Sunday, December 27, 2009

Oy, I forgot to ask my late grandfathers this most important question!

Two weeks ago, Sunday the 13th December 2009, my kids and I went to do some toy shopping. We were close to the Ellis Park Stadium/Coca-Cola Park. While in the area, I tried to find an entrance to the rugby stadium grounds. I wanted to show my kids where I had watched two Confederation Cup soccer games, and where some World Cup soccer games would be played in 2010.

Our attempt to gain entry to the stadium grounds was unsuccessful. I could have easily scaled a fence, but trespassing is illegal. (And I did not want my kids to experience a bread and water dinner in the local police holding cells. After all, my daughter is five, and my son, four. A bit too young for that kind of adventure).

We passed the Ellis Park public swimming pool. We stopped at the entrance. I wanted to show the kids the large pool which I had not seen since my school days. The pool was open for business, but we had no plans to go swimming. We asked the cashier and guard at the front if we could see the pool. They said that we could, but only from the entrance.

I must say, it looked inviting. The crystal clear water of the olympic size pool (and the 2 smaller pools) would surely cool us off. It was 30 degrees celsius. But alas, we had not planned to go swimming, and we did not bring swimming clothes.

The kids started begging: "Please, can we stay and swim? Pleeeeaase. Can we stay?". Over and over. (Can any parent out there relate to that?)

And I kept telling them: "We did not bring costumes. We will come back other times"

And I kept telling myself: "Don't feel bad. You are not breaking them. 'No' is also an answer"

Then I recalled that we had our gym bag in the car. So, I said that we would check the gym bag ,and if there were swimming shorts for us all, we could stay a while.

And I started to regret the offer

We found 3 pairs of shorts, as well as towels. We parked the car in the parking lot and made our way back to the cashier. R8 for adults, R5 for children. The female cashier and the female guard were so friendly to the kids (and me). What a warm welcome to the facility!

The Ellis Park pool facility is pretty large. Spacious. Open. We walked to the change-rooms. They were old, but extremely clean. We then found a spot on the grandstands, left our bag, and made our way to the main pool.

The water was great.

There were approximately 30 people using the facility. There are three pools in use, and the grounds are spacious and open. If there had been 200 people, it still would have felt empty

The kids had a blast.....all three of us. It was wonderful. People were friendly, the staff was helpful, the facilities were clean and the lifeguards were on duty. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with so much fun and laughter. People were tanning, or swimming, or picnicking. We were fifteen minutes from home, and it felt like we had left town, enjoying our summer holidays somewhere 'else'.

As with most of my memorable experiences lately, I relate them to family, friends, readers of my blog.... and others.

I expected some questions. And I had the answers.

Surely people would ask:
  • Was it expensive?
  • Was the place clean?
  • Was the water warm?
  • Was the water clean?
  • Were there life-guards?
  • Was it full?
  • Are the bathrooms clean?
  • Can you bring in food?
  • Can you buy food?
  • Is there shade?
It turned out, that kind of information is not too important, or interesting....(apparently).

Most people asked exactly the same (apparently very important) question:
  • Was it very "black"?
It got me thinking.

My mother's father arrived in South African in the 1930's, after leaving Germany. He was lucky. Many of his family were deported to Poland, only later to be confined to the Krakow ghetto, only later to be gassed at Auschwitz.

My father's father was from Lithuania. He travelled, and arrived in South Africa, alone, at 14 years old. He had left a region of the world (and a life) that was regularly 'interrupted' by pogroms, murder, beatings and destruction.

Both of my grandfathers seldom discussed what they had experienced, the family and friends that were murdered and the lives they had to rebuild in South Africa.

They hardly ever discussed Germany, or Lithuania...'the home country'

And I asked few questions about 'the home country'

But I do know there is one question I did not need to ask:
  • Was it very "white"?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Now I know where my tax money goes...And I'm proud to be South African

On Tuesday of this week, a stomach bug got the better of me. I had not had a bug for a while, but all the symptoms followed the usual '24 hour bug' features

I started to improve on Wednesday afternoon, and felt pretty good. But, on Thursday morning, one particular, never-experienced-before, symptom, was ever present.

After searching for information (i.e. consulting with Doctor Google) I grew slightly neurotic, and wanted to know whether I should be concerned or not. I wanted to know if I should just relax, be going for blood tests, or if I should check myself into a hospital.

To get that kind of feedback, and have the (allocated) 5 minute, R300, discussion with my GP, would have meant:
  • The usual 45 minute wait (despite actually making an appointment)
  • The advice to take a course of R350 anti-biotics (just in case, ofcourse)
  • The insistence of having R500 blood tests (because there is always some kick-back for referrals)
After company cutbacks, I was retrenched. I am unemployed and on the job market, (CV available on request). So, in order to get the kind of feedback I needed (to be concerned or not to be concerned), I decided to visit the public clinic in Wendywood, a suburb not too far from our home.

I did not know what to expect.

