Mama Welcomes Neritia to the Round Table: Dialog with an Unexpected African Woman

 Images of Africa often include some basics: elephants and lions, jeeps with their tops off taking people on safari, the open savanna and African people with their skin the color of dark chocolate.

Although all of those images do describe Africa in part; there is much greater diversity to Africa and Africans.  My guest today is someone I’d describe as unexpected in more ways than one.

NeritiaYou are probably wondering, quite naturally, what I mean by “unexpected”.   She is a woman and not afraid at all of using her voice.  She is African; but doesn’t have the face many first imagine.  She looks sweet (and is); but talks tough (when needed).  As the quote she uses on her Twitter account says: “ Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.” -DH Lawrence.  I look forward to hearing her “say it hot”.  So, here we go:

Neritia is a proud South African woman.  I’ve invited her to the Round Table to discuss a few things that are in the minds and hearts of many South African women: women’s rights, employment, China and of course that word you know I dislike so: “race”.

Welcome to the Round Table, Neritia.  I know that you’ve been here before to sit in on other interviews from time to time.  I’m really happy that you are here, especially because I’ve really wanted to invite you for a while.  So now that you have your cup of Red Bush tea, let’s settle in for a few questions:

1.       How do you identify yourself… who are you?  I’d also like to follow up on that question.   As a person of mixed heritage, I am always interested in how people identify themselves.  :  What matters most to you, your: ethnicity, culture or nationality?

I am Neritia.  I laugh, love, cry and work hard and loud!  I am woman, wife, sister, daughter and friend.  Injustice will probably be the end of me – but I have an enormous amount of hope that’s a constant in my life.

My nationality matters most to me! I am South African and I am African  – my skin colour might tell you a different story – but the drumbeat of this continent is what continuously shapes and challenges me to grow into someone who can rise above the history of our country!

2. What is your biggest daily challenge living as a woman in South Africa?

My biggest challenge is both self-inflicted and part of my history.

I need to continuously remind myself that being a woman does not equate to being less than a man.


3.       “As the Nigerian proverb goes: it takes a village to raise a child.” With this in mind, what do you think is the most important lesson that we should teach “our” children?

We need to teach our children that all people are equal and our differences should be celebrated.  This will allow children to grow into balanced adults who understand their own value as well as that of other!

4.       China.  For some Africans, the name is almost synonymous with opportunity?  For others, it brings to mind the new face of colonialism.  Where do you stand on the issue?

This question is both interesting and scary!  To me it looks a lot like the years when colonialism was widespread in Africa.  It is my opinion that Africa is treading on dangerous ground when believing that the billions of dollars China “invests” in Africa through funding is for the benefit of Africa and her people.  China has the money…and they play the fiddle.

The funding goes to African Governments – and although I hope I am wrong – the people and not those in Government will be the ones who will suffer the most when China starts to pressurize countries who cannot meet their debt repayment or when they have exhausted our resources. China’s need for resources is insatiable and they will be the only true beneficiaries of their largess.

I don’t think we (me) realize the magnitude of Chinese involvement in South Africa and Africa.  Forget about the pressure on resources – just think about what it does to local employment.  In South Africa, where unemployment is constantly on the rise – Chinese involvement and the fact that they bring their own laborers are putting huge strain on job opportunities.

I believe that we Africans need to start looking out for our own future and we need to realize that not all “aid” is good.


5.       1994 was an incredibly important year for South Africans. Can you tell me what you first think of when you hear “1994”?

I think of long queues of people – sitting and standing in the sun.  I think of colour – a true reflection of our country.  I think of the excitement, the exhilaration, the hope and the noise!  It was absolutely divine!

6. I am still struck by a comment made by a professor while I was a young student in university: “The only two countries that require people to be classified by ‘race’ on official forms are South Africa and the United States.” How do you feel about the word and its importance or relevance in South Africa today?

I still cringe when I think about the role apartheid played in engraving race into the soul of our country. We might be in our 19th year of post-apartheid, but it doesn’t’ change the fact that decades of segregation still have us reeling from the after-effect. The journey towards racial healing is long and needs to be addressed with utmost care.

