Mr Gay SA: 12 Heroes, 1 Dream

VANESSA SMEETS

This time next week, the new Mr Gay South Africa will be crowned at Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg. In a country that still struggles with sexual identity and where homophobia is still quite prevalent (we read about ‘gay beatings, murders’  and corrective rape on a weekly basis), I asked one of the finalists to share his aspirations, thoughts and comments on the whole experience.

Craig Maggs (25) and I met five years ago, after the whole “Stellenbosch Kissing Saga.” When I met him the first time, he was using another name and afraid to come out. All I could see was a survivor. He has not only survived homophobia, but also a crocodile attack that crushed his dream of becoming a surgeon (Craig lost an index finger in the attack). Today, he stands as an icon of solidarity; hopeful and watchful of a new South Africa that aims to not only accept every race, but also every sexual preference. From chef to personal trainer to writer, who knows where this talented young man will go…

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IRON MAN: Body of steel, heart of gold. Craig hopes to change the gay community by creating a platform where socials can include fitness and fighting for similar causes. PIC: supplied

QUICK FACTS:

Height: 1.87m
Weight: 90kg
Favourite food: Mum’s lasagna or Portuguese chicken
Favourite quote: “With a single blow of a hammer, you have transferred plans into action.”
Biggest accomplishment: Surviving a crocodile attack at Lake Kariba and learning to accept myself as I am.
Greatest dream/ desires: My greatest desire is to live a life that will be remembered.
Strengths: Compassionate. Resilient. Dependable.
Weaknesses: Terrible liar, I over think things, I don’t trust easily.
Occupation: I work two jobs: I work for an NGO that deals with AIDS and Ebola research during the day and at night I am a waiter at Beefcakes in Illovo (who got me involved in this competition).
Hobbies: Playing sport, keeping fit, gardening, hiking, baking and sleeping.

Craig, you have trained hard to be in the Top 12. The last time I saw you, you were on a broccoli and asparagus diet, trying to reach your target weight and body.
But, tell us, what do wish to accomplish in terms of the competition?
My faith has challenged me to make a stand in order to make a difference to those that are hurting out there, especially those who I can relate to. The lonely, the oppressed, the bullied, the raped and those who have lost their ability to dream. I want to walk alongside them in their journey as a role model and friend. I want to be the reason someone never gave up on life or themselves.

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BEHIND BLUE EYES: Behind his charming smile, lies a BSc degree in Sports Science from Stellenbosch University. Pic: supplied

So, how did you prepare for Mr Gay SA?
Besides going to the gym and a horrible diet (of mostly green veggies), I wanted to broaden my mind. I approached different people and discussed their views on matters. It was incredible to see how differently we see things. I also did a lot of research into the history of gay rights, focusing on icons and how they altered history.

The Top 12 are incredibly diverse, from all over the country. How would you describe the other contestants?
The 12 contestants are incredibly inspiring people. All from different walks of life (from medical to political backgrounds), making us a dynamic team with different approaches and focus points. We have nicknamed ourselves the super 12 with the goal of changing the world around us.

Hmmm… How does Mr Gay SA stand apart from other “beauty” competitions?
Not only do we represent minority groups, we also focus on creating 12 role models, not just one. All twelve people will have a role to play throughout the year not just the winner.

What is your advice to those who wish to compete?
Approach this competition with an open mind and an open heart. It will challenge you and make you grow in ways you never thought possible. But, also be aware that this competition will open your eyes to a very broken world, that may cause you to become depressed if you have the wrong motives. Do it to make this world a better place not for selfish goals. Challenge the norms and be courageous role models to society.

What has been the biggest challenge in this competition?
For me personally the biggest challenge has been the emotional load of seeing so much hurt and need, especially because I can’t do enough to change it.

…And the greatest joy?
The greatest joy would be the message I received from a Zimbabwean friend living in Australia. She told me how she was so impressed on the impact I was making and that I should keep going, no matter how difficult it was.

How has your family and friends reacted to you being part of it?
My family were very concerned, if not disappointed, but have been amazing considering their background. As for my friends, they have been incredibly supportive and have really motivated and carried me all the way!

TOP 12: The finalists had fun and were also trained and mentored by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage. PIC: Facebook

TOP 12: The finalists had fun and were also trained and mentored by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage (far right). PIC: Facebook

What is your response to the negative feedback on Mamba Online page about you guys?
At first I was shocked and horrified at what people wrote, but now I see it as a challenge. A challenge to prove that this group of 12 heroes is there to be role models for all groups, not just racial or homosexual. We are a team and not individuals.

Now for the competition-type questions…

What is your view on being religious and homosexual? So many people battle and how do they overcome it?
Personally I am a Christian. Jesus said in the Bible: “WHOEVER believes in me shall have eternal life.” (John 5: 24) It doesn’t say “only some people” or “only straight people.” That is what I hold onto.

It is not an easy journey, as often the people of the church are the ones who cause the most hurt for gay people. They tend to ostracize you, judge you or try to change you. But don’t give up faith.

