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Informasi teknologi berkembang begitu pesatnya sehingga dari handphone biasa kali ini di jaman melenium sudah menjadi smartphone yang berkembang dengan baiknya seperti komputer maupun notebook. Smartphone mempunyai sistem operasi seperti Android, IOS, sampai dengan Windows mobile yang sangat pintar dalam mengolah berbagai perintah yang diberikan pengguna teknologi.

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    It is May in Harare, which means only one thing ... the Harare International Festival of the Arts is in town! I will be blogging at length about HIFA, but first, I want to share some thrilling news about one of my favourite writers and people.

    My friend Lauren Beukes has just won the 2011 edition of the Arthur C. Clarke award for her second novel, Zoo City! Yes indeedy! This teeny little South African half-pint beat off competition from Richard Powers and Patrick Ness among others. Zoo City is a dream of a novel, fast-paced, spooky atmosphere, a plot that won't let up, and is intelligent and smart without being ponderous. I loved this novel, and am really happy that it is getting the recognition it deserves ... it has been shortlisted for three other awards so far. The chief value of awards is that they often bring books that might otherwise go unnoticedto a bigger public, and so I am really pleased that Lauren's book will go further because of this award.

    And it could not have happened to a nicer person. Lauren is the bee's knees, she is. She is funny, smart, cool, and normal. And believe me, when it comes to writers, normal is a compliment:) I met her when she launched my book in Cape Town back in 2009, we clicked at once, so for me, this is a celebration both of a brilliant book and a lovely and true friend. Buy the book, I promise, you will not regret it.

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    "Fly, thought, on wings of gold. Go and settle upon the slopes and the hills, Where, soft and mild, the sweet airs of our native land smell fragrant." - The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves

    On Wednesday night, I felt goose bumps as the heart-wrenching strains of Va Pensiero rang out into the Harare night. It was Israel that Verdi was thinking of when he wrote Nabucco, but it was our own Zim that many of us must have had in mind as we listened to the London Festival Opera sing in our own Zim, the land so beautiful and lost.

    I have had to pinch myself at many such moments during HIFA. That this immense achievement, this towering accomplishment could come into being in spite of everything is what gives me hope for Zim. Because if HIFA is possible in Zim, then so is anything. HIFA is nothing like you have ever seen. I will write more on HIFA, but for now, consider the day I had yesterday.

    In the morning, I watched a performance by the National Ballet and the Dance Trust of Zimbabwe. Come to the Party, they called it, and performed different parties, a dinner party, an engagement party, a slumber party, a street party and so on. It was a hit and miss affair, some of it was exceptional, but some just cringe worthy.

    Then I went on to the National Gallery, and got there just in time for a street performance o Julius Nyerere Way by the stilt walkers of the New York based Slavic Soul Party. They partied with onlookers to the beat of a massed brass band. And the police were actually doing some real live policing and directing traffic! I tell you!

    Into the gallery I went, and what a feast there was. The brilliant Raphael Chikukwa, the man at whose feet I gladly worship, the power behind Zimbabwe’s invitation to the Venice Biennale has curated an incredible exhibition called “Beyond Borders”. It features Berry Bickle, who is headed for Venice; I was drawn immediately to one of my top men and favourite artists, Malangatana. I have a bit of a fetish for him: when I edited the Nigerian magazine Farafina in 2009, I commissioned an essay on him. You can imagine my delight when I went to Maputo a few years ago ad saw the most amazing murals by him. And here he is in Harare, in the National Gallery.

    I also saw a stunning photo exhibition featuring the talents of Nancy Mteki and Preston Rolls and met Kevin Hansen, who, with Chipo Chung (of Dr Who fame), Lucian Msamati (of the No. I Ladies Detective TV series) and others formed the groundbreaking theatre troupe Over the Edge back in the 90s in Harare. He is now with an outfit called Jump Productions, and has written a book on the theatre, which he was about to launch when I met him.

    I then met up with my gang for Winky D at the main stage. Now, Winky D is an absolute phenomenon. He is the most interesting musician in Zim today, engaging with the contemporary, and particularly, the township experience, in a way that no other artist has done, apart from maybe visual artists like Kanongevere and Lovemore Kambudzi. He is a dazzling performer, with charisma coming out of every pore. And he "mythobiographises" himself in similar ways to Eminem and other US rappers. The result is a sound and oevre that is distinctly Winky D. I hope to do a longer article on him soon.