We can never forget the importance of the word ”race” – it shaped South Africa and her people much more than most care to acknowledge.

Our Government is making the word relevant. There are days when I am shocked by how deep-seated the classification of people still is. I am also tired of the word…it feels to me as though we’re just not moving forward!

7. Policy and reality are often miles apart. Many of my readers know about changes that have been made in government policy in South Africa concerning ownership of land, businesses and other programs intended to encourage equality between ethnic groups. How have you seen things actually play out on the ground?

Yes Mama – in South Africa policy and reality can sometimes be as far removed as the east from the west!

On paper we have excellent policies in place…but in reality it’s not aiding the people that it was designed to help.

I do feel the need to boast a little though! Finally it looks like our policies on HIV/AIDS are starting to reap fruit – and I am cautiously optimistic about the fact that we are starting to win the war against this horrific plague. The positive results we’re receiving through our HIV/AIDS policies just proves that where there’s a will there’s a way – and if we could apply the same sense of urgency to other critical policies in South Africa I am sure we’d be able to eventually eradicate corruption too.

8. I know that you take women’s rights seriously. For years, the discussion of rape and violence against women in South Africa has been vigorous and animated. How do you think the current Reeva Steenkamp case is changing the face of spousal abuse from that of poor Black men to something more generally prevalent? Do you expect it to polarize or broaden the national dialog on the issue of women’s rights?

I am so glad that you’re asking me this question!

I believe that rape, violence against women and spousal abuse cuts across socioeconomic, ethnic and religious groups. It happens in affluent homes in upmarket neighbourhoods, it happens in the workplace, it happens in schools and it happens in poor communities. It’s an issue that should unite women across South Africa, Africa and the world – irrespective of identity.

You know, I often wonder whether we compartmentalize these issues and the abusers in order to cope with the staggering and horrific assault of facts and violence on our hearts and minds. Life without the bewildering stats that a woman is raped every four minutes in South Africa would be sublime! If you’re in the fortunate position to not be part of the statistics, it’s easier to pretend it doesn’t affect you or that which you identify yourself with. When you are one of the millions who make up the statistics and depending on whom your abuser is, you almost effortlessly slip into the “comfort” of categorizing! It’s extremely hard for the abused to not categorize. It’s hard for family and friends of the abused to not categorize. It becomes a coping mechanism for some!

You need to keep in mind that violence in South Africa is nothing new. The lack of respect for women was as rife prior to 1994 as it is now. Growing up as a white, Afrikaner, attending the Dutch Reformed Church and being called privileged did not protect me from seeing and experiencing rape, violence or spousal abuse…the difference however is that no one spoke about it.

Post 1994 and with the explosion of Internet in Africa women have become more vocal about abuse and their lack of rights. I think the anonymity of the Internet made it easier for women to share their stories and to discover that there are other women going through the same thing and dialog, sharing and sisterhood grew from it. The world became smaller and the average South African woman now has access to resources (information and people) she never dreamed of having before. The borders of South Africa enlarged in a virtual world.

My heart would like to believe that what happened to Reeva Steenkamp will broaden national dialog on the issue of women’s rights, but unfortunately I am not convinced that it will. Although this case is a high profile case, with much international interest, the fact remains that the attention the case receives has much more to do with the man who held the gun than the woman who lost her life.


Anene Booysen

The recent gang rape, mutilation and murder of Anene Booysen’s is but one example of what happens to dialog in South Africa. Friday, 15 February 2013 became Black Friday for Rape Awareness in her remembrance of her – but the story of Reeva and Oscar overshadowed Anene’s death. Dialog did not stop completely, but it’s not receiving the attention it deserves.

9. “Corrective” rape, rape to cure AIDS, gang rape and spousal abuse? With issues as important as these on the table; where and how do you find hope? What concrete steps can we take to ensure that our continent’s daughters and granddaughters discuss statistics like “every 46 seconds a woman is raped” as figures from their distant past?

You know how people always say your body has a muscle memory – well I think my body has a “hope memory”. My relationship with God gives me hope. Conversations with women give me hope. My girlfriends give me hope. Good deeds of individuals, a solitary voice rising above the noise and women rising above their circumstances – these are the things that fill me with hope. We’re a resilient nation Mama – we’ve overcome much – and we will rise above and beyond this too.

