Why listen to the soccer commentary when you can “feel it”?   2 comments

Like millions of South Africans I am doing what I can to drink the milk and taste the honey of joy that is flowing through our land. We’re living in a different time, a transformative time. There is something beautiful about the magic of world soccer and the pride of being a successful host.

I am a cross-breed. Semi academic and once a dance therapist, I am fascinated by the intangible!  I love reading books by my friend and World Business Academy Fellow, Verna Allee http://www.vernaallee.com/VA/Verna-Allee-Complete-Works.htm  who writes that in the future, our competitive advantage as businesses, as countries, lie in the spaces between us. That is where creativity and knowledge lie. So living during a time, when there is permission to “feel the spaces in between us” is nothing short of magic. To share the experience of being hosts for the biggest international sporting event is nothing more than a privilege. To simply  love Africa without worrying that you’re not “indigenous” has been liberating.

I have appreciated the permission these times give to all of us to ‘feel it’ and to invite others to to share the feeling.  Checking into Kulula airlines in Johannesburg on June 16th, Simphiwe Moyo, behind the counter,  looked at me straight in the eye and said, “are you feeling it?”. I smiled and said” Yes I am!  Are you?”  And what passed was a lovely moment of mutual recognition. Ineffable, intangible, and never to be forgotten.  A memory of a moment which speaks volumes about this time. I loved not simply the uncomplicated directness of  his enquiry, but also the freedom to connect, human being to human being without the constraints of rank, privilege or what is deemed an appropriate “professional” question on the job.

What is “ feeling it”?  That day, that moment,’ it ‘was the connection, and the excitement in the interconnection and the pride of being hosts to the world. It’s about the freedom to be connected, to invite connection. For me it was the joy of being in South Africa at her best, and enjoying  fellow South Africans at their best. 

I wanted to experience how other people were” feeling it” in different places. I invited some friends to Mzolis- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mzoli’s well known to locals in Cape Town, a successful butchery turned restaurant in Guguletu township. ( Even Jamie Oliver visited Mzolis!) From the moment the car journey began from Cape Town’s city bowl to Guguletu, I was laughing. One of our group, is a South African actor recently returned from seventeen years in Canada, where he developed a thriving business as a “voice-over artist”. On the way there, we were regaled with stories of  unimaginable assignments and hilarious accents – one was GPS recording in a Borat accent. This is absolutely true. This product is available!

The laughter turns to temporary sobriety when we enter Mzoli’s place.  Delightful in its simplicity, there are long tables with benches and plastic chairs and a variety of televisions screens large and small.  Coming from the rarified country air of Franschhoek, http://www.franschhoek.org.za/ however versatile my tastes in music, even taking pride in a long standing African music collection, it was difficult to cope with the extremely loud and unpleasant sounds of hip hop, or whatever  unharmonious tones appealed to the disc jockey. Blissed out by the music, wearing headphones, undoubtedly to give his audience the “subtleties” of whatever what playing, he was oblivious. Not afraid to ask for help when supremely uncomfortable, I spoke to a young man in dreadlocks who seemed to be in charge and I said, “ would you mind playing the music a little softer?”  He looked at me and said” We don’t DO soft”.  While I enjoyed his assertiveness, I quietly wondered how we would get through an hour of this unharmonious din. We were unlikely to get used to this volume – even the earplug didn’t work. Eventually I was referred to the owner, Mzoli himself, who was very accommodating and saw to it, that the volume was turned down.

We slowly saw Mzoli’s place fill up and vuvuzelas began to sound as more and more people took their places. People of all ages, all races, all freely expressing their fan loyalties and their heroes in their garb. Some wore T-shirts that said Messi, 11;  or Ronaldo 10.  Taken up by the spirit, I had invested in a Ghana scarf and large Ghana flag which I didn’t quite know how to wear or how to juggle with a long shawl.

 And then the game began. Holland was playing Brazil. At this point, it was difficult to tell which team the audience was supporting. It simply didn’t seem to matter.  A group of six African women sat in the row just in front of us.  If Brazil scored they cheered, if Holland scored, they cheered! They were feeling the joy of the game – their excitement followed the ball and the players who played fantastic soccer. They did their own individual moves and sometimes spontaneously entered into more choreographed rhythmic group moves, side to side, in unison.

