February 21, 2014

Mothers: Aren't They Important?

My husband often smirks when I complain about the unlikelihood of a photographer in one or the other film being able to shoot off several perfect shots with that lens, that shutter speed, and that lack of light - which actually happens quite often; it's clear that I truly appreciate photography and how difficult it is to catch that perfect shot at times.

So I have to say that Victorian photographers - man, they had it rough, and they truly must have loved their craft. To struggle to compose a photo and then expose it on their choice of medium for at least 30 seconds takes true dedication. And then to take photos of the dead without squirming? Another point. Taking photos of babies sitting perfectly still (which happens only when they're newborns, if you're lucky)? Another point.

But why are the mothers not important in the majority of those images?

According to this Guardian article, in the Victorian age, it was routine during a photo session with babies to have the mother hold the baby - only they were disguised as a chair covered with a coat, or wrapped in a curtain, or, in some cases, their faces are completely blacked or whited out. (Here is a link to a slideshow of images)

I wonder why this is?

I suppose that one does not always want one's image to be recorded for all time. Maybe it's a 'mother'-thing to not want your photograph taken. But maybe this is something that women have grown up believing - that we don't belong in photos unless we're perfect. And let's face it, mothers seldom feel perfect. Women in the Victorian era were limited to the domestic sphere, though, so it is strange that they would be left out of the photos of their own children?

As with today, the pressure on women to look a certain way must have been palpable, even then. And I think there was a lot more pressure to match expectations back then, especially since the majority of women still depended on a good marriage match. Here is a great link on Victorian Age stereotypes for the female kind.

Why do you think the mothers were excluded from the photos of their babies?

{Image credit: Wikimedia Commons\Edward S Curtis}
Read More

February 14, 2014

Why the State of the Nation Address Hits a Flat Chord

Ever since I've been working in the news industry, the State of the Nation Address has always struck a flat chord with me. Especially over the last three years as our economic affairs become more dire, politicians more corrupt, and the poor poorer.

I understand that the Sona is all about tradition; however, for me the problem is that all the pomp surrounding it has turned into somewhat of a celebrity showing.

First off, there is the live broadcast. Certainly, it is an important event and I'm sure that many people are interested in how our nation is faring. It's also a positive thing that it is broadcast on the national public broadcaster, so more people will be able to see it. However, there is a negative in this: Television has been used, almost since its invention, as a propaganda tool. I am concerned that what President Jacob Zuma says in the address is taken as law, makes all the negative aspects of our country disappear. And he certainly pulled all the stops in his speech last night - will it sate the rowdy public before this year's general elections? Possibly.

Secondly, there is that infernal red carpet and all the fashion obsession that surrounds it. The Ministers of Parliament and their honoured guests traipse along the red carpet in high fashion for which they possibly paid thousands to have tailored for them - for you can be certain no one would be wearing a plain old Truworths gown. The crowds cheer and clap, certainly not hailing them for their amazing achievements - as even Mandla Mandela was there in traditional regalia - but for the simple fact that they know their names. They are asked about their clothing as though it overthrows everything about them - their political dispensation thrown aside by them and the viewers as everyone becomes an honourary member of the fashion world.

Thirdly, there is the deployment of hundreds of policemen, SANDF members, marchers, musicians, security guards, limos, convoys of luxury BMWs (because no car is an equal status symbol), and strangely imperialist displays. All of which comes at a pretty penny. The budgeted cost for the entire address this year was expected to be R5.7 million. Seriously?! Could MPs not have thought, "Hmm, this year, since there's been so much wasted expenditure, and we owe so much to foreign companies for services, perhaps we should keep the Sona simple this year, and limit it to only a speech in Parliament, or a recording like we did when Nelson Mandela died." But no, the expenditure is 'necessary'.

Speaking of pretty pennies... finally, it is the blatant celebratory banquet after the Sona that really irks me, which will take up most of the nearly R6m budget for the event. What are MPs rewarding themselves for? Doing their jobs (or not, as the case may be)? And their honoured guests? Who are they? Certainly some people deserved to come along, like the top matriculants in the country, but who else was there? I shudder to think how many tender deals were made on the R100,000-cap alcohol bill while the people in question were tipsy.

Oh, I forgot! The Sona is costing R2 million less this year. Because they decided not to hold the banquet in a tent like they did last year. Well, good on you politicians of the country! Sad that you were catered to at the Cape Town International Convention Centre instead. (Although this saving is beyond the point, because a second Address will be taking place after the general elections, and I assume it will be the same type of celebration, especially if the ANC continues with a two-thirds majority.)

In my opinion, people technically responsible for the livelihood of the country - which is crying for their help, a la protests in Ekangala, Bronkhorstspruit, and many more - shouldn't be wasting money on pricey banquets and shows of authority when there are still so many people living in poverty and remaining unemployed.

{Image credit: Twitter\ParliamentofRSA}
Read More

February 12, 2014

#DAMarch: Implications, Should Haves, and The Ball

South Africa's official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, marched to a square near the ruling party ANC's headquarters in Johannesburg today. The march was abandoned just before marchers reached the square, as things had descended into chaos. And much of the chaos was the result of ANC supporters gathering en masse to 'protect their headquarters'.