I believe that each and every woman in Africa should be actively involved in eradicating all forms of rape and spousal abuse. We’re all aware of the fact that education is of utmost importance. We know that we need better policing, more convictions and harsher punishment – but I would like to address other social issues here.

Women raise the men who rape…and every rapist is born to a woman. Can you imagine how different the world might be if women and men were treated the same. In being treated the same there should be less reason for men to want to dominate women through acts of violence!

We need to educate our daughters and mothers need to educate their sons. We need to use storytelling and role models as a tool to create awareness of the wrongs of any form of violence against women. It needs to start at home, it needs to be carried through at school and it needs to be in the media on a daily basis! Every communicative resource needs to be applied in fighting this war against women!

Men need to be involved in raising children and fathers need to teach their sons what masculinity is. I don’t believe that boys are born violent – we make them violent! Men need to understand that dominance and aggression is not what defines “manhood”.

Through the collective actions of individuals who are prepared to safeguard the daughters of our continents social change will ensue!
When girls realize they are not objects they will flourish!

10. I ask this next question of all of my guests, presidents and farmers alike. Now, I will ask it of you: If you could wave a magic wand over Africa and change just one thing, what would it be?

That all people in Africa can learn to respect themselves, which will ultimately lead to respecting others!

Neritia, I love your blog and have always enjoyed dialog with you. We’ve talked about everything from politics to faith, from women’s issues to work and I have to say that despite that, I hesitated, just a little, to pose a couple of these questions. After all, color is a touchy subject in South Africa and tends to instantly create a heated dialog. In my youth, I’ll be honest in saying I wasn’t sure what role (if any) Whites had to play in South Africa’s future. I was blinded by the injustice of it all. After all, apartheid was such a dirty way of dealing with your fellow man. I feel a need to not only “confess” this to you; but to thank you. It is in part through our friendship and via our discussions that I learned that we do, in fact, have a very similar vision for our beloved continent. Your openness and frankness have allowed me to evolve my view of the world, and for that I sincerely thank you. I am proud to call you “sister”. Keep fighting the fight for African women and women everywhere.

If you have any questions or comments that you would like to add… please do so in our comments section below. After all, you know what I say so often “Dialog matters, without it no lasting solutions or friendships are found.”

From “Street Kid” to Dream Builder:

Our next Round Table guest hails from Pretoria, South Africa. His name is Tendai Sean Joe he and describes himself as a: former street kid, Trail of Hope Foundation founder and director, friend, activist, youth leader and writer.

1. You are a self-described former “street kid”; can you please tell us what inspired the positive change in your life?

Well firstly, I use that term not to let people feel sorry for me, but to inspire! Being a street child was not a choice, so neither was it going to determine my destiny. Life in the streets was always filled by hopelessness. As I was there with other children, including my brother, in the public eye we were like the social outcasts. I was still young and confused, but I could not stand the abuse and poverty in the streets. At home there was poverty and so was home. Sometimes the police brutalized us, sometimes it was the public. Our major source of food was two chain stores: TM and OK. At OK they would throw away perishables like meat, polony, sausages, fruits and other foodstuffs. But they would make sure that they poured petrol on the food and burned it; so that we could not eat it (we ate the food anyway and we were never sick). Worse thing is, we were street children in a town without a Soup Kitchen. Seeing other children in uniform was painful for me. I told myself that to be able to tell my story, I had to get an education, no matter the challenges.

Tendai Joe as a child

2. When many people imagine girls living on the streets, they think of how their misery is compounded by sexual abuse. What can you teach us about the subject?

Yah I think that’s so wrong for people to think that way. Selective attention is not a sustainable solution to the social problems that children face in the streets. Pedophiles are not that selective. Both young girls and boys are vulnerable to abuse. If girls are raped, young boys can be sodomized. So no child has to be in the streets. However young girls are more vulnerable, as they are easy targets.
3. Youth. They are clearly near and dear to your heart. What are you hearing in your interactions with them that they want us to know? What topics are most important to them in your part of the continent?

