Beautiful South Sudan

BEAUTIFUL SOUTH SUDAN: A LOVE STORY

Beautiful South Sudan in many respects, can be viewed as a love letter to the country. Throughout the book, the author is at pains to detail her beauty, to highlight her strengths and not dwell on her flaws. With every spill of ink, you can sense the author’s anguish at the destruction of the country, celebrate with him as he describes his exquisite beloved and grieve with him for the children she has lost in the quest for freedom. While the book is littered with historical facts and images, it is not short of seductive poetry and prose to romanticize the narration. I found this book extremely important as it is not often that we get Africans telling their own stories. Often, we are bombarded with biased narratives that beckon us to write off our countries as single stories with no nuance. With this erasure, we forget to humanize our people, to honour their stories and their pride as a people. In Beautiful South Sudan, we are forced to glare at the people of South Sudan’s humanity, to see that they too have children just like the rest of us. That they dream of a time beyond the war; that they have love and poetry and beauty and way more than mere politics.

This was deeply striking for me on a personal note because I do not remember a time when I have shared anything about South Sudan outside the war. I do not remember talking about their art or their resources or their languages. I do not remember talking about their humanity. This book, while a mixture of many things is such a moving attempt to fit a country into a few pages. Ayay scrambles to put together historic memories, current realities and dreams of the future the country wants to see. Given how packed the book is, you will probably not want to read it all in one go (trust me on this one, I attempted to). This book requires time. You might get lost in the history of the country and find yourself spending endless hours on google trying to piece together the many facets. Or you might be deeply troubled by the current reality and get lost in deliberating that. Most times though, I found myself dreaming with the author. I found myself imagining what John Garang (google him!) would say or think about the current state and what wise words he would share about the way forward.

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My biggest lesson while reading this book though was seeing how easy it is as a naïve outsider to look at an entire country- a proud and intelligent people- without much context and arrogantly make well-meaning but short-sighted suggestions about what needs to be done. This book has taught me to listen more. To be deliberate in seeking out the voices of the people affected by the situation and to believe what they tell me. When they detail their abuse at the hands of Northern Sudan, to believe them. When they request the rest of us to step aside and let them solve their own issues, to grant them the request. And if they ever need a helping hand, to be ready to give one without judgement or condescension when they ask.

“Imagine a traveler walking into your cattle camp one evening; you welcome him warmly, give him milk to drink and the best bed to sleep on. He stays with you for an indefinite period and when you tell him that he has overstayed his welcome and was time for him to go, he claims that it was your fault to let him stay so long anyway and demands a share of your cattle: would you allow him to do so?”—Dr. John Garang speaking to a crowd of Dinka herdsmen in 1998 about the arrival and occupation of Sudan by the Arabs

As a caveat, I will be the first to acknowledge that this was not the type of book I would typically pick up for a number of reasons. While this may be true for you too, I would still recommend you get yourself a copy if you have any interest at all in learning more about South Sudan. This is especially true for those of us committed to seeing more authentic and balanced stories of our continent being told. This book did that for me. It exposed my ignorance, renewed a desire in me to see more and do more for Africa as a whole and for that, I am deeply thankful to the author for his courageous narration.

By Frank(ie) Talk

Frank(ie) Talk is a Development Finance Masters student at the University of Cape Town. When she is not making bracelets at Relate, you’ll find her at some coffee shop in Cape Town reading or theorizing about the World.

Thank you Frank(ie) for always urging us to identify our own biases in order to get out of our comfort zones and address those biases. We might not always have the funds to travel and see the world but it is through books that we are enlightened and forever changed. I will be travelling to South Sudan soon through Beautiful South Sudan 🙂 -Lerato 

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Black

I moved back to Cape Town recently and what you find in Cape Town is opulence, the kind of cups that continuously runneth over but what you also find in Cape Town is the sight of atleast five beggars on my way to work. Dirty, ruggedly dressed carrying their tired bodies what would seem aimlessly around, searching for drops of water at the bottom of empty bottles.

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The reality in South Africa is that racial lines continue to separate the rich and poor. Where white is largely correlated with opulence and black hardship. Cape Town is aesthetically ravishing but it is in this beauty that a large majority of the racial tension is hidden. Between awkward stares at high-end restaurants and half smiles, remarks about my skin and hair, I think to myself, Yes I AM BLACK and how does black still evoke stares and fascination in Africa or rather black in places that economically scream white evokes these stares (A thought for another article perhaps).

