Friday, December 23, 2011


ATHOL Fugard could have written his much acclaimed novel “Tsotsi,” 49 years ago and published it in 1980; it resonates with the current crime like robbery, murder and rape, the biting poverty, shuttered dreams and hopes in South Africa – party as a result of the defunct apartheid system.

However, the good news is that the number of murders in South Africa declined by 6.5 per cent in 2010/2011, with 15, 940 cases being recorded, according to annual police crime statistics released in September 2011. The murder rate has come down consistently by nearly 20 percent since 2003/2004.

In the period from April 2010 to March 2011, attempted murders had fallen by 12.2 per cent, whereas assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm had dropped by 4.5 per cent. Robbery with aggravating circumstances was also down by 12 per cent.

The “Tsotsi,” story begins in an illegal drinking dive known as a shebeen on a Friday night with four gangsters plotting to attack mine workers in the rail station returning home with their earnings. Their criminal repertoire included attacking lonely taxi drivers, or a darkened, deserted house in one of the white suburbs.

“The trains,” Tsotsi said. “Let’s take one on the trains.”

The gang’s target was Gumboot Dhlamini, a mine worker who was returning home after a year’s work in the city with all his savings.

The four including Tsotsi and Die Aap surrounded Gumboot in the coach. Butcher worked the bicycle spoke up and into Gumboot’s heart. It was Buston who slipped his hand into the pocket and took out the pay packet. They left him dead in the train.

Tsotsi is an angry young gang leader in the South African township of Sopiatown. He was the youngest of the four. He owned a sheath-knife, the blade four inches long. He carried it in the back pocket of his trousers, and slept with it under his jacket which he rolled up and used as a pillow. The knife was not only his weapon, but also a fetish, a talisman that conjured away bad spirits and established him securely in his life.

Tsotsi hated questions about himself and how no one knew anything about him except that he was the hardest, the quickest, the cleverest that had ever been and once somebody had tried to find out something and he was dead.

Tsotsi hated questions for a profound but simple reason. He didn’t know the answers…neither his name, nor his age, nor any of the other answers that men assemble and shape into the semblance of a life. His memory went back vaguely to a group of young boys scavenging the township for scraps needed to keep alive. Before that a few vague, moody memories, a police chase and finding himself alone.

Tsotsi didn’t know because he had never been told, and if he had known he no longer remembered, and his not knowing himself had a deeper meaning than his name and his age. He allowed himself no thought of himself, he remembered no yesterdays, and tomorrow existed only when it was the present, living moment. He was as old as that moment, and his name was the name, in a way, of all men.

One day when he was scavenging on the streets an Indian chased him away from his shop door, shouting and calling him a tsotsi. So he decided to take on the name of Tsotsi. Tsotsi is an Afrikaans term for a hoodlum or a thug.

In a drunken state one day, Boston, asks Tsotsi for his age and expressed his displeasure of how they had ended Gumboot’s life.

In a sudden and irrational impulse Tsotsi brutally attacked Boston and nearly beat him to death.

One night, in a moonlit grove of the bluegum trees, a woman Tsotsi attempts to rape forces a shoebox into his arms. The box contains a baby, and his life is inexorably changed. He begins to remember his troubled childhood, to rediscover himself and his capacity to love, find mercy and sympathy.

Changing the baby’s cloths and feeding him proved a challenge. He tried to give it water and bread soaked in water, but it had all come driveling out. He was chancing his hand at a game he had never dared play and the baby was the dice, so to speak. He hid the baby away from the other gangsters in the ruins of buildings.

Tsotsi forced Miriam Ngidi, an eighteen year old mother of one to feed and clean his baby. The thought of that greedy, decrepit, foul-smelling bundle in the rags on the bed at her breast filled her with horror. It was a violation of her body that brought to a sharp pitch the possessive, miserly twist in her nature. “He’s too dirty!” Miriam cried.

“Then clean him,” Tsotsi replied savagely. “Clean him and feed him.”

When she still hesitated, he took out his knife and gave her one last chance. She fought down her disgust and went to work.

Tsotsi heard the bulldozers and saw the dust a long way away as they razed the ruins of buildings completely to the ground. He run and got there with seconds to spare. He had enough time to dive for the corner where the baby was hidden, before the first crack snaked along the wall and the topmost bricks came falling down, time enough even then to look, and then finally to remember. Then it was too late for anything; and the wall came down on top of him, flattening him into the dust.

