Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Mzwakhe, the People’s Poet – he first started doing poetry at traditional events and he began to espouse his political views especially through a first famous poem called “Young People” done in memory of those who died June 16th (Soweto Uprising). From there he’s grown and done music albums. He’s performed in Berlin with Meriam Makeba (you may know her; huge SA artist in the past with current legacy) in Berlin in 1990. He praised Mandela in ’94 as the first black President. And his words have inspired people for decades. He’s done work all over even in schools.

Graca Machel – she’s the current wife of Mandela and Chancellor of my university (Mandela is a CT boy, well it’s a seat of government and Robben Island was here, and he lives here when he’s not traveling). They had a romanticized love affair, something like you might imagine following Princess Diana. Previously Mandiba (Nelson Mandela) was married to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. But after his divorce from her, it seemed like he wanted more perhaps: he said that she never came to visit him in his bedroom even once after his release from jail. They finally divorced in 1996 after Winnie evaded it for awhile. So after years of struggle for South Africa, the man, Mandiba was finally following his heart. And they call what followed “one of the last great love affairs of the 20th century.” Initially it was a secret affair, and their time was very limited, but eventually everyone on the president’s team liked her. In spite of all the distance and traveling, they made it a practice never to go to bed without contact (phone or fax). It didn’t matter where in the world he was.

He even wanted to do romantic things personally like buying chocolates no matter the hassle and commotion and security clearance needed in a mall. He would and did do that.

Anyway, Mandiba wanted to marry but Graca didn’t, so they did a modern thing: they lived together. By 1998 he convinced her to marry him, and they did it privately because Graca said a public thing would have meant thousands of people and, of course, some people would get offended that they were not invited (couldn’t invite EVERYone). So they did it very quietly and privately at his home on his 80th bday. They did have a few friends and five members of the clergy. Zuma and Mbeki and his wife were there.

Graca is funny, though, in a good way, a strong willed woman. She continued to work and didn’t only want to be his wife. She worked in Maputo and was a UNICEF ambassador. In her vows she agreed to love, honour, and cherish but not to obey. I think it’s some church’s vows, but that was taken out of the Anglican (Episcopal vows).

He married Graca on his 80th birthday, and they are a cute riot (to me). Previously Graca was married to the president of Mozambique, Samora Machel. When asked, she hates to compare the two, but she has said that “She has been married to the two tallest trees in Africa.”

It’s nice. His personal assistant was very happy as before this started she would see him up late many nights alone, and wanted someone for him. Well, now they have each other and have cute stories like having to welcome Prince Charles and the Spice Girls and Mandiba asking Graca “By the way, who are theses Spice Girls?” And Graca rolling with laughter, head going back, telling him he had better ask his grandchildren (before meeting the girls). I think she’s more hip or so.

Zackie Achmat – AIDS activist (who has AIDS himself)

He heads the TAC (Treatment Action Campaign), and I thought it interesting that for many years, being a person with AIDS, he would not take ARV’s until South Africans, in general, could afford them. He finally started taking them in 2003. But it’s still hard to pay for many South Africans. TAC does a lot of things, but they fight pharmaceutical companies (and have been) and government for cheaper drugs.

Those companies only lower the prices which only helps some not all. Seems like ARV’s should be a right when you’re dealing with an epidemic. But that’s the problem of capitalism; it doesn’t care. A company is an impersonal force that works to make money not to help people. And therein lies the problem. Many of the companies feel they are doing well and treating others fairly. They point to the governments late response to accept free drugs for the public sector and ignoring offers to obtain drugs at low prices. They say the government hadn’t worked hard at negotiating low prices with drug companies.

Either way, even after the government and TAC won legislation that ignored drug company patent rights back in 2003, the rollout of such drugs was superslow, and still is compared to the rates of incidence and death.

To explain the importance of Zackie and TAC, you must know that they were nominated for a Peace Prize in 2004.

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