Tokyo Sexwale is no Peoples’ Hero.

A Freedom Day reflection from a member of the Ex-Robben Islander Empowerment Forum (ERIEF)

Sipho Singiswa

As many South Africans celebrate the 27 April Freedom Day or 27 years of Freedom during this most trying period, which for many has been considerably worsened by the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, many  liberation struggle veterans and ex-political prisoners are forced to mull over how their lives have turned out since April 27, 1994.  Their daily lived experience of hardship compels them to reflect on what happened to the promised freedom and justice for which they sacrificed their youth in order for the majority to declare and celebrate this day, 27 April Freedom Day. 

But, many South Africans celebrating this day are young people and adults who may not be so well versed in the praxis of struggle politics required to fight the entrenched multi-layered strategies of continued long-term aspirations of white economic domination and its associated racist oppression.  These young South Africans, popularly referred to as ‘Born Frees’, are often saturated in the neoliberal ideologies so ardently pushed at universities, notwithstanding that those who push this ideology are strategically placed white academics and foreign nationals (who are employed before South African Black academics and who are not that invested in South African Black emancipatory thinking) carefully picked from the moderate liberal echelon.  As such, they tend to be dismissive of the true sacrifice of the youth of the 1976 student uprising and the liberation struggle that preceded that uprising.  Indeed they often frame their disparagement of this contribution by all freedom fighters on the premise of the misdeeds and corruption perpetrated by those liberation veterans who joined the anti-black ranks of the white echelon at the expense of the majority.  But let us be clear.  I speak for those 1976 veterans who did not jump on the gravy train and have stayed true to the struggle for the complete emancipation of the Black indigenous majority in South Africa.

It would thus be unjust to place the blame entirely on the shoulders of the millennials for their lack of a critical in-depth analysis on the struggle against the impact of the long-term aftermath of white oppression on its targeted victims and those who directly opposed it. One could rightly say that this political blankness is engineered, beginning at schools where the South African liberation struggle history has been deliberately overlooked, other than a Mandelaesque watered down Rainbow version, which hardly inspires authentic Black Consciousness or radical critical thinking.   Not only that, but liberal embedded academics have smuggled in individualistic cross purpose ideological neo-theories that rule out all 20th century struggles as patriarchal and worthless.  

Nowadays struggles are fractured into multiple individual problematics that vie for attention and funding from the corporatised NGO sector, at the expense of the collective struggle for the economic and cultural emancipation of our majority. This is the weaponisation of real struggles into deformed liberal frameworks that set pertinent struggles against each other. Issues that ought to be addressed in tandem with the emancipation of all oppressed peoples from the clutches of a white patriarchal stranglehold, are herded into individualistic compartments. This strategy has been carefully engineered to obfuscate the overall struggle for Black freedom by distorting radical thought into new frameworks that fracture and confuse revolutionary ideals and decimate the collectivism required as the fuel for radical emancipatory ideology on all fronts for all Black people.  Ironically this shattering of collectivism ultimately protects white economic domination, ensuring the perpetuity of white hegemony.  In addition there is an alarming proliferation of conspiracy theory that is eagerly taken up by a youth searching for meaning in this age of fragmentation and a vampire economy.

Surely, the ruling party has to accept full responsibility for failing to care for, preserve and protect the history and culture of the indigenous African people and their liberation struggle. What they have done instead is to ensure that the youth are spoon fed a distorted history that overlooks the dire impact of colonial brutality on our people and calls for reformation that only feeds their avaricious desire to enrich themselves at all costs. In this way instead of preserving and learning from our experiences they have disingenuously pushed the ANC as the only liberation entity that ever existed in South Africa and enforced liberal capitalist strictures onto what was once a radical objective for liberation.

Despite this our African children are clear about the injustices they are trapped in and are thus caught up in the national struggle for free education precisely because our leadership is locked into the race for self-serving enrichment and the looting of the state coffers and natural resources.  It is hard not to conclude that the ruling party betrayed the indigenous African child and the nation when it reneged on, inter alia, its ANC liberation struggle promise to provide equal access to quality education as one of its fundamental objectives to reverse the racially-based socioeconomic imbalances associated to the history of colonial and apartheid era.  In the haze of this engineered political blankness, the millennial struggle has glaring similarities to the 1976 uprising, a connection many are coerced into not recognising.  