    My son and his cousins and my sister and her hubby all loved the show, as did the many fans that sang every song with him.

    Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting with Kush in my parents’ church. (My parents attend the African Reformed Church in Zimbabwe which split from South Africa’s Dutch reformed Church in the 1930s, I believe). Their church in town is a protected building that sits in the middle of the commercial district on Samora Machel Avenue. It was a lovely setting for a chamber music recital. We listened to moving and unusual selections from Poulenc, Ravi Shankar and Beethoven. The goose-bump moment for me was a performance of four songs on texts by Toni Morrison set to music by Andre Previn, the classical composer (who is unfortunately better known as the man Mia Farrow left for Woody Allen.)

    In the evening, I went to hear the Nigerian-German singer Nneka, Warrior Princess. She gave a sensational performance before a dancing, cheering crowd. When she asked if there were any Naijas in the audience, there was a loud and answering shout. She gave an impassioned speech about corruption in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and the West, and followed it with a stirring performance of the Fela-inspired “V.I.P. -Vagabonds in Power”. At that point, the Mayor of Harare, who was seated a few seats from me, whispered to his neighbour that he never wanted to be called a V.I.P ever again. Heh heh.

    I finished the night with drinks and Mozambican chicken in the Green Room, and went home to dream about Malangatana.

    Now, remember: this was just one day of my six HIFA days. The remarkable thing is that I missed out on at least 12 other events on just this day. Today, I am most looking forward to the Malawian stand up comic Daliso Chaponda, and to the closing show featuring the Dutch band Moke and my girl, the luminous Chiwoniso Maraire.

    And tomorrow, I write about it for your pleasure.


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    The one thing I just love about Barack Obama, other than his ability to oversee the killing of a terrorist who evaded George Bush for nine years, is his great comic timing. The man is very funny indeed. This past Saturday, at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner, he was apparently in fine form at the expense of The Donald. Read more here. But the joke of the night came from Seth Meyers, the Saturday Night Live actor who also compiered. Mr. Meyers, thank you for this week's TWAG Quote of the week!

    "Donald Trump often talks about running as a Republican, which is surprising. I just assumed he was running as a joke."

    Zing!

    The biggest joke on Trump though is that Osama bin Laden died in an operation that was undertaken with Obama as Commander-in-chief. Who is talking about birth certificates now?

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    I am having a lively debate with friends on Facebook over the Harare musician Winky D who rocked HIFA on Saturday. I do not normally like the music known as dancehall, but I have taken to Winky D. He calls himself the "poor people's devotee" and indeed, he has brought stories of contemporary urban township life to the fore in a way that no other recent musician has done. He sings about violence of all kinds, about love and drugs, about money and township characters. He references popular culture - McGyver and Flash Gordon are as important to him as the township locales he sings about. He also does interesting and witty things with language, twisting both Shona and English to suit his ends and he puts himself in his music, creating multiple personas in a way that is reminiscent of Eminem. Here are two short videos, he still has a way to go to get his videos more polished, but the music is already there. And note the knife taken from the plate of oranges - it is clever reference to one of Harare's most notorious domestic violence cases, the killing of Rutendo Jongwe by her husband Learnmore, who was the MDC's spokesperson at the time.


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    I have fallen in love with Blogger all over again - the templates have been jazzed up no end since the last time I redesigned my blog. I hope you enjoy the new look. Orange and purple are my favourite colours. I have tried a purple background before, now I am on orange. So do not adjust your eyes, this blog has a new look.

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    Where to begin? I am writing this from Amsterdam, one of my absolutely favourite places in the world. I am here as a Writer-in-residence - I am researching a book on trade and the art of the Dutch Golden Age which will also feed into my current novel. It sounds all horribly vague, doesn't it, but I am afraid that if I talk on and on about it, I will loose the steam necessary to propel me. But I will write more about Amsterdam, and my residency, in coming days.


