Archives For politics

It’s always bothered me that my sister does not vote; she doesn’t even know who’s running for office half the time. This is surprising, since our parents vote regularly and were heavily involved in town government when we were growing up. Her husband doesn’t vote either.

This lack of civic involvement upsets me more because of the example it sets for their kids. When they grow up, will they not vote either? I always said that my kids — if I ever had any — would vote and participate in the democratic process.

So I was glad to see Mtuseni’s WhatsApp status messages this morning, as the South African elections come up this Wednesday. (Subtlety has never been his strong point.)



He’s been staying at his pastor’s house to shorten the commute to his radio internship, but is going home Tuesday night so he can vote the next day in his first election. He’s also been tweeting about the election on his station’s handle: @motc_kasiefm971

We discussed the election this weekend, and while I won’t say what party he’s voting for, I am glad it’s not the African National Congress. This is a shift from a few years ago when we discussed politics there. I think college and being exposed to other ideas and situations — perhaps even his trip to the US last year — has led him to modify his perspective. Yes, Mandela and the ANC helped bring about the fall of apartheid, but after twenty years in power Mtuseni is living in a shack with no water or electricity and will take his newly minted college diploma into a job market with 50 percent youth unemployment. If I was one of the millions of poor living in South Africa, I wouldn’t be voting for the ANC merely for its historic legacy.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the ANC will lose its solid majority in parliament this time around, so perhaps little will change for Mtuseni and so many like him. But mainly I’m just glad that my long-distance son is voting! #Proud

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Life in Two Worlds

April 29, 2014 — 2 Comments

While Mtuseni was in college I marveled at how his mind could accommodate being in the luxe wealth of Sandton during the day — and then going home to a shack with no utilities. The difference was so stark when I visited that it was hard for me to reconcile. He never discussed this dual-life challenge with me, but I know it bothered him. He never wanted any of his college classmates to know how he lived; only in the last semester did his two best buddies come to his house, which made him very happy.

With classes finished, Mtuseni hasn’t been thrust into the wealth of Sandton every day. However, his boredom being home in the settlement makes him the grouchiest person on earth. His mood was always bad on school vacations and I dreaded them, but the reality of a “permanent” vacation in the shack seemed to worsen his mindset. So his finally starting an internship this month was cause for relief and celebration not only because he’d qualify for graduation in July — but because my scowl-faced boy would be happy again.

KasieFM+radio+station+South+africaAnd he has been happy. The community radio station where he’s interning sounds a bit disorganized and there’s not a lot of opportunity for him to do technical stuff. But he’s spoken on air, watches how the DJs and news readers do their jobs, and is enjoying seeing a live radio station in action. He’s even started a Twitter account for his p.m. drive-time crew — and tweets during the program. Follow him here: @motc_kasiefm971

The commute from his settlement to the radio station was difficult — four hours round trip for a 3-hour shift. So last week he began staying with his pastor in Benoni, which is closer to the station. Now Mtuseni is in a nice house with water and electricity and TV, in a suburb famous for its lakes and as the birthplace of actress Charlize Theron. But he adores his little brother and sister, so he went home for the weekend… and back into the darkness.

He was so upset by the visit when we chatted during his commute Monday that I called him after his shift. There was no food in the small gas-powered fridge, and the cooking gas had run out. His mother had no cash because she’s paying off loans she took out for Zulu rituals for his brother Moses’s death and to protect her health. The bank takes money from her monthly check of $200. He was angry with her and with politicians and with apartheid and is desperate to live a “normal life with electricity and a toilet” and to have money for shoes and to get his siblings out of dangerous settlement life. As much as Mtuseni trusts me, he carries a lot inside. He’s a private person and a brooder and the burden weighs heavy. It’s times like these I just want to swoop in and take him away from all of that — but it cannot happen for many reasons.

I think of all the challenges Mtuseni faces every day just to live and to better his situation: skipping breakfast so there’s bread for his siblings to eat, skipping lunch because he doesn’t have money, fixing his shoes with duct tape, studying for exams by candlelight — and already complaining of cold in the unheated shack long before the South African winter begins. And I think of the American college football players who want to unionize because evidently being treated like rock stars on the way to a career in professional sports — with academics an afterthought — is not good enough for them. These delicate athletes are just so put upon and deprived, oh the injustice!

I’ve often said that knowing Mtuseni has completely flipped my perspective in so many ways. He steps back and forth through the looking glass on a regular basis, and it’s damn hard. Perhaps more of us should look on the other side of the glass now and again — to be grateful for all that we do have, and to maybe take action to balance the scales.

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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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