The only novel by prize-winning playwright Fugard, Tsotsi’s raw power and rare humanity show how decency and compassion can survive against all the odds.

Fugard was born in Middelburg in South Africa in 1932, to an Afrikaner mother and English father. The racial discrimination that he observed while growing up under apartheid has greatly influence his writing.

The South African director, Gavin Hood shot the film “Tsotsi” in South Africa in 2004 and 2005. Among the numerous awards it has won include the Best Foreign Film at the 2006 Academy Awards, and the Jury Prize for Best Feature at the 2006 Pan African Film and Arts Festival.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011


SHE IS out to portray the hospitality and humorous nature of the Africans in contrast to the Western press that believes that the only news on the continent is when there is a civil war, a natural disaster, a drought and famine, where people look unhappy and devastated.

“I want to show them (people in the West) that African people are amazingly funny, hospitable and humorous under normal conditions and any condition contrary to what I have listed above would make anyone unhappy and unfortunately most of the photos taken in Africa belong to those sad moments,” Yasar Meltem says.

Meltem’s exhibition of her African works titled “Bright Faces from Africa” was held at Aznavur Art Gallery in Istanbul from September 29 to October 9, 2011. She also plans to exhibit her work in Brussels in the first quarter of 2012.

Meltem’s photography obsession is limited to people and especially children where her passion for the ordinary young ones is vivid with messages of innocence, naivety, compassion, love and care. In the picture on the right Meltem poses with Muhammed, a Tuareg boy taken in Timbuktu, Mali in 2010.
The love for children is what drives her concentration on the young people and this was testimony of her pictures she exhibited at the MishMash Gallery in Kampala on June 26, 2011.

“I love playing and talking to children. They are so much fun. They are full of surprises. They are lively, playful and easily excited. And if you are quick enough to capture the moment, they give you the memory of amazing moments of the time you share with them,” Meltem said.

“I am not a professional photographer. Naturally, I want to photograph the moments I enjoy the most. And the moments I enjoy the most during my holidays are the times I spend with children. I also like talking to children. In a foreign country, you get to learn very interesting – be it funny or tragic facts about that county from a child. You learn things that no guidebook or mature person would tell you.”

“I also like physical acts like playing with them. If you tap a child on the head, from nowhere you can start a tag game instantly and many will join. However if you do it to an adult, you are in trouble! They are fun and I love having fun with them. With children I feel free to do whatever I want,” she added.

“Most of the time I am taking photos of children, their parents are with them. Because I don’t want anyone to walk from the bush or from a house and ask me as to what I am doing there. I befriend the parents or relatives of most of these children to make sure they don’t have a problem of me taking photos. But my passion for children is far bigger than adults. I think I am a child myself stuck in an adult`s body.

Meltem cannot stand the accusation of exploiting children. “People accuse other people for many things in life. However my conscience is very clean. First of all, I never make money from children`s photographs. Photography to me is not about making images; it is also about making friends. Secondly, I don’t force them to be in my photos or I don’t change the way they are. I never told a kid to do something that he/she was not doing. I never told a child to wear or undress something so that it would look nice in my photos,” she argues.

“Thirdly, the streets in Africa are full of children. If you are taking photos in Africa, it is impossible not to take children photos. Take Uganda for example: the average age in this country is 17. So the average age of someone I photograph on the streets will be automatically under-age. I love taking photos of old people but where do I find them?”

“I like the bond between a child and a mother. I believe it is a miracle giving birth, a very difficult miracle and yet women especially in this part of the world are not scared at all to do it many times! That is very brave.”

Meltem came to Uganda six years ago, to see the gorillas and has been living here ever since. “In January 2005, I came here on a safari to see the gorillas. I had the most amazing time of my life. I had a chance to see how gentle, kind and happy Ugandan people are. I fell in love with Ugandan people and the beauty of this country. On Uganda’s Independence Day that year, I came back to live here.”

During the week, Meltem works as head of corporate finance with Icemark-Africa Limited in Kampala, but in her free time on weekends and holidays, the only numbers she cares about are the aperture and shutter speed values of her camera. To her photography is a hobby and does it for free. “Photography is not a field I know how to make money,” she says.