    Before I left Harare, I was busy with the Harare City Library. I currently chair the board that runs the library and its six branches across Harare. We need to find a tonne of money to reroof the place, and for new furnishings and fittings, books, staff etc. We are essentially rebuilding Zimbabwe's biggest library. I love my library: as a kid from a family of modest means, I did not own a lot of books - the Queen Victoria Memorial Library, as it then was, gave me everything I needed. To find out more about the Harare City Library, please see this short piece I wrote for the May issue of The Africa Report. The Africa Report has adopted the Library as one of its campaigns, and I am deeply grateful. If you know any places we can apply for funding, please let me know.

    This last week was really great for literature from Zimbabwe. The very talented Elizabeth Tshele who writes as NoViolet "Mkha" Bulawayo has won the Caine Prize for African Writing! She was the first Zimbo to be shortlisted since 2004 when Brian Chikwava won. It always perplexed me that a prize created to discover and expose new talent should consistently overlook the amazing writers I have read from Zim. I was particularly grieved for amabooks and Weaver Press, the two small presses that have kept Zim writing in English alive through our anni horribili: they got a little nod in the introduction to one of the Caine anthologies a few years ago, but a shortlisting for one of their writers would have been a real shot in the arm, but that's prizes for you - they cannot satisfy everyone. So I am really happy that the award has gone to a deserving young writer who, cherry on top, is also a countrymate. Mkha is from Bulawayo, the city of Yvonne Vera whom Mkha has said is a huge influence on her. So I say halala, Mkha! Amhlope, nkazana!

    Being in Zim has been frustrating and inspiring in equal measure. But me, I am of a sunny disposition, and will talk only of the good. One of the best things about my sojourn in Zim is the opportunity it has given me to meet other artistes from across the board. I have made many new and wonderful friends, and set the stage for some happy collaborations. I am particularly happy for my friend Raphael Chikukwa, the curator of the National Art Gallery, who took Zim to its very first Venice Biennale! The artists on show were Calvin Dondo, Misheck Masamvu, Berry Bickle and Tapfuma Gutsa. Brilliant, brilliant stuff. In coming months, I hope to do a joint Harare City Library/National Art Gallery project for writers and artists to bring words and images together.

    In the meantime, I am writing what I hope will be Zimbabwe's first musical! Yes indeedy. One of my absolute heroes has agreed to direct, one of my new best friends will produce, and an absolute maestro at whose feet I worship will be the musical director. More very soon, I promise.

    But first, the novel. Ah, the novel. In the words of the comrades: a luta continua.

    (Post-script: that picture, a detail from an untitled work by Malangatana was meant to illustrate an earlier post: I had problems uploading it however, so here it is now, illustrating this post which has absolutely nothing to do with Malangatana. Whom I love. Love and covet. Covet and love. That's all.)


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    (Warning: do not watch this video if you are drinking anything at your computer. Seriously. Don't. And now, on to our regularly scheduled blog post)

    I remember the first time I was ever published in the Guardian. I must have emailed everyone I knew, and let me now extend a belated apology to all my friends for my excessive giddiness. One of the best memories of my life is the day I went into the Guardian offices - I was there for an interview, and I remember feeling like Alice down the rabbit hole. I met some amazing amazing people, people I read every day who were suddenly there in the flesh. I was thrilled and delighted - they all use Macs! - and awed all at the same time. An even pleasanter memory is the night I won the Guardian First Book Award. I talked about how lost I felt about losing my Marxist beliefs, how I floundered until I found the Guardian as a student at the University of Zimbabwe, and in the process found a paper from London that read as though written from the deepest recesses of my mind.

    The Guardian, I said, is a force for good in the world.

    The last 14 days of Hackgate prove this beyond doubt. The Guardian, its editor and journalists risked ridicule as they clung to the story of the decade. Individuals at the News of the World, they insisted, had tapped illegally into voicemails and the management must have known about it. When you think of who was massed against them, the world's most powerful media conglomerate, politicians and even, it seems, the Metropolitan Police, it is all the more remarkable that they stuck to their guns at all. And now teeters the house of Murdoch.

    All hail Alan Rusbridger, Nick Davies and team. I am really, really proud of the Guardian. I am even prouder than I felt at my son's last piano recital. Sorry Kush.



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    Today, a visual treat. These wonderful photographs by Rudo Nyangulu are part of a series of photos that will accompany a long essay that I wrote recently on education in Zimbabwe. I visited all my former schools and wrote about them: Chembira, Kundai, Alfred Beit, St Dominic's and St Ignatius. As soon as the essay is published, I will link to it.






