Thursday, 9 April 2009

Cry Tsotsi

My work is about the reliving and reviewing of previous experience and of relating the present to my past and that of others. But this does not mean discontinuing participation in new experience, or that I am not interested in the present experience of others, but always it is relationships between the present and the past, and having an awareness of my own future and that of others.

At the beginning of the 1960's, when in some respects Apartheid was at its zenith, protestors in the township of Soweto, within five miles of the modern prosperous city centre, were massacred. I took the commuter train from my home to Victoria and then the underground and then walked to Trafalgar Square where on one side the Embassy of South Africa was situated. There were a few others standing there and then a Liberal Parliamentary Candidate arrived with some media and suggested we ought to do something such as sit down which we did and the small group were arrested for obstructing the pavement. We were then taken to Bow Street Police station charged and remanded until bailed.

There were others in room with me but for about the last hour I sat with a black South African who was attending the London School of Economics. I was fined £2 and my name appeared in the London evening papers. I knew that the consequences for the student were greater. Earlier in the week the internet mail club DVD of Tsotsi arrived and I waited a few days until in the mood for what I knew would be a serious and challenging film, and which had been the South African foreign language Oscar entry for 2006, a Gavin Hood scripted and directed interpretation of Athol Fugard's 1960 novel, redesigned to fit contemporary post Apartheid South Africa. The subject of the film, Tsotsi, begins the film as one of the despicable violent and unlikeable characters of the modern screen. He has made his repudiations the violent leader of a gang of four thieves who realise he has gone off the rails completely, had he ever been on any, when he knife's a terrified victim on a crowded underground train, and he then severely beats up one the four and shoots a second in the head after crippling a woman when stealing her car. It is this event that changes his outlook after being confronted with memories of his childhood and the possibility of living a different life.

On the first viewing experience I was propelled by the film into an understanding of why the young man became as he was and my feelings changed from one of revulsion to empathy.

My first debate was to decided if he was a psychopath. Someone who had a meaningful relationship with any one in their childhood and therefore had no internal sense of order, acceptable behaviour, moral code or framework of beliefs to attempt to live by. Lacking in the kind of conscience possessed by most human beings such individuals have no regard for the outcome of their behaviour or are affected by the impact of what they do or say on others. It is understandable when encountering such individuals or reading of what they do, to wish for summary justice, and if not for the death penalty to save society the trouble and expense of keeping such individuals locked up indefinitely, or when released to keep them under constant close and indefinite supervision.

Of course one problem is that such individuals can lead creative and constructive lives for and on behalf of society. They can become political leaders and poets, business entrepreneurs and entertainers, inventors and discoverers although usually their private lives are chaotic. I am not saying that such individuals can never change, although the longer they establish a pattern of behaviour without constructive intervention the less likelihood there is of a transformation. They need to find one or more human beings to accept them as they are and provide the unconditional loving relationship they did not receive as babies. Without this the conventional methods of control and containment will be ineffective.

As the individual story of Tsotsi unfolded it was evident that he had a meaningful relationship with a mother, who died when he was boy, leaving him with the brutal drunkard of a father, with the consequence that he was either abandoned by the father or elected to go on the streets, living with other children from similar circumstances in a stack of unused large sewerage/drainage pipes. This was a carefully thought out image because in 1904 the British controlled city authorities of Johannesburg removed African and Indian residents and who had come to work in the goldmines, from the townships such as Brickfields, to an evacuation camp on the municipal sewerage farm because of reported outbreaks of plague. In the film Tsotsi appears to have graduated to a shanty home of his own, presumably furnished from the proceeds of his thieving.

It is therefore evident that the young man is the product of a society that did not care about its children enough and failed to intervene to ensure such children were provided with an education and the basics for surviving without having to cause intentional physical, mental and emotional harm to others. If you are a victim, if you hold a responsible and accountable position in political or civil service, in central and local government, then you have to deal with Tsotsi and all those like him, in the present and you make take account of the background and individual prognosis for change, but the priority has to be dealing with him, care for the victim and to prevent further harm to others.

There is no difference in terms of harm, caused by the Tsotsi's of the world, and the terrorists who become accepted as a freedom fighters if they are successful. There is a difference in that usually that the Tsotsi's are only acting for themselves whereas the terrorist does so on behalf of others, or his God.

In the film, because of what happens after he steals the car, you realise that had his childhood been different this was a young man, who could have become a loving husband and parent. This was the dilemma which the film makers then experienced. Is he given the opportunity to have the life he should have had, does he die like one of his victims, violently and prematurely, or does he spend the rest of his life locked up, living with the knowledge of what might and should have been? I agree wholeheartedly with the chosen ending, but in the extras you can see the other options.

The extras also include an essential viewing documentary film on the lives of one boy and a twins boys in the townships of today. One boy and his sisters are being brought up by grandparents on one South African dollar a day. They are therefore very poor by you and me, and one of the boy's chores is to collect the water supply from the only running water in the area. He gets up with the dawn to wash and dress and leave home by 7am to walk the five miles to school and afterwards he then walks back another 5 miles, does his chores, and then goes to organised football practice. This young man is the future of his rainbow nation. I am sad he, his sisters and his grand parents have such a hard life, but I know he will not be prevented from achieving something because of the colour of his skin. I have no regret at having broken the law some fifty years ago.

