hamba kahle, madiba



The airwaves are full of memories about rolihlahla Nelson Mandela. The same words, over and over. The boxer, who became a lawyer, who became a freedom fighter, who became a prisoner, who became the leader of a nation and a moral example to us all.

So many people ask: Did you ever meet him?

No. But, yes, in a way.

I never had the honor — and great pleasure so I’m told by those who’ve met Mandela. They talk about their knees buckling, their mouths going dry, and whatever cynicism wilting in the warmth of his smile and laughter. I came close.

My story takes place in 1993, 20 years ago. It’s been more than three years since Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison east of Paarl. A lot more people died from violence during those three years before the first truly democratic elections in 1994 than had been killed during the previous thirty years of “armed struggle”.

The government had hit squads and secretly armed groups that wanted their own white or tribal “homelands”. They would’ve torn the country apart. It was a pressure tactic, a gamble to gain advantage at the negotiation tables that some people, even those in then-President’s office, thought worth the risk.

People died from bombs planted in bars and nightclubs. Dozens of people died from drive-by shootings at crowded taxi stands. More people died at the hands of gangs of hostel workers that roamed surrounding townships to murder and inflame. Disrupt with random killing. Get people to believe that “black on black” violence was the future with Mandela and the ANC. Push the delusion that a return to the past – or some bizarre version of that past – meant peace and stability. Violence begat revenge and more murder. South Africa was on the brink of civil war.

Mandela warned about a government-backed “third force”. The media tacked on the word “mysterious” but we all knew there was nothing mysterious about it. This willful blindness penetrated Mandela’s deliberate calm. He’d explode in anger when reporters questioned the “third force”. It was like doubting the existence of air. You couldn’t see it or touch it but it was there. Why couldn’t these reporters understand?

My co-trainer, Tim Knight, and I go to hear Mandela speak to foreign correspondents at the top of the Carlton Hotel in downtown Johannesburg. There’s a table at the back of the room but not far from the elevators. We might catch a glimpse of Mandela when he enters. We’re late but so is he.

A half hour and more goes by.  We’re told he’s in a meeting about setting up a truth and reconciliation commission. We decide to grab a quick puff near the elevators. There’s a buzz over there and a big security man so we stick near the entrance. The doors open and Nelson Mandela emerges surrounded by more big security men. He’s about 40 feet away. All I need to do is stay there and I’ll meet my hero.

He’s nearly 45 minutes late. People are trying to rush him along. But there’s a tiny lady halfway down the hallway. A lady wearing the almost universal uniform of cleaning ladies in South Africa. Light blue smock. Light blue cotton beret. White bib and coverall with ties in the back. She’s old and slight and very precious. She backs against the wall as Mandela’s entourage approaches. Looks down at the carpet. Instead of passing by though, Mandela stops right in front of this tiny lady. He turns and takes a step toward her. He says something. Her head rises. Her face lights up. I can almost see her knees buckle. He reaches out and puts her hand in his.

Behind him, big anxious men shuffle. He’s late. Very late. There’s a room full of important foreign news people waiting. He must know this. Those big men certainly act like they do. But Mandela is in no hurry. He takes his time to treat this tiny woman like royalty, like family.

I’m uncomfortable. He’s not playing a part or performing for the cameras. It’s a private moment. It’s spontaneous. Genuine. He reminds me of the elders back home. Not the poseurs that I dismiss as “old farts”. But real elders. People who shine from within. We turn and go back to our table.

After keeping his audience waiting for nearly an hour, Mandela’s speech is angry. He’s the politician again. The war chief. He accuses the government of cowardice, of secretly funding and arming gangs that are killing his people. He lectures the foreign media for giving credence to rumors of “black on black” violence, like it’s genetic and natural for Africans. It’s political violence, he pounds the podium, designed to kill peaceful negotiations at power-sharing. This is the old war horse. The lawyer. The boxer. The fighter.

Nope, I never met the man. But I feel like I did.

Lessons in the Senate Scandal

It has only been a few days but this Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau thing is driving me nuts. What is going to happen to them? This horse and pony show is driving me crazy.

You’re not alone, my friend. This is being discussed in bars, lunch rooms, and in the back seats of taxis around the country. The whole darn thing has been driving a lot of people nuts for weeks and even months. But what’s this got to do with us Indigenous types, you ask? Everything. It’s a text book lesson in politics, from “the Hill” to the band office.

