Winds of Change?

Introduction

I made the statement when I first began blogging that I would avoid writing about politics and religion as both these subjects tend to be extremely controversial.  However, the fact that I am passionate about people per se necessitates my having a slight change of heart.  My wish is to be able to express some feelings as well as to share my many positive experiences regarding my dealings with people from all walks of life. Some comments will, of necessity, be viewed as negative, but by the same token, I am not writing a fairy story. So, to my readers, I want to ask you not to look on this or the one or two follow-up postings as a political commentary, as this is not my aim at all. Rather, I would like this to tie in with future socially themed postings.

The entire world seems to be in chaos at present, but then hasn’t it always been to some extent? The past conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, the situation regarding Basque Separatism in Spain, a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Germany, Trump and his attitude towards the Mexicans (building a wall to keep them out), towards China, as well as his own government, the UK debacle over Brexit and the antagonism this appears to have caused in many sectors, not only in the UK but other countries as well – the list goes on and on. The fact is that, wherever there are human beings, there will always be discrimination and conflict of one kind or another, and this is fostered more often than not by the mouthings and actions of politicians suffering from a dose of verbal diarrhoea, and hoping to enhance their own often dubious image.

In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics”. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia – George Orwell

The current South African Situation

If one is living in South Africa then politics are part and parcel of every day life, and from the poorest to the wealthiest of people, everyone seems to be very quick to want to voice their own opinion.

The politicians are having an absolute field day in destroying the legacy left by Nelson Mandela. With Jacob Zuma in power for two terms, racial tensions became absolutely rampant. All the problem areas created by mismanagement of funds and blatant  corruption were blamed on the legacy of apartheid, and ultimately the fault of White people. The truth of the matter is that the majority of Black people have been neglected over the past 25 years since the new democracy came into being and have been denied even basic, never mind quality education, adequate health facilities and job opportunities. Billions of Rands which should have been allocated for all of these areas, have been stolen by thieving politicians and their lackeys. If one is unable to read or write, how easy is it then to be convinced by the rantings of politicians that all one’s woes are due to the greed of the White population.  Fostering this kind of attitude amongst the masses is frightening to say the least. By making false promises to illiterate people regarding job creation, improved health care and adequate housing is the way in which the ruling party manages to gain and retain the votes of the majority.

We are talking about mainly Black politicians, and those currently in power, actually not giving a damn about their own people. Millions of South Africans are frustrated as the realisation kicks in  that they have been given false hope regarding a higher standard of living and job opportunities. Schools and hospitals may have been inferior in the past and things were certainly not comfortable for the majority of South Africans   but many citizens did get educated and were able to read and write and had reasonable access to health facilities which is not the case in certain parts of the country these days. Keeping people ignorant and illiterate means that you can control them as they are totally reliant on the lies and garbage spewed out of the mouths of corrupt politicians. Blaming the Whites after all these years of independence just does not make sense any more and a large number of the population which includes many of the emerging black middle class would likely attest to this as well.

 

When skin colour is inconsequential

The truth of the matter is that, for many of us living in this country, the colour of one’s skin is actually irrelevant. It’s a fact of life that human beings choose to associate with others of similar belief systems, educational levels and, often, similar economic situations. Whether you live in Europe, Australia, America or Africa, people will always gravitate to groups within which they feel comfortable and at home.  Children are born not knowing prejudice and racism is something which is learnt and not inherent.  If youngsters are given the opportunity to make their own friends within a multicultural environment, they are likely to ignore the colour of the skin of their playmates, and start a friendship based on mutual attraction.

Since Nelson Mandela was released from jail, and became our first Black president, we have all been freed. (See my earlier posting dated 29 Nov 2018 and entitled “Those early days in South Africa”) Multi-racial marriages and relationships are evidenced in many areas and no-one bats an eyelid. Obviously there will always be those fringe bigots who, for whatever sick reason of their own, are disdainful of this integration, and have no intention of trying to change their unhealthy attitudes, but that’s life. Human beings are strange animals to say the least.

Nothing is more heartening than watching small children playing together, totally oblivious of any skin tone differences.  My own daughter was fortunate enough to have the advantage of being with children of other races for most of her school career – due to the change in policies in this country. She made friends with an African boy and they went through most of primary as well as high school together. After school they both pursued legal careers and their university years were spent at the same institution. When it came time to do their internship, both of them were handpicked by one of the most prestigious law firms in the country.  Despite her friend moving over to another company several years ago, they are still in touch with one another and their friendship has always been based on mutual respect and actually liking one another.