GAY PRIDE: The Top 12 inspired thousands in Cape Town to walk the streets with them, for a better South Africa. PIC: Facebook

GAY PRIDE: The Top 12 inspired thousands in Cape Town to walk the streets with them, for a better South Africa. PIC: Facebook

What do you think SA can do more in terms of LGBTI rights?
South Africa is fortunate to have one of the best constitutions for LGBTI rights in the world. However, it could do a lot more in protecting the people from the homophobia experienced by people in the community. Also, I believe South Africa could also stand up for LGBT rights throughout Africa, like in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

How can we do more in terms of these African neighbours and homophobia?
This is a very delicate issue, because this could make conditions worse for the affected people in those countries. However, we do need to do something! There are too many human rights violations happening to do nothing. Usually, the best way to change situations like this is to change the minds of the young, while they are still open and accepting. Make them question the norms and they will create the positive change. It will take a few brave individuals risking a lot, but a worthwhile cause cannot be left alone.

How can we educate the community more on:

  • corrective rape
  • homophobia
  • LGBTI NGOs
  • “gay media”

I think a good place to start is to build relationships between the LGBTI community and the mainstream media. Yes, often people complain about the involvement of “pink news” but in our day and age, it is becoming more prevalent. This could be highly beneficial to both integration of the LGBTI community, as well as people being able to share their stories that are big issues in society today. For example, corrective rape and homophobia. The first step to solving a problem, is admitting that it exists and raising awareness of it.

This will take concerted effort from the LGBTI community, which needs to work as a team and not individuals.

Craig_gay pride

WALK THE WALK: Craig and the other contestants showed off their ideas and bodies at Gay Pride in Cape Town last month. PIC: supplied

How do plan on using the title if you win?
I have two ideas I would like to develop:
Firstly, the buddy system. Let young LGBTI people interact with people who can serve as role models. Have a small group forum, where they can learn through other peoples experiences.

Secondly, I would like to reintroduce the gay sports’ night where people can interact across age and racial barriers, in a relaxed fun environment. My focus would be raising young leaders and again having the young learn from people with experience.

Anything you’d like to add?
I really think that it’s time the LGBTI community starts to work together towards a common goal, rather than defeat its own purposes.

 

A friend to all ages

Article & photos © VANESSA SMEETS

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INSPIRATION: Sarah’s joy comes from entertaining the people she cares about, from preschool to frail-care.

Sarah Widman (88) has finally had her biggest wish come true: the publishing of her first book, The Ant and the Elephant. It appeals to young children and teaches them many lessons:

K.T. (5): “It taught me to love all people.”
J.D. (5): “It taught me to be a better person.”
N.T. (5): “It taught me to work hard for the things I believe in.”

Interestingly, these lessons are all vital aspects to Sarah herself. She loves all people, young and old, by helping out the elderly in frail-care at the retirement home where she is a resident and also at Pretoria Montessori Preschool, where she reads or puts on shows for the children.

“God gave me the gift of making all people laugh, I use it as much as I can,” she says. Sarah found solace from a difficult background by putting on shows and plays for others. All her plays were self-written. Her play, Stages through the Ages, is for a more mature audience and aims to show what friendship goes through in various seasons of life.

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PUBLISHED: Sarah Widman (88) made the local newspaper this week after publishing her first book.

Sarah has definitely worked hard for the things she believes in. She waited 25 years for this first book, being rejected several times by a number of publishers.

She says: “Maybe people are more open now to the ideas of this imaginary world, where we need to escape from stress and technology.” Although her stories reflect Aesop’s Fables in terms of their morals, they are uniquely African and in tune with a child’s mind.

“I speak to my inner child, that’s where I get my ideas… I travel in my thoughts, I daydream, I ask a lot of questions… I’m always curious, like a child, and find joy in observing them.”

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BLISS: A friendly kiss after reading time for Sarah, the children at Pretoria Montessori Preschool’s dearest friend.

She has been a guest teacher at Pretoria Montessori Preschool for the last two years and this relationship has worked magic both ways. The preschool teachers describe Sarah’s presence as “a light to these little souls. They have learnt so much more on being respectful, disciplined and listening to the elderly.”

“I love Teacher Sarah because her stories are always clever and fun… She also gives the biggest hugs,” says S.M. (5).
Her next book, Adventures in Ghost-town, is currently in production and should be published by the end of the year. It will explore a little boy’s brave journey after disobeying his parents.

Lessons from Granny

VANESSA SMEETS

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LIGHT OF OUR LIVES: Granny was a beacon of light in how to live life to the fullest. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

I miss my granny every single day since her passing 21 months ago… She endured a lot in her 89 years. She stopped school at 14 to start working and help her family in a little Belgian village. She survived the hardships of war and falling in love just as it started.

She chose career over family at times and although she once confided in me that this was her biggest regret, she smiled: “One child, one life, to give all I had to give.”

The last time I held her was the eve of my 26th birthday:
“Granny, do you know what day it is tomorrow?”
“I’d rather not, my sweet poupée (doll in French). I know it’ll be my last one with you.”

She sent a birthday card every year of my life. But this message was the hardest one to endure, because there would be no card in the post the next year or the next… There would just be the gaping side of love: the yearning for that hug at the airport, the phone call every Sunday evening, the random coffee and cake date when she was here.

After those words about my birthday, she slipped back into her strange Alzheimer’s world. She picked up a tabloid magazine next to us: “Oh look, it’s my neighbour on the cover!”

No, it wasn’t. It was the king of Belgium. I just nodded and smiled. What was the use in breaking her joy? She had taught me so much:

Save every penny.
Granny gave my brother and I a “doggie bank” when we were little. Every time we bought ice-cream, the odd 50c would go in there. At the end of our summer holiday, we’d have enough to buy the whole family ice-cream.

