To a substantial extent this is a personal article, although it is central to the ethos of our organization: namely, that Sustainability requires a Holistic totality.
That is, technology alone will never deliver the Sustainable solutions unless it operates within a requisite state of harmony …
This requisite state of harmony applies to the material world as in, for example, increasing reductions of carbon emissions.
But it also applies to the non-material wherein peace and compassion and goodwill play crucial - if not the most critical roles.
What good is all the technology in the world in a nuclear war holocaust?
The reduction of CO2 to sustainable levels would then benefit only the cockroaches in the post apocalyptic period … !
Holism is not dissimilar to fractals, wherein the microcosm is also the macrocosm, wherein the form within is the form without, where the whole is also its innermost portion.
It is with this theme, the 'interconnected nature of everything' as base that I write about what surely must indeed be one of the most remarkable stories ever told ...
The day this article was first drafted was April 27th, the anniversary of the day that a country at the tip of a mighty and mysterious continent, achieved one of the most remarkable accomplishments that Humankind has ever succeeded in.
It almost seems pretentious to say this - but saying less than this would be an understatement.
In a war that spanned three decades and more, bitter foes were able to set aside their differences and agree to live in peace with each other.
I recall that day vividly.
A quiet day, with slow moving patient queues of humanity waiting to cast their vote.
The libertarian minded party that I represented in South Africa’s first fully democratic elections was slaughtered at the polls!
We were unable to get a single seat in parliament – but it did not matter: we all won that day!
In any event, the South African Constitution embodies the spirit of what we were seeking for through our political lenses.
As a conscript in the South African Navy, in the early 80s, I remember a beautiful off duty Sunday on one of the most magnificent beaches that anyone could ever hope to visit.
The sea was a translucent blue off Llandudno, its white foam crashing on the beach, cold but refreshing in the heat.
We did not want to go home, and twilight was already on us when we finally resigned ourselves to the end of such a glorious day.
We were the penultimate to leave … further away on the beach, gathered around a fire, young army conscripts were celebrating the dying of the day …
I knew how they must have felt even if the Navy was not in the absolute combat heat of it all.
Having spent some time in a Defence force hospital for a knee operation, I had had a glimpse of the casualties of war: a young conscript, single legged, walking away from the physio-therapy sessions we shared, into a future that war had marked him for ever.
So as we walked up the darkening path I reflected on that, tomorrow who knows where these conscripts would be heading for?
That path remains vivid in my mind, symbolic … a path of enlightment, a zen like moment.
The recruits had a tape deck with them and they were singing ...
South Africa by then was isolated through sanctions, to a degree that we might not have fully appreciated then, but looking back it must have been staggering.
That is how North Korea and Iran might be today: the general populace almost sealed off from the outside world.
Human DNA is the same all over though, the migrations we made as humankind out of the Cradle of Humanity are recent from an evolutionary point of view.
Husbands will roll their eyes to the heavens in confusion, lamenting that they do not understand their wives, whether they are in Papua New Guinea, Patagonia, or Portugal.
Similarly wives will express their same frustrations about their husbands, everywhere …
And kids are kids and they will present the same volumes of challenges to any parents, anywhere ...
There is something wonderfully reassuring in this, that we have so much more in common with each other than all mind-poisons combined could ever hope to separate.
And sanctions or no sanctions, we respond to music, and will create it, seek it and listen to it - no matter what.
So it was on that beach, and given the times and despite the mind-poisons of that era, it is highly probable that in those treasured sets of music cassettes, solace for the dusty dry roads that would take these youths in armored vehicles to nowhere worth going to if it was for war, there would have been one specific album!
The path up from the beach was perhaps a hundred plus meters but it could have been forever.
I recall how one day, on a train, a couple of years after leaving high school, and returning from a university vacation job, I sat down opposite a young soldier in Army uniform.
To my astonishment the khaki clad figure opposite me emerged into a friend from my home town, the right winger of our soccer team.
“What on earth are you doing here?” I asked him!
It turned out that he was going home on leave, after a stint on the ‘border’.
That is what we called it – the ‘border’.
It was 1975 and South Africa had gone into Angola, supporting Unita against the MPLA.