In politics stupidity is not a handicap – Napoleon Bonaparte

An experience of a lifetime

For many of us who remember the oppressive apartheid years, there were also many occasions where a person’s race was of no consequence. I would like to tell you about the following situation. My daughter wanted to do a speech about Nelson Mandela for a school project and had no idea how to get the relevant information. This was shortly after Nelson Mandela had been released from prison, so there was no googling to help her. When she told us about her choice of subject, her father actually suggested that we try phoning the ANC head office for help. She was only about 12 years old at the time, so I offered to do the phoning for her although I was very dubious about getting any help whatsoever.  Imagine my surprise when the phone was answered immediately and, when the person who answered heard what the call was about, gave me the home number of Walter Sisulu, who held the position of deputy president of the African National Congress.  I was flabbergasted as there is no way that during the years of the white Nationalist party being in power, anyone would have given out the home telephone number of any of the top dogs.

I rang the number and Mrs. Albertina Sisulu, his wife, herself answered. I explained about the speech and what my daughter needed to find out and I was told that she was busy cooking dinner for the family but if my little girl called at 7pm she would be able to help her.  True to her word, the conversation between the two of them carried on for about an hour and my daughter had the most incredible amount of information to put into her speech for which she got top marks. The point is this, that here was a woman who had fought for the rights of Black people her entire life, had been arrested on many occasions due to her political involvement  and had every right to be anti-establishment and perhaps even anti-white, prepared to help a young white girl with a school project. Colour was of no importance, it was about an adult with the necessary facts being prepared to help a child with a school project.  This is one of the many highlights of life spent  in South Africa over the years.

When Ma Sisulu (as she was affectionately known throughout most of her life, by many South Africans) died several years ago, there were many tributes to her being posted in the local newspapers. I felt that I had to add my bit, and wrote a short letter describing my experience, regarding the communication between me, the lady in question and my daughter. I was thrilled when I saw that my letter had been published but what happened next took me totally by surprise.  A day or two later I received a call from one of the top television studios in the country asking me to appear on a popular afternoon show in honour of Albertina Sisulu. The presenter had asked her production team to try to get hold of me and somehow they had managed to locate my contact details.  My daughter at the time was on secondment at a legal firm in London. It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I accepted the invitation and, through linking up via satellite with my daughter, she was able to recount her memories of her conversation with Ma Sisulu as well. What an absolute privilege that proved to be.

From the moment I arrived at the television studios, I was the only White person there.  From the young woman who met me, to the well-known presenter of the talk show, to the technicians – all were Black people.  I was looked after amazingly and the entire experience is one which I will never forget. The only fly in the ointment was my make-up for the programme. When I looked in the mirror, I was a bit disturbed to say the least, but who am I to know what makeup must be like for a live broadcast.  I realised later that it may have been the first time that the make-up artist had to sort out a white face. I looked horrendous, but for the partially sighted, my voice sounded great – and my daughter was live from London, so the make-up for her wasn’t an issue! All in all yet another situation where colour was totally irrelevant. A true feel good experience all round.

I have so many other incidents and anecdotes which I intend to add under this subject heading in the coming weeks, and hope they will be positively received by you, the reader.

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Moving On

Moving On

Sitting by the window, she allowed her mind to wander. She found her thoughts filled with nostalgic memories, and the dreary look of the early winter garden did nothing to cheer her mood. She loved the crisp winter days, but this bleak, still, grey weather made her miserable.  She remembered the day over 23 years ago, when she had brought him home from the hospital – a beautiful, big, blonde baby boy. How the years have flown, she mused. No longer so blonde and the baby fat all gone, he had become a good looking young man with light brown hair. A fledgling who had left the nest to try spreading his wings. She was the last person to think of clipping those wings. She had encouraged the move, knowing the importance to their relationship of letting go. Possessive mother was not part of her makeup.

She loved him dearly, but the past few months had been fraught with frustrations on her side. She had begun to feel used, and somewhat abused by his apparent selfishness. Passing his open door and viewing the mess within had made her fight to control her anger. She knew this was all a part of the cycle – outgrowing the family home and no longer having any regard for family rules. Shouting didn’t help matters. It just caused her to feel exhausted and nothing was gained. Finally, he mentioned his hopes of getting a flat of his own to rent.  All of a sudden there seemed to be a bright light at the end of the tunnel! Could it be possible that, before those men in white coats came to take her away, her sanity would be saved?

He had been an easy child with a good sense of humour. The teenage years had often proved to be challenging, as any confrontation seemed to end with the slamming of doors and the threat of running away. She blamed this behaviour on his father’s genes! She took the credit for his love of socialising and his sharp wit. Funny how easy it is to pass the buck for one’s children’s shortcomings! She was proud of his accomplishments. He had worked hard for the past five years and was beginning to find his feet. Soon he would be able to consider making a down payment of a home of his own.  No doubt marriage would be the next big step. The cycle would start all over again with the birth of his first child, just as it had the day he was born.