Cultivate your friendships.
Granny kept a little book with all her friends’ numbers and addresses. She’d check on them regularly. One year, she tore out the pages one by one. I was horrified. “Don’t worry, my child… These have all gone to heaven now. Enjoy your friends while you can.” 

Remember the “little people” as your biggest lessons.
For ten years (daily), she would give a few Belgian Francs to the blind beggar outside her pharmacy. One year, she followed him home to meet his family. Instead,  she was shocked to see him counting coins, examining them one by one. He wasn’t blind at all, but instead of being furious she told him: “I was the blind one all along. Blinded by my kindness for you. You definitely let me see the world in a new light.”

Listen to find love.
Granny met Grandpa as they took the train across Belgium every day at the same time. He was in uniform, going to translate things during the war, she was on her way to work. Grandpa claimed he fell in love with her when she kindly brought him stockings from the pharmacy. He had to give them to the Germans for their wives back home and somehow she remembered, even after just using it as random chit-chat:

“A woman who remembers your needs once, is a woman you keep for eternity,” he claimed years later.

They were married for 59 years.

Mamy2

PURE LOVE: On an outing with my grandparents in 1988. Pic: My mom

Forgive quickly.
Even though my grandparents fought passionately, granny hated bearing grudges: “It ages you. Every harsh wrinkle is a sour face you pulled once in your life, every soft one is a smile you shared. Remember that throughout your marriage.” 

Savour the moments.
Granny was one of the few people I knew who purposely shopped for the wrong size: “I savour the dress more, if I change it more to my liking. The same cannot be said about men. Take them as they are.”

Don’t over prepare.
When grandpa was late for their wedding day because he was out walking his dog, instead of collecting his suit, she just laughed it off:

“It taught me I had to make room in our marriage even for the unexpected. Love is compromising both your needs.” 

Stand out.
My granny stood out at Sunday mass in her bright pink suit and matching scarf: “Will they remember you tomorrow? Yes, if you stand out. Yes, if you stand for something. I am proud but not boastful.”

I was definitely proud of her and today I boast it to the world: she was the most stylish, kindest and most hard working granny that ever lived. I miss you so much.

Forever grateful,
Ta Poupée

More to read: Granny’s Alzheimer’s World

Fading Rainbow

VANESSA SMEETS

Madiba_goodbye

FREEDOM: Is this goodbye? A democratic South Africa struggles to say goodbye to the man who freed her, as balloons, cards and posters fill up his hospital wall in Pretoria. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

In 1991, I came to a hateful, racist country that was on the verge of revival. Coming from Zimbabwe, I was shocked to see no black, Indian or coloured children in my class. “Where are they… the children of colour?” I asked my teacher one day. She looked at me confused. “Didn’t your parents tell you? We are separated here. We are different.”

Different? My black friends in Zimbabwe all spoke English. They taught me the beauty of an African sunset, those were the only colours that mattered.

I spoke fluent Shona. I could sing the national anthem, which has the exact same tune to the South African one, Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrika. The television spoke of a civil war rising between the ANC (African National Congress) and the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party).

Madiba_Bang Bang Club

BANG BANG SA: Greg Marinovich and other photojournalists documented South Africa’s gruesome civil war as the Bang Bang Club, now a major motion movie under the same name. PIC: Internet

My parents were glued every night to the screen: “Maybe it’s time we go back?” “But we just got here.” Chris Hani’s gruesome assassination in his driveway rocked the country the most. He was the Communist Party leader and yet, being so popular, there was hint he had a good chance at winning the next elections.

The unrest and murders were documented by the Bang Bang Club in photojournalism that shocked the world. The ANC’s leader, Nelson Mandela (a Xhosa), was set free. For years, the country had labelled him “a terrorist.” Today, he is known as our most cherished “freedom fighter.” He was even condemned by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, who later visited him as our leader.

I was only eight years old when Nelson Mandela took the oath in April 1994, next to FW De Klerk, to rebuild our country and her people. Yet, I remember it like yesterday. A man of peace stood before us. He was imprisoned for 27 years for treason. He was only allowed to send one letter every six months and get a visitor for only 30 minutes once a year.

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PEACE: The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1993 to Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk (who was his predecessor and deputy president) for “The peaceful termination of Apartheid.” PIC: Internet

It takes a lot to stand against your oppressors, learn their language and finally lead them. It takes a Godly man. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside De Klerk.

My dad took us to the Union Buildings the week after our first democratic elections. There was still confetti all over the lawns. Our new flag was flown proudly above the arches.
“Do you know what this man and flag mean for all of us?” Dad asked us.
“Not really…”
“It means we are all free. We are free to vote. We are free to take the same bus. We are free to go to the same schools.”

The rainbow flag fascinated me the most: the red for our blood-shed, the white for our peace, the yellow for our riches, the blue for our two oceans, the black for our tribes. The green “Y” shows two parts becoming one. Eleven languages were a result of our separation known as “homelands.” I even remember taking my domestic worker regularly to check her pass, a few years before. “I am different to you,” she showed me. “I have to be in bed at a certain time, I cannot go to certain places.” She had eyes, ears, a nose and curly hair like me and I also had to be in bed by a certain time, it was hard for a young child to understand.