This article does not aim to address inequality or analyze the ideas of “black pain” or “white superiority” or the deficit of what it means to be humane but instead reflect on the writings of I Write what I Like by Steve Bantu Biko and more recent, Writing What We Like ( A new generation speaks) by Yolisa Qunta.

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The idea of Black Consciousness is the idea that as black individuals we must remove ourselves from the margins of pages of history. We must embody our stories, the stories of our people, our heritage, our practices and view these things as good, relinquishing notions of relativism. Bantu Biko aptly describes this as the cultural and political revival of a oppressed people. The term revival here speaks to the restoration of an identity. It is accepting our uniqueness with eagerness to define who we are in a world that is not short of wanting to label us, if we do not have the words readily on our tongue to call our hair beautiful. To call our mothers strong with their grazed knees, to call our villages humane and our dances the all-consuming ability to express ourselves unconstrained. To have names like Robert Sobukwe, Julius Nyerere, Rosa Parks, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Thomas Sankara & Toni Morrison just to name a few loosely on our tongues and minds. Biko states that the most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.

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Biko continuously in his book dissects the systems that have aimed to capture the black man’s mind and reiterates this hope “There’s nothing to be ashamed of in language and culture. In fact you should be proud of these things”. His quest is not to travel back in time but rather that we look back and gain inspiration from history to make it relevant to the present and trace the evolution of the black culture.

Reading recently Writing What We Like the book is a commemoration of black voices and thoughts contextualized on living in South Africa. I sometimes wish the liberation leaders like Biko could get a glimpse of the immense impact that their literature has had in influencing the conversations of the current day. The book is as light hearted as it is informative, the first section of the book, Different Shades of Black explores the different nuances of what it means to be black and how it reflects in what’s expected of the male child or growing up between the suburbs and the township and navigating one’s identity. The next section, What have we struggled for, traces the experiences today that make one ask the question. The book is compiled of stories told by “ordinary black” women and men, with each essay I thought of a personal experience or someone dear to me who had a shared experience. It felt very familiar, like a conversation over brunch with a group of friends.

I grew up in a small town surrounded by everyday superheroes one of these being the lady who sold vegetables on the same street corner for years, everyday joyously greeting passers-by and sharing thoughts on politics and humanity. Choosing somehow to remain resilient despite the burdens on her back, of feeding numerous children and suddenly living in a society with systems that reject her. She was a hero but I didn’t know this until now because since i was six I was taught that we only find heroes that matter in books. Resilience. Hard Work. Dedication. I have lived in and amongst these attributes but I always had this singular view of what they should look like.

I am hopeful that my nephews default will be seeing the world in ways that I am only learning, that his history lessons would be filled with African leaders, his economics classes will tell him about the role of the informal economy, he will encounter his first black author in grade one and in finance micro-financing and stokvels will not just be two irrelevant lines in a textbook.

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BLACK, synonyms: strong, resilient, my ancestor’s dreams, resourceful, magic, vast as the night sky, all encompassing, infinite, large, capable. GOOD

Ijangolet Ogwang is bullish on Africa. She is most passionate about complexities and the opportunities hidden on the continent. When she isn’t writing, she is reading books from multi-faceted disciplines. She is passionate about how entrepreneurship can be used as a tool for economic growth, catalyzing the idea that business must be used as a tool for doing good and social impact. She is a Finance professional, understanding the stories numbers tell by day and crafting stories by night.

Some powerful words Ijangolet! It calls for us to reflect on what being black means to each one of us and to start having the necessary bold conversations about blackness in all its glory. Let us start or continue ensuring that BLACK is synonymous with GOOD.-BLACK and PROUD Lerato

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Beyond Life’s Void: What we are about

I have been getting a lot of enquiries about what #blvbc is about and how people can be a part of the movement.

BLVBC was started in November 2015 when a couple of friends and I started meeting up to discuss books over some wine on a Sunday afternoon. We each had different relationships with books but had similar goals of becoming avid readers. We are young professionals who are particularly passionate about Africa. This does not limit us to the types of books we read though. The books somehow always lead to conversations pertinent to our lives.