Actually, I did know what to expect. After all, the press is full of nightmare stories regarding South Africa's public health system.

I drove into the parking lot and had an initial chat with the security guard. He was eager to assist me, and pointed me in the right direction. I walked into the small, single-story building, expecting to see 100 or more, sick and dying, poverty-stricken South Africans. I expected to see dirt and grime. I expected to experience poor service, from ill-trained staff. I expected to see medical waste including used needles

But, I was willing to give it a try.

My first impression was: Hey, did they know I was coming? Why is this place spotless? They must have something up their sleeves. There is no way a public clinic has a floor I could eat off of!

So, I reckoned, I am now here, let me wait and see how long it takes for me to be seen. And sadly, I was disappointed. I hate waiting in lines. I'm impatient. And having one/1/a single person in front of me was a battle I had to overcome. Having to wait a full five minutes to be seen by the medical practitioner.....that was a tough one for me.... but I got through it

I was called into the consultation room.

The nightmare was about to begin

Everything I had read about and heard about was about to be realised. Every fear that is discussed at our middle to upper class dinner tables, was about to manifest itself. Every criticism of South Africa and its public health system was about to be justified.

I was attended to by two ladies. I explained everything that had happened over the past two days, and told them my concerns. They knew exactly what I was talking about. They reassured me that I had nothing to worry about. They explained what was happening, and said it I must take a course of anti-biotics. They said the symptoms would be gone within 2 days. They also said that if that was not the case, I should go for blood tests.

They were understanding. They were friendly. They were professional. They did not limit my time to 5 minutes, in order to get the next patient/client/R300 through the door

And they gave me a course or anti-biotics

And all the fears came crashing down.

I am not naive, blind or ill-informed about South Africa's public health system. I know there are many problems. And I am fearful of those issues. But I am no longer fearful of public healthcare in general.

I am also not naive about private healthcare. I am still fearful of being checked into a certain Northern suburbs private clinic, 'known' for its unusually high patient mortality rate. I am also fearful of the fraud and dodgy dealings of some supposedly far-superior private GP's and specialists. Yet, I am not fearful of private healthcare in general

Later that same day, I met with a doctor friend of mine, Peter. He's a specialist, and while he does mainly private work, he has worked (and still does) within the public health system. He was not at all surprised by my experience. And, after explaining what my symptoms were, my concerns, what the ladies had said, what they had done for me, and the advice to take a course of anti-biotics he said "I would have done, and advised, exactly as they did"

I can say, without hesitation, that I will be using my local public clinic again.

And I can say without hesitation, that not a single person within my social circle, ever will

And that is their loss

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Barack Obama will not get a second term - The Tiger Woods Effect

In December, 2009, Public Policy Polling released the results of a poll. The results were rather interesting. 44% of Americans would prefer George W. Bush as President.

President Obama's current approval rating is 47%, from the January 2009 high of 69%

In April of this year, Fareed Zakaria of CNN  said “Although he brought a lot of star power -- the talk of the week -- at least in certain circles in Washington, New York and London -- has been that President Obama is failing in his role as leader of the free world.”

Republicans are disappointed. They say that Obama is pushing a left-wing, socialist agenda. They argue that the financial bail-out has been at too high a cost for taxpayers, and a failure for the American public. The proposed healthcare reforms are viewed as too 'socialist', and have even been called 'communist' by many on the political right

Many African Americans are disappointed. They say that he has not pushed an African American agenda enough and that the social issues that face the African American community have worsened during his term of office. African American Congressman, John Conyers, commented: “There is no one more disappointed than I am in Barack Obama.”

The anti-war movement, and others, are opposed to Obama's stance on Afghanistan and his decision to send in more troops. His 'delayed' withdrawal from Iraq has also been criticized.  Congressman Dennis Kucinich blasted Obama, saying "America is in the fight of its life and that fight is not in Afghanistan -- its here. We are deeply in debt" The San Franciso Labor Council expressed extreme disappointment in Obama, saying he has focused too much attention on Iraq and Afghanistan, while America's domestic issues should be the focus of the administration's efforts.

The Arab and Muslim world have seen Obama's peace efforts as falling far short of his promises. They expected more pressure on Israel and were particularly disappointed with the Obama Administration's 'relaxing' of its stance on (so-called) settlements. Aseel al- Awadhi, a Kuwaiti member of parliament, noted: "All Arab countries are craving change -- and many of us believed Obama was a tool for change. Now we are losing that hope."

I almost feel sorry for the guy. After a year in office, 44% of Americans would prefer a president who ended his term in office with one of the lowest approval ratings of any US president. But I wonder why that is

Was Obama expected to solve America's (and the world's) problems within his first year of office?

Did Obama promise too much? Did people expect too much?

Is Barack Obama super human or messianic?

