Archives For politics

I’ve written before about the deplorable state of libraries and schools in South Africa. Although Mtuseni is out of the public school system, his little sister and brother still attend St. Ansgar’s — what he calls a “farm school” with no heat, computers, or library. Sadly this lack of resources is the norm, not the exception.

One of my LinkedIn contacts who runs an education-focused organization in South Africa recently posted this TV commercial for a business magazine. It’s short, powerful and to the point. Not to mention sad.

As Mtuseni transitions into more independence and a job, I hope to explore ways to address the needs of South African kids on a larger basis. Helping Mtuseni is fulfilling, but it’s not enough to make a dent in the larger problems that face the country and its people. I want — and need — to do more.


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Pressure Point

May 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

Mtu visa chatWhen Mtuseni popped onto WhatsApp today and I asked how he was doing, his response was “I’m not sure.” Lines like that always get my head and heart racing. Is his mom sick again? Is he sick? Did he fail his exams last week? Did he break his laptop again? I’ve learned that life with Mtuseni can be fraught with perils. So when I asked what that meant, he said there’s a lot of work and “the visa thing alone is pressure.”

It’s that time of year again: our annual attempt to get Mtuseni a B2 visa to come visit Boston during his winter break in July. We’ve been down this road three times before, and despite all our efforts and letters of support from congressmen and senators, it always ends in disappointment. I’ve tweaked the strategy a bit this time — but in the end it always comes down to his being able to convince some DMV-style clerk at the consulate that he has enough “strong ties” that he’ll return to South Africa. We’re betting that his being one term from finishing school –and his tuition being paid up for the year — will be enough to prove his case.

It’s so frustrating. If he was a white South African college student, he’d be approved in 60 seconds. John Kerry’s staff person who is helping me said a black girl in his exact circumstances would have a better chance. As a young, poor, black male, he just fits the profile of someone who’ll come into the US under false pretenses and disappear, driving a gypsy cab in the Bronx.

Mtuseni dreads the visa interview process and is intimidated by the heavy security to enter the US consulate in Johannesburg. And the rejection always hurts, though after the first couple times he’s tried to act stoic. It hurts me, too. But we keep trying. I have to.

It bothers me to see him so stressed about it. I sent him a long file of interview tips and detailed responses to review last week. And he has a mock interview on Tuesday to practice being “respectfully assertive.” This new balls-out preparation — along with his nervousness when “put on the spot” — is cranking up the pressure on him. I feel bad, but hopefully it will all be worth it when he’s here in late June, for his first trip to America.

I did get him calmed down and laughing by the end of our chat today. (And I have to take some credit for his Boston-style sarcastic wit, which I adore. He cracks me up.)

Send good energy his way next Thursday the 16th at 10 AM South Africa time (4 AM Eastern US time). I hope to wake up to a happy message from him that day. And then call my travel agent…

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A South African View on Guns

December 19, 2012 — 1 Comment

Mtuseni and I chatted a bit today about the Sandy Hook school shooting. We didn’t talk about it much… I was busy with work and he was telling me about arriving in Durban for his festive season trip. It came up when a blogger in Connecticut posted a “like” on his blog.

But I thought his perspective on the event, from another country, was interesting and worth sharing…


I told him about the woman using them at a shooting range… and how some Americans love their guns… and how the “right” of private citizens to own guns is in the Constitution. And he replied…


I said in my earlier post on the shooting that there are things about South African society that drive me crazy on a daily basis. But the country — or at least one young South African — seems to have the right idea when it comes to guns.

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Many times here I’ve griped about societal challenges in South Africa, such as the lack of readily accessible wifi or public schools without computers or libraries. Problems like these keep the country and its people from reaching their full potential, and I can’t understand the lack of urgency and creative solutions to address them.

When discussing these issues I’m not implying that America is perfect, far from it. And the most glaring demonstration of a critical problem that we seem to tacitly accept is the prevalence of guns in this society. I am loathe to admit it, but my reaction upon learning of the Sandy Hook school shooting amounted to, “Ho-hum. Another one.” This doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s tragic and sad or I don’t grieve for the families. But my muted response is evidence that a mass shooting in America is no longer a surprise. The Columbine attack was shocking. But all these years later, such events have become the norm in this country. If it’s not a school, it’s a mall. Or a cinema. Or an office. Or another location where someone can gun down people with cold and calculated efficiency.

As in the past, people in Connecticut will light candles and sing and place stuffed animals at the site, leaving them to fester and rot in the rain. This morning the flag on my picturesque New England town common flew at half-staff, surely in acknowledgement of the school shooting. It’s a well-intentioned yet meaningless gesture. Is there a number of dead that warrant the flag to be lowered? Does it have to be more than 10? More than 20? People are killed by guns every day in this country; keep all the flags at half-staff until the madness stops.