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    I love this book cover. That is all.

    Man Booker Covers: Julian Barnes

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    I do not know where this comes from, but it expresses better than a 1000 word article what is so twisted about much of the commentary, particularly from places like the Daily Mail and Fox TV, around the motives of the killer who took so many lives in Norway. Thanks to the brilliant Sunny Hundal for the link.






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    After an interview I gave to the Guardian in 2009 in which I stated what I thought was an uncontroversial proposition, namely that I really dislike the term "African writer" as I see myself as just me, I received some rather frightening emails. Let’s just say there are a LOT of people out there who seem to derive their sense of worth from how people completely unrelated to them see themselves. A friend told me that quite a few posters on the Nigerian literary list-serve Krazitivity were up in arms because they thought that I was rejecting by black African Nubianess. And all the while I have been queuing before the "African Passports" counters at Oliver Tambo airport and getting my hair braided in Stall 90 at Kenyatta market in Nairobi! I even, as a declaration of my deep-felt Nubiosity, named my son Kush - if I had a daughter, she would be called Egypt then I could proudly say my children are named after the old African kingdom of Egypt and Kush. Or not.

    Anyway, after the initial emails, I tuned out of the whole thing and privately swore that the next time anyone asked me about this, I would respond by quoting all of Jabberwocky.

    But that was then. As part of an application for a fellowship that is hugely important to me, I have in the last two days been compiling a huge dossier of my reviews and published profiles and have been gasp, googling myself. By the way, I am not one of those writers who claims they do not read reviews - I read them, I love them, and I respect people who take time to read and write honestly and with sincerity. I have, however, for the last 12 months or so, stopped reading anything to do with Easterly. And as I did not read much around the whole African Writer thing, today was the first time that I read the short comment below from Nigerian philosopher and writer Chielozona Eze, which I found on Pambazuka.

    I am deeply grateful to Chielo. He has very simply, but eloquently, captured exactly what it is that I meant. If I accept his division of writers on the continent into Achebeans and Soyinkans, I would definitely agree with him that I write in the Soyinkan tradition. I am honestly not interested in writing for the edification and education of the West. Nor do I write to correct historical wrongs. Just as there are stereotypes about Africans, there are stereotypes about Asians, about South Americans, heck, about any group if you come to think of it. To stereotype is human. If I set up my ambition as the correcting of what Chimamanda Adichie calls the "single story", I would go demented.

    There are writers who have chosen to take on this burden. I read them, I cheer them on, I celebrate them. But that is not how I see myself or my writing. I do not want always to be writing back or answering back. It would mean that I am forever responding to agendas set by others. Instead of telling others what plants they should not grow in their gardens, I want to cultivate my own little plot, plant the things I love, and watch them grow. I want to write stories that mean something to me, and hang the West. Hang Zimbabwe too. Hang tyranny, including the tyranny of the loudest voiced ones. Hang censorship, hang any kind of silencing. I want to write about anything that takes my interest, with no agenda other than to write it well.

    Before I became a writer, I was a roving, curious Afropolitan (I so love that term), rooted in my continent but inspired by the world. I love people, I love travel, I love ideas, I love discovering inspiration in the most unexpected places. This was my life before I became a writer, and it is still my life today. So I write the way I live: taking in everything that inspires, discarding everything that does not. My name is Petina Gappah. I am a Soyinkan. And a million other things besides.

    _______________________

    In her first interview after winning the Guardian First Book Prize, Petina Gappah vehemently objected to her being labelled the voice of Zimbabwe. Rightly, so, one would say, for she is a voice, a very confident one for that. She is a voice that, like others before her such as Yvonne Vera, Marechera, Tsitsi Dangarembga, addressed the human condition from a given position, Zimbabwe. All literature is local.

 Since her interview, various internet discussion groups have devoted considerable attention to what is perceived by some as a betrayal of her African roots.

    The title of her interview, ‘Petina Gappah: “I don't see myself as an African writer”’, is provocative enough to make one ask whether she had contracted Michael Jackson’s ‘yellow’ fever. Is it possible to create art that is not rooted in some place? Is she merely a copycat to her famous dead compatriot, Dambudzo Marechera? 

Not so fast, friends.

