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.

Not All Who Wonder Through Their Twenties Are Lost.

They say if you can remember your twenties then they were not that much fun. Well, I remember some. Earlier tonight on twitter I saw so many twenty-somethings are going through that first heavy self-doubt phase. I used to live there. Let me tell you a story.

Though it may not feel like it, it’s perfectly normal to look at more successful people your age & wonder what you’re doing wrong.

You will wonder where & when your breakthrough’s coming from. You will torment yourself & likely go a little mad. I did, it’s allowed.

I cannot tell you what it feels like when that big break does happen because it never happened for me. Instead, I’ve had many small breaks.

At the time, each break did not seem like a big deal but one day I looked back and wondered, “how the hell did this happen?’ Then I lost it all

One of my mentors told me “it takes about five attempts before you are wealthy” by then he’d lost everything six times but made it seven times, more with each attempt.

He died one of the richest men I have ever known. I have made & lost it all four times in twenty years, yes, I started young & had a few lucky breaks.

Money is not important, it is merely a means to a certain type of life. I used to be a liker of things till I learned to live without them.

From times when I had more money than I knew what to do with to days I would wake up to two slices of bread & an egg in the fridge. I have been that guy.

What I learned is after it is all gone, only life remains. Only life is important. I have much less money and trinkets now than I did in my twenties but I am happier.

The gist of my story is, there are no single big breaks. Life is full of incremental breaks and how you handle each one sets you further on a path.

The path is challenging, confusing, exhilarating & incredibly rewarding. Thing is, whatever decision you make, you are never off the path.

Whatever choices you make now or at any other time, are YOUR choices, embrace them as such but don’t be beholden to them. It’s ok to change your mind.

i may not have found my purpose in life yet but I am ok with that. There was a time I obsessed about that but if I survived me, so can you survive yourself.

After the last time I lost it all I learned this:
Don’t ever think you’ve arrived. Because once you do, that’s when the music stops.

I hope my two cents worth helps some of you make sense of life. This is not advice, just a bit of my story so far.

Later.

A Centenary Of Childhood Memories (Part 1)

Over the last four weeks I have travelled to various parts of Zimbabwe and South Africa on  what started out as a trip to Kimberley to see family but has evolved into quite an adventure. One of these adventures was a visit I made yesterday to Centenary Park in Bulawayo Zimbabwe.

The last time I went to the park must have been over twenty years ago despite driving past it numerous times over the years. Growing up in Bulawayo in the eighties Centenary Park was an integral part of our life with many a happy Sunday family outing spent there enjoying the numerous attractions for all ages. I could write to no end about the mini train that took you on a ride around the park or the mini-golf course I never got a chance to play because I was too young to be interested. There was a sailing pool for model boats where I remember watching those who had them sail them as I wondered to myself why I didn’t have one. I remember the skating rink which I never got to try because I never owned roller-skates. I remember the life-size chess board and pieces in the gardens that we would imagine were real and came alive at night to do battle before becoming statues again just before dawn. I remember the wishing well and the many people I saw cast coins into it making silent wishes, meanwhile my brother and I would scheme on how we could fish out all those coins and be rich, rich, rich. I remember the zoo with impala and zebra, the aviary with all kinds of wonderful birds and the amphitheatre though I can’t tell you of a single event that happened there.

I remember all these things but what I remember most of all was the place where I spent most of my time, the playground. The sound of the swings and merry-go-rounds as they swung and spun. The thud of hundreds of feet running in all directions, the joyous sounds of youth unleashed. The inevitable tears when somebody got hurt that were quickly forgotten when the next game began or your turn on the slide was up. I remember the tank we used to play in, yes a military tank, I even remember the smell inside it when we would pretend we were at war blasting away at an invisible enemy.

That was many years ago now and although I knew the park was now run down nothing could have prepared me for the state I found the playground in.

There used to be two train engines here but now there is only one. The paintwork is fresh though.
There used to be two train engines here but now there is only one. The paintwork is fresh though.

The train doesn’t run here anymore but the station and the track are still there from what I could see.

The railway line is still there but I have no idea when last it was used.
The railway line is still there but I have no idea when last it was used.
I remember this tunnel being a lot more imposing, but then, I was nine.
I remember this tunnel being a lot more imposing, but then, I was nine.

Bulawayo is known for it’s tree-lined streets, most famous are the jacarandas that bloom in late October. The park was always home to many different trees and thankfully they are still there for the most part.

