How Steemit has impacted my Life – a dunce’s explanation and some random thoughts

A bit about Steemit has been on my writing list for a while.  Initially intended for my blogpals who are not on that platform, but after this call from one of Steemit’s major proponents, asking how Steemit has impacted Steemians’ lives, I thought it was time to actually do it.

What is Steemit?

Firstly, a non-tech, and a crypto-dunces’s explanation. Steemit is a social, crypto-blogging platform that operates on a blockchain. Source

That’s a bit of a mouthful, so let’s begin with the crypto bit.  I doubt that there’s anyone who’s not heard of Bitcoin, a virtual currency that is not formally (centrally managed).  It’s traded between people without the ubiquitous middle man.  A network of nodes verifies transactions through cryptography and records them in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain. Source

Steemit is a platform where one can either invest in, and/or earn, an alternative crypto currency:  STEEM.

It’s different from Bitcoin which has appreciated (and depreciated) in value because it is traded and mined and the market (number of Bitcoin) is capped.  To mine Bitcoin one has to have significant capital and/or IT resources, the likes of which I cannot fathom.  As a combination investment and content-driven social media platform, Steemit offers folk like me, who do not have the resources to invest in, or mine, crypto currencies, to potentially generate some sort of alternative currency.  I like to think of this as a sweat equity investment through the creation of content:  blogs which are published from WordPress to the blockchain using the SteemPress plugin .

A random photo of one of my “real life employers”.

Resource Credits

All users on the Steemit platform, are allocated a number of resource credits when they register and which effectively float the plankton Steemian.  The embryonic whale must build his/her way up to dolphin, and to whale status.  This status is determined by the amount of Steem (currency) she or he holds, and I discussed a little here.  The greater the amount of Steem, the greater his/her power in the ecosystem.  Literally.

A word about the nomenclature

As an account builds up Steem, the eponymous token (crypto currency) generated by this blockchain, so does the Steemian’s power or ability to perform actions on the blockchain.  Each action (comment, vote (like), post, or wallet transaction (movement of crypto currency) uses up resource credits which are replenished over a 24 hour period.  One also builds both reputation and steem and as one does, one moves up the Steemit ladder.  The levels use marine analogies which are very similar to the analogies used in the gambling world.  The smallest accounts are plankton and, sadly (well, for some), much like happens in the ocean, become the fodder of the whales and orcas that inhabit the higher echelons of the Steemit chain.  One earns tokens (Steem) from votes on posts and comments (authoring) and from voting and re-steeming (re-blogging/sharing on the blockchain) (curating).


By and large, the Steemit blockchain is self-regulated and there is no formal censorship.  Governance is a touchy subject and must be seen from two perspectives.


In the going on three years I’ve been playing in this virtual sea, there have been endless debates about content management and what is quality.  Realistically, “quality” is subjective – rather like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Folk show their support and/or displeasure at posts through their votes (likes) or downvotes (unlikes).  The latter are a little contentious and for the purposes of this post, not necessary to labour.  More than this, though, there is the comment facility which enables one to engage with the writer, fellow commentators and the topic.  Personally, if there’s content I don’t want to see, I skip it.  If there are views I disagree with, I’ll either walk away, or add my 2c worth.  Politely.  I’ll talk about this a bit more below.

Blockchain (i.e. technical)

The technical side of the blockchain is handled by a combination of the owners of Steemit Inc and witnesses.  Much of this is completely mystical and beyond me.  I understand principles.  Not the detail.  I admit I just accept that certain things are so.  The witnesses are investors and, by and large, the people who develop the platform and decentralised applications (like Steempress) that provide user-friendly interfaces for bloggers posting to Steemit and thus to the blockchain.  For big changes on the blockchain, there must be consensus among the majority of witnesses who achieve that status:  they manage nodes and are elected by ordinary Steemians.  The who’s who of the witnesses in the top 100 changes as witnesses receive and lose votes.

And, thank you for asking:  yes, you can remove your vote if you don’t like what a witness might be doing or proposing.