This distancing from our liberation ethos has been further confused by the likes of Tokyo Sexwale, as seen clearly in the social media bunfight fuelled by public allegations made by Sexwale about the existence of a Heritage Fund to help the poor.  Sexwale is well known as one of the liberation struggle veterans and former Robben Island political prisoners who was quickly head-hunted to join the elite after his release. Sexwale is, inter alia, also a former Chairperson of the ANC Gauteng Province and provincial Premier of the same province. This significantly sets him apart from many of his ex Robben Island former comrades in that Sexwale now lives and enjoys a lifestyle of an international oligarch while they wallow in desperate poverty and depression.  

What started off as an investigation into his allegations became a social media spectacle of speculation that seemingly divided people into two obvious camps. Those who believed his story hook line and sinker and who called out any critique of his allegations as mere anti-black conjecture, and those who laughed outright at his allegations as well as his three hour egoistic press conference. Neither of these two camps delivered on any satisfactory critical analysis of the matter.  Firstly the anti-black narrative did indeed jump on the band wagon – as it always does.  However those who believed his story and elevated him to the status of ‘the hero of black struggle’, also fed into a narrative that uncritically refused to analyse his intent and timing and rubbished the opinion of those who have been involved in a struggle against his own self-serving conduct – namely a collective of ex-Robben islanders who have been usurped through his accruement of obscene wealth built upon a welfare fund raised in their name that was meant to look after the needs of ex political prisoners and their dependents. 

One example is an ill-informed Facebook comment questioning the timing of the statement issued by Robben Island Ex-Political Prisoners Empowerment Forum (ERIEF) following Sexwale’s allegations of the existence of the Heritage Fund..  This comment suggested that any critique of Sexwale’s utterance were somehow pushing an anti-black agenda and pushing the #ThumaMina agenda.

ERIEF thus felt it necessary to set the record straight. 

The deliberate attempt at creating a public impression that the timing of ERIEF’s statement following Sexwale’s allegations may be linked to the Cyril Ramaphosa political faction/CR17 or Cyril Ramaphosa’s #ThumaMina election campaign, is ludicrous to say the least.  Not only that, but to wilfully reduce the key focus of the statement to a single event and timing is both politically naive and ignorant.  It is ideologically confused and a disingenuous attempt to smokescreen the real concerns raised by the statement. 

ERIEF will thus not expend any energy on such attempts to associate its statement or its formation to the Ramaphosa election campaigns, except to say – we will not be distracted from our non-partisan mandate and key objective which is, to seek justice for, and to address the dire plight of the marginalised Robben Island ex-political prisoners and all forgotten liberation struggle veterans equally.  

It is not ERIEF that planned and prompted the timing of the statement, but Sexwale’s public allegations that are peppered with half-truths and lies, in order to portray a false public image of his character while continuously invoking, in vain, the name of both Nelson Mandela and the Robben Island former political prisoners he has defrauded.

Furthermore, the focus of ERIEF’s statement has nothing to do with whether the Heritage Fund exists or not, or that Tokyo Sexwale’s allegations are true or not.  Before Sexwale made his allegations public, ERIEF and the general collective community of ex-political prisoners and liberation struggle veterans had absolutely no prior knowledge of the existence of the Heritage Fund.  Consequently, ERIEF will not comment on the existence of such a Heritage Fund or its authenticity.

However, against the backdrop of his allegations about the existence of the Fund and his key role in it, our statement has more to do with his utter hypocrisy and to highlight how over the years, Sexwale has shoddily used and treated his fellow former Robben Island political prisoners and grossly mismanaged their funds to finance his inflated personal lifestyle, while bankrolling both his political and presidential campaigns that have thus far failed to get him the presidency.  This also applies to another failed Tokyo scheme, that being the very ambitious and expensive international campaign for the position of the FIFA secretary-general during which time the name of Nelson Mandela and the Robben Island ex-political prisoners became synonymous with his self-serving campaign to capture FIFA.

For more than twenty four (24) years Robben Island ex-political prisoners have sought legal recourse to force  Sexwale and his cronies to account for the welfare funds (that eventually surpassed the Billion Rand mark in accumulated dividends) a matter that was officially raised specifically to address the dreadful welfare of poverty-stricken Robben Island ex-political prisoners and their dependants. This legal battle between Sexwale and the aggrieved former Robben Island political prisoners is well documented and was even covered by some of the local media houses and journalists over a period of time.  

To reiterate, our original statement, the legal battle started soon after the establishment of a welfare organisation, namely the Robben Island Ex-Political Prisoners Committee (EPPC) at their 12 February 1995 reunion on Robben Island with then State President and fellow Robben Island ex-political prisoner, Cde Nelson Mandela.  It was at this reunion that the EPPA was tasked the responsibility to address the plight of former Robben Island political prisoners, the liberation struggle veterans and their dependants.  The name was later changed to Ex-Political Prisoners Association (EPPA) due to anticipation of potential legal technicalities). 