Interesting subject, children and youths are the future. I chose to invest most of my time to them, as I am quite sure that my efforts will not go to waste. There is so much we talk about and share, having built a very close relationship with many of them. There are a varied issues affecting youths; but the most touching ones are Sexual Abuse and Poverty. In a country like South Africa, the chances of young women falling victim to abuse are very high and that insecurity affects many in the planning their future.

4.  Alright, let us widen our focus. I have heard you discuss a wide variety of issues facing Africa. What would you say are the top three problems that we Africans need to address immediately? In other words, what 3 things are most urgent in your opinion?

Sustainable Development, Education and the Empowerment of Women. With vast resources and donor investment in Africa, I think if we refocus our attention to the three elements I have mentioned; ironically they are also part of the MDGs that need to be achieved by 2015. The use of renewable energy is out of the question, we need that. Climate Change is impacting on the Third World countries more than other country; we cannot keep on contributing more carbon, when we have alternative resources. It’s time we started having Eco-Villages in Africa, where everything is run by green energy, where children could come and learn more on green living. Teach-1-Teach-All (giving education to many) will give us an educated, self-motivated and innovative continent. Hopefully we would not have many armed conflicts; we will be able to negotiate in boardrooms. Women are the primary caregivers, so educating them compliments the fight against a variety of issues including nutrition, Child-Health and other diseases that affect many people in Africa. Besides, mothers will most likely support their children to attain an education.
5. Tell me about your passion for Africa.

Its cultural and historical diversity. Having blood from different countries (Mozambique and Zimbabwe), it is easy for me to connect and identify with many African cultures and traditions. It is in Africa where I see the uniqueness of God’s creations. Besides, wherever I am in Africa, I am at home. When someone asks me who I am and where I come from, I say: I am Tendai Joe, I am an African!

6. What specific types of programs is your Trail of Hope Foundation implementing on the ground and what kind of results are you getting? What projects are you most proud of or excited about?

Trail of Hope Foundation’s pillars are: Advocacy, Partnership, Outreach, Empowerment and Leadership. Trail of Hope Foundation is a platform that highlights the desperate struggles which orphaned and vulnerable children face in order to survive against poverty, trafficking, abuse, crime, institutionalization, disease and recruitment into military conflicts. Thus, the international community can effect change. We are running different projects including e-Learning for the girls at an Orphanage. Due to challenges in funding, we have not yet achieved what we really dream to achieve; so there is not that much to write about. At the moment, we run empowerment projects that do not need any financial input. However we have projects like Dream Leaders Conference (is a leadership program developed by Dreams for Kids (Chicago, U.S.A) to celebrate and enhance the unique ability in every child by giving them opportunities of service while working alongside children of diverse backgrounds. Dream Leaders teaches middle school and high school students how they can use their struggles as motivation to help others. Dream Leaders gives teenagers the tools to see their challenges such as living in poverty, having a disability, facing discrimination, losing a loved one, or whatever else life has thrown at them, not as a limitation but as a guiding force in their journey to make positive change in the world.). All in all, we have six projects.

Tendai works vigilantly against the trafficking of women and children in the sex trade

7. What is your one wish for African children today?

I wish to see a non-politicized sustainable solution to Child’s issues. UNICEF does a great job; but that’s not enough, because they cannot help on all Issues. I look forward to an Africa with a collective stance on Children’s policy that will protect all of our children from harm and create a world conducive for all child to learn and play safely.

Well, that wraps up my questions for today.  TJ, I’d like to thank you again for joining me at the Round Table. It was a great pleasure getting to learn more about your childhood and your projects for the future. You are an inspirational man with a lot of care and concern for Africa’s children. They are lucky to have you on their side!  It was also nice to hear that kids in the US are able to reach out to their African peers and affect positive change. Finally, it was also of great interest to me to hear the connection you make between the importance of empowering Africa’s women and building a good future for their children.  I’ve always believed that the two issues are intertwined.

I now invite our readers (whom I consider important members of our Round Table talks) to share their thoughts with us so that we can continue this discussion about the future of Africa’s youth…