Little by little, my father’s prophecy came true. Black, coloured, Indian children trickled one by one into my school. The children played with each other’s hair the most, it was fascinating to finally meet them. Nelson Mandela’s real first name is “Rolihlahla” meaning ‘pulling the branch of a tree’ and that’s exactly what he stood for. He took a poisoned tree of South Africa and gave her new branches: the branches of courage, forgiveness, patience and peace.

People were worried the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) trials would open old wounds. And, while they did, our new country (thanks to Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) bled less in her quest for peace. Most perpetrators were given amnesty or asylum elsewhere.

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SPORTS’ HERO: Nelson Mandela reunited South Africa using sport. PICS: Various sources GRAPHIC: Vanessa Smeets

Nelson Mandela saw the one thing that united us all: sport. While the black people of South Africa loved football (or soccer, as we call it), the whites preferred rugby. As documented by the Hollywood movie Invictus, Nelson Mandela stood at the Rugby World Cup in 1995, shaking hands with our Springboks. They sang the new national anthem proudly that day, after much practice, and took the cup home for us. That golden cup represented a golden era for South Africa that would forever be known as the “Madiba years.” Father of our nation aka Tata Madiba, for his clan name. He was our oldest elected president at 75. But, he’s not only “father of the nation,” he’s keeper of peace and guardian of our rainbow nation.

Today, I am struck with the realisation it’s time to let him go. Yet, like so many other South Africans, I am unable to free the man that set us free. South Africa stands uncertain: what will happen to the ANC? To our peace?

My only wish is that his last memory of us will be positive. Despite our xenophobia, crime and incessant complaining, that we can rise above and meet his ideals again: a country bound by love and forgiveness. You divide a nation by fear and hatred. Those who fear and hate, they flee. He gave us courage and taught us forgiveness. The problem with every rainbow, is that it slowly fades, but its beauty lives on. Mandela painted that rainbow for us.

In 2004, with his help, we were given the chance to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It was the biggest challenge to ever face South Africa; our stadiums were small or worn down. But, somehow, his smiling face grabbing onto that trophy motivated us.

In 2006, I interviewed eight 8-year olds for a newspaper article about what they would give him for his 88th birthday. Their answers were beautiful: “eternal life,” “immortality,” “freedom” and “happiness.”

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FREEDOM BABIES: Mandela has touched both our oldest and youngest citizens. Pretoria Montessori Pre-school’s art illuminates his hospital wall with messages of hope and love. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Today, I am teaching four and five year olds what he means to us. These freedom babies have still a lot to learn about his legacy. Their messages on their art for his hospital wall reveal, however, that they finally comprehend what he stands for:
“He is the grandfather I always wish I had.”
“Our country will be so sad without him.”
“He was the best president we ever had.”
“Mandela means freedom for us all.”
“It’s thanks to him, I can go to school with everyone.”

It’s the biggest full moon of the year. In a way, she consoles us: “Don’t worry, South Africa. Rest assured, his light will shine on.”

EXTRA SOURCE:

 

A Racing Miracle

VANESSA SMEETS

Peter Whyte (21) was flung against a tree from his motorbike at 160km/ hour last December at the Bulawayo 3-Hour Endurance Race in Zimbabwe, breaking his 9th vertebra. The 9th vertebra is one of the lowest positioned of the thoracic 12 (T12). Breaking it could have resulted in paralysis of the lower limbs, loss of control over the bladder and bowels.

Peter White_seated ball

DETERMINED: Peter Whyte’s recuperation programme was a lot of hard work. In only 6 months, he is walking and talking again. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

He was in a deep coma for six weeks, leaving doctors convinced he would be brain dead. Today, he is walking and talking just like any other person his age. What makes him different? His extreme will and determination to survive and now recover completely.

Peter remembers nothing from that day, except driving to Bulawayo. His body is dotted in scars: a tracheotomy, an hour-long lung puncture to drain all the blood that had leaked into his right lung. His uncle saved his life through CPR and chest compressions.

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BREATH OF LIFE: Peter shows off the puncture marks, where doctors had to drain his lung from blood. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Although he walks a bit like a robot, his mobility is improving daily and his speech is at 100%. A true miracle, he explains:

“I am alive to share my story, that’s for sure.”

Much to his parents’ disbelief, he is determined to get on a motorbike again. But his physiotherapist, Didier Smeets, at the Sports Injuries Clinic in Harare disagrees: “One must realise your reflexes have to be 100% to participate in races like that. Next time, he may not be so lucky.”

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HARD WORK: Peter and his physiotherapist, Didier Smeets, practised regularly for four months. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Didier helps him with stretches and exercises once a week, building up the muscles that were as strong as jelly only a few months ago. Didier has been working as a physiotherapist for over 30 years and cherishes this as one of his most special cases: “You get people who come here because they are forced by family or friends. Peter came here out of sheer will.

The recipe to success is: a good operation, good aftercare and a great support system. Much can be done daily. There is no limit to one’s will to get further.

Each case for me is a new challenge, where both the patient and I have to work on their flexibility, stability and places of attention.”

Peter’s eyes sparkle as I ask him why he keeps getting back on after every accident (in his last accident, he broke his shoulder): “There’s something incredible in driving a bike: the freedom, the glide, even the graze against your leg. Once I can, I will! This has only made me appreciate life even more.”