Holland won the game, the vuvuzelas went wild, the TV commentary and debrief was immediately switched off and the loud music resumed!!!  And people simply started dancing – some on the tables, most on the floors. At that point, I was ‘feeling it” so much that it was impossible not to be swept up into spirit of celebration.  It was so easy to connect – to give people high fives, and flow into the dancing.  Dance for has always been the best way to “feel it”. Not even caring about the volume of the music, I abandoned the Ghana flag on our table and just entered the fray.  

Marc, my Swiss friend, shyly held up the flag high, dancing behind it. And it was in the dance, I found myself connecting with three young African men – I forgot about the loudness, just dancing in a blissful sea of joy was all I could feel.  There were signals from my guests that it was then time to go – so I pick up my shawl, the Ghana flag and scarf and place them awkwardly around my neck not quite knowing what to do.  Before long, my three dancing partners “dressed me up” like a proud Ghana fan.  They tied the scarf around my head, the flag around my body and placed a pair of large yellow plastic sunglasses on my face.  Before I knew it, there I was dancing again –  with my new found friends. All I felt was happiness – Jabulani – the name of our South African Fifa soccer ball – and the dizzying experience of connection and the shared anticipation of a Ghana victory that night, which unfortunately was not to be.

Later that night – I recalled one of my favourite quote from one of West Africa’s finest social philosophers, Leopold Senghor.  I lived the philosophical sentence which for him best describes Africa’s way of being. “ I feel the other, I dance the other, therefore I am”.  A mini epiphany flashed through my mind – why listen to the commentary when you can feel it?  Sure beats Descartes – I think therefore I am.


Invictus – a reminder of the glue of our common humanity   Leave a comment

Invictus – a reminder of the glue of our common humanity

By Barbara Nussbaum

Reading reviews of Invictus, on Google news gives the usual spread of opinion – an inspired journalist from Manila, a cautious interview from John Fourman of the Jewish Chronicle, an ungenerous critic from the UK based New Statesman, and an elated interview from a blogger who reports Clint Eastwood’s experience of walking into Mandela’s cell. “It’s very emotional when you go into a little cell that doesn’t even have a toilet in it. To think that someone spent 17 years of their life in there, cracking rocks or just digging in salt mines out there is a little bit overwhelming. And to come out and been as open, as magnanimous as forgiving as he did is almost impossible to fathom that. In the spirit of Josey Wales, I could never have been like that.” For those unfamiliar with American history, Wales was a peaceful Missouri farmer, driven to revenge by the brutal rape and murder of his wife and family by a band of pro- Union Jayhawkers, [1] from Kansas. This movie, in which Clint Eastwood portrays Josey Wales came out in 1976 and was set towards the end of the American civil war.[2] Eastwood’s incredible eye in recent times for stories which focus on the daunting task of journeys towards reconciliation may speak to his own remarkable journey as a producer and director.  I learned from Prof John Van Zyl, formerly of Wits University that the theme of “revenge” has played such a central role in most of Eastwood’s movies. “From The Unforgiven to Mystic River the idea that revenge is regrettable but unavoidable is central. How the revenge is carried out is the staple of those movies. In “Invictus” Eastwood has inverted this. Revenge is not inevitable but it is also disastrous

As a transplant to South Africa from Zimbabwe and California, and someone who writes about “ubuntu” an Nguni word for our common humanity,[3] I was moved to tears in the movie and re-inspired by the vivid memory of a moment of magic in the life of this country.  Unlike John Forman, I found that Eastwood did a magnificent job of capturing the subtle touches which marked a day blessed by hundreds of thousands of small scenes where ordinary people were moved by the reconciliatory spirit all around. How can one film cover hundreds and thousands of mini transformations on a day of such grand collective human magnificence?

In Gran Torino, directed by Eastwood in 2009, we witness Eastwood’s character, a bitter and disgruntled Korean War Vet returning who sets out to reform a young Hmong teenager, who tried to steal Kowalski’s prized possession: his 1972 Gran Torino car.  In this film, Eastwood plays the leading role highlighting the dramatic transformation of a bitter, lonely and racist war vet sounded by foreigners as neighbours. How Mandela copes with the natural desire for some kind of revenge on the part of his followers is part of the central message of Invictus. Eastwood artfully documents Mandela’s daunting challenge of reconciliation in the early years of South Africa’s democracy as exemplified in the tension between the new African body guards and the older Afrikaaner guards, who protected the former president, De Klerk[4]. An astute reviewer in the Washington Post[5] observed that in the film Invictus South Africa herself, is one of the transformational characters, marked by “pluralism at its most dynamic, unruly and inspiring.” And as a country, South Africa is still dynamic, unruly, inspiring and I would add, very scary at times. I wonder how we’re doing as this unruly pluralistic character which some say is a microcosm of the world?