But the EPPA could not rely on donations alone to address the plight of the destitute ex-political prisoners.  It was resolved that the organisation needs to identify commercial investment opportunities that would also assist with their housing, medical aid and education bursaries, as well as to create both long-term and sustainable employment opportunities for the ex-political prisoners and their dependants.

To achieve this the ex-political prisoners resolved to set up a trust, namely MAKANA TRUST and its frontline commercial vehicle, namely MAKANA INVESTMENT CORPORATION (MIC).  This was the key objective of the EPPA which is contrary to using and exploiting the organisation as a platform of selfish enrichment.  It was clearly understood that the Robben Island ex-political prisoners are the Founding members of these three (3) entities, the EPPA, MAKANA TRUST and MIC.  It was further clearly understood that the said entities will act in full consultation with and must always act in the best interest of the collective welfare and empowerment of Robben Island ex-political prisoners and their dependants at all times.

Not only did President Mandela officially endorse the organisation, he also actively lobbied international figures; celebrities and the corporate world to support the EPPA and its initiatives.  A number of international figures and famous celebrities responded very positive to Mandela’s appeal.  The international financial support was later bolstered by BEE business related partnerships with traditionally local white corporate companies who were keen to grow their BEE status by grooming their own political connectivity to ANC officials, thus government business deals and the mushrooming of ANC Alliance linked tenderpreneurs. 

Soon after, ANC leadership structures were fast turned into breeding ground for aspirant tenderpreneurs to access government business contracts.   They transformed and duplicated themselves into repeat business deals approved by political cronies and overseen by family foundations.

The EPPA, MAKANA TRUST and MIC were not spared. In fact the poverty-stricken Robben Island ex-political prisoners became the first victims of the corruption linked to senior ANC leaders, many named in the Zondo Commission and ERIEF’s submission. 

Contrary to his claim of being a crusader of the poor, Sexwale has since 1995 enjoyed a high life of an oligarch after raising millions of funds using the name of both Nelson Mandela and the Ex-Political Prisoners, as well as their trust, MAKANA TRUST and MIC. 

When the millions (which later turned into billions worth of investments and in accrued dividends) started rolling in, Sexwale and his political cronies then became greedy and corrupt and hastily put into action a plan to swindle their way out of their obligation to the welfare and empowerments objectives of the of the EPPA.  The plan included fraudulently amending, in the 90’s, both the EPPA Constitution and MAKANA Trust Deed governing the organisation and its decision-making processes without any consultation with the Founding members as mandated by the original EPPA Constitution.

Once the amendments were made, Sexwale and his cronies proceeded to hijack EPPA, MAKANA Trust and MIC.  After advice from some of the well-established law firms representing white business, they then exploited legal loopholes to give themselves unfettered discretional powers to do as they pleased with the funds.  There became no consultation, no transparency or accountability to the destitute ex-political prisoners.  Funds were then diverted into secret or person accounts and soon family foundations became very fashionable to a number of politically connected individuals.  

The fact that rampant corruption paralleled to the growing number of politically connected BEE tenderpreneurs had become a standard norm in the senior ranks of the ANC was by no accident, but due to the shocking lack of diligent oversight by the entire collective ANC leadership structure, religious leaders and chapter 9 institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission.

Among a long list of those who were approached and requested to intervene on behalf of the poverty-stricken former Robben Island political prisoners are (to name just a few):-

Jody Kollapen – South African Human Rights Commission

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Desmond Tutu Foundation 

Navanethem Pillay – United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner

Kgalema Motlanthe – former Deputy State President

Norman Arendse – Advocate and CSA former president 

Christine Qunta – law firm Qunta Incorporated

Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota – Former ANC National Chairperson and South African National Defence Minister

Barbara Hogan – former Chair of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Finance and Minister of Health and Public Enterprises

Jeff Radebe – Minister in the Presidency

Ahmed Kathrada – Former Chairperson of MAKANA TRUST

Dikgang Moseneke – former Deputy Chief Justice

Vusi Tshabalala – Former Natal Judge President

Thandi Modise – Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa and former Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces.

All the named people were warned of the long-term implication of the corruption that was increasingly becoming very rampant in the leadership structures of the ANC and its impact on South Africa’s socioeconomic transformation; distribution of service delivery and social cohesion. 