The most recent of the big changes (Hardfork 21 and 22) has seen a major improvement in the quality of content published and with that, the quality of engagement.  The main reasons for this is that the rewards for reblogging, upvoting and commenting (curating) have increased.  The use of bots (paid-for votes) has been discouraged and virtually disappeared.  I admit to initially having been  very concerned, if not opposed to elements of these changes.  Not long after the changes, the demise of the bid bots had a positive impact on my personal rewards (and levels of engagement) on the blockchain.

The even shorter version

Steemit is a platform where one can publish content that is in the public domain in perpetuity.  Every transaction associated with that content is similarly public and recorded for posterity.  For folk who develop content and who want to both protect and never lose it, publishing to a blockchain is the way to go.

This returns me to the issue of governance and self-regulation:  as a platform that continues to exist because creators publish novel material, plagiarism and the theft of others’ intellectual and artistic property is not just frowned upon, it is actively sanctioned.

For some more “authoritative” thoughts and facts about Steemit, read this.

Mixed media and user-friendly back-ends

I have already alluded to the fact that that one can use a range of interfaces to publish to the blockchain.   When I started blogging on Steemit, one had to use;  the phone apps were are clunky.  That was a challenge for someone like me who knew no coding or markdown.  I’ve learned a little since then, and the advent of decentralised apps and communities with their own frontends not dissimilar to a word processor, have made it much, much easier.

Then there are the apps for those who don’t like to write that these are geared to the Steemian’s preferred medium and/or interests e.g. vlogging, and travel just to name two.

Steemit really is a blockchain for all.

A less random pic of the other current employer.

Steemit and me

My blogging journey predates the advent of Steemit and I have often commented that the virtual world is not very different from the three dimensional one in which we live. The virtual world is inhabited with folk with whom one shares things in common and who can be kindred spirits.  Similarly there are folk whom one would rather avoid.  Then there are the bullies, megalomaniacs and criminals. I was the (stupid) victim of one of these last not long after I returned to Steemit after an hiatus.  It taught me to be mindful of my own security as well as about the care and generosity of strangers in the Steemiverse.  It’s a lesson I shall never forget and which set the tone for me, too, to pay it forward when I am able.

That there are initiatives on Steemit that look out for newbies and which work with them to weather the storms, is testimony to the fact that there are good people in the world.  One of them, @pifc played a significant role in my moving up the ranks.  Its founder, @thedarkhorse arrived as an investor and then began engaging with people on the platform.  The rest is history.  Another, @steemterminal works hard to help plankton that haven’t even reached the floundering stage.  One of its founders @brittandjosie, from the Netherlands, is generous and tireless with her energy.

The corollary to all of this are the people who close doors on one without as much as a goodbye or a “you’ve-served-your-purpose” or “you’ve-annoyed-me”.  Like in the real world, this kind of behaviour leaves one confused and with more questions than answers.  I’m now more considered about how I engage with posts and people.

One of the things I try never to forget:  warm, feeling human beings live behind those noms de plume, so my blood boils in defense of people when I see rude, mean and unkind comments that are simply uncalled for.

People may be hard and crusty on the outside, but inside they’re warm, soft and sweet. Often.

Communities and interest groups

This brings me to a feature not often discussed:  the groups that operate in parallel to the social blockchain on Discord.  Although it’s described as a place for gamers, that I am not.  Discord’s an application that allows one to set up chat rooms and channels based on common interests and concerns.  Like taking care of minnows and plankton.  Or photography.  Or natural medicine.  Or a fun monthly contest run by the folk from @yourtop3.  These communities operate in parallel with Steemit and in synchronous (real) time unlike the asynchronous Steemiverse.

Writing prompts

I don’t often need a prompt to write and I’ve long said I don’t participate in contests to win.  I stand by that.  However, if a topic rocks my socks, I’ll participate.  Boots and all.  One of the things I particularly like about Your Top 3 is that to participate one has to really write:  one must list, analyse, synthesise and justify or argue.  All important techniques if one is to produce a compelling piece of writing.  I’ll chuck in another element:  reflection.  Reflective writing is often the most difficult and high risk type of writing.  This contest allows one to develop all these skills in a safe and fun space.