Peter White_foot

FOOTWORK: Peter shows his weekly progress, getting his feet at equal length again. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Another racer walks in the surgery and gives his support:

“Peter is a hero to us all. His will to survive is incredible. His will to recuperate even stronger. For those who don’t believe in miracles, just talk to Peter about his story.” 

Peter is currently back at work and has stopped his physiotherapy for now.

Watch the video here: 

There is HOPE! Incitement South Africa…

VANESSA SMEETS

Incitement_logo

ARE YOU IN? Incitement SA will launch March 9. Are you ready? Courtesy: Incitement Fan-page

Once riddled with negative connotations, the word “incite” now means to provoke and spur on in a positive way. Incitement South Africa was founded February 9 this year, by Tamara and Francisca Al-Halaseh. It comes at a time in South Africa when our mind-set is rife with negativity, speculations and heartache. Originally founded in Malaysia in 2011 by Daniel de Gruijter and Zikry Kholil, as a way for employees to talk about their ideas, the movement has now become a global instrument of positive change. From Malaysia, it spread to the USA, Canada, UAE and Jordan and has now reached South Africa.

Incitement is a global movement of local communities. The site reads:
“It is born out the idea that people have something worth saying. We encourage everyone… who has something to share to get up and get it out there.”

What is it?

Incitement South Africa encourages individuals to create positive thinking, by networking with people from various backgrounds. This will be done by sharing life-affirming values and stories that have inspired and motivated them. The Incitement South Africa Facebook fan-page publishes affirmations of self-growth and self-belief on a daily basis. No judgement. No prejudice.

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CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Are you ready to change or be the change? Pic from the FB fan-page.

How will they do it?

By hosting informal and easy-going events, starting with Gauteng and moving nationally.

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POSITIVITY: What makes a good life? Find out with Incitement. PIC: internet

When is the first event?

The event planned for 30th of March in Pretoria (at Blue Valley Mall) will gather everyone from entrepreneurs, personal growth enthusiasts, thinkers to marketers and students. They will enjoy a series of powerful presentations and participate in unique team-building exercises. These will be designed to help them grow on a personal and professional level. Think of it as a melting pot of incredible and original ideas that stir up weary souls and awaken tired minds. Watch out for the venue on the Facebook page.
Reply to the event: Incitement SA Launch.

The presentations given will be documented with guests’ permission on video and posted to their YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter channels, in hope of making positive affirmations a reality. It will help employers deal with down-trodden staff, parents with unruly children and students with depression.

Co-founder Francisca Al-Halaseh says:

“It is a platform for people to speak up and share their outrageous visions for the future, life changing experiences from the past and ideas for the present.”

But, it’s not all ‘serious talk.’ It’s also a place to have fun in front of a crowd and spread positive vibes.

For more information, visit:
http://theincitement.com/

If you would like to sponsor or get involved with the March 9 event, check out the South African Facebook fan-page:

https://www.facebook.com/IncitementSouthAfrica

Fallen Heroes: Sport as Religion

VANESSA SMEETS

Oscar Pistorius

SA ON HIS BACK: Oscar Pistorius was for the last decade South Africa’s most inspirational sportsman. Today, he awaits his fate in prison. Mark, a disabled fan, gives his thoughts… PIC: Internet

Mark (22) was born with a rare muscular condition that causes his muscles to deteriorate over time. Today, he has no real control over his arms and legs. However, he is still able to use his mouth to write and speak:

“They said I’d be dead by age 20, but I’m still here. I know what it’s like to be bullied for being different. Even after everything, the person who got me this far is Oscar Pistorius. Bullies used to call him ‘lucky packet’ at Pretoria Boys’ High School, because they claimed he got his legs in a lucky packet. It was hard… On Twitter, he spoke of Spud being his favourite book. Being a boarder was never easy.”

Oscar as a child

SMILING HOPE: Oscar’s legs were amputated under the knee, at 11 months old. He was born without his fibula. PIC: Internet

Mark has Oscar’s pictures all over his bedroom walls. These are not photographs. He painted them using his mouth:

“Oscar taught me so much about living with disability. I push on. I strive to make the most out of life.”

When news hit that Oscar had been accused of murder, Mark refused to believe it:
“The media feed us so much… It’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction. If innocent, he’ll live with the guilt of killing his beloved for the rest of his life. That, itself, is prison. If it was purposeful, he would be disappointing millions of fans. The guy is a strong Christian, as proven by his Bible quotes and the Corinthians tattoo on his back.”

Oscar tattoo

RELIGIOUS: Oscar has never been afraid to speak openly about his faith. A large back tattoo quotes the book of Corinthians. PIC: Internet

The tattoo reads, from 1 Corinthians 9 v 26-27:

“26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

One thing is for certain: this whole saga has demasked the hypocrites from the faithful. Those once loyal to Oscar are breaking down, not sure what to believe any more. Jokes are being passed on as a way to deal with the shock. South Africa, much like the rest of the world, has created sport into a type of religion. Sport stars are on the cover of magazines, billboards, TV adverts and have thousands of fans on Facebook. Their autobiographies line up bookshops’ window-sills. Little children wait for them to visit their schools.

Mark explains this phenomenon quite well:

“For many South Africans, we escape in our sport. Some see it as a refuge, others as a place of worship. Much like a church, mosque or synagogue. However, our fatal flaw is not realising we are fatally flawed. We idolise these guys too much. I’m guilty of that. Just look at my room.”