Dawn breaks behind a dying tree that has probably stood here longer than anyone in Bulawayo today has been alive.
Dawn breaks behind a dying tree that has probably stood here longer than anyone in Bulawayo today has been alive.

In the playground you could be a King, a general or the lord of the jungle, your only limit was your imagination.

The castle fort where many a battle were fought in an effort to be King.
The castle fort where many a battle were fought in an effort to be King.
The highest of highs upon the tallest slide ever built, or so we thought.
The highest of highs upon the tallest slide ever built, or so we thought.
One moment you're on top of the world the next you're picking yourself up off the ground, dusting yourself off and getting ready to go again. Just mind the jagged rusty edges.
One moment you’re on top of the world the next you’re picking yourself up off the ground, dusting yourself off and getting ready to go again. Just mind the jagged rusty edges.
what games did you play when you were growing up?
what games did you play when you were growing up?

In the years since I became an adult I have often wondered about the intention behind putting a military vehicle that had literally killed people in a children’s playground. Was it some effort at mental manipulation, some plots to desensitise us to violence? I don’t know but i think for the most part we turned out alright.

There used to be a tank here. I remember the cannon and the caterpillar tread. Also, this vehicle is sealed so you can't get in, unlike our tank in the eighties.
There used to be a tank here. I remember the cannon and the caterpillar tread. Also, this vehicle is sealed so you can’t get in, unlike our tank in the eighties.
It all looks so innocent and playful, the children are none the wiser.
It all looks so innocent and playful, the children are none the wiser.
All broken dreams once gave someone hope, meaning. Some broken dreams can be restored and realised.
All broken dreams once gave someone hope, meaning. Some broken dreams can be restored and realised.

This playground is in fact a microcosm of what has happened across Bulawayo, a city that is today barely a ghost of it’s past. It pains me to see the playground of my youth reduced to a dusty field of broken children’s toys, their dreams broken on the rusty iron of military surplus junk, but I live in hope that the glory that once was Centenary Park can be restored. It honestly wouldn’t take that much but for now I fear the imagination of children is lacking in the City Fathers.

 

The Light

Some of my most vivid memories are of me smashing a blue toy gun at age five and about a year later my younger brother throwing lit matches into a closet full of books, burning, amongst other things, my early art-books. I also remember we each got thoroughly disciplined for our transgressions. 

Around that period I got my first audio book, Winnie The Pooh. The truth is our Dad took my siblings and I to a record store one Saturday afternoon and whilst everyone else was in awe of Michael Jackson’s newly released Thriller album I wondered off on my own and noticing the Winnie book, I took it off the shelf & off we went home. I thought it was just a book, imagine my surprise when I found a record inside. Dad didn’t notice until we were almost home and whilst I don’t remember my explanation I do remember we drove back to the store where I mumbled an apology and he paid. By the time we got home none of us kids cared for MJ as we were all in awe of this book that came with a record, or was it a record that came with a book? Either way, it was a day that I will never forget.

My next vivid memory was winning a book award at age seven, one of the proudest days of my young life. The book is long gone but my mother has my medal stashed away somewhere. One day at age ten, I think, my brother and I were at my friend Mehluli’s house and after seeing a wire-car I decided I wanted to make my own. His parents’ garage became our workshop and for what seemed forever, we churned out all sorts of ever more elaborate creations. It was 1986, Knight Rider and The A-Team were all the rage so you can imagine what our cars looked like.

My school years were full of such contradictions. When not getting into all kinds of trouble I did have the occasional moment of academic achievement, if I may call it that. What some may see as destructive or anti-social behaviour was, I believe, the source of my most defining and vivid lessons.

Had I not smashed that toy-gun open I may never have learned to look closer at how things work, from wire cars then, to studying and developing alternative business models today. My parents were unwitting mentors in this regard as the more they told me not to do certain things the more I wanted to do those very things.

I am more curious than courageous although those who know me may insist I’m stubborn, and it is that curiosity that allows me to keep learning. Curiosity allows me to do things or go places just to see what will happen and that’s taken me on some of the most rewarding adventures of my life. Curiosity is how I met my beautiful wife and whilst my antiques may occasionally drive her crazy, she knows it’s all for a greater good.

The hardest thing for me has been to understand that every day is the sum of all my previous actions, good or bad, what makes me different is how I choose to apply yesterday’s lessons today.