To start with, it is abundantly peculiar even to a troubling degree, that only African writers appear to be burdened with the seemingly annoying issue of identity, whether they are writers from and of the continent. As one writer, coming to Gappah’s defense, said, you don’t ask water whether it is wet, do you? Yet, the writer rightly pointed out the tricky issue of identity. Thank God, identity is not as settled as the wetness of water.

    

It has to be born in mind that the issue of the African writer is fraught with contested meaning. If other writers from other continents do not face the same niggling problem – which I doubt – it might have to do with many factors, one of which is that writing in Africa, literature as belles-lettres is closely associated with liberation struggle and the definition of self. Chinua Achebe gave this type of writing a definitive form with Things Fall Apart and his subsequent essays and interviews and interpretation of his own book. Thus since the publication of his epochal book, African literature has largely been seen as a mode of writing-back, fighting the West’s misrepresentation of the African image.

    Achebe cannot be identified with the Negritude movement, but his project is not far removed from Negritude’s redefinition of the maligned image of the African. The subtle difference might lie in the Senghor’s lionisation of the past and Africa’s perceived essence.



    This century has witnessed a robust renaissance of African literature, thanks in large part to Caine Prize. This rebirth boasts of such fine writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chris Abani, Sefi Atta, Brian Chikwava, Chika Unigwe, and of course Petina Gappah. Reading their works, one discerns their allegiance to what could be termed, for lack of available terms, the Achebean and Soyinkan schools of thought. 



    The Achebean school functions much like Negritude, and sees its role as primarily redefining the African. It does this among other things, by challenging the West’s ‘single story’.

    The Soyinkan, however, is of course different from the first in the sense that it appears to ignore the gaze of the white man, and explores the human condition as it is found in the African towns and villages. It does not even shy away from employing Western concepts and idioms to elucidate African native ideas. Doing so, simply telling normal stories of normal people, is understood as engaging in a deeply universal exercise. 



    Among the new crop of African writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie unapologetically positions herself as the torchbearer of Achebean tradition. This is evident in her writings and speeches, the most renowned of which is ‘The Danger of a Single Story.’ Chris Abani and Sefi Atta appear, at least, temperamentally to have sided with Soyinka, caring little about the burden of meeting the gaze of the white man. I put Gappah in this group. I don’t know her in person, but based on what I could glean from some of her writings, formal and informal, she seems to be completely opposed to the tradition of addressing the white man’s single story. She said somewhere that she is rigorously against Negritude, quoting Soyinka’s well-known critique of Negritude.



    When Petina Gappah says that she doesn’t see herself as an African writer, I think it is important to note that she never denied being African, or black. Nor does she contest her being Zimbabwean. She, I think, avoids being holed in a given, transcendental role of saving the African, by telling his or her story.

 Until it becomes obvious that African literature pursues no cause, many more African writers with broader cast of mind will always deny being African writers.

    Perhaps one day the term ‘African writer’ will lose its Achebean stamp when it becomes obvious that writings from that continent will be read also for their aesthetic wealth and not for their apology. The day has actually arrived, and reading Petina Gappah’s short stories, you feel as aesthetically fulfilled and as morally confronted as you would be.

    Hopefully, her little controversy goes a long way to instruct interviewers and commentators of African literature that the question of who is an African writer is as redundant as the medieval problem of wanting to know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or, to use a better example, setting up a symposium to determine whether Ian McEwan is European.

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    Do you know the name Chibundu Onuzo? You should. And you will. She is the ridiculously young, gifted and Nigerian writer whose novel, The Spider King's Daughter, will be published next year by Faber. She is 20. That's right. 20!! I can tell you for a fact that everyone at Faber is hugely excited about her debut. As 2012 is rather a way away, you may want to read her blog while you wait: Chibundu blogs at authorsoundsbetterthanwriter. I have her kind permission to reproduce this blog post about some amusing shenanigans on one of her recent flights from Lagos. Thanks Chi!

    __________________

    The flight was full. Nigerians, it seems are becoming more affluent. So affluent that they now travel with their house girls as one woman announced to the whole plane. Her children were sitting together but the house girl had not been put with children. I mean, what is the point of taking a maid to England if she's not going to look after my children. And I can't look after my children because I'm in Upper Class. Did everyone hear that? I am travelling upper class and my maid has been separated from my children. Air hostess please sort this out so I can go back to Upper Class and stretch out on my fully reclining seat while all of you sit in economy and roast. Of course, no-one wanted to switch seats to let the children be re-united with their nanny. I don't know how that matter ended because I started eavesdropping on the phone conversation taking place next to me.