Mark continues after drinking two glasses of water: “I’ve heard from close friends, Oscar used to get angry when younger guys at school looked at his legs, even if they weren’t doing it on purpose. I get stared at every day. It gets to you. All you want, is to be seen as human.”
Those words haunt me: “He wanted to be seen as human.”
Mark has tears in his eyes: “I’ve heard the craziest things lately, people calling him a cyborg with a gun attached to his hands. These are the same people who yesterday saw this sport’s star as their invincible hero.”

The same can be said for all our other ‘decrowned sporting gods:’
Hansie Cronjé was worshipped as the best cricket captain we had ever seen. He was convicted of match fixing a few years later. Joost van der Westhuizen was our blue-eyed golden boy on the rugby field. His sex and drugs video became a horrible thing to digest. Herschelle Gibbs was our incredible cricket batsman. He was soon labelled a wife-beater with a short temper. The list goes on.

Oscar Pistorius once said: “I have a strong sense that I have to educate people about disability.” The truth is, he is educating us now more than ever about our disability to think for ourselves. “He is a cold-hearted killer” one day and “He’s a sufferer of unfortunate circumstances” the next.

Mark hands me a colourful painting of Oscar at the London Olympics: “Maybe this whole saga has taught me one thing… Even the strongest people live in fear. Fear of losing a race. Fear of death-threats. Fear of being robbed. Fear of losing the one you love.”

Marks hands over the smallest sketch now. It’s a picture of Oscar holding one of his first trophies:
“No matter how much money you have, it does not buy you peace of mind. I just hope we see our own disabilities throughout this gruesome chapter. We all judge. We all speculate. We all, in that way, fall from grace. A trophy for some is a burden of pressure for others.”

Slide-show of the Oscar Pistorius case:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/oscar-pistorius-shooting-live-murder-1708978

Fearless Female Boxer

VANESSA SMEETS

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BEAUTIFUL PHOENIX: Posing gently before her hectic training, Melissa finds solace in spiritual and inspirational books. PIC: L’Afrique Photography/ Lalla

Melissa Jacobs is not your average Pretoria girl, she’s one of the few boxing women we have on a professional scale.
Standing at only 1m58 and weighing 53,3 kilograms, she’s won several awards and is now training both men and women at a boxing academy.

She has two older brothers and an identical twin sister. Her family supports her sport and keeps her grounded. Here’s my one-on-one with this very spiritual and talented 27 year old, known in the ring as “Phoenix’…

1) Who are your inspirations?
God first! He is truly my driving force, as He put me on this earth to be the best I can be, in whatever I set out to do and He keeps me humble and grounded and grateful.

Then, there’s the love of my life, my best friend and my training partner: Hykie Berg. He has been a key role in my boxing, training and he truly inspires me with his positive attitude and outlook on life.

Then to one phenomenal man, Nick Vujicic: you changed my life. His A Life Without Limits book, is a true inspiration for a ridiculously good life.

2) Which other hobbies do you enjoy?
I enjoy reading spiritual and inspirational books. I also have a great love for succulents, so I have “green fingers” and love gardening. Also, I love making old photo frames, painting them and putting them together.

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DETERMINATION: Grueling hours of hard work and a strict diet keep Melissa in shape. PIC: L’Afrique Photography/ Lalla

3) How did your love for boxing start?
I started muay thai boxing at the age of 23. What started off just as ‘self-defence,’ turned into a passion to compete and push myself on a physical level.
My story is that of inspiration and sadness, but the outcome has been so rewarding.

I first prepared for my muay thai grading three months in advance. After a grueling 5km run, 1000 pushups, 1000 sit-ups, 1000 leg raises, 1000 kick squats and really tough fight against my kru (instructor) I was finally graded and was allowed to compete.

I competed three times over a span of two years, as there weren’t many girls in my weight class. My very last fight was in 2010 at Zoo Lake, the Ambassadors’ Cup. I achieved an amazing dream there! I became SA female bantam weight champion in my federation!

I stopped mauy thai the same year to pursue other goals, but realised my fighting spirit is still so alive in me. I then decided to join Transnet Rail Engineering Boxing Academy. I had to start from scratch, as this sport was very different from mauy thai. I was then finally graded as an amateur female boxer and my journey has been amazing.

4) Which awards have you received?
I was a Bantam weight woman’s MSA mauy thai champion.
On a boxing level, I have received “female runner-up boxer of the year” in 2011, “performer of the month” in June 2012 and July 2012. I received “the fittest boxer award 2012” and I received “the personality of the year” in 2012.

5.1) Have you ever competed against men?
No, I have never competed against guys, but I have sparred and trained with them when I was preparing for bouts.
My boyfriend happens to be my favourite sparring partner.

5.2) Would you like to compete against them?
I would, definitely! I would be that daring. Besides, life is either a daring adventure or nothing!

6) What do your friends and family think of you boxing?
Most of my friends and family are very supportive and understanding.

7) Which other sports are you involved in?
I am an “Energizer Bunny”! I enjoy hockey, swimming and weight-training, but boxing takes up most of my time.
I belong to OAH Hockey Club and a swimming club, where I take part in swimming races like the Midmar Mile and Roode.