However, and due to both political and selfish financial considerations, connectivity and complicity nothing was done. Instead they turned a blind eye and/or acted in ways that ultimately protected and financially benefited Tokyo Sexwale and his corrupt cronies.  It later became clear why no action was taken.  Some of the people approached for intervention had become obsessed with growing their political and business careers.  Some ANC leaders had become preoccupied with the scramble to exploit their struggle credentials and political connectivity to become overnight wealthy BEE barons/tenderpreneurs who soon established Family Foundations that were hastily propped up with Sexwale’s financial assistance. 

It is then not that difficult to understand why some of the aggrieved Robben Island ex-political prisoners suspect that the circumstances surrounding the establishment of certain BEE business companies and family foundations that are beneficiaries of Sexwale point to one conclusion, that these were entities set up to serve as secret financial depositories that were also being used as bribes in return for favours and to pay policy makers, including members of the judiciary, to turn a blind eye to a select set of corruption activities and abuses committed by certain comrades.   

As recent as early last year (February 2020) and after a number of tele-communications to the Zondo Commission, ERIEF made a submission, including supportive documents, highlighting a long list of wrong doing to the Commission.  Copies of the submission were also distributed to individual members of the Commission’s legal team such as the following:-

Advocate Paul Joseph Pretorius 

Head of Investigation Terence Nombembe 

Advocate Leah Gcabashe

Advocate Thandi Norman

Advocate Kate Hofmeyr

Advocate Isaac Isaac Vincent Maleka 

Unfortunately, except for one acknowledgement from the Zondo Commission, and advocates Thandi Norman and Kate Hofmeyr, there has been no further action from the Zondo Commission.  The last submission to the Zondo Commission was on 5 April 2021.  ERIEF is still waiting acknowledgement thereof 

This lack of response from the Commission is, unfortunately, reinforcing the narrative that the Commission is caught up in the ANC’s slate politics and factionalism, thus bias.  This bias may also explain why the ANC has basically outsourced its Disciplinary Code of Conduct and Integrity Committee work to the Zondo Commission in order to protect a select mafia-type group of ANC leaders and Cabinet ministers, while pre-empting certain legal outcomes.  (Proof of the submissions and supportive documents will be made available on request based on its validity or authenticity).

Added to this tragic saga that prompted ERIEF’s statement, Sexwale now seeks to exploit the current explosive political scenario and former mentioned political confusion of the youth, by exploiting the on-going national student protest for equal access to quality education for his own personal and political gain.  This includes, among others, an embellishing of the truth, which many respond to, with half-truths and lies while simultaneously marketing himself as a crusader of the poor.  

Surely the exploitation of the plight of ex-political prisoners for his own enrichment sounds the alarm on his own very real anti-black intentions. 

Against this bleak backdrop and cesspool of corruption, nepotism and quagmire of poverty, many destitute liberation struggle veterans and their dependants are apathetic to the Freedom Day celebrations. To them, the celebrations are a constant reminder of an elusive freedom and justice that they, for now, can only fantasise about. IT IS NOTHING MORE THAN A FARCE that insults their sacrifice in the struggle for equality and freedom. 

Sipho Singiswa 

Aluta Continua!

064 630 7233

Media and International Programming

Robben Island Ex-Political Prisoners Empowerment Forum (ERIEF)

Disclaimer

All information provided on mediaforjustice.net web-site is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute a legal contract between Media for Justice and any person or entity unless otherwise specified.

Information presented on this website may be distributed or copied with permissions from MFJ. All rights reserved. The use of the articles is allowed only when quoting the source – Media for Justice, and web addresses at mediaforjustice.net.

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WIKIPEIDA.

Tokyo Sexwale’s Nauseating Hypocrisy.

Tokyo Sexwale has long been fingered in his own corruption scandal regarding the millions in international funds raised for the benefit of ex Robben Island political prisoners and their dependants, which many of them have never received, says an ex Robben island prisoner. Instead Sexwale has enriched himself and his cronies through these funds – living the high life and even buying a R650 million island.

Ex-Robben Islanders Empowerment Forum (ERIEF) was amazed to see on JJ Tabane’s TV program, Tokyo Sexwale making such a big show about his moral outrage concerning corruption within the ranks of the new political elite. What a grand display of selective amnesia?


For years Sexwale has been at the epicentre of a corruption scandal that involved allegations of complicity, together with well known corporate companies, in BEE tender rigging, tax-evasion; secret bribes to politicians, members of the judiciary and embedded brown envelop journalists.

 
It all started in 1995 at the reunion of Robben Island ex-political prisoners on the former maximum security prison island where the desperate plight and poverty of many former political prisoners of the apartheid regime was widely debated.  After lengthy discussions, the ex-political prisoners adopted a resolution to form an organisation to address the welfare and re-integration of the liberation struggle veterans into the South African society. 
Soon after the adoption of this resolution, several ex-political prisoners were nominated and elected to serve as the founding executive committee, namely Ex-Political Prisoners National Executive Committee (EPPC) on 12 February 1995.   But due to anticipated legal technicality the name was later changed to Ex-Political Prisoners Association (EPPA). 