Barack Obama is not superhuman, a supernatural being or an alien

Barack Obama is human.
As is Tiger Woods

It is only a bunch of aliens who could have believed otherwise, and placed their alien faith in the (supposed) superhuman nature of these mere mortals. And as long as aliens continue to believe in (supposed) superhuman traits, they will continue to be disappointed.... and a second term for Obama is looking extremely unlikely

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'Invictus' - South Africa remains undefeated

Last week saw the international release of Clint Eastwood's latest movie, 'Invictus' (which means undefeated or unconquerable). It tells the Story of South Africa's 1995 Rugby World Cup win, along with the fascinating socio-political backdrop of the time. It stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar. Morgan Freeman may very well win an Oscar for this role.
The budget for the film was close to $US 60mil (That is over R420mil). And while the leading actors were Americans, most of the cast, production and content are South African. The film is another amazing show-case for South Africa, and is being (mostly) well received. In keeping with the actual 1995 final, Ellis Park was used for the rugby scenes, as were many other South African locations and backdrops.

Here are some of the positive comments:

"Invictus is an amazing, true story. I saw the film at a press screening but I plan to see Invictus again with my family because I want my children to see a story about leadership" (Michelle Lamar of My Gloss)

"But at its most powerful, "Invictus" operates on another plane entirely, as a depiction of pluralism at its most dynamic, unruly and inspiring. Most films trace the transformation of an individual protagonist, as he or she embarks on a quest and emerges irrevocably changed. Here, that character is South Africa itself, as Mandela tries mightily to wrench a country riven by tribal division and racism into a future of healing and peace" (Anne Hornaday of The Washington Post)

"As another Oscar season kicks into gear, Clint Eastwood returns with his annual contribution to Hollywood's self-esteem, in this case a solidly uplifting historical drama about President Nelson Mandela and South Africa's bid to win the Rugby World Cup in 1995" (Tom Charity of CNN)

"In classic Clint Eastwood style, "Invictus" is a film that not only demonstrates Mandela's genius but Eastwood's as well" (Denny Wayman of Christian Post)

"Audiences in North America will walk out of the theatre on a high, touched by the scenes of blacks and whites hugging each other at South Africa's improbable triumph at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, inspired by Nelson Mandela himself" (The Globe and Mail)

"Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” benefits from having the weight of history, the thrill of sport and a nuanced performance by Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela"(Melena Ryzik of New York Times' Carpetbagger)

"It's a crafty film, made in the conciliatory spirit of the statesman Eastwood sees in Mandela" (Michael Phillips of Chicago Tribune)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Jacob Zuma Superstar

This week's Time Magazine featured Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa. His photo appeared on the front cover. The caption read 'The Surprising Promise of Jacob Zuma'. The main article, by Alex Perry, went on to say that Jacob Zuma is being surprisingly upfront and honest in acknowledging South Africa's problems. And even more surprising, he is tackling them. Alex Perry writes: "In his new government, Zuma began by promoting the good and sacking the bad.... Pravin Gordhan became Finance Minister...Zuma fired Hogan's predecessor at health, Manto Tshabalala Msimang...and former police chief Jackie Selebi, who is charged with corruption".

South Africa is getting so much press coverage. So much positive press coverage

But, what has changed in the past year?

Has our leadership changed to one that is less corrupt? Have we found new, highly valuable, natural resources? Have we won major international sporting events?

Leading up to the elections, many (Tarot-card reading) South Africans (unsuccessfully) predicted the imminent collapse of our beloved country. We were facing a future of certain darkness, with our African sun being blocked by the evil giant, Jacob Zuma

Months before the certainty of a Zuma leadership and the certain darkness it would bring, the Tarot-card readers had predicted another certainty of darkness. That earlier prediction of a future of certain darkness was less metaphorical, and a lot more literal, and was thanks to Eskom's inadequacy

Alex Perry of Time Magazine must be metaphorically, as well as literally, blind. Why can't he see the Zuma and Eskom darkness we are living in?

Apart from my retrenchment from work, we South Africans have not only come through recent crises, mostly unscathed. We are actually thriving.

Jacob Zuma is being praised. The number of tourists to South Africa is at an all time high, currently at approximately 9 million. South Africa is being featured, on a daily basis, on CNN, BBC, Al Jazeerah.

In 2010, South Africa will be the focus of the sporting world's attention. And while many of us may not even be sports fans, the evidence is clear: South Africa's commercial, tourism and entertainment industries are benefitting from all the positive, and extensive, exposure that our country is experiencing, and will experience in the near term future. A day does not go by when I don't see a good-news story about South Africa on one or all of the international news channels.

At the end of this week, the draw for the 2010 World Cup takes place in Cape Town. All the world's media will be there. As will international business leaders, sportsmen and sportswomen and famous actors and actresses.

South Africa is on the pages of many newspapers, on the covers of international sports magazines, in the theatres of international movie-houses, on the lead stories of international business news

South Africa is the place to be. And if you are South African, you should be proud that you are

So, back to my question: What has changed over the past year?

I believe, it's the world's perception of South Africa.

And I believe, it's time for us South Africans to make that change too