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MEAN MUSCLE: Ready to fight, Melissa finds focus. PIC: L’Afrique Photography/ Lalla

8) What are your views on this specific sport, boxing?
When it comes to boxing or any sport on an amateur/ professional level, it’s about true dedication and sacrifice.
In general, there are people out there with misconceptions about boxing: they think it’s about the knock out, but it is not. We box for points and not to knock the opponent out.
Boxing is all about fitness, technique, skill and foot-work. Boxing in SA is sadly not exposed enough, with some amazing talent not being recognised.

9) Please tell us about your favourite quotations…
Well, these two come from the Bible, my most inspirational book:

Hebrews 13:5: “For He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not!”

James 4: 10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up in honour.”

And, my other two favourites come from Nick Vujicic’s book, A Life Without Limits:

“Helen Keller said there is no such thing as a secure life ‘it does not exist in nature…life is either a daring adventure or nothing…’ Risk, then, is not just part of life, it IS life!”

 

“Live to glorify God and don’t leave an ounce of energy, a trace of your uniqueness behind. Dare to be ridiculous and you will be ridiculously happy.”

10) Do you follow a strict diet?
I follow a very healthy monitored eating plan set out by my dietician. I don’t believe in starving myself, I love muscles and being fit.

11) When can we see you in action?
Hopefully this year…

12) What’s your day-job?
I am employed by SARS, I am a project co-ordinator for the technologies department.

13) Where do you see yourself in ten years?
This question I cannot answer. Everyday is a given, not a right and planning ahead is planning for disaster.

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HARDCORE: Melissa is as hardworking as determined to be a successful boxer. PIC: L’Afrique Photography/ Lalla

14) Who do you train? How can they contact you?
I can train anybody, whatever age, situation or fitness level. Those interested can contact me on 0798842708 or check out Transnet Rail Engineering Boxing Academy on Facebook.

I dedicate this interview to Hykie Berg: “I am GOLDEN in God’s eyes.”

The end of freedom of speech? The cartoonist’s plight…

VANESSA SMEETS

In light of what has happened to one of South Africa’s most cherished cartoonists, Zapiro (who admitted the SABC tried to influence what he had to say and then canned the interview) it is time to hear the plight of our cartoonists, as the end of freedom of speech in South Africa becomes a daunting reality.

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FREE SPEECH: Some of South Africa’s best cartoonists, Jerm (second to left) and Zapiro (right), speak to students at Stellenbosch University in 2010. Zapiro’s interview with the SABC was recently canned, while Jerm was fired from The New Age for not agreeing to their terms… Is free speech history in South Africa? PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Here is a one-on-one with one of South Africa’s sharpest minds, JERM:

Jeremy Nell aka Jerm has built his reputation in the last few years as one of South Africa’s most successful cartoonists. Originally from Cape Town, his cartoons range from the hilarious “Biggish Five” about the Big Five as baby animals to his more serious political cartoons.

He was recently in the news after losing his job at The New Age newspaper for “not being aligned to their editorial vision and mission”. He recently published his first cartoons for Eye Witness News, keeping audiences entertained with his brilliant ideas and poking fun at our politicians.

How do you feel about The New Age’s excuse for terminating your contract?

I think that’s a nice way of saying that they don’t like my criticisms and lampooning. EWN approached me after they heard the news, and pioneered a new cartooning direction for South Africa. Never before has there been an online-only political cartoonist (being paid for original content). And it’s a very exciting space because of EWN’s overlap with Primedia’s radio stations. Furthermore, they’re an amazing bunch of people.

Hold on… Tell the readers more about your background…

My whole life has been in Cape Town. I went to Rondebosch Boys Primary School. Then, when I went to Fairmont High School, it was the greatest moment of my life. Not because of the school, but because there were girls. Loads of them. They were everywhere. I was in Heaven.

What are your passions?

I obviously hate drawing cartoons. But I love playing my ukulele; playing a ukulele is the most fun anyone will have for a grand! I enjoy going away to little towns and dorpies and places that are quiet, that make delicious food, and that are welcoming to ukuleles.

Tell us more about your work…

Well, I draw a syndicated comic strip called “The Biggish Five”, but my other work doesn’t really have names. For example, political cartooning and caption cartooning tends to be nameless. And illustrations that I do for magazines are much the same. I suppose it all falls under “Jerm”.

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BIG DREAMS: Jerm’s Biggish Five take the Big Five (leopard, rhino, lion, buffalo and elephant) to create light-hearted yet educational pieces. Courtesy: Jerm

Which publications do you work for?

My work has appeared in a few publications ranging from The Witness, The Star, Pretoria News, Dispatch, Sunday Times, The Times, The New Age, Daily Maverick, EWN, Beeld, Rapport, and more, to magazines such as FHM, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, The Media, Dekat, and others.

What inspired your love for cartooning? And, from what age?

From as far back as I can remember. I was inspired by TV cartoons, mostly; Daffy Duck and Pink Panther and all those fantastic “Golden Age” cartoons that we all love.

What continues to drive the passion?

I suppose seeing the finished product. I get an idea and I like seeing how it comes out. Oh, and being paid to do that is a wonderful incentive.

What is your cure to writer’s block?

I have no cure and it happens a lot! If you know the cure, then please contact me.

Which is your personal favourite?

I have no personal favourite. In fact, I feel embarrassed by a lot of my earlier work (style, usually) and tend to push my boundaries in an attempt to improve and satisfy my expectations.

Which are you least proud of?