However, the ex-political prisoners were also sharply aware that the organisation could not realistically rely on donations alone to address the plight of the destitute ex-political prisoners.  For this reason, the Robben Island ex-political prisoners decided that the organisation needs to also identify commercial investment opportunities that would also assist to create employment opportunities for the ex-political prisoners and their dependents.


Consequently, a trust and business vehicle, namely MAKANA TRUST and Makana Investment Corporation respectively, were established to raise the necessary funding and identify the said commercial investment opportunities with the sole objective to address the welfare of the liberation struggle veterans. It was agreed that some of the funding raised would be invested in BEE related business entities and in the private sector for this purpose. Sexwale became a Chairperson of the Makana Trust.


However, when the invested funds and investments started yielding results in millions Tokyo Sexwale and some of his comrade accomplices became greedy and hijacked the Trust for their own personal gain at the expense of the association of Robben Island ex-political prisoners. They did this by exploiting legal loopholes to manipulate and amend the Trust Deed in their favour by bestowing upon themselves unfettered discretional powers to do as they please with the funds and the accrued investment dividends. 


In the post-1994 South African political environment and scramble for BEE tender contracts; political connectivity and the associated resources, became very crucial to  corporate bosses who wanted, by any means possible, a stake in all major state business contracts.The economic status and lifestyle aspirations of some of the Robben Island ex-political prisoners and ANC leaders at that time did not go unnoticed to the corporate bosses.  These aspirations, integrated to political connectivity, were explored, taken advantage of, exploited and abused to access state resources and major business deals to benefit individuals; family members; their multi-million Family Trusts; cronies; and to buy and influence internal election processes and outcomes.  


Robben Island ex-political prisoners, especially those who at the time were considered to have a close approximity to Nelson Mandela and the general ANC leadership, but also mostly economically challenged, were targeted, wined and dined as well as groomed to follow predetermined business and procurement policy directions.  


The name of the former Robben Island political prisoner and State President, Nelson Mandela, was exploited and abused, as well as used as a platform to underhandedly fast track and sweeten BBBEE arrangements, State tenders and deals.  This was done with the help of well known law firms. 


Driven by self-serving aspirations that finally led to the endemic corrupt tendencies and practice, some of the ex-political prisoners started using their connectivity to the corporate giants to influence internal election (ANC) and state policy decision processes, including the ANC deployment policy, in order to advance their narrow and selfish objectives that ultimately have negatively impacted the public service delivery in South Africa.


Not surprising, some of the said ex-political prisoners, flushed with unexplained, but suddenly acquired wealth, later became Ministers, DGs and heads of SOEs or executives of many corporate entities involved in State related business tenders and tender rigging.
This also explains the years of chronic nepotism; neglect; mismanagement and corruption endemic to the State owned former Political Security Prison island and internationally UN recognised Heritage site, Robben Island.


To this day, while Sexwale lives it up in multiple multi-million palatial homes, wine farms and holiday homes that dot the South Africa landscape, wining and dining in the most expensive restaurants, a lifestyle that includes a number of overseas holidays and a multi-million hideout island off the Mozambique coast, the majority of ex-political prisoners who are the founders of the Trust continue to live a life of misery and homelessness in dire poverty. For years they have been asking for those responsible to account but all in vain because the corrupt comrades use their political connectivity to close rank and protect each other.


Perhaps Sexwale can indulge the public by also explaining what happened to the millions that were supposedly invested to benefit the general community of Robben Island ex-political prisoners and their dependents?


MEDIA DESKSipho: 071 870 3303Mojalefa: 064 630 7233Ex-Robben Island Political Prisoners Forum (ERIEF)

ERIEF is a non-partisan organisation made up of members from all former liberation struggle formations.

THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES – EX ROBBEN ISLANDERS SAY THEY HAVE BEEN RIPPED OFF BY AN ELITE GROUP WHO RAISED MONIES IN THEIR NAMES TO ENRICH THEMSELVES.

Disclaimer

All information provided on mediaforjustice.net web-site is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute a legal contract between Media for Justice and any person or entity unless otherwise specified.

Information presented on this website may be distributed or copied with permissions from MFJ. All rights reserved. The use of the articles is allowed only when quoting the source – Media for Justice, and web addresses at mediaforjustice.net.

The information posted as commentary and analysis does not necessarily represent the official opinion of Media for Justice.

