Thank you, Shelagh
It has been a blessing to have someone so passionate shape my work
AFTER Sharon Dell interviewed me about my music in 2008, I expressed a desire to write for the newspaper.
She introduced me to Shelagh McLoughlin, who smiled and said, “Sure, just email me some pieces and we’ll take it from there.”
I think I sent three pieces and the first one that was published was about the taxi conductor who was my hero. It was fun making words dance again. My previous efforts had been through my nonrhyming, inaudible songs, and I had written for Nux newspaper at university.
Sharon had told me that there is nobody better at editing than Shelagh. This has proven to be true and I have told her numerous times that she has saved me from myself. She has done that, as well as frustrated me, but over the years I have grown very fond of her and consider her a bigsister figure.
I have categories for each area of my life and the leaders in them. My guardian angels include Mhlo “Mylowe” Ntshangase in music, Laurence Piper in academia, Bellina Mangena in Christianity and Glynis Meier in general spirituality.
With my writing, it has been Shelagh. We all need an elder to guide us and refer to, because even at our most accomplished, we remain human and prone to error. Nelson Mandela had Walter Sisulu as his. Having an elder guide you is especially important when you address many people. Words are vehicles that move people and need to be welloiled machines, and that is what editors do for writers. Besides checking the grammar and spelling, there are so many intricacies in any language that it can humble one, for the pen is, indeed, mightier than the sword.
When I wanted to raise awareness about certain issues such as hypersexuality, prejudice, racial injustice (against all races) and other burning topics, it was a joy to be able to tell my stories and see the responses. It is more of a privilege than anything, really. However, at times I would take it too far and my big sis would be there to say, “That is too personal” or “that is not appropriate for the newspaper”. Being an artist at heart, I work from inspiration, so it has been a blessing to have somebody shape and direct how my literary art was presented to the public. And indeed, there have been articles that I have looked at some years later and cringed, thanking my lucky stars for Shelagh.
At some point, though, writing stopped being a joy. It was bad enough having people think you work for the newspaper and either asking for favours or treating you like a tabloid reporter, but the challenge of how we understand things as different races became a point of conflict.
I believe there is Englishlanguage editing and then there is content editing. The former mostly benefits me and the latter mostly disadvantages me. We aim to be one nation but there is a cultural monopoly held by one race, and some things that are said innocently can offend other races. This goes both ways. I knew I could handle the consequences of what I wrote, but those two out of 10 times when it was interpreted and presented in a “white way” made it hard to go home. Suspicious colleagues with their unpleasant jokes and the overall attention became too much after two years. Of course we would talk about this and have grown together, but I went to Shelagh in January 2010 and told her I could handle the rapmusic fame but not the newspaper fame.
I compiled the columns into a book and by the time it was released, I was back here with a weekly column, being interviewed about all the above by the same Shelagh. I loved that I was talking about her to her. What a darling!
What has happened in South Africa, which I believe is one of the benefits of virtually forced integration, in most cases, is that as South Africans we have had to confront our differences head on. When I wrote “White people say the darndest things”, my American friend Bianca said it would never be published. Not only did Shelagh publish it, she apologised for what her people put me through. I remember joking that my white friends would “keel me dead”. South Africa needs more Shelaghs and openminded newspapers that allow such conversations. She is no longer features editor, and in fact is leaving the newspaper, but I have one more editing job for Shelagh. Many thanks. INITIALS are frequently used to abbreviate the name of a person or body. Thus, everyone will immediately associate the initials SABC with the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
But what if the process is reversed? What do the words arrogance, nepotism and corruption suggest?
There are no prizes for the correct answer. WILL there be changes to driving legislation? Previously we were required to drive on the left side of the road. Now we are required to drive on what is left of the road. • It is the policy of The Witness to publish letters over the names of their writers unless there is very good reason not to.