Quotes and prophecies from the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament, thought to have been recorded at the time of Moses)
Genesis 49 – Israel’s prophecy
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hands shall be on the necks of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. 9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, son, you have gone up. He stooped down, he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him up? 10 “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs (Heb: until Shiloh comes); and to him shall be the obedience of the people.”
Exodus 20 – the Ten Commandments
13 “You shall not kill 15 “You shall not steal 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour 17 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.”
“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”
33 “You shall not thus pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of him who shed it. 34 “You shall not defile the land in which you live, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.”
47 “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of the heart, by reason of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and in thirst, in nakedness and in want of all things; and he will put a yoke of iron around your neck, until he has destroyed you. 49 “The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you do not understand, 50 a nation of stern countenance, who shall not regard the person of the old age or show favour to the young, 51 and they shall eat the offspring of your cattle and the fruit of your ground until you are destroyed; who also shall not leave you grain, fruit, wine or oil, the increase of your cattle or the young of your flock, until they have caused you to perish. 52 They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land, which the Lord your God has given unto you. 53 “And you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you. 54 “The man who is the most tender and delicately bred among you will grudge food to his brother, to the wife of his bosom and to the last of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing left him, in the siege and the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns. 56 “The most tender and delicately bred woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot upon the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will grudge food to the husband of her bosom, to her son and her daughter, 57 her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because she will eat them secretly, for want of all things, in the siege and the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns.”
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”
I have been doing a bit of research for one of my short stories, and the subject matter was Johannesburg in the early 1960s. I am absolutely transfixed by the stories I have read, the pictures I have seen and the sad relics that still remain today. The Mayfair / Fordsburg area is something that gets under your skin - if you allow it to - and never leaves you. Every time I drive around this area I am transported to another time.
Mayfair was a white suburb, built for poor whites working on the railways. Fordsburg was also a predominantly white area into which some Indians moved around the 1950s. Fietas, otherwise known officially as Pageview / Vrededorp, was an area which is remembered by most of the people who inhabited its colourful streets with sad regret and painful nostalgia. Sophiatown was a suburb initially developed for whites, but after the government slapped a sewage plant next door to it, the owner of the land began to sell the remaining land to Indians, coloureds and blacks.
I try to see all this history when I am out and about. Now it is Mayfair and Fordsburg that are the colourful, vibrant areas, much like Fietas of old. Today, these two neighbouring suburbs are filled with Indian Muslims, Indian Hindus, coloureds, Pakistanis, Somalis and even some old whites who never sold up. Yes, there is practically a drug dealer on every street corner. It is also a place of stark contrasts. The old burnt-out shell of an old railway house can exist merrily with its drug-addicted occupants right next to a brand new two-storey, five-bedroom house with a Mercedes and a BMW parked in the garage.
I prefer the old houses, myself. I’m an old-fashioned kind of gal. When you are in an old building with a history, the soul is filled with appreciation in a way that can’t be obtained from standing in a shiny new building, full of glass doors and stainless steel trimmings. The house I live in is a typical old railway house, with beautiful hardwood floors, dado rails, pressed metal ceilings and a fireplace in the lounge. When I look up aimlessly at the patterns on ceilings I do so wondering what kind of people lived in this house over the years and whether they too looked up at the ceilings in the same way I do now.
Whenever I have reason to cross the divide of seventeenth street, I enter completely into the past. For who can roam the streets of Fietas without being haunted by ghosts of the people who were forcefully removed from this place? Unlike Sophiatown, the people of Fietas were evicted over a long period of time, due to resistance from the residents and a lack of concerted organisation on the government’s part. And unlike Sophiatown and District Six, Fietas was sort of half-demolished. Some buildings were only partly torn down, and remain to this day, ghostly reminders of the destruction wrought by the apartheid regime. And of the houses that were demolished properly, relatively few new ones were built upon the vacant stands that were cleared for the sake of the whites.
Fietas is a sad, seldom-visited museum. Its patches of unkempt grassland speak volumes about the children who grew up in the houses which now only exist in their fast-fading memories and crinkled back-and-white photographs. Its grand mosques speak of a time when the surrounding neighbourhood was a community. The solitary remains of its dilapidated 14th street bazaar tell little of a trade mecca that invited patrons of every race from far and wide.