The South African system enables the killing of Black body.

By Thesna Aston

In living colour.

The list of black people being murdered and brutalised grows by the minute. It’s not just by police officers and military but people behind the uniform they are wearing and the system, aka systemic racism, that backs up police and military action. Basically, systemic racism is anti-black practices, the unjustly gained political and economic power of white people, the continuing economic and other resource inequalities along racial lines, and the white racist ideologies and attitudes created to maintain and rationalize white privilege and power.

Adam Habib is not me. Sipho Singiswa questions Adam Habib’s appointment as Director of SOAS by University of London.

By Sipho Singiswa

As an indigenous Black South African I write to express my dismay and disgust at the recent appointment of outgoing WITS Vice Chancellor, Adam Habib, as Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) by the University of London. Board Member Marie Staunton, the Chair of the SOAS Board of Trustees has this to say in her pleasure at his appointment:

Why Race Justice?

Gillian Schutte writes about shining the light on whiteness and white privilege.

As a white person privy to a gamut of white attitudes, it is of great interest to me to explore how these divisive perspectives of white privilege proliferate in a way that contributes to an alienating of those who are not white.

Life of Kai. A mother’s reflection on her son’s suicide.

By: Gillian Schutte

Suicide is on the increase – especially among the youth.  

Statistics from the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) show that 9% of all youth deaths are due to suicide and that this figure is on the increase. In the 15-24 age group, suicide is the second leading – and fastest growing – cause of death. Children as young as 7 have committed suicide in South Africa. Every day 22 people take their lives. 

I had gone over these statistics when writing about depression and unemployment over the years. I never imagined that I would have to relate these statistics to my reality .  But I did when  on 1 December 2019, Sipho Singiswa and I,  lost our only son, Kai Singiswa, to suicide. 

Kai had just finished second year university exams and was ready to enjoy his holiday. He was doing well at Wits film school, was popular and full of fun. He had spent the week with a few friends in and out of our house, and the weekend at our home with one of his best friends. On Saturday they went to a car wash event. As usual he hugged and kissed us good bye and as usual we told him to stay cool, not drink too much and keep safe.

Like many parents we worried about our son out there. What if he got attacked for his cell phone. What if he got into a physical brawl and something irreversible occurred? What if there was a car accident? But when he turned 18 we had to let him be his own person. He had recently turned 20. We could only keep the lines of communication open, share knowledge with him, give him boundaries and trust in his sweet nature to protect him from harm.

The next time I saw Kai was the following morning. He arrived home upset and I could see he had been crying. He was upset about a series of events that culminated in an altercation with a friend. His friend had told him no one likes him anymore and that he was worthless. My son thrived on loving and being loved in return. He displayed the hallmarks of a highly sensitive individual and empath. He had spiralled into a dark hole of self-loathing and despair over the course of the night. 

I held him and began to speak him through his anguish. I reminded him about his strong personal qualities and his talent in filmmaking. I spoke to him about the fickle nature of social groups and reminded him of what an honest and forthright person he has always been. I told him how much we cared for him.  Sipho came outside and asked why we were in the hot sun. I told him our boy was upset and we went to the lounge to speak about it.

Kai and Sipho spoke father to son and Sipho counselled him with love and concern. After the session Kai high fived us, hugged us and said he was going to bed. He seemed stable and in better spirit. I offered him tea and he said he was going to drink water and sleep it off as he always did. He told us he loved us and went to his room.

Sipho and I discussed what more we could do to help Kai through this transition from boy to man. It seemed so hard for him. He had begun to suffer from anxiety and depression and, like many of his peers, was on anti-depressants. For the most part he was happy, highly functional and socially popular. He got out of bed every day. He finished his assignments at varsity and his marks were good.  He spoke to us about his daily life and he partied with friends.

After our discussion I got dressed to go to the shops relieved that my child was sleeping it off. On the way out I went to check up on him. That is when I found Kai hanging from his gym. 

There are no words to describe what happens to a mother who finds her child after suicide. Call it an atomic explosion that eviscerates everything you ever believed to be true.  Your solar plexus implodes, your heart shatters and your womb is torn from your body.  You hear a disembodied primal mother scream that is yours and not yours.  You fall into a timeless black hole with no material safety holds to grab onto, and you keep falling. 

Sipho had to take Kai down while I tried to phone an ambulance through my screams.  He was the father who had cut the umbilical cord of his son when he was born and now he had to cut the cord from around his neck at his death. His pain and trauma is immeasurable.

Sipho holds one day old Kai.