Perhaps it’s the blue stocking in me, but in my opinion, Your Top 3 is one of the best and well thought-through contests on the blockchain.  It’s receiving well deserved support from some contestants and investors.  Congratulations to the multinational set of brains behind it: @nickyhavey, @cheese4ead, @plantstoplanks and @foxyspirit!   In addition to the contest, each of them brings their unique interests to Steemit and which remain the added connection(s) outside the contest – food, travel, indigenous cultures, language, and, and….

Virtual breaking of bread

This brings me to my final point (I think): Steemit has introduced me to new people and new ideas.  I have “met” a Canadian in Korea, @abitcoinskeptic, from whom I’ve learned about working the blockchain and working Steemit.  One of our most memorable conversations had nothing to do with either, but education about which both he and I know a bit from our past lives.   Then there is @iamjadeline who walks a difficult path with a son who has a serious congenital medical condition.  I’ve met compatriots from other parts of my own country, not yet explored, like @joanstewart and @lizelle.  I’ve been encouraged to embrace my more esoteric side by my witchy friend @traciyork (whom you can also find on WordPress).  I’ve been introduced to some of the culture and practices of Candada’s first nation.  Also, from Canada, @thekitchenfairy, an Indonesian woman who’s zest for life is catchy.  She has inspired me to “fiddle” with making muffins – especially vegan muffins which I’d never before considered.

For various reasons, I am, and will be, a whole lot less active on Steemit and Discord for a while.  I will post from time to time, and there are many folk with whom I’d welcome breaking bread.  I often imagine the conversations that would happen around our table in The Sandbag House.  Add to that group @zord189, from Kuala Lumpur, and from the United States, @goldendawne, @dswigle and @blockurator. Oh my word, there are so many.  It would be a veritable Babel.  A cornucopia.  A fusion.  All these people, in their own ways have stretched and enriched my thinking on a range of issues and topics.

Our table around which Sunday Suppers and many fun and engaging conversations happen.  A Steemfriend get together would be such fun!

A last word

I have not repeated my thanks to the folk who brought me to, and kept me on, the blockchain.  I thanked them in my reflections in this post to mark my second anniversary on Steemit.

Like many, I too, can chant the mantra: I came for the crypto and stayed for the community. The potential for earning did attract me, but I was blogging, anyway, and having walked a path, have realised that Steemit is another (receptive) audience for my musings.  They are, as I said, my sweat equity investment in the platform.  At the moment, I’m reinvesting all my Steem in Steemit, and am a regular participant in @streetstyles monthly #spud (Steem Power Up Day), i.e. invest in the platform.  I, like other investors, am hoping believing Steem will moon.

On Steemit, to one and all, I remain grateful.  And to @theycallmedan for the inspiration to ramp this topic up my “to-write” list.

For the rest, not interested in this crypto-blockchain gobbledygook, normal programming resumes with my next post.

Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

In addition to WordPress I blog on a number of platforms:

  • Steemit – a crypto, social network and blogging platform, to which I post from WordPress using the SteemPress plugin.
  • If you’d also like to use your WordPress blog to earn crypto, join us on SteemPress.

  • My WordPress site is hosted by fellow Steemian, @gmuxx, with fees paid in crypto currency: Steem Based Dollars.  If you want more information, join the Steemblogs Club on Discord
  • Should you join the Steem platform, you are welcome to contact me on Discord on be sure to look out for the Steem Terminal – a dynamic team of folk who will happily guide you through the apparent quagmire of blogging on blockchain.
  • Instagram is a mostly visual platform where I post microblogs about fluff:  usually food and the cats as well as posts that sometimes promise hint about future WordPress posts.


