Thank you, She­lagh

It has been a bless­ing to have some­one so pas­sion­ate shape my work

Weekend Witness - - Opinion - LOUD THOUGHTS Brian Khoza JOHN GAR­DENER How­ick AR­SHAD HOOSEN How­ick

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.

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