As a very patient photographer who can wait for days, interacting with people first before she even takes the camera out of its case, Meltem emphasizes that she is not out there just to take photographs. “I am out there to experience a different life, to observe something that I have never seen before, to enjoy a different person/life other than myself. If I want to talk to them, I have to be patient to understand them. If you have a camera with you, after a while it is them who want me to take their photographs any way. So my pursuit for getting to know people turns into photography.

“I want to take photos of what is beyond the faces,” Meltem says. “Most people look `at` the photos. I want to take photos which people will want to look `into.’ I believe a camera can capture thoughts and it is those photos which managed to capture a thought or a feeling are the best! And also as it is a frozen moment in time and it is that moment I preferred to take that photo, my portraits are more about me rather than my objects.”

“I like getting closer to my subjects physically and mentally. And personally I will not take a photograph of someone unless I somehow have a liking for the person and I want to remember him/her for the rest of my life,” she adds.

Meltem’s other interests are African art and fabric, travelling and getting to know as many people as possible. Although she has held exhibitions in Uganda and Turkey her plans are to publish her collection of pictures. “Instead of exhibitions, I want to concentrate on a photography book about mothers and their children in Africa. I respect the mothers in this country and in Africa so much and I truly think mothers are really struggling very hard to take care of their children and it is basically mothers who raise them.”

Meltem, who was born in Adana, Turkey, studied Political Science and Public Administration at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. Then she obtained a master’s degree in Banking and Economics from the University of Wales in (U.K.) in 1996.

Her love for photography began in 1995, when her brother bought a very cheap 35mm manual Zenit camera from the Russian Market in Istanbul after the USSR collapsed. Her first pictures were those of three kittens in her balcony playing with their mother. One of the photos came out really nice, but the rest were either dark or out of focus. As they say, the rest is history.

If her tiny camera had not been stolen from her luggage at Nairobi airport in 2005, she would never have upgraded to her fist Nikon and then an interest in photography. “If they did not steal that camera, I would have got very annoyed and got promoted to my Nikon which inspired me to start taking photos again from 2008 onwards,” she says.

Meltem, who has taken pictures in Uganda, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Mali – has no favorite picture yet.

“I enjoy taking photos in Uganda the most as this is my home and I know people a lot better than I would know in another country. I can read them, I can have a lot of fun with them as I know how amazingly fun loving and gentle people Ugandans are. I don’t like taking photos of children with swollen bellies and flies in their eyes. However if that is the case, then it is the way to photograph it. But as Ugandan people are fun people, I enjoy being with them and taking their photographs.”

Watching people in action is what she finds most interesting in the art of photography. “I like watching people. I like how people act, what they perceive of themselves, how important they find themselves, what their motive is. I like human psychology. I can watch people for hours. With photography, I am not only watching people and keeping those images in my head, but I am also carrying those images back home,” Meltem said.

“And I enjoy looking at them at home recalling the moments when I took them. Some trying to look serious, some cool, some funny, some dominant, and some subservient, among others. It is so much fun capturing those moments of watching people. I am also very impressed the difference between color and black and white photography. I find black and white images very capturing,” she added.

She observes that, due to lack of financial means, equipment and training, photography in Uganda is not where it is supposed to be. “It is most of the time not Ugandans taking photographs of their country and people. But you need a camera, a computer/laptop and some other equipment to do it. Unfortunately it is not a cheap hobby. By the way, I am not trying to say that a good camera makes a good photographer…”


Friday, December 9, 2011



A NEW book by a Ugandan author that attempts to analyse the challenges of Africa concludes that the Africans have been slow towards solving their problems in all spheres of life because of the overreliance on religion, witchcraft and magic to overcome their predicament.

“The African regime had correctly studied the African mind and seen that despite the suffering the modern African endured, he still found enough capacity to endure more. Africans loved the comforts and joys life had to offer…,” Ismail Ali Dramundru argues in his book, ‘Diary of an African Fanatic.’

“The African regime knew religion was the opium of the masses so they encouraged it unlike the ban that was put in place in Soviet Russia. Africa’s rogue rulers let a lopsided version of religion prevail to make the people more subservient…,” Dramundru adds in his book published by RoseDog Books.

“…African regimes have to be thankful of the opium said to be in religion because Africans are a mightily religious lot and their slow response may directly have something to do with the beliefs passed on to them by religion,” he concludes.