In the film, we witness the transformation not only through the eyes of the body guards, but also in several heartwarming scenes – touches from the heart-full hand of a director with a feel for the inner landscape of transformation and how to reflect the dance of these complexities on the screen. Towards the end, we see a young African boy, unable to afford a ticket to the game at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg which hosted the world cup rugby final.  We witness the unfolding of his encounter with two policemen in a police car.  During successive shots the police initially growling at the child “to bugger off”; the child’s quiet insistence of staying close to the police car to listen to the radio; and over time, the police tolerating the presence of the young boy edging closer to the car and radio, to the final moment when the exhilarated policemen lift the young boy high in the air and place a police cap on his head.

The Pienaar family “maid” whose transformation role John Fourman fails to recognise, we actually see a reclaiming and expansion of her dignity – where she shifts from the silent background ironing quietly in Pienaar’s family with no power at all; to a person claiming more space starting from the small act of cutting out a  newspaper photograph of Francois and Mandela; to the bold political act of asking Francois  Pienaar to let Madiba know her views about the great need for transport and housing before his first private visit to Mandela. We see the culmination of this moment when she is included as an equal, sitting next to her employer Pienaar’s mother, sharing the excitement of the final rugby game.

For those of us who were in South Africa on that day, Eastwood documented enough examples, to jog the heartfelt memories of the many extraordinary scenes we came to see. That day, driving back from a lunch in Pretoria to Jo’burg, I saw an African flower vendor. She was hugged spontaneously by a white male customer – they jumped up together, hugged again and again. I recall many of us driving in cars stuck in slow traffic reaching over to touch the hands of whoever passed by – whatever colour or class, whether in cars or walking, whether in taxis transporting many passengers or fancy cars carrying a few. As many have already said, that day was more than our team winning, it was about a nation seeing and experiencing the power of that intangible glue we felt that day. It was the memory of the alchemy of that day which may have left a residue for many of us in deepest parts of our souls. It was about the inspirational catalytic role of Mandela and the collective wisdom of a number of smart caring people whose leadership made it possible for all of us to step into the greater landscape of our common humanity – to feel the glue that binds us when we allow our hearts to open to let alchemy happen.

At a time in South Africa where “ubuntu”, has become overused, taken for granted or cheapened, the film has given this writer, internationally published on why ubuntu is important[6], the courage to follow through on something a little scary – to write a blog on “glue”- that intangible quality that binds us together as human beings. Invictus has re-inspired me. Thank you Madiba, Clint Eastwood and Francois Pienaar for your inspiration! My reach is smaller, my goals more humble, but the glue of our common humanity is certainly the “beat” of my dance and the captain of my soul. Will you join the dance?  Will you join the dance? At the 20th anniversary of Madiba’s release from prison, we’re more jaded and the political context more complex and sobering. But if we honour all that Mandela has stood for, we cannot forget promise of that day, February 11 1990, and the euphoria of the rugby world cup final. What will it take for each of us to be re-inspired to step into action and the kind of citizenship engagement which uses the alchemy of that glue to build our communities, our country and our world?

Barbara Nussbaum is a published author. She is affiliated with the Centre for Conscious Leadership in Johannesburg and also coaches people who want to write books. She can be reached at bnussbaum@mweb.co.za

[1] Also known as Senator James Lane’s Redlegs

[2] http://blog.onthebox.com/2010/02/05/invictus-interviews-eastwood-freeman-damon-talk/

[3] For those who want to read more about  this see. http://www.barbaranussbaum.com/downloads/reflections.pdfhttp://www.dailygood.org/view.php?qid=3085

[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/10/AR2009121002700.html?sid=ST2009121003301

[5] Anne Homeaday   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/10/AR2009121002700.html?sid=ST2009121003301

[6] Published by the World Business Academy, a cutting edge think tank in California   http://www.barbaranussbaum.com/downloads/perspectives.pdf

Posted February 9, 2010 by barbaranussbaum in Uncategorized