Unita in turn reciprocated supporting South Africa against SWAPO.
One of the Nationalist Party parliamentarians had been so heckled by the students of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), that he had angrily stated that we were there as proxies in the Cold War.
NUSAS activists were brave – white students on our whites-only campuses that were protesting against Apartheid.
Chased by police dogs and whipped with sjamboks, detained and tortured they remain mostly unsung heroes of the anti-Apartheid struggle.
Of course, the campuses were blaring with music, the residences during noise hours exploding in a myriad voices and songs.
And there was one specific album we played there too …
My army friend was reluctant to say too much but in what little he did say, it seemed he had just come out of a fire-fight.
In disbelief, I hung onto his every word.
They had fired away all night, after an initial contact, until there was no more returning fire.
In the dawn, they moved forward, without any incident, discovering the dead in the bushes, beneath the trees … Unita soldiers who had mistaken the South African soldiers for SWAPO, and vice a versa.
All that death and misery for nought …'friendly' fire!
My friend had a mean right kick in soccer, he could lob a ball from far off the wing into the centre, but he was not into ironical deconstructs, so he made no philosophical statements about his experience.
Either after this encounter or perhaps before, I had also met another school friend home from the army.
He had also just come back from the border.
How had it been, I asked him?
Okay, he said. They had reached the fringes of Luanda, all ID tags removed, as they were supposed to have been a column of ‘mercenaries’.
After one of their forward pushes, resting in the aftermath, he met his brother in another column, also ID less, also part of the 'mercenaries'.
Such were the Cold War requirements …
One comes from a safe normal upbringing, then Life forks, and you see the very same peers from the very same safe Life that you had shared, coming back from Hell.
I wondered what their mother would have thought, if she knew that both her sons were incognito on a futile life-threatening mission. Looking back it was so futile.
And that they might have died, nameless …lost somewhere, their remnants 'one hundred bones and nine orifices' as Buddhists would say.
So it was on the path up from the beach … the short-haired recruits singing, and the images of my school friends …
At some point the path got really dark and my wife stumbled, dropped glassware, and cut herself badly.
Coming down from the path was a recruit with more beer from the parked cars … he stopped to help then ran down to get some of his friends. They all came up, someone even had Band aid or a bandage, it was remarkable.
And this is the thing … they could not have been kinder, and despite the mind-poison of supremacism (Apartheid was just a form of many kinds of supremacism, rampant still today in other forms of supremacism) and despite that we were all conscripts in the Apartheid regime, in that moment was a typical human situation that evoked a typical reaction, typical everywhere in our common humanity.
Once the bleeding had stopped, we thanked them for their assistance and bade them farewell ... in my mind they have remained still the ‘boy soldiers from Llandudno’ … singing songs that we knew, trying to make the moments last as long as they could, before they stepped into the hell of war ...
Yes, in Apartheid South Africa the music still reached our shores … who could ever have stopped it.
Not even the Government censorship could … even if they had indeed scratched the ‘offending’ song tracks of records that they had in the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation).
And it is true what has been subsequently said, that among the musical greats that we revered at that time, up there with the Beatles, beyond the Rolling Stones, equal to Bob Dylan, beyond Elvis … was one singer-songwriter that is at the centre of perhaps the most impossible story ever told!
The current articles on the Internet have been mostly poor and uninformed and perhaps it is unfair to expect more of them - the writers were not here, how can they even begin to appreciate what those times were like in South Africa? (Although as the phenomenon of this incredible singer-songwriter becomes more and more known the quality of articles improves.)
Steve Biko himself was a fan of this singer-songwriter, and the South African government too in an inverse ironical way: the lyrics sing of freedom, of social justice, they could be part of an anthem for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They were dangerous and the government knew this all too well - they could not have paid him a greater compliment, especially when they scratched the 'offending' tracks so that they could not be played.
The world was very different then, we just assumed that this genius of a songwriter had universal recognition.
We had no idea that he may have reached South Africa through a bootleg copy, that he was unknown in the land of his birth.
The Australians and New Zealanders had somehow also got hold of him, but they were not talking much to us.