“In Africa when religion failed, there was always the recourse to the witch doctor and magic. It was not that God had abandoned Africans but Africans had abandoned God because they lost belief in a God that wanted total obedience. The African chose to take a shortcut to the spiritual realm by way of the witch doctor.” “…If God’s love is not shinning on Africans, then that of the witch doctor is definitely casting a bad spell on Africa for a very long time too…,” he writes.

What is the solution?

According to Dramundru, “The African God is the only God capable of saving Africa from its wretched place on earth – seeing everybody had a God in their image, it was not too much to ask of Africa to produce its own God. If Africa can go into its illustrious past and draw on the culture of its ancestors, they will know and learn about the God they feel has abandoned them…”

The narration in his first book is partly a personal experience and fiction. “The events in the story either happened to me or to somebody I know,” he told The EastAfrican.

The book tackles issues of colonialism, civilization, the leadership and accountability crisis in Africa, poor polices, the dangers of tribalism, environmental degradation, and the challenges of rural – urban, terrorism and guy rights issues, among others.

Dramundru believes that Africa’s biggest problem is fear in confronting the bad leaders who have let the continent down. “We are so fearful to fight for a larger cause than our next meal. The world over people have fought for their freedom and continue to exhibit very strong tendencies of keeping it that way…”

He suggests that: “…To prosper, Africans will have to discard the fear it has generated over many years. The fear to lose one’s own life for a just cause must inspire Africans to fight injustice wherever they find it on the African continent. If as is the case, millions of Africans wallow in poverty, sickness, and disease. What else do we have to fear? How bad can it get now?”

After university he co-founded a non-profit venture called the African Self Help Initiative (ASHI) with an emphasis on community upliftment. ASHI soon became successful attracting the attention and greed of the ruling party and eventually paid a heavy price for refusing to unite its social work and the political message of the ruling party. “…They arrested our members on dubious charges of treason and terrorism. Our offices were shut down and soldiers placed to guard them. We were accused of corruption and defrauding the public…,” he narrates.

Dramundru fled to the US where he got admitted into a master’s programme at a business school in New York City. He had to work to raise his tuition fees – which turned out to be a hassle. He discovered that bad employers take advantage of students without work permits to offer them low pay, or not to pay their wages, physically abuse, insult, verbal taunting and harass the poor students.

Dramundru laments that tribalism has followed the Africans to America. “…There was nothing improper with prizing your culture and origin. But there is something definitely wrong when the tribe feels its approach to issues is the ultimate reality. The tribe’s enemies attain no salvation – they are permanent foes. These thoughts and ways of survival learnt in a different past cannot be now expected to dictate behaviour in a current age.”

“The tribal conduct and its call for total solidarity among its members reek of the remnants of a bygone era – an era where reason was hijacked and buried in the pit of tribal history and lore. So, like cancer, tribalism is thriving in Africa untreated. It is not objective nor is it critical or progressive in any way shape or form. My tribal biases dictate how I treat other people and societies. …Africa has chosen to lay more emphasis on the need for tribal solidarity – the outcome is there for all to see: war and endless wars,” he argues.

Dramundru resides in Washington, D.C., USA and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications studies with a minor in Islamic Studies and a master’s degree in human resource development and counselling from the University of Bridgeport Connecticut. He is other book dealing with upliftment on the continent is underway.



RIDDLING should be adopted as a dependable and sustainable mode of communication in the face of HIV/Aids that is devastating most families in Africa, suggests a new collection of essays on the traditional oral heritage in Uganda.

“…Riddles offer an advantageous escape route in that they are witty, provocative, exploratory, playful is yet serious in the way they expose matters to the core for those who understand them.” Cornelius Wambi Gulere observes in his essay, ‘Riddling and Taboos: Exploring Boundaries in Discussing Reproductive Health.’

Riddle discourse knows no taboo and no status, age or sex boundaries. Children and adults alike participate actively or passively in riddling depending on the prevailing context. The riddle is manifested in the forms of embedded metaphor, puzzle, wordplay, insult, pun, tongue-twister, proverb, narrative, material and non-material non-verbal elements within the speech act, Gulere argues.

“Through riddle discourse, a language user is able to communicate on matters of high sensitivity without compromising their dignity or the dignity of the audience. Topics on sex and politics usually encumbered with restrictions are ably presented for discussion through riddle discourse. The Ugandan audiences, particularly in Busoga, would benefit greatly from a communication culture with riddle discourse because it instills confidence while side stepping the many taboos and restrictions,” he notes.