Roads trips – a retrospective

Having grown up in a small town and in high school, having gone to boarding school in another town, road trips were commonplace.  There are, however, some trips that remain embedded in my memory.  The first that I really remember would have been in 1967.  It was the year after we arrived in South Africa and my father had a new job, necessitating a move from Port Elizabeth to East London.  It’s a trip of about 300km and at the time, my parents didn’t have a car.  A friend offered to drive us to East London.  I remember little about the trip (I’d have been about four and my sister nineteen months younger), except that the car was huge.  The four of us – plus the driver – had ample space.  One thing I do remember – other than the heat and burning the backs of my legs on the shiny vinyl seats – was the bench-like front seat from which I could just about see over the dashboard.  A music play list? I doubt it.  The driver would have been accompanied by anything a capella – if anyone sang.  I don’t have a clue!

Granny and the Mini

The next road trip that I remember, was not long after that, and as my Dad was going for a(nother) job interview – in Grahamstown.  It would have been late 1969 or early 1970 because my granny was visiting from the UK.   By then, my parents had acquired a motor car which was the complete antithesis of the vehicle in which we made that other road trip.  It was a Mini Minor, much like the one below.


What you do need to know, is that both my mother and my grandmother were tall women, so I still have difficulty thinking of their folding themselves up so that they could get into that car.

Granny outside her home in Cowley, Oxford. Ironically, this is where Austin manufactured minis and it’s likely that she had worked in that factory during the war. I wrote a bit about that here.

Back to that trip.  Granny sat in the back:  in the middle. She was bookended by her granddaughters.  I have vivid memories of putting my head in her lap and sleeping at least part of the way.  Although I don’t actually remember her singing, I have no doubt that she did.  This was her nightly lullaby.  I sometimes still sing it in my head and Joan Baez’s rendition reminds me of Granny and her beautiful voice.

As I mentioned, road trips were a regular feature of my childhood.  After moving to Grahamstown, there were frequent visits to Port Elizabeth and even one to Cape Town.  Then in my high school years there were regular trips from Grahamstown to East London and back – at least monthly, if not more often – to and from boarding school.  The subsequent series of motor cars didn’t have a radio in them, let alone a tape cassette.  Consequently, there was no such thing as a road trip play list.  I must have sung on some of these trips – especially as a little girl.  I loved singing, but my singing was not loved:

Daddy, what can I sing for you?

His inevitable reply:

Over the hills and faraway….

He meant not the tune, but … literally.

Consequently, road trips included games like “I spy with my little eye….” or counting cars, and more interesting, guessing the origins of motor vehicles from their number plates.  This was long before the advent of the current number plate series, and we could guess province, town and country.  We prided ourselves on knowing that TSN was Sandton (if memory serves).  TJ and TP were Johannesburg and Pretoria, respectively, both in the then Transvaal (now Gauteng).  There was a time I could recite the towns for number plates that started with C(ape) and from A to Z.  The Western Cape has retained this series for its towns and I can still tell you some of them, including that CA is Cape Town (a no-brainer since we lived there for years) and that CZ is Beaufort West.  B, C, D, E and F were all in the Eastern Cape and were, in order:  Port Elizabeth, Kimberley, King Williams Town, East London and Grahamstown.  I did have to check that I was right with Kimberley (Source).  Funny how these trivial things stick.  I wish some other information was so readily retrievable from the memory banks!  Actually, the second car I owned, was registered in Grahamstown, and it was with that CF number plate that my Blue Fiat Uno and I arrived in Cape Town in the mid-1990s.  Not a road trip I remember with any relish at all.

A stop in Parys

Moving swiftly back to happier times, well, sort of, is a road trip made not long after my 21st birthday and on which occasion this photo was taken.

Dad, Mum and I at my 21st birthday (garden) party

That road trip is memorable for a range of good and awful reasons.  It was a 1,000km trip from Grahamstown to Johannesburg.  On the trip up – in a clapped out Datsun – packed to the gills with students – the weather was appalling.  It poured with rain and there was a hole the floor of the car – my feet were perpetually wet.  Of course, the inevitable happened:  the car broke down.  The water pipe connecting the radiator with the engine … well … it burst.  Suffice it to say, we had to stop and have a Heath Robinson repair in Paris Parys, 100km from Johannesburg.  It was already dark and, as I said, miserable.  Even though it was early autumn and should have been balmy (we were all barmy at that point…).  It was pitch dark by the time we hit the road again.  All I remember of the rest of the trip, other than the belching and screeching of the water pipe, was the orange moon at which I stared out of the back passenger window, with frozen, wet feet, and to the sound track to the 1983 (this was 1984) film, Lawyers in Love.