Somewhat like the NUSAS students, as white majority nations, they were also part of the anti-Apartheid struggle, boycotting us sports-wise (anyone who understands rugby and the rivalry between the Springboks, Wallabies and All Blacks would appreciate what this means).
But all of us, South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders were in the Deep Internetless South of those times, in the bottom half of the world.
Fax machines had not yet arrived … and today these are modern day technology dinosaurs!
When on duty as Officer of the Watch in the South African Navy I used to have to keep an eye on the telex … what a primal communications world we lived in, the clattering of the telex and its cryptic shorthand messages in the dark office that it resided in ...
In classical music appreciation, we can all agree to disagree: not everyone likes Mozart, not everyone likes Beethoven, Tchaikovsky etc.
But if you do not like Bach!? What, surely not … he is the Universal!
And so it was in the 70s … I preferred the Moody Blues to the Beatles, although the beautiful ballads of the Rolling Stones (“Wild Horses”!?) mystified me (how could humans unblessed by good looks achieve such musical poetic heights!?)
You could like or dislike … and not even Bob Dylan himself had universal appeal. He worked for me though, I could strum on my guitar and 'sing' his songs at least ... but then it was not about the singing. Dylan was never about the singing ...
But there was one singer-songwriter that if you did not like … well, then there was something wrong with you!
He was the Bach of our South African 70's, and I say this deliberately - as I quote someone saying something even grander than this further down.
I have no idea why, and perhaps it is just my mind playing tricks on me, but when I think of hearing about the tragic death of this singer-songwriter I think of that twilight in Llandudno.
You know, sometimes you hear something that is so awful that you just do not want to hear anymore of it.
The earthquake and tsunami of Japan is like that for me … I cannot watch the footage or read articles about it.
I find my opportunity to pay my respects to the Japanese tragedy in the beautiful postings of Midori Chan, perhaps one of the most talented writer-photographers of these times, along with the poet-photographer Mike Shaw.
And then it is a Google Plus One and a short comment about the tragic events of the tsunami.
So it was with the tragic death of this musician.
No one could believe it ... why, why, why? How could anyone who had written such beautiful songs go and commit suicide? Perhaps some of us even felt betrayed ... ?
If I say to my age-peers of North America, Europe … imagine Jim Morrison coming back from the dead? Then if you can visualize this, as impossible as it may seem, then you can understand what millions of South Africans felt like when it turned out decades later that he had not died - but was alive even if obscure!
And by now you may have realized that I am talking about Rodriguez.
The Dove who sang above our battles lines, his songs sung by bitter foes, echoing in the minds of insurgents hiding in deep bush, in the armoured cars of the boy-soldiers of Apartheid, in the university residences of NUSAS students chased by police dogs and whipped by sjamboks.
In this absurd story let us not forget that ‘Sugar’ Seegerman, one of the two South Africans who found Rodriguez, was given his nickname by the South African Defence Force!
Everyone knew the song “Sugarman” so if you arrived in the Army with your soutiespeak (‘soutie’ was the derogative name for white English-speaking South Africans) and your surname sounded like ‘Sugarman’ of course it would endear you to Afrikaans speaking NCOs chasing you around the parade ground.
Even these hard core permanent force ‘ou manne’ (veterans) had some softness in their hearts, deep inside, that could not resist …
Of course you would be nicknamed ‘Sugar”!
Haiku is a powerful form of poetry, wherein a poetic thought is expressed in the natural ‘length’ of an ‘easy’ human breath (approximately seventeen sounds in Japanese classical haiku):
A dove sings above battle: even mind-poison cannot deafen ears. Rodriguez had/has this effect: no matter the mind poison, he could/would/will penetrate.
The intricate story of how Rodriguez remained unknown in the land of his birth, the USA, and unknown to him, that he was presumed dead in a land that honours him is the Oscar winning documentary that explains it all.
Searching for Sugarman is surely the ultimate fairy tale - and better still it is real!
Einstein pursued the ‘unified field theory’ to his dying breath: the story of the influence of Rodriguez on our South African minds, his ‘resurrection’ and the re-convergence of his genius is akin to a ‘unified field theory’ experience, as others have commented "the soundtrack to our lives".