I was nervous following the Twitter stream of the march today (#DAMarch). I was really waiting for something very bad to happen - aside from the petrol bombs and bricks thrown at police. Thankfully the DA decided to turn back before any real harm was done in a vein similar to that of the DA's march to Cosatu House in 2013.

However, the dominating themes on Twitter bothered me.

There was the overarching narrative that there were no white people in the DA's marching band. Tweets were in this vein:
This disturbs me because I would be insulted if they were referring to me. Their implication is that the supporters do not have the freedom to make their own choices regarding a political party; that the ANC is the only party for black people to support, and the DA is the only party for whites. I understand that this impression comes from hundreds of years of slavery and oppression, but the implication is also that these so-called paid-for supporters follow only the money. Which is bad news for democracy indeed, if it were true.

It is sad that more white supporters did not show up to support their party, but Twitter commentators were correct in saying most of them were at work. According to South Africa - The Real Issues, white unemployment is at about 17%. In contrast, unemployment amongst the black population is estimated, as of 2013, to be at around 30%, according to Moneyweb. This is another post all on its own, but perhaps the DA hopes that eventually no one will be able to show up at protests on random days of the week because they will actually have a job.

Eventually many interpreted the situation as a design: White people were using black people to fight black people.
In my opinion, violence has no place in society. And the fact that ANC supporters pitched up with knobkierries, sticks, and bricks, and eventually petrol bombs, says a lot about who might be to blame for the chaotic end to what was planned to be a peaceful march.

The comment is disturbing for similar reasons to those enumerated above.

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said that the ANC supporters were only there to defend the headquarters of the party. Some commentators believe the DA's march to Luthuli House was a bad decision - they should really have marched to the Department of Labour or the Union Buildings.
But the fact is that the ANC holds the majority in Parliament, the majority of powerful government positions, and the majority of transformative power. In essence, the DA is calling the ruling party out for not using its majority to create the jobs that it has been promising for years.

When the DA announced its planned march, I knew from the start that it might not have been such a great idea. It had the potential to become a history-making event.
However, though it did not end in tragedy, I have to muse that perhaps this response is just what the Democratic Alliance wanted just before the general elections this year, which some believe might be the most hotly-contested since 1994.

Although the DA march was ostensibly for 'real' jobs - and by this I assume they mean jobs that last, and not contractual government work - it ended up being about democracy and the Constitution. Perhaps this is what the DA intended, or it's simply one of the positive outcomes of a march that at first looks to have been a failure.
If the ANC is so certain of its place on the democratic podium of the land, perhaps it should learn to be less intolerant of other points of view. Commending the good behaviour of its members does nothing when the evidence is all over Twitter. I believe that the DA has thrown the ball, the ANC had it in their court, and they decided to trample on it.

{Image credit: Twitter\IsimiEssop}
Read More

February 5, 2014

Book Review || Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

I finished reading the novel Tuesdays With Morrie last night - if I didn't have a baby to care for I would have finished it in a single day! :)

It was recommended to me by a lady at a Hospice bookshop, and I intend to thank her when I see her again, as the book touched me deeply. I think it touches everyone deeply. And I didn't even know that the novel was based on a true story until I realised that the references to events were real, and so was Morrie Schwartz.

Morrie Schwartz is suffering from ALS - the same disease affecting Stephen Hawkings. The book follows a period of about six months (I think) from when Mitch Albom, a past student, visits him every Tuesday to learn about his life, and to write this book.

The book is filled with, sometimes harsh, but always true, aphorisms about life, our culture, death, love, marriage and much more. Morrie is intent on being present in the moment, devoting himself to his loved ones, his community, and other people who need him. He is convinced that in this is the meaning of life: you cannot fill up your life with material items, because they are not substitutes for tenderness and affection. However, you will be wholly satisfied if you give of yourself to others, because that makes you feel needed.
I think one of the most amazing things about this book is that, if you were unaware it was actually biographical, finding out that Morrie was a real person becomes the true inspiration. Having someone so positive, and spiritual, and wise really living in the world is something like meeting a prophet - it will and should have a lasting effect on you.

Here are some of my favourite ideas from the book (some have been paraphrased):
  • Love is the only rational act.
  • 'Everyone knows they're going to die, but nobody believes it...To know you're going to die, to be prepared for it at any time, that's better. That way you can actually be more involved in your life while you're living'
  • Allow your experience and emotions to penetrate you, but at the end of the day, learn to detach from them. Remember that everything in life is impermanent.
  • Aging is not just about decay - it's about growth. You will never know what you know as young man what you know as an old man, and by becoming an old man, you constantly re-experience the different stages of life because you've been there.
  • Fearing aging is simply regret of an unfulfilled, unsatisfying life.
  • 'Status will get you nowhere': those at the top will never respect you, and those at the bottom will simply envy you. The trick is to open your heart no matter where you are in the scale.
  • Your belief in the importance of your marriage is one of the most necessary shared values you and your partner should have.
  • 'People are only mean when they're threatened'.
  • Hold on with all your strength, but no when to let go. There must be balance.
  • Forgive yourself - it will make it easier to forgive others, and regrets will not help you in any way, ever.
Check out the first part of Ted Koppel's round-up of conversations with this amazing man below.

(Image credit: Screenshot from YouTube)
Read More