Because nobody outside of law enforcement needs a gun. Period. Guns have too much instant, irreversible, concentrated power. I often wonder when reading about a couple’s murder-suicide whether the man (or woman) woke up and thought, “I’m going to kill my spouse today, and then kill myself.” Or more likely, in the heat of an argument, a gun in a drawer was grabbed and fired. Boom: spouse dead. And seeing the results of that split-second act, the survivor shoots himself out of shock and grief. Boom: another dead. Guns are killing machines, and they don’t have an Undo button.

But despite the growing frequency of mass shootings in this country, nothing changes. Half-hearted discussions of gun control pose pathetic solutions: Restrict the number of rounds in an ammo clip. Ban the sale of assault weapons. Check some kind of “background records” to make sure people aren’t psycho before they can buy a gun. And don’t let people buy more than several guns a month. Honestly, how many guns do you need?! The answer is zero. Gun control in this country should mean banning the sale and private ownership of all guns. Buy back all the private guns and let folks spend the money; think of it as a life-saving economic stimulus plan.

The stimulus concept might even be palatable to Republican lawmakers who decry and fight taxes by calling them “job killers.” Yet they don’t seem interested in fighting guns, which are people killers and life killers, dream killers and community killers. They’re more concerned with collecting gun-lobby money to save their own jobs than to stop the senseless violence and save the lives of the citizens they supposedly serve. One would hope that all the seasonal sentiments of Peace on Earth might turn into Peace in America next year – but Santa will have to overload the stockings of our country’s legislators with brains and consciences and cojones for that wish to come true.

Yet government isn’t solely to blame. This country’s cultural landscape is awash in unrestrained images of violence. American television will digitally mask a bit of butt crack that might appear on a Survivor contestant, or a woman’s breast as she feeds her starving child in a developing country. A glimpse of Janet Jackson’s nipple during the Super Bowl created mass hysteria rivaling the response to Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds. The television network was fined. Statements of apology were issued. Lawsuits were filed. And the job market for butt-crack-and-breast pixellators soared. Yet these same television networks depict graphic, stomach-churning, violent crime scenes in their drama programs every single day. Blood and gaping wounds are okay for American viewers; certain creases of skin are not. It’s fucked up; there’s no other way to put it.

The video game industry also peddles violence as sport and entertainment. Children and adults spend hours “shooting” animated characters. Industry mouthpieces claim that video games don’t lead to a rise in violent behavior. But the landmark Bobo doll experiments of 50 years ago — as well as later studies — proved differently. Except that in modern video games people aren’t watching others hit an inflatable clown; they are directly killing characters rendered in life-like detail, and being rewarded with points and charms like Pavlov’s mutts. It’s not rocket science to understand that certain fragile minds will eventually cross the line into displaying the same killing behavior in real life.

Whenever these mass shootings happen, I’m reminded of Cheryl Wheeler’s song If It Were Up to Me. The lyrics are posted below, or click the title to see it on YouTube. Yes… media imagery, video games, poverty, family abuse and many other factors can contribute to this American epidemic. But in the end, it’s about getting rid of the goddamn guns.

If It Were Up to Me

Maybe it’s the movies, maybe it’s the books
Maybe it’s the bullets, maybe it’s the real crooks
Maybe it’s the drugs, maybe it’s the parents
Maybe it’s the colors everybody’s wearin’
Maybe it’s the president, maybe it’s the last one
Maybe it’s the one before that, what he done
Maybe it’s the high schools, maybe it’s the teachers
Maybe it’s the tattooed children in the bleachers
Maybe it’s the Bible, maybe it’s the lack
Maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the crack
Maybe it’s the hairdos, maybe it’s the TV
Maybe it’s the cigarettes, maybe it’s the family
Maybe it’s the fast food, maybe it’s the news
Maybe it’s divorce, maybe it’s abuse
Maybe it’s the lawyers, maybe it’s the prisons
Maybe it’s the Senators, maybe it’s the system
Maybe it’s the fathers, maybe it’s the sons
Maybe it’s the sisters, maybe it’s the moms
Maybe it’s the radio, maybe it’s road rage
Maybe El Nino, or UV rays
Maybe it’s the army, maybe it’s the liquor
Maybe it’s the papers, maybe the militia
Maybe it’s the athletes, maybe it’s the ads
Maybe it’s the sports fans, maybe it’s a fad
Maybe it’s the magazines, maybe it’s the Internet
Maybe it’s the lottery, maybe it’s the immigrants
Maybe it’s taxes, big business
Maybe it’s the KKK and the skinheads
Maybe it’s the communists, maybe it’s the Catholics
Maybe it’s the hippies, maybe it’s the addicts
Maybe it’s the art, maybe it’s the sex
Maybe it’s the homeless, maybe it’s the banks
Maybe it’s the clearcut, maybe it’s the ozone
Maybe it’s the chemicals, maybe it’s the car phone
Maybe it’s the fertilizer, maybe it’s the nose rings
Maybe it’s the end, but I know one thing.
If it were up to me, I’d take away the guns.

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