Continue reading

gone but never forgotten

(not exact representation)

(not exact as shown)

You must’ve heard by now that Margaret Thatcher is dead at 87 years of age. The former prime minister of Great Britain slipped away into forgetfulness. She was the first woman to head the British government and was responsible for either the United Kingdom’s economic renaissance or the selling of its soul to corporate greed.

There you have it. Not everyone agrees that she was Britain’s greatest prime minister, or that this is the most appropriate place for this subject.  To which I retort – well, yeah. Continue reading

alt = different?

The Dominion / Media CoopThat’s the question I wanted to answer before heading into Montreal last week. I was invited to a sit on a panel discussing Indigenous issues with an alternative audience and Q&A to follow.

The occasion was the launch of a special print edition of the Dominion Magazine. Leanne Simpson wrote the cover story: “Idle No More: Where the Mainstream Media Went Wrong”. So I sat down, scanned a dozen or so alternative and mainstream media (MSM) sites to compare their coverage of the same or similar stories. What I found surprised me. Continue reading

what?! not possible!

“I googled “shmohawk,” the radio host says looking skeptically over the microphone. She says she did an online word search for “shmohawk” and came up with this description: “a horrible driver.” The look on her kisser says: “what’s going on?”  Google: "horrible driver"

I can only sputter – cuz it ain’t how I’ve described da Shmohawk here on my own blog.

There’s lessons to be learned from this exchange, mes amis. So listen up.

First, never believe everything Google tells you.

Google's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" referenceSecond, follow Google’s reference to “a horrible driver” and the trail will lead you to a skit on Larry David’s TV show, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (YouTube video here).

Larry David’s character (no relation) shouts “shmohawk” to some dumb ass behind the wheel of another vehicle on the road. He may or may not tell you that “shmohawk” and “shmuck” mean the same thing.

Third and lastly, one Yiddish dictionary (Bubby Gram) describes “shmohawk” thus:

Shmuck: Literally, “jewel” Another of the many Yiddish words for “penis.” (perhaps the same meaning as “family jewels.”) Although it has the same general meaning as putz, a shmuck often refers to someone with greater power or social/emotional status; someone who’s intentionally nasty or uses their power for ill, whereas a putz is more ineffectual, easier to dismiss because he’s beneath consideration or has no real effect on your life. (It’s the difference between “jerk” and “total a$$hole.” — It’s a very subtle difference, I grant you, and the line is often blurry.) Note: I recently had an almost Talmudic discussion with my brother-in-law about this subtle difference between a putz and a shmuck, and he summed it up perfectly: “One is erect, the other is limp.”

© 2003 – 2012 Adrienne E. Gusoff/Bubbygram.com All rights reserved – It’s not nice to steal!!!

Another Yiddish dictionary had a simpler description of the word “shmohawk”: a trouble-maker or a male appendage. I prefer this one.  I’ve used it in my profile (“About Shmohawk“) at the top of my blog.

There I am, Google: Da Shmohawk

race – the final frontier

Social media protesters crash “Cowboys and Indians” party | Toronto StarIn Toronto, a group of people decide that it’ll  be fun to dress up like cowboys and Indians for a birthday party at the Rhino Bar & Grill. (Storify’d here) The owners apologize later for allowing the party in the first place.

Later, some of those who complained wondered whether anyone would’ve spoken out if the people at the party had  dressed in blackface? Or if it hadn’t been for Idle No More and social media? Continue reading

brazeau free zone

CBC Online: Brazeau charged, suspended. Harper appalled.

CBC Online: Brazeau charged, suspended. Harper appalled.

This is a “Brazeau Free Zone” – for now, at least.

Other people are involved.

Don’t say you weren’t warned though – here and here. And shame on Harper for saying he was surprised and appalled because he knew, had a choice, made the decision. Nuff sed.

open letter: gimme some sugar

Fightin' Whities TV

Fightin’ Whities TV

The Canadian media really should consider creating a special award for Indigenous peoples. We deserve it.  We make it so much easier for reporters and producers of the news to fill their pages and newscasts, real and digital. Continue reading

eyes and the prize

White only-smWhat a week that was.

It begins on Monday with Obama’s inauguration and the beginning of his second term as President of the USA. The first time was historic. This time seems almost normal. The first Black President of the USA.

Obama’s public ceremony takes place on the same day that his nation remembers Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Continue reading