    The woman had just 'flown in and flown out.' It was a 'quick one.' Just 'a few days.' You know how we big girls do. In fact, she wanted to go Upper Class but the plane was full so she had to settle for an economy ticket because she needed to get back to work. You know how we big girls do. If that's all that happened on the flight, it would have been enough gist for me. A little lighthearted showing off from my fellow Nigerians is always of interest. I settled down in my seat, hoping the six hours would go quickly. I was on my first movie when a woman in the row behind me, tapped my neighbour and said,

    "Excuse me. Please move your seat forward. It's disturbing me."

    My neighbour replied, "No sorry I cannot. The person in front of me has reclined their chair so I must recline mine."

    I thought the matter had ended. I returned to my movie. Next thing, the woman punched my neighbour's chair until it was in an upright position. What followed was the most bizarre sequence of events. My neighbour would recline her chair fully. The woman would punch it upright. Recline. Punch. Recline. Punch. During this sequence phrases like,

    "You're making me uncomfortable."

    "It is my constitutional right to recline my chair."

    "You cannot inconvenience me."

    "I should have travelled Upper Class."

    were thrown around. Eventually, air hostesses had to be called in.The uncomfortable lady could not see her screen, her knees were cramped.

    "Then recline your own chair madam," one of the hostesses said reasonably.

    "I do not want to recline my chair."

    And that was the end of that line of persuasion. Another hostess tried a different tack.

    "Madam, why don't you swap seats with your husband if you're so uncomfortable."

    "I do not want my husband being inconvenienced by this woman."

    At this point, my fellow Nigerians began to join the fray.

    "Madam raise your chair small."

    "No, she is not the one that should raise her chair. It is this woman that should push back her own."

    "Why must we Nigerians always embarrass ourselves outside."

    My people, I laughed ehn. At first, I tried to hide it by covering my mouth but as the confra grew noisier my laughter increased in volume. Eventually a compromise was reached. My neighbour reclined her chair half way and the matter was closed. I returned to my movie with tears still in my eyes.

    About an hour later, the inconvenienced passenger's husband decided to try his own luck. He too felt that the lady in front of him (also in my row) had reclined her chair too far back. He had also seen how successful his wife had been. So he tapped the lady and said, "Excuse me, your seat is too far back."

    Her response was classic.

    "Don't even start that nonsense."

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you shut up the passenger behind you when he/she tries to impinge on your constitutional right to fully recline your plane seat.

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    There was a time when I lived in Austria when I played Nirvana's 'Nevermind', 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' and Alanis Morisette's 'Jagged Little Pill' over and over and over. And over again. Now when I hear any song from any one of those albums, I am immediately transported back to Graz, it is summer and I am walking from Jacominiplatz to Hauptplatz, listening to my disc-man.

    Nevermind turns 20 this year. Gulp. I found a great (old) story on the baby in the iconic poster above: His name is Spencer Elden, he was the son of friends of Kirk Weddle, Nirvana's photographer. Kurt Cobain promised he would take Spencer to dinner when he grew up, but then of course Kurt killed himself in 1994. And Spencer, who lives in Los Angeles, grew up to speak like a Valley Boy. From an interview on NPR:

    "My friend is all like, 'Hey I saw you today.' And I'm like, 'Dude, I was working all day.' And he's like, 'No, I went to Geffen Records, and you're on the floor and you're floating and I stepped on your face. 'Cause I guess they have like a floating thing where people can like walk on me and stuff ... so it's kinda cool."

    Smells like seriously chilled-out teen spirit. Cool.

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    Another good buddy, Priscilla Chigariro a model business woman who is also a model (see what I did there?) is the woman behind Fashion Week, which returns to Zim from 31 August 2011. Priscilla is one of the people who has responded to our Library Commitee's plea to save the Library: the Library at Rotten Row will host a day and night of fashion on 1 September 2011, with proceeds going to the Library.

    I also received this invitation to an exhibition at the National Gallery on 4 August 2011 called Pimp my Combi! If you are in Harare, try to make all of these events.