My first instinct was to go off all social media on the morning we found Kai in his room. But he was a popular boy and many of his friends were in anguish when they heard the news. In no time youth media was adorned with photos of our child and speculation was rife. I wanted to be the guardian of his truth and so I made the decision to let people know what had happened. Except that what I shared on social media was only a fraction of the story of the complex inner life of a boy child born into a time in the world where there is a crisis of meaning, where depression and anxiety is almost the norm for the youth of today, where justice is nebulous and where competition and materialism are the skill sets taught to our children through multiple social media channels that overwhelm young minds. 

Video insert: Press Play

Societal Pressure in a world of artifice

We can no longer ask the question why our children are choosing suicide over life.

We need to reflect instead on what this current era offers our children and why it is not working for them – because if we were to be totally honest we would acknowledge that they live in an era of cutthroat materialism that aggressively sells them the idea of instant gratification instead of patience and compassion. This can only be a shallow and empty path, which they are pressured to pursue by society at large in order to grab at success. Many are led to believe that they will be one of the lucky few who make it on YouTube on a par with Kim Kardashian. Yet underneath this aspirational trajectory the youth are craving to feel real, to feel loved, to feel connected in the world. Social media can only offer them a false sense of connectedness and one so tenuous it can all come crumbling down in an instant. 

In this era of artifice, where fake news, fake tits, twits and duck lips crowd their social networks, our children unconsciously crave authenticity. They are faced with multiple stresses and demands and those who are wired to be empathetic and sensitive, experience cognitive dissonance and an ongoing existential crisis in this world that demands ego and more ego.

This is a catastrophe experienced by the youth globally and this intensity is magnified in a country such as ours, where they are forced to witness massive social cleavages, and if middle class, they are expected to normalise this reality. The sight of toddlers virtually shackled to street corners with parents begging from those in cars, impoverished youth washing windscreens for a buck, and sprawling shanty towns next to opulent neighbourhoods, are supposed to be ignored somehow. And what of the youth that live this reality as the desperately poor?  Their lives become cheap, they turn to Nyaope, petty crime and other self-harming violence.

These times that we live in have been described as ‘traumatic experience’ for all people but mostly our youth, who are terrified of a world that births a Greta Thunberg and her apocalyptic forecast of environmental death and destruction in the near future. Many already face a daunting reality where unemployment is rife, fresh or potable water is fast becoming a scarcity,  fake food is packaged as healthy and GMO is forced upon them via staple foodstuffs. They are faced with the unnerving future of global warming, crime,  geopolitical terrorism and possible displacement through capital driven development and war.  And amongst all this madness, this greed and inhumanity, they are told to become a success, to join the society of cutthroat competitiveness and pull themselves together.

Add to this onslaught sociohistorical decimation of family structures, peer non-acceptance and betrayals, their own trepidation about an uncertain future and a sense of terror about not ever being able to achieve their expected goals. Who would not be overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness, and feelings of worthlessness? The conflict in them is a heightened one at their age-of-becoming and the inner crisis overwhelms them. So tenuous is their hold onto meaning in this environment of falisty that if there is any shift that upsets their already fragile balancing act – they are likely to be pushed to the very edge of despair for reasons we might consider fickle. We might even ask them to man up or grow up when what they need to hear is that they are loved… really valued and that there is hope.

Our son never could ignore these glaring contradictions presented to him in everyday life. He was hyper aware of the many historical and current injustices in our country and cognisant of the social violence heaped upon the majority. Like most middleclass youth he too tried to erase this truth from his conscience through partying and the pursuit of pleasure, and like many young ones this  drove him to look for peer relationships where none existed and left him dissatisfied, hurt and sometimes angry.

Kai at 10 years of age

As parents there is little we can do about their choices when at a certain age in their development our children place their hope in these peer relationships – by their deep connection on the spiritual or hedonistic level. This is where they find their sense of self in relation to others. Our artistic sensitive kids soon find their escapism in sad boy subcultures that romanticise suicide and birth a philosophy that speaks to concepts such as the 27 Club, where they joke about partying themselves to death before they reach adulthood, because there is no meaning left for them in a world that builds binary on top of binary and manufactures faux morality, faux politics, and an economic system that will never deliver anything that satisfies what it means to be fully human, to be truly free, to be kind, to be loving and compassionate. They party hard so that they can forget for a moment that we live in a global reality of cruel and mammoth extremes. 

And this does not always work. In fact, it throws them into more crisis when they come to the realisation that they are bonded in emptiness and a lostness that will never fulfil their state of constant craving.