Like haiku, the documentary secures in a relatively short narrative (short relative to the second by second moments of a lifetime) a total unifying delivery.
The lyrics of Rodriguez caused fractures in the minds crystallized by poisoned memes.
Without realizing it, this most unassuming of men, played a significant influence on the eventual demise of Apartheid.
And for me it is a path up from a beach after a perfect day that somehow unfies it all in my mind.
When we watched the documentary, it was impossible not to feel emotional. I have just re-seen it and ... it is impossible not to feel emotional.
You cannot be a human being and not be moved ... even if your notion of manliness has you look aside and secretly wipe that tear away.
Like that path I keep referring to, the one profound impression of the documentary is the reverence that the daughters of Rodriguez have for their father.
Imagine being the daughters of such a man, who came home late, tired from his daily heavy labour?
Knowing that somewhere in his past he had written and sung songs that had supposedly disappeared into oblivion.
Their eyes shine with love and admiration ... and for the man that is Rodriguez it is more than enough.
The connections dive deeper though ...
One of the daughters joined the US Army and became a medic, experiencing war in the Gulf operations.
She eventually became a medivac helicopter pilot, dropping in the heat of combat to rescue wounded combatants of both sides and civilians..
I saw a recent documentary by a well know frontline journalist. Sadly his commentary makes me wonder what mind-poison permeates his mind, and what excuse he has to allow it to continue to circulate?
These medivacs are so efficient and effective that he argued they should be considered as force-multipliers and therefore fair war targets!
It is indeed bewildering the insanities that can affect even those who would appear normal.
Besides the footage of enemy combatants and civilians being rescued, the final scenes are of a mortally wounded Hispanic American being raised into the helicopter by two White looking Americans, and the African-American medic desperately trying to save the wounded soldier's life; it was a tragic outcome and the grief on the medic's face said it all.
You see as South Africans we can immediately identify with the symbolism of this - the melting away of racial barriers. It is the story of our nation.
Americans are much maligned, often seen as the polecats of the world. And as South Africans, those of us who grew up in the Apartheid era, we know that feeling ... we were there.
Yet close your eyes and listen to an American speak and you would not know what colour or creed he or she is.
Even us South Africans now have a standard set that we need to keep our eyes on no matter how much success we have had in moving away from racial differentiation!
Americans have twice in a row voted an African American (from an electoral minority) as their President. No other nation has ever done this before in history, perhaps only in Roman times when their meritocracy granted all those who swore allegiance the right to become Roman citizens and indeed emperors; when their laws enabled St. Paul to demand that he be tried in Rome because he was a Roman citizen.
There is a parallel between the new South Africa and the new USA ... this article will not do it the justice it deserves but my gut feel tells me so.
The American Melting Pot is bringing about an integration of society that leaves many of its opponents standing, caught as they are in their own racial, cultural and religious supremacisms. The pluses out-perfom the minuses ... and one should include the many American dissidents using platforms such as e.g. RTV to criticise the US administration.
Even the Brazilians, the Latin Melting Pot, are struggling to keep in touch with the rate at which the US Melting Pot is melting its ingredients.
So here we are, the USA is no longer what it was when it overlooked the genius of Rodriguez - and one day the daughters of Rodriguez discovered that in a far away land their father was/is a musical giant, that his lyrics were an antidote to supremacist mind-poison, and that in their own way his songs helped bring about a new social justice.
Eva Rodriguez, retired US Army helicopter pilot, a product of the American Melting Pot, including Mexican and Native American descent, lives in South Africa now, fusing the spiritual traditions of the American Indian with those of Ubuntu.
It seems fitting that she is in “The Land That Honors Their Father” ... the love that the daughters have for Rodriguez calls for describing South Africa in this way as a tribute to both him and to them.
And we have not yet heard the last of the contributions to Humanity from the Rodriguez family ... not yet as the Resurrected Rodriguez emerges into the global icon that he will now be, that he deserves to be, and his daughters do the work that he has inspired them to do.
Truly he was the singing Dove, whose songs touched the hearts of bitter foes, mind poisoned or not.
As Sugar Seegerman says, “… the Mandela of Music”. Surely Mandela himself would smile at that ...
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