The misleading assumption that riddles are for children to play with should be done away with. All people, young and old and in different professions and lifestyles, should invest time and resources in riddle discourse so that tensions and misconception born in plain language can be overcome. Riddling should be embraced as an important part of language learning, communication skills training and education in all learning centres, Gulere suggests.

“Although reproductive health is an important concern in African communities, issues of sex and sexuality are considered taboo and better not talked about or discussed in many families. This is exhibited in the way children and adults shy away and feel uncomfortable when words on the subject of sexuality are used…,” Gulere observes.

In most African societies, sex is not to be suggested, discussed or directly spoken about in public, let alone among children. It is treated as pornographic or obscene to explicitly or suggestively use language and imagery with sexual undertones, Gulere adds.

The call by governments for straight talk during sex education, and for parental guidance and counseling to begin as early as pre-primary school, is great challenge, he admits in the essay published in the book, ‘Performing Community’ edited by Dominica Dipio, Lene Johannessen and Stuart Sillars.

The essays in this book are the first fruits of collaboration between the Universities of Makerere and Bergen in Norway. Varied in approach and technique, they offer a insistent and reflective probing into the relations between individual and community, tradition and modernity, and African and western outlooks. There are twelve essays falling in the themes of kinship, authority and resolution, folklore and transmission of wisdom, change and assimilation, parallel formations, children and adults.

“…Efforts by governments and parents to inform and safeguard their children against the scourge of HIV/Aids are plagued by fear, shyness, shock, shame, ignorance, faith restrictions and fallacies, all of which are polite responses to what we define as taboo in this paper. That is, untouchable or no-go no-say, no-speak-about situations,” Gulere argues.

Within the feminist and women’s liberation movement, direct sexual language is seen as sexual harassment. Even though sex and sexuality are at the core of human existence, growth and development, and constitute a core principle upon which human thought and actions are based, it is seen as taboo to think about or discuss its natural influences. It is usually when the liberating power of riddling comes into play that people feel the freedom to express themselves publicly on these matters,” Gulere adds.

Issac Tibasiima’s essay, ‘The Concept of Power in the Praise Poetry of the Batoro,’ discusses the relationship between praise of poetry and the concept of power. Praise poetry is looked at not only as a means of giving and confirming, but also negotiating power between the praise giver and the subject of praise. The essay deals with praise poetry forms that are an essential part of the oral traditions of Tooro Kingdom in western Uganda known as ebihaiso. His main argument is that praise reflects power as a productive force that shows how people perceive their reality and life as a network of relationships that are intrinsically rewarding.

“…People always exploit the rhetoric of power that is contained in the praise poem. Praise poetry therefore has the ability to affect not only the subject of praise but also the praise giver. It thus becomes a means through which both the praise giver and the subject of praise negotiate both their power and position in society,” Tibasiima observes.

“’Engabu’ is poetry recited by men who have established themselves with brave acts and therefore quality to be called ‘Emanzi’ (the heroes). The recitation is normally a public acclamation that shows the degree to which the hero’s acts of bravery are recognized by his society…”

“Praise poetry among the Batoro is thus a show of personal achievement. The recitations take place because the poet wants to be recognized by the king and the community, which is why it is performed in public. …There is no special position in Toro for a royal court poet because the king recognizes whoever is able to show their own bravery and achievements… The poet is in essence trying to establish his own space that must be recognized as an exceptional human being and not just an ordinary one. This poetry is never performed during death and funeral ceremonies.”

“’Enanga’ on the other hand is slower and more composed poetry. Women perform this type of poetry; it is sung with the help of a small harp called an ‘enanga’ from which it derives its name. Sometimes the poetry may be recited without the instrument, with a group of choristers… This poetry deals mainly with historical events for example the start of the kingdom, past war memories, and stories of heroes from the past and the present. It is passed on from one generation to another from mothers to their daughters.”

Today the roles are changing with men reciting the enanga consciously of the fact that it’s a female domain. While on the other hand, women reciting the male genre of the engabu are not willing to be acknowledged. “…Women who have willingly given these recitations have preferred to stay anonymous, however, because they feel it is not their domain and they would prefer to stay in the confines of their traditions. In its subtle presentation, this too is a power shift,” Tibasiima notes.

“Power is a complex concept because each of the participants seeks ways of recognition and identification. It is not vested in the hands of one individual but each must be able to move to the space of the other and then back to their position…,” he adds.