support of this position but none with such fervour and commitment as he who started it all. He was unapologetic, as a Zimbabwean, he was proud to speak English so well and other Africans should just deal with the fact that we are just better at it.

Interestingly enough, at least two Nigerians contested this saying their English accent was better than that of Zimbabweans whilst a number of southern Africans, particularly South Africans, were insulted and none too polite in their responses. What this did show me though, was that the majority of interactions were united in their rejection of using English proficiency as a yardstick for superiority, in fact, they rejected the entire notion of one African being superior to another. This something that I take to heart because I have never understood the zeal with which our governments attempt to outdo each other in whatever ranking comes out of whatever organisation that claims to have authority of whatever sort. One that particularly bothers me is the manufactured fight between South Africa and Nigeria to be Africa’s biggest economy. As a collective we would be so much better off if we looked to the least developed countries on the continent and together worked to uplifting them out of that dire situation, but I digress.

The British were very good, no, uniquely excellent in spreading their language and culture across the world as part and parcel of their brand of global conquest for over six hundred years. It is wishful thinking to imagine we can erase that legacy in Zimbabwean minds in two generations but one hopes that with each generation this influence is tempered by our rediscovery of ourselves as a people with a past, present and future that is not dependent on affinity to the so-called global standard of doing things. As Zimbabweans, we need not speak so well to get ahead.

N.B. This post first appeared in Her Zimbabwe.

The Law Of (Un)intended Consequences

Much has been said about South Africa’s new Immigration Law and regulations, most of it negative. As someone who has been directly affected, I have read as much on this as I can in the hope when I need to interact with the Department of Home Affairs, I am fully informed. Yesterday, I encountered the painful side of these regulations.

I am a Zimbabwean citizen and for almost two years, it’s our anniversary in a month, I have been married to my South African wife. We have been blessed with a beautiful daughter who was born at Sandton Medi-Clinic sixteen months ago today. We always joke about how we had three weddings and so three wedding anniversaries, the first in her hometown Kimberley on 21 September, the second at my home in Bulawayo on 28 December and the third on 14 February when we signed in Johannesburg. I swear the last was pure coincidence, it just happened to be the first available date and we have no photos.

With all the controversy around the new Immigration law and regulations, we decided to wait for clarity on the regulations governing the status of foreign nationals married to South African citizens. This is why three months ago I started putting together my application for a relatives’ visa as the spouse of a citizen. Amongst the requirements is a police clearance, in my case I had to get one each from South Africa and Zimbabwe. Now I’ve had what can only be termed a colourful life so I was a little nervous going into a criminal records office to voluntarily ask if they were not looking for me. Thankfully, I am a law-abiding citizen and have not one but two police clearance certificates to prove it. Both SAPS and ZRP were exemplary in assisting me.

After compiling my documents I then consulted Home Affairs via their customer careline on various aspects of the application and they were extremely helpful every time. I had some difficulty getting information out of the South African embassy in Harare where I had to submit my application and eventually just went to Harare anyway. Upon arriving there were some complications and I had to wait a week before submitting. As happens with matters of such a delicate nature, there was some back and forth but at 3:30pm yesterday my application was accepted, just in time for me to check in for my 6:00p.m. flight back to Johannesburg.

That’s when they dropped the bombshell.

My passport was required as part of my application which could not be processed without it. A process that takes eight weeks. I thought they were joking, when I realised they were serious, the ground fell out from under me. My mind fogged over, I couldn’t hear the words coming out of my mouth as the strength just left my body and I had to sit down. People were speaking around me and to me, I was responding but I can’t tell you the details of those conversations. All I could think was, what was I going to tell my wife? She was expecting me back in a few hours and now I had to tell her this? I pulled myself together and went back to the counter, just in case I had heard wrong, no, I had not. The consultant told me I could take my passport, get on my flight and come back when I was ready but my application would not be processed without it and I should choose to either spend eight weeks in Zimbabwe now, or then. I called my wife and we decided I should submit the application and we will figure out what to do.

I consider myself a pretty thorough person when it comes to perusing documents and complying with regulations, I cannot for the life of me, explain how I could have missed this most important detail, assuming at this stage, that it is indicated somewhere in the requirements I read. I remember asking if there is not some exemption from the eight weeks for those with infant children, they said no. I walked out of there broken and confused. The anger came later and passed, I knew it was not going to do anything for me but make me bitter about a situation I could do little about in the middle of the night.

I understand that Immigration have to be thorough in their processes and whilst some are tedious, I am willing to comply. Coming to Zimbabwe leaving my family behind to apply for a visa that allows me to better provide for them is that important to me. What I don’t understand is, why I must now sit in limbo away from my family for eight weeks, what purpose does this serve? Everything that matters in my life is in South Africa and I feel hurt and confused that I cannot be with them for that long, in the name of compliance. With so much that I had planned now out the window, I am seized with trying to rearrange my life around this new reality. The whole of last night my wife and I were planning how my family can come and spend time with me here, wether she can get time off work and if she should take unpaid leave. In addition to the emotional trauma of all of this we now have to go through a financial one.

I considered consulting a lawyer but I don’t know if I have the stomach for a fight with Home Affairs, my family and I have faced worse things than this and we are still here. This is not by any means to say I am not going to do anything about this but I will find a way to approach them, I know they are slow but they come around eventually. In the meantime, with the looming prospect of spending our second wedding anniversary apart, my heart breaks every time I think of my daughter and what she must be going through, earlier today when I asked after her, my wife sent me this message:

“. . . She knows you’re not here and is wondering where you are, I can see. Matilda (her nanny) says every time she hears footsteps in the corridor she runs to the door to see if they are of someone coming here.”

The Unbearable Heaviness Of Blackness

Can one exist as a black person in South Africa without anger? Is it logical, possible even, to just want to exist without the burden of all this continent’s, no, this world’s history upon your shoulders? I am increasingly finding it difficult not to question the seething black anger I come across daily on social media. There is a toxicity, a contagion in that rage that I simply have no stomach for. Society (read politicians, media, friends and family) manipulates this anger and sets us up to be adversarial with just about everybody we meet. We are taught to always be wary of the invisible “they” because at any moment all we have can be taken away. We must work twice as hard as “they” do for even a quarter of what “they” have. The “they” is a shifting target depending on which marginalized black group is being addressed.Basically, we are conditioned to believe the world is out to get us and all we can do is FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! Don’t you dare ask why either.

I’m asking though, is there not another way? What if I choose to focus on building communities rather than tearing down the perceived status quo? What if I choose peace, love and collaboration over blood and fire? What if I choose to listen to my fellow human being instead of constantly shouting my opinion into the wind? What if I choose to get to know you instead of projecting myself upon you? Does that make me any less of a black person in this world? What if I shared the positive stories of my existence in the hope that they may in some way brighten up your day? Does that make me less of a (black) man? Would I be a clever black if I choose to see a fellow human being in you and not a potential competitor for my little corner of blackness in this world?

I spent too many of my younger years being angry at the world to want to fit into the angry black stereotype, instead, I chose a life without stereotypes. That anger only serves to entrench the status quo, the dominance of white masculinity over all.  How you wear your race, gender, sexuality or any other identifier is your choice, how I perceive it, is entirely mine.

My one wish for anyone who thinks black on black physical and emotional violence is the way things should be is they snap out of it the moment they realise their entire understanding of how we relate to each other is centered around the preservation of the purity of male whiteness.