Any of those Jackson Brown songs, particularly that one, take me back – less to the trip – and more to that moon.


Johannesburg-Queenstown, return

Fastforward just about ten years to when I was living in Johannesburg (which skyline still does it for me…):  for the entire year or so prior to leaving that city, and once a month, I’d make the just under 700km trip to Queenstown and back – for the weekend.  At the time, I had a company car and it was the first of “my” cars to have a radio and a cassette deck.  I was in heaven.  Prior to that, I’d had a little 1970-something yellow Renault 5.  The Yellow Peril had no frills, let alone a sound system.  I compensated with my pink walkman portable cassette player and ear phones.  Any how, I digress.  As usual.

Those trips between Johannesburg and Queenstown were accompanied by a pile of cassette tapes.  They were all loud, sing-alongs because I was travelling alone and would leave around 1pm, and drive straight through, stopping once and just to long enough fill the car, the stomach and to use the ablutions, arriving some six and a half hours later.  I have wracked my brains to remember what those tapes were, and the only one I can remember, is Bette Middler’s Some People’s Lives and especially this song:

Spoilt for choice

Having travelled quite a bit for may day job in the last 20 years ago, and living where we do, I’m not so fond of road trips.  I prefer to stay put. That said, there is the odd trip to Cape Town and the-not-odd-enough-trip to places we’ve not been.  We don’t have a hard and fast playlist, and with our not-so-new Chevvy just having a CD player, we both select what we’d like to hear and put the discs in a box.  The selection ranges from The Beetles to Santana, Mango Groove to Edith Piaf, The African Jazz Pioneers and Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) and a whole lot in between.

There have been times, though, having selected the maximum number of CDs our carrier would allow, it lived in splendour on the diningroom table until our return from a trip.

Post Script

This post was inspired by thist month’s PHC Top 3 contest.  This is is not an entry as I can’t pick just three (can I ever?), so in support of the @phctop3 initiative, 50% of the Steem payout from this post will be transferred to that account.

Thank you

Thanks to @curie and @randomwanderings for their ongoing support of this initiative with an allocation of 80 Steem for distribution between July and August to boost the rewards over and above the original 50 Steem they contributed for May and June.

Curation Trail

There is a curation trail for @phctop3, which you can follow here to continue to add to the prize pool and the growth of the competition. Delegate to @phctop3

5SP 10SP 25SP
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400SP 500SP 1000SP

Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

In addition to WordPress I blog on a number of platforms:

  • Steemit – a crypto, social network and blogging platform, to which I post from WordPress using the SteemPress plugin.  If you’d also like to use your WordPress blog to earn crypto, join us on SteemPress.
  • My WordPress site is hosted by fellow Steemian, @gmuxx, with fees paid in crypto currency: Steem Based Dollars.  If you want more information, join the Steemblogs Club on Discord
  • Narrative, a crypto blogging platform
  • Instagram is a mostly visual platform where I post microblogs about fluff:  usually food and the cats; posts that sometimes promise hint about future WordPress posts.

On the Steem platform, I am part of these communities

Designed by @zord189

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Pearli’s Pickles VII

When Princess Pearli was a kitten, she was often in a pickle.  This is the last of a series I wrote in her first three years.  You can read them – and some other stories here, This all happened when we thought she’d grown up a bit.  Grown up (for a cat), at nearly three, we were hoping so, too.

A vain hope.  This practice continues and this year, she will be six in October.

She continues leaving home through the highest aperture she can find, shunning the cat flap.


She remains the trollop of the upper village:  imposing on guests in the Little Room, sometimes presenting us with a gift in anticipation of their arrival (often minutes before the estimated time of arrival).  That week, in advance of a guest’s arrival, Pearli had an altercation with said cat flap, and for a couple of days, was rather sorry for herself.  The Cat’s Mother and The Husband examined the sore foot, and found nothing untoward.  No swelling.  No lesion.  Nevertheless, Princess Pearli hopped around on three legs: particularly when she thought that she’d garner sympathy from The Cat’s Mother.