I am proud of pretty much every cartoon that I’ve done. But, as I said, I’m not necessarily satisfied with the quality of drawing. And, of course, there are a bunch of bloopers too.

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ZUMA CHRISTMAS: South Africa’s cartoonists are some of the most privileged in Africa, allowed to poke fun at even our president. However, that may change soon as our government tightens its grip on media freedom… PIC: Jerm

How would you define “political cartooning”?

Making comments about current affairs and pop culture and the world around us, without attempting to provide solutions.

Jerm also makes short movies depicting South Africa’s current situation. This one gives a wonderful overview of Nkandla, President Zuma’s bustling castle…


Have you ever gotten into trouble for your work (sued/ harassed/ warned)?

No, I’ve not reached Zapiro’s level, in that regard. I mean, yes, I’ve had a lot of cartoons pulled, and I’ve had a number of irate readers, and the NSPCA once lodged a complaint against me, but nothing too serious. Unfortunately.

Have you ever been rejected by an editor for being too controversial?

Yes. Plenty. I was even fired, not too long ago.

Which other cartoonists (South African or international) are your favourites?

In no order of preference, my list would include cartoonists and non-cartoonists: Zapiro, Rico, Peter Sellers, Bill Cosby, Quentin Blake, and a bunch more.

What is your greatest achievement thus far?

This interview. LOL.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully following Roald Dahl’s footsteps and working from a little Wendy House in my back garden. (Close enough to home, but far away enough from noise.) And, perhaps being able to play a few more songs on my ukulele.

What is your advice to other aspiring cartoonists?

Being a cartoonist is not easy. It took me years just to be able to buy a more comfortable chair, for example. You have to believe in yourself and when you feel like giving up, have a shot of vodka or go for a walk. And rejection is a daily occurrence. Make sure that your skin grows thick very quickly. If you can get through the challenges, then you find that the rewards are great. Like drinking shots of vodka.

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RANDELA: Jerm captures the heart of our new notes… No one can replace our first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela. PIC: Jerm

You can follow Jerm on Twitter: @mynameisjerm
Like his Facebook fan-page: https://www.facebook.com/mynameisjerm
See more of his work on: http://africartoons.com/cartoonist/jerm and www.jerm.co.za


 

 

Christmas time in rural South Africa!

VANESSA SMEETS

Please scroll down for the full slide-show…

About 40 children at the Peng-ai-Gong Care Centre in Zone 16 of Ga-Rankuwa, a few kilometres out of Pretoria, were greeted with toys, clothes, food and stationery last week, just in time for the holiday season.

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CHRISTMAS LOVE: Abandoned children were greeted with gifts and food last week in rural South Africa. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

The children all come from disadvantaged, vulnerable or abused backgrounds and attend schools near by. They go to the care centre after school till about 16h30 to eat and do homework. But things have not been easy: the centre lost its main sponsor a few months ago.

However, Bianca O’Neill, a lecturer at Tshwane’s University of Technology, heard about their plight and decided to help out. In September, the children were asked to draw anything of their choice that they would like to own and O’Neill instructed her students, who are future Foundation Phase teachers, to make these toys out of whatever materials they had.

It was a project that would be both educational and inspirational. The result was phenomenal: the children were given objects like a giraffe, doll houses, a Chris Brown doll, wire cars, amongst other things.

For Irene Kgasi, the centre’s manager, O’Neill’s arrival was a divine appointment:

“Bianca is a gift from God. She wiped away our tears just in time. We, however, still need a donor and more food as we cannot expect Bianca to continue helping us. Whoever is interested must please contact our Board Member, Angie Molebatsi.”

The centre is made up of a total of 46 boys and 58 girls (when they are all present) between the ages of 4-19 and also includes activities like numerical literacy and sport.

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HOPEFUL: The care centre’s manager, Irene Kgasi, hopes they will find a sponsor in time for Christmas. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

The project of transforming a child’s hand-drawn dream into a real-life model was inspired by the idea of giving to those less fortunate, but also giving something that you made personally. It was a test to see how generous and imaginative the students were, but also to test their love for children and whether teaching was truly their chosen profession. The students were marked on originality, durability, neatness, as well as evaluated on the journal they had to keep from the day they started on the toy till now.

For student Mpho Kesimoloste, it was a wonderful experience:

“To see the smiles on the children’s faces was truly amazing…The whole thing became personal for me, because I did not know where to begin or how my toys would turn out. We also didn’t know how the children would react to the toys that we made and, to our surprise, they were very happy and it brought a sense of joy and happiness to them.
I believe that as people we should continue to help and care for needy and vulnerable children, this kind of thing should not end with us but continue to help these children to be positive in life.”

For Mpho* (8), an orphan at the centre, the gifts came just in time:

“We are so happy. We have never had a real Christmas. All I wanted was a toy… old or new. Now, I have so many! We are going to share and make it the best Christmas ever!”

O’Neill describes the success of this community project:

“This involvement has inspired my students so much… I’m proud of all my students and happy with all the people who made donations. Here’s hoping to continue with his for a long time and bring as much joy to the children and teenagers as we can.”

The project also hopes to break down the stigma attached to the Tshwane University of Technology, which became infamous earlier this year for their strikes and unrest. O’Neill explains:

“My students have proved themselves as hardworking and dedicated individuals, who are willing to make a difference.”

Readers who are interested in helping the centre, can visit their website: http://noah.clickclickboom.co.za/?p=2468