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    And now, a musical interlude from Peter, Paul and Mary with Early In The Morning, a song so hauntingly beautiful that it is almost unbearable.



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    The man in brown in the middle there is a policeman. The man in the suit is the President. The young man in blue is a Zimbabwean commercial pilot who was recently in a reality TV show. His name is Wendall Parsons. And yes, he is white. There are lots of white people still in Zimbabwe. They sometimes, if they are lucky like Wendall, get to shake the President's hand and receive money from him. In the white envelope is $50 000 for lucky, lucky Wendall. See Wendall smile. See the President smile. See the policeman look. Look look look. Oh look look.


    So this is what happened yesterday in Zimbabwe. The President presented envelopes stuffed with cash to two contestants in the last Big Brother Africa. The winner of the series, Wendall, received $50 000 of Zimbabwe's dirtiest money, and I am not casting aspersions here, but simply pointing that the notes circulating in Zimbabwe are notoriously grimy. (This is what happens when you don't print your own money).

    Also sharing in the presidential largesse was Vimbai Mutinhiri, who did not win. She received $10 000. Now, I am as fond of Zanu PF as anyone would be after seeing it preside over the rack and ruin of a country one loves, but there are many things that prevent me from fully taking it into the warm embrace of my welcoming arms. For one thing, there is the gaucheness of giving out envelopes stuffed with cash. Who does that, I mean, this not some low level mafiosos making a down payment for a hit on the Capo. Whatever happened to those big fake cheques?

    Then there is the startling image of Mugabe handing over a stuffed envelope to a girl whose most celebrated skill on Big Brother appears to have been standing still while people took off her bra with their teeth. Race to the bottom, anyone?

    It is all bread and circuses of course, distraction and diversion. I want to say it is all very surreal, but it is just Zimbabwe. We sigh and move on. This is how you run a Banana Republic.

    Image from NewZimbabwe.

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    Michele Bachmann, it is true, is nuttier than squirrel poo and fruitier than an orchard full of apricots, pears, plums and quinces. (That is a little shout out to my trade law friends, whom I miss madly, together with trade disputes about apricots, pears, plums and quinces. I weep when I read the Japan - Varietals case, I simply weep.) Back to the topic - Mrs Bachmann appears to be more than a little estranged from that thing you and I rather familiarly call reality, but this? Really, Tina Brown? Why not have her wield an axe splattered with the blood of a googly-eyed poodle and have done with it? As John Stewart said, you want to show that Mrs Bachmann is a nut? Use her own words. There are enough of them.

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    When I was at Cambridge, some of my fellow students, and some dons, used to say this thing that first amused me, but became increasingly irritating. I would be at a party, talking nineteen to dozen in my usual way, and then I would find someone staring at me with a look of wonder. The inevitable remark would then come. “You speak such good English.” And this at Cambridge, one of the most competitive universities in the world. To be at Cambridge was surely to be among the best: it is why I had applied in the first place. Why would anyone be surprised that a student at Cambridge spoke good English? Isn’t it a condition of admission? Wouldn’t you imagine that we all spoke good English?

    But the subtext was clear: you are a black person and, therefore, you are not supposed to speak such good English. I was the first black African student at my college, and no, this was not as long ago as you think. My special status was stressed to me a number of times, particularly by one don who beamed at me and said, as soon as he met me, that I was the second Rhodesian at Sidney Sussex! And are you going back to Rhodesia after you finish, he asked, to which I responded that that was an impossibility as the country no longer existed.

    I eventually developed an effective response to the you speak such good English comment. Anytime I heard this, I said, why so do you, in a tone of happy camaraderie.

    These memories came back as I listened in wonder to the historian David Starkey on Newsnight. He said three things: that Enoch Powell was partly correct in his Rivers of Blood speech and that the white kids who looted all over England were victims of black culture, and, finally, that if you heard the Oxbridge-educated Tory MP David Lammy speak without seeing him, you would think that he was white.

    He speaks such good English, you see.

    That a historian would bandy about such imprecise terms as white culture and black culture is frankly baffling. What is white culture? Going to the opera? Divorce? Or having a nuclear family? Atheism? Or the creationism that is becoming rampant in the American south? Scientology? The gay pride parade of Amsterdam? Or the gay curing programmes of the kind advocated by Michele Bachmann's husband? The binge drinking of London? Football hooliganism?