Poorly Pearli supervising The Cat’s Mother at her day job

But when Guest arrived, not even a limp:  gamboling happily on all fours, she was!

If the Little Room is not occupied, and The Cat’s Mother (and The Husband) are in the proverbial dog box, often for reasons known only to Pearli, she takes up residence next door.  Not only does she inhabit the main bedroom, she occupies the bed, snuggling under the covers, and  in all likelihood, comes between its occupants!  We sigh, now beyond embarrassment, by this behaviour.

Rather, we are grateful that our neighbours love her like their own, particularly after she stole the limelight at one of their significant birthday celebrations and was graciously introduced to each and every guest!

Pearli surveying her principality from our neighbours’ ramparts

That, however, is rather tame.  She continues to trawl the streets for anyone who will pet her, while she hunts for prey – feathered or feline.  Evidence of the latter is both heard and seen.  Princess Pearli, it seems, takes the boundaries of her principality rather seriously, loudly going where no-one has gone before, taking on potential invaders, sometimes to her own detriment.  She seems, however, to shake off the scratches and scabs with aplomb, except for one occasion earlier that year when a rather nasty scratch on her back developed an abscess under the scab.  Getting rid of that scab was essential.

The Cat’s Mother took a deep breath.

Pearli screeched.


Spectacular results, a temporary bald spot, but all’s well that ends well.

Although not happy with The Cat’s Mother, she was well enough to resume her supervision of The Husband at work.


More of that, and the finished job, anon.

Post Script:

  • The original was posted in 2016 and has been updated to mark International Cat’s Day in 2019.
  • It does seem that although we haven’t seen her on the ramparts lately, and her hunting skills are just as sharp, happily for The Cat’s Mother, Princess Pearli isn’t in a pickle very often these days…

Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • I blog on two platforms:  WordPress and Instagram, and the former auto posts to Steemit.  Instagram is a mostly visual platform where I post microblogs about fluff:  usually food and the cats; posts that sometimes promise hint about future WordPress posts.
  • My WordPress site is hosted by fellow Steemian, @gmuxx, with fees paid in crypto currency: Steem Based Dollars.  If you want more information, join the Steemblogs Club on Discord

On the Steem platform, I am part of these communities

Designed by @zord189

Let me help with your English writing
Rates depend on the depth of edit required
More about why I am offering this service here
Contact me

2018: Just another year. Or was it?

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The last day of 2018 was like no other of the year.  Not for the obvious reasons like the heat and the Dutch tradition of Ollie Bollen followed by a fabulous evening during which a bunch of us said farewell to a year that did not have much to recommend it.  What made this new year’s eve different from any other, was another farewell.  Of a human being who had a great deal to recommend him.  Larger than life, a product of, and a lover of, Africa, who had been born in Zambia, spent much of his childhood in Botswana, studied and taught English in South Africa and more recently, in Namibia.  He loved not just teaching, but the English language and literature.  A love he and I shared and which he somehow infected in his initially unwilling pupils.

A selection of Herbie’s books. He had an ad hoc stall at the market – he didn’t see himself so much as selling books as sharing their contents. He had read each and every one and could match a most unlikely owner with the perfect book.

He left an indelible legacy.

A delighted Herbie, four years ago, with tickets for his pupils – to the McGregor Poetry Festival Photo: Karen Ward, Facebook

I said larger than life because Herbie was – literally and figuratively.  He loved food, especially my koeksisters.  He could sell 50 of them in less than an hour – just because “they are fabulous;  the best.


“You just can’t not have at least one!”

He smoused** them with flamboyance and grace – as he led his life.

At 55, Herbie was the same age as I.  I don’t think of myself as 55 going on 56, let alone old.  He is the third young person to have died in our immediate circle this year.  All shockingly unexpected.  The first two were young women, both of whom died in motor vehicle accidents and which I wrote about here and here. This death, too, an unfortunate accident.  He choked at a dinner with friends.  It’s a bit like a story line from a B-grade movie – unbelievable.