She had to force herself not to feel depressed. After all, this was the beginning of his true independence, so why was she feeling sorry for herself? For the first time in years, she had a room to pursue her arts and crafts and how she had yearned for that moment! It must be the weather that was making her feel down. Exercise would do the trick. She dragged herself from her thoughts and started changing into a tracksuit. Running the dogs always managed to cheer her up.

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Adoption

In many ways, my mother has carried certain emotional scars with her throughout her life which are most certainly linked to her adoption at the age of 3 after her own mother died of toxaemia several days after giving birth to her second child, a baby boy. Due to financial difficulties my mother’s father asked his brother and his wife, who had no children of their own, to adopt my mother. The new baby was in turn adopted by his late wife’s family who never forgave themselves for not having adopted both children, but this was during the depression years in England and money was extremely scarce. For a little girl of 3 years old who was expecting her mummy to return from hospital with a new baby to suddenly never see her mother again, and having to go to live with an uncle and aunt, would more than likely necessitate the intervention of a child psychologist in today’s world.

Both her real and her adopted fathers died when my mother was 9 and 13 years old respectively. Her younger brother was more like a cousin than a sibling, and although they saw one another fairly regularly, they never lived together. In many ways over the years I have come to realise that my mother still carries the sadness and loss of not having her own mother around while she was growing up. She was made to feel that she had been given away like an unwanted possession, probably the words of an unthinking relative at the time.  The difference between this situation and other adoptions was that there was always contact with her extended family whilst she was growing up so she wasn’t left wondering who she was.

Having read many case studies, watched a lot of documentaries regarding adoption and knowing people who are adopted or who have adopted children, there appear to be some factors which are a common denominator in cases of adoption. Feelings of being unworthy and unwanted, as well as needing to know who one’s birth mother was seem to be the golden thread linking many adoption stories. It is a basic human need to know where we come from, and who we are and, if a child has been adopted and only finds out by chance that the people they know as their parents are in fact their adopted parents, the results can be devastating.

With changing attitudes nowadays, at least in Western societies, it is common to let a child know, as soon as they are old enough to understand, that they were “chosen” and therefore “special” and it was because the birth mother was not able to care for the baby herself that she had to make the extremely difficult decision to give the baby up for adoption.  Where a mother died in childbirth, and a father was unable to care for the baby, the emotions felt by the adoptee may be more feelings of sadness and loss and less of abandonment.  Sometimes it seems that this need to begin the search for the real parents raises its head, either during late adolescence or once the adoptees themselves become parents. It would appear that the desire to search for one’s birth mother is far more common than a need to know who one’s father is. Obviously this is a generalisation, but does seem very often to be the case.

The laws in many countries have been relaxed regarding adoption, and nowadays it seems to be quite common for adopted children to gain access to the names of their birth mother through the adoption agency in order to try to contact her. Many times the birth mother has had some contact with the adoptive parents, and has even received photos of the child she had to give up.  Years ago this was totally taboo and, in the case of single mothers, babies were literally wrenched out of their arms at around 6 weeks of age and handed over to the new parents. The heartbreak felt by the girl/woman having to give up her baby to strangers would seem to be a pain which often never heals. The memory of that day would be likely to stay with her for the rest of her life.

The adopted parents must go through really tough times when their child decides to investigate and find their blood relatives. It takes a very strong relationship to be able to face the fact that you may be losing your child to strangers who just happen to be linked by DNA. Counselling seems to be the way to go when an adopted child decides to contact a biological parent, as often there is a degree of disappointment, anger and distress once the meeting takes place.  Depending on the circumstances surrounding the adoption it may result in the biological mother refusing to meet her child. This could be due to the pregnancy having been the result of rape, or just the disgrace of an illegitimate birth and possibly never having revealed the fact to her current husband and other children.

I find adoption to be a very emotional and intense issue which cannot be taken lightly. For parents adopting a child of another culture, or ethnic group the issues are even more complicated.  There needs to be a lot of support all round and honesty and family discussions would appear to be a critical factor. Care and love are the basis of a happy childhood but we humans remain creatures who have a need to know who we are, where we came from and what characteristics and potential health issues we may have inherited from our parents.   When a baby or child is adopted by family or friends of the biological mother, there is likely to be adequate information available regarding her which could be a source of comfort as the child grows up and becomes curious about the family background.

Basic RGB

Mother

 That dear, familiar face I’ll see no more,

Nor hear the voice I loved so well.

You’ve gone from me now to that place far away

Where time will have no meaning,

And pain will be a stranger you once met.

Thank you for your love – and my life.

How can a Mother ever be repaid?

The joy you brought us all

Will stay in our hearts forever.

When the pain has eased and we laugh once more,

We’ll remember the pleasure we gained

From our times spent together.

Rest in peace Mother.


Judy Binns Nemeth –
 This poem was written several years ago for a friend whose mother had died suddenly whilst spending a holiday with him and his family.