The twins were abandoned by their father and their mother works away from their home in menial work wherever she can find it. The twins did go to school for three years but they did not like it and now live scavenging and passing time on the streets and you guess at their future and understand that South Africa still has a long way to go, and then I look at the children on the streets around me and decide that if I am going to do anything now it should be about them, and that student, hopefully or others like him, will now have the responsibility and the opportunity to try and prevent as many of their brothers from becoming the Tsotsi of the future.

The DVD also include a short film which has an ending which should make all those who over react to theft of property think again. This is a film about a 'Shopkeeper', an old, kindly man providing an important facility in rural area who is thrilled to be asked to give his grand daughter away at her wedding. He is understandably frustrated when arriving at the shop one morning he finds it broken into and his goods removed. He makes the premises even more secure with two sets of window bars and he employs a night watchman who is murdered when he goes to investigate the returning intruder. What happen after this results in a lasting horrific warning image along those designed to prevent children being killed on the roads or dying of drugs which we see in this country. However they will not affect the psychopaths.

This has been an emotional twenty four hours. Yesterday lunch time was the Wear Time Derby, a highly charged emotional occasion where both sets of fans gave their all in support but came away from the game disappointed. Newcastle fans were angry and depressed by the performance of their team during the first half when they were outplayed and worse still performed badly with the fans who phoned in after the game rightly complaining about the tactics of the manager. I can understand that Big Sam had to be safety first with the mixture of good old timers and makeshift premier players at Bolton, but at Newcastle he has international players of skill and ability and a massive away support and the performances and results away from home are not acceptable, and I cannot see him lasting unless the standards and style of play changes. For the first time this season Sunderland lost their awe of being in the Premiership and if they had taken their chances they would have won the game, their home win in the Derby for nearly three decades. I know I was here. This was the best performance since the promotion drive of last year and confirmed that I had made the right decision in "coming home." However the experience was spoiled by two perhaps three charged up local Tsotsi's who slagged off both the home team and away using offensive language which was also racist. This cannot be tolerated and I have taken appropriate action.

The national televised service of remembrance from the Royal Albert Hall was particularly moving this year with the only known survivor of Passchendaele at 109 years present and a moving film about the life of a recently bereaved widow and young mother. She had previously served in military and led a group of other widows with amazing courage and dignity through the hall during the service. Another was the first woman to be awarded the military medal, and she is only eighteen.

In between these events I relived the Concert for Diana as the two disk official set of the 5 hour 40 min concert arrived at 8am when I was still in bed. There is also an essential viewing documentary which confirmed that the Princes are truly Diana's boys, but also with many of the positive qualities of their father. More on this experience over the coming days.

I have warmed to the X Factor. I am disappointed with the single of Leone although it has been at number one in the official top 20 for two weeks. It will not make her into an internationally appreciated performer. The video is too raunchy for the majority of her audience and contrary to the image developed during last season's show. The song itself while showing off her vocal range and does tell a story is not memorable.

I am up to-date in my main work project bar a couple of sorting out here and there and should commence the first the two mini 'new projects' before the new Year and the next major writing task. I will begin on Wednesday if not before ,creating volumes about my mother: Key documents, the celebration of her 100th birthday, and copies of volumes already circulated to others about her life. This will be undertaken alongside writing up the Two Rivers summer walk which I am calling Rivera. I will also find time to do further work on the MySpace profile as Tom has announced it will be possible to increase the photographs so I will make progress towards more 101 sets although whether I will achieve 101 sets of 101 is questionable. I recently completed the second 101 blog writings. It would also be good to have a 101 top friends.

I have commenced to box completed work having reched the point when all available display space is in use. This involved getting the ready made boxes, last used for the move here from the loft. It is a great loft with an excellent strong safety ladder. However while in due course some the completed boxes will go to the loft as there is a strong floor space, they will be first be kept in one of the 12 double and triple floor to ceiling store cupboards which the previous owner provided. Half of these are still full of boxes of papers and possession from the move two years ago, about 200 hundred. So I will only be able to store completed volumes in the future as I work on converting the material in the boxed into completed volumes. One box holds three of the large volumes, about 18-24 sets. I have 1950 development sets completed and will be able to keep 2000 on display 1-1000 will be fixed but those 1002-1998 will be replaced by those 2002 onwards. Some 6746 sets have been completed over 160000 cards, but this still less than a third of the full work planned.

The God's were also kind to me on Friday as having decided to tidy, dust and vacuum in preparation for the visit next week when the central heating system and gas fires will be serviced, I had just finished, although the vacuum was still plugged when I had unexpected visitors who were appropriately impressed. I had not the heart to admit it has been weeks since the last going over and had they arrived a hour earlier I might have kept them at the door!

There appears to be criticism and disappointment in the media that the Great East Anglian flood did not materialise, because there was sufficient warning for the government to take to ensure that local emergency arrangements were activated. Had the government not acted and disaster struck they government would have rightly be blamed by those affected, and by the media, sections of which appear to want political change irrespective of whether things will actually become better. I have been once to Great Yarmouth, the major town thought mostly likely to be affected. I spent three months in Norfolk living in Norwich, during my last practical work placement when training to become a qualified child care officer. I also spent just under two weeks in Suffolk undertaking a Drug Advisory service visit for the Department of Health and had occasional visits to watch my teams play at Norwich. I also did a two week middle/senior management course at Cambridge. The sun is shining and I will stop to attend the Service of Remembrance at the Town's Cenotaph.

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