    And don’t get me started on black culture, which seems to be reduced by Starkey, to a very specific sub-culture influenced by hip hop and rap music and street gangs.

    But gangs, of course, are not part of white culture, because the Teddy Boys, back in the 50s were not white at all, oh no. And those Victorian street gangs, the Sloggers, the Scuttlers? When Dickens wrote about Fagin’s gang of pickpockets, about murderous gang member Bill Sykes, why he must have had some sort of Jamaican influence because Bill Sykes? He was acting black.

    Missing in David Starkey’s analysis is any awareness of class. Because this is the essence of Starkey’s reasoning: any white person who is not how you imagine a white person to be has become black, and any black person who is not how you imagine a black person to be has become white. To be black is to be poor, it is to be uneducated, to be inarticulate. A middle class black man like David Lammy becomes, not middle class, but white. And the working class hooligans who were looting trainers are acting black.

    I very much fear that England is going to get this spectacularly wrong. All the commentators, like Starkey, are responding reflexively from within the narrow framework of their entrenched positions.

    But that is another subject for another day. Listening to Starkey took me back to Cambridge, where my fellow students actually thought to express surprise that a fellow Cambridge student spoke English well. And why? Because I was black.


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  • 08/25/11--01:38: Ozymandias in Tripoli.
  • From the wonderful Nick Hayes at the Guardian.

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    Last week, the Swiss denied visas to members of President Mugabe’s entourage who wanted to go to Geneva for an ITU meeting. Among those denied visas was the President’s wife, Grace Mugabe. The President rarely misses an opportunity to attend the ITU annual meeting - he was to have been on a panel with Swiss and Rwandan Presidents Micheline Calmy-Rey and Paul Kagame.

    Paul Kagame was to speak by video-phone from Kigali.

    Our President, never one to turn away from a lectern if he can lambast Western powers from it, was to be there in person … along with a 62-member entourage.

    The Swiss issued visas to the President and a significant number of the entourage, but felt, reasonably enough in my view, that not all 62 were on UN business, and that some were in fact using the UN mission to avoid the sanctions that have been imposed on their travel to Switzerland.

    This seems entirely reasonable to me, but then I am not entirely unbiased: my view is grounded in the fact that the last time the President went on a UN mission, he is said to have spent more than 5 million dollars – his entourage on that occasion included his young children who undoubtedly had pressing UN business in New York. My view is also influenced by the fact that government owes the City of Harare about 80 million dollars, which explains the smell of rubbish that is piling uncollected outside my apartment complex and the nasty pothole on Arden Drive that I almost drove into last week. Most of all, I am exercised by the fact that the Harare City Library, whose board I chair, and which is the biggest and most popular library in Zimbabwe, has a leaking roof. If you knocked off about 20 intelligence agents and associated aides from the 62, that would be enough money for a new roof.

    But back to the Swiss. They refused to issue all the requested visas. Cue vociferous objections from all sorts of people including the African Union. The Swiss eventually issued all the visas, including the First Lady’s, but by then, the President had had something of a hissy fit and decided not to go.

    This is the context in which I introduce to you our TWAG quote of the week, from the always entertaining, Shakespeare and Bible quoting presidential spokesman George Charamba.

    "By denying the First Lady the visa, the Swiss were trying to put apart what God had tied," Charamba told AFP.

    Let's have that again:

    "By denying the First Lady the visa, the Swiss were trying to put apart what God had tied."

    There you have it. Mrs Grace Mugabe has nothing on Ruth, whose beautiful words of loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi you all know so well: where you go, I will go also, your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.

    Where the President goes, the First Lady goes. And the Godless Swiss tried to break them up for the whole three days that the President would have been away! As it is so clear that the First Couple cannot bear to be apart even for a few days, I want, at this point to dedicate to the First Couple the famous song by The Police that is meant to be a love song but that, because of the menacing obsession that it implies, is more suited to be the anthem of all stalkers everywhere:

    Every breath you take,

    Every move you make,

    Every bond you break,

    Every step you make,

    I’ll be watching you.

    Mr. Charamba, let's have it once more, loud and clear for the cheap seats:

    "By denying the First Lady the visa, the Swiss were trying to put apart what God had tied."

    Yes people, the blog is back!!


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