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We all get to read the same book every two months alternating with our own personal books. Everyone gets to choose the book of the month at some point and the genres of books we read vary.

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We meet on a monthly basis. The idea behind the book club is that it is easy to read many books and still not absorb the essence of what the book is about. Reading and getting various opinions on the same book allows one to be multi-dimensional in their thinking. There are many instances where we have read the same book and each person had a different perspective on the book. This has also opened the forum to many conversations and arguments. These are encouraged. That is how passionate we are about books! One of our most powerful sessions was when we discussed Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. The conversation centered on how we as young, driven women handle our finances. We shared tips and the highlight has been on some of us working towards getting into property management! I would not have been proactive about setting my eyes on property management in the near future had it not been for the book club session. I cannot wait to share the success story of our endeavor when the time comes. Such is the power of women coming together, empowering each other and sharing ideas!

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It was in February 2016 when two of the book club members and I discussed how rewarding it would be if we could share our discussions on a public forum. If these discussions can help us, surely they can help others too. Not everyone in the group is a bona fide writer but that does not hinder us from sharing our stories. Each individuals’ story is valid and besides, writing is a skill I have always wanted to hone and the website provides me with the outlet to do so.

Ultimately, we want to be a forum for all things |African|Woman|Conversations| with our values being:

Knowledge Sharing: Cultivating a reading culture among sisters.

Honesty: Creating a bond through honest conversations.

Story Telling: Rewriting the African woman’s narrative.

Collaboration: Empowerment and opening our minds through sharing and collaboration.

Inspiration: Encouraging women to feel good about themselves and strive to be the best they can be with what they have.

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We plan to tap into that #africangirlmagic and keep the conversations flowing on many topics and issues.

To join us, feel free to contact us on info@blvbookclub.com and subscribe to our newsletter.

Huxley and Orwell – The Fortune Tellers

Anyone who has read 1984 will most likely tell you to read Brave New World as well. Though written by two different authors at two different times and tackling different ideas, the ideas in these books seem like puzzle pieces in their attempt to foretell the future (though I still maintain that 1984 is a better book. Sorry, not sorry Aldous Huxley). After much pestering from my way more avid reader friends, I have just finished reading Brave New World. This short analysis below is a case for reading both books and why I think their literary work has done a great job in the attempt to predict the future.

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Brave new world was birthed from Huxley’s visit to America. He was so traumatized by the technological advancements and secular nature of America- what he termed “Fordification” -that he wrote Brave New World, predicting the natural future of the world should we follow the path of America. Huxley feared that our desires would consume us to the point of slavery. George Orwell on the other hand feared the control by others, particularly the state. Orwell’s 1984 portrays a scary picture of what happens when the state takes over our ability to think for ourselves and to be autonomous beings.

Though Huxley predicted what would happen when information drowned us into passivity, Orwell contrarily predicted what would happen when we didn’t have enough information and when those in power had control over what we think and how we perceive information.

To the credit of both authors, we have seen both these predictions come to life. With Huxley, the current state of our world where we have become a bubblegum culture, too concerned with consumerism and essentially enslaved by our desires, Brave New World feels like a book written with our culture in mind. While we live in the information age, with a sea of knowledge, it would seem that Huxley’s predictions about our passivity and us drowning in irrelevance is coming to life. On the other hand, with cases such as that of Snowden and government spying prove that Orwell must have been on the money as well. The extent to which big brother controls what we perceive, how much information we are exposed to and the manner in which we process that information, 1984 seems to be playing on the world stage as well. While there are strong elements of both books in our world order, the predicted extent of either one seems to be the only element missing. Interestingly, the historic predictions never imagined the existence of both at the same time, they had created a dichotomy of existence unlike the mix we have today.

On a personal note, these books have had a profound impact on me. Orwell taught me that while I cannot escape big brother, I need to resist him. Huxley on the other hand has taught me that while our world is transforming at a rapid speed, being consumed by it is no life at all. Anything in the extreme renders that thing irrelevant and ineffective. Happiness without sadness is no happiness at all. Joy without pain, love without sacrifice all render those virtues dull and passive. They are pale when unopposed.

By Frank(ie) Talk

Frank(ie) Talk is a Development Finance Masters student at the University of Cape Town. When she is not making bracelets at Relate, you’ll find her at some coffee shop in Cape Town reading or theorizing about the World.