This white supremacist neoliberal capitalist system has robbed our youth of reflection, of security, of faith in their inner life. Their libidinal is no longer about their own minds, their own passions and their own joy felt in the connection between mind and body and soul. Joy is packaged in labels, chemical highs and material oblivion. And those not born white are left with the added anxiety in the knowledge that skin colour often determines whether they will be the recipients of material and personal security.

My son was a loving and compassionate soul. He was grounded in love. He cared deeply about those close to him. He cared about those who suffered around him such as homeless people and he always took the time to greet the less fortunate on his path and share a smoke or a laugh with them.

Like many of his peers he lived this existential crisis in real time and he spoke to us about it often. He internalised his fear and developed what he referred to as his dark passenger, a part of himself that he felt he had no control over. It was that injured aspect of himself that could never quite match the joyousness of his childhood with the reality of the world today. The idea of a future escaped him though he was provided with all the tools to access a stable future. 

MEDIA ONSLAUGHT

Kai’s feelings of hopelessness and anxiety were also exacerbated by what he had witnessed unfurling in our lives as I became the target for mass cyber-attacks and death threats because of the nature of work I do. He was aware of the danger to our lives as a family when men parked outside our house for some weeks after the judge Mabel Jansen story broke and we received threatening messages in our postbox and on social media.

He also had to be made aware of the sensationalist tabloid reportage on an accident that happened on our film set in 2018 on which a close friend of ours, Odwa Shweni, fell to his death when a cast member took it on himself to call the first take in the absence of the director and AD and then allegedly set about proliferating a fake narrative of what happened in order to take the heat off his pivotal role in the accident.  I had also reached the precipice of death in this accident and Sipho had pulled me from the edge in that split second before I fell to my death. Our beloved son Kai had to live this traumatic aftermath with us as we mourned the death of Odwa while many of my detractors pushed out multiple lies and used the death of our friend as a political football – the utmost manifestation of the norms and values of this fake news hyper ego driven world.

Kai cared for and protected us around this time and we tried to protect him from this cataclysmic unfolding of accusations and declarations of guilt on a matter that remains sub judice till today. We had hoped that this defamation campaign would not enter his world out there but it did when, in one of his Wits film school lectures, a Sunday Newspaper article was used as a reference about how not to make a film and our child was deeply upset and angry. We have to ask how, in an institution that prides itself on educational values and excellence, an article that clearly states the case is sub judice, is taught as fact.

And we have to recognise that this is exactly what happens in a neoliberal corporatized reality where truth no longer holds as much sway as sensation and the pornographising of tragedy for revenge and clicks. When Kai told us of this lecture, he pretended to be casual about it but in the weeks of our mourning when many of Kai’s distraught friends visited our home, I was told by one of his close friends that he had relayed the story of the lecture and the event to her brother and he was angry, distressed and tearful. My heart broke when I realised exactly how this cataclysmic event had impacted our son and how he had, in true Kai nature, tried to protect us from his own trauma around this event.

Our young man was a special soul, a caring soul and he loved to have fun. He cared too deeply as an empath. If his love was not reciprocated, his entire reality was threatened and he would rage against those who created this imbalance. He craved for balance and a world that reflected back his empathy and his capacity to love. He wanted kindness. He wanted his parents to be safe and he loved us a fiercely as we loved him. His line of communication was open and we spent many a time discussing his crisis. We did all we could to help him navigate this difficult transition from boy to man – but in the end, the hurt and the trepidation and the anguish that he had bore witness to overcame him and he found this world too painful and limited a place to continue to inhabit.

Our son Kai took his own life on his own terms in a moment of utter turmoil over peer-non acceptance which culminated with his major anxieties around all that I have spoken of above. This was the catalyst for his feelings of hopelessness and lack of will to live in a realm that offered so much pain, delusion and lacked heart. At the time he was fragile, strung out and hurting deeply. We listened, we counselled, we loved him and did not judge him for his fragility.

His memorial service was overflowing with traumatised youth who also loved him and gave testimony to his loving nature.  Many spoke to us about how Kai was the go-to-guy whenever they were in crisis. He picked up those 3AM calls when his friends were feeling suicidal. All spoke of his openness and sheer ability to love with no boundries.

We have lost our beloved son. This is an immeasurable wound that we now traverse. But he has also left us, and all who knew him, with the gift of love.

Go well my love.

Camagu.

If you suspect that your child is depressed, anxious or suicidal please see the contacts below.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) 

Tel: +27 11 234 4837  |  Fax: +27 11 234 8182  |  E-mail: media@anxiety.org.za  |  Web: www.sadag.org

Photo Credits.

Kai Meme: Savanna Duarte.

Baby Kai: Sean Flynn

Copyright: Media for Justice on all content.