I can also imagine the terror and the sadness felt by the residents of Sophiatown in 1955 when they were rounded up by heavily-armed military personnel like dogs and put on trucks headed for the South Western Townships. The whole area was then razed to the ground by government bulldozers and the area re-developed for whites. It was as if Sophiatown never existed. The new suburb was named Triomf (Triumph in Afrikaans) – a final kick in the teeth to the people who grew up listening to the sounds of jazz music and tsotsitaal in the vibrant township.
Did those residents of Fietas, Sophiatown and District Six ever think that the cruel regime under which they lived would come to pass bloodlessly? Did they think it would happen in their lifetime? Did they think they would ever get rid of the Special Branch coming into their homes late at night? Did they ever conceive that their grandchildren would grow up going to school alongside children of all different colours and religions, and that they would be free to study what they wished, apply for any job they wanted, marry whomever they wanted to and live wherever they pleased? And finally, did they imagine that a non-racial, democratic South Africa would be a utopia? Would you choose to live in Fietas in the fifties or Mayfair in 2010?
At the start of a new year and decade, it is a time to pause and reflect upon both past, present and future, a way, if you will, to mark a large “You Are Here” in red on the timeline. It is a time to note emerging trends and make predictions about the year ahead.
One thing that cannot have failed to have grabbed everybody’s attention by now is the rise of social media. You would have to be living under a bridge, or approaching your second heart bypass, to be unaware of things like Twitter, YouTube, blogging and Facebook and the impact that these media are having on modern society.
The younger generation of the world is one that demands many things. This crowd is not known for their patience or understanding. They want to have contact with their peers at the touch of a button and they expect news and information to be constantly at their fingertips.
They are also not very good at keeping things to themselves. While I would call this “oversharing”, teenagers and twentysomethings are telling the world about their angst, their heartaches, their funny stories and the things that make them angry.
Their thirst for information is insatiable. Sure, they might not be reading as much as their parents or grandparents, but they are adept at gleaning the bare facts from 140 characters or less. Their parents had to go to the library and search through dusty old tomes for the information they sought, learning to summarise and make their own notes from printed textbooks. But now all that is required is to pick up a mobile phone or turn on a laptop, point it in the general direction of Google or Wikipedia and the gist of the information is absorbed.
It is perhaps not surprising then, that the mainstream media, generally led by wrinkly men with a grey hair or twelve, are struggling to keep up with the spread of news and views on the internet. These would be “unauthorised” news and views. They haven’t been vetted. These stories never sat on a news editor’s desk and the angle of the story wasn’t carefully calculated.
You could argue that it has turned the entire internet into a large corporate office, rife with rumour and gossip, snatches of misinformation whispered between cubicles. But on the other hand it could be said that it keeps the fat cats on their toes and checks their ability to get away with murder without creating a tsunami of whispers and suspicions.
The rise of the use of Facebook and Twitter as means of communicating news has led to many young people questioning the role of the mainstream media and the relevance thereof.
A typical case in point was the recent gathering of about 1400 Gaza Freedom Marchers from 48 countries. They gathered in Cairo, Egypt, intending on travelling through the Rafah border crossing into Gaza and holding a demonstration to draw attention to the plight of the people living in Gaza under blockade, a year after the Israeli attack on the area.
The Egyptian government refused to open the Rafah crossing for them and Egyptian police attacked a group of European female demonstrators, punching, kicking and tearing off headscarves. One French protester reportedly died of her injuries.
Through all this, however, these images were nowhere to be seen in the international media such as the BBC or Sky News, and nowhere in the local media outlets. This is a clear indication that the news corporations are too concerned with toeing the political line. Bad press for the Israelis is something they usually avoid at all costs – even when the cost is a human life.
Climate change is also a big bone of contention which threatens to turn on world leaders and bite them in the rear ends. With the leaking of documents at the Copenhagen climate change summit, the world saw a cancerous clot of greedy bureaucrats stuffing up the last real chance we had to undo decades of pollution and reckless consumerism.
Perhaps an inevitable conclusion is that the social media-using millions will begin to grow restless in the coming years when it begins to sink in – years of inaction and cover-ups by politicians, as thick as thieves with the newsmen. Unfortunately, this may mean years of unrest and demonstrations, perhaps also civil disobedience from protesters and heavy-handed punishment from governments clutching desperately onto power.
I sincerely hope that when the discontent reaches fever pitch it will usher in some kind of new era where ethics and accountability prevails, but the undying cynic in me is prone to point out that the “free” world is more likely to end up resembling the end of George Orwell’s prophetic but terribly depressing novel, 1984.