As I reflect on the year that has passed, the things that stand out for me are difficulty and death, including of our first fur child together.  Not just for me, but for virtually everyone in my immediate circle, so much so that it’s difficult to identify moments that were really happy.  One happy space (other than my kitchen) in which I learned about a new type of friendship, was on @steemit and particularly @steemitbloggers, when I was hacked.  That story really did have a happy ending, and I remain grateful and indebted to all those who helped me through this.

Happy moments are the way the year ended – with friends who are family – here for Christmas and then New Year’s Eve which was shared with people I care about and enjoy.  We had all had our own “years”.  The consensus was that 2019 simply must be better.

We will make it so.

There are some who say that the universe will be more benevolent this year.

I believe it will be.  I choose that.

I wish that choice for everyone as we face the first Monday of the New Year tomorrow.

I am usually the glass half-full (of wine) girl, but towards the end of last year that glass began to run on empty.  We ate and drank over Christmas and on New Year’s Eve, in addition to saying farewell to Herbie, we ate, drank and danced to live music to see in the first hours of the New Year.

It was the best way to shove the old year into the blue and face the new: with my glass half full (of wine), spurred on by the first full shot of Tequila I have had since 1984 (a story for another time – perhaps).

After a little break, including a festive season that was most definitely not restful, but full, with people I love, my glass is more than half full again (and not just with wine…or tequila).

Here’s to wishing one and all, a year that is kind, happy and fulfilled.

* isiXhosa for “definitely not”


There it is – until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma




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On Mandela Day: things that shaped this South African

Today we celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.  As I reflect on this I reflect on my own journey, and three books I have read over the last three or so years.  The most recent is by someone who recently moved to our viillage and who, like me, is the daughter of British immigrants and herself an immigrant having arrived in South Africa as a young child.  As did I.  There is a third parallel:  she is an alumn of my alma mater.  She, however, was there more than a decade after I.  It was there that she voted in South Africa’s first democratic election.

That is where the parallel ends.  She grew up in suburban Gauteng (then known as the Transvaal); in a mining town. I grew up, once my parents settled, in that small university town in the Eastern Cape: Grahamstown.  The era, and I use that word advisedly, in which she grew up, i.e. her teenage years, is known in struggle circles as the “height of the total onslaught” of the ANC by the National Party government: the 1980’s.

Before I get to that, a little about my childhood:  as I have mentioned, my father was a horticulturist.  My mother started her adult working life as a nurse.  She trained in Oxford, England, in the hospital where I was born, before moving to a famous children’s hospital in London.

Why do I mention this?

Because she had to give up nursing:  her bunions were so bad she could not be on her feet for long hours.  In her mid-20’s she had to find a new career.  In the 1940’s, that was not to be sneezed at when women were expected to marry and not work.  More to the point, though, she had chosen nursing was the next best thing her first career choice:  medical doctor.

How the parents met and married doesn’t matter for the moment, but what is significant is that our family came to South Africa under what I now consider to be rather ironic circumstances.  They were compelled to leave Uganda in 1962 not just because my mother was pregnant, and their colonial contracts had come to an end, but because of the “Africanisation” process.  There was no resentment or bitterness.  Contracts ended; it was time to move on.  The sadness was leaving Africa.

Returning to Africa was a direct consequence of a Verwoerd-sponsored campaign to recruit white, male blue collar workers.  My father got a job in the parks department with the Port Elizabeth municipality. We arrived in the city, by train, on the 4th of September, a public holiday known as Settlers Day.  Two days later, Verwoerd was assassinated.  The latter event did not make much impact on the Cameron household.  Settlers Day did.  When my father enquired as to why the 4th had been a public holiday, he was asked, “Don’t you know what happened in 1820?”

My father being a Scot and with an answer for most things, though on his feet, “Of course, it was the year Johnny Walker was born!”

That was not the answer the taxi-driver expected, and who vehemently disabused him of the importance of Johnny Walker in contrast with the seminal event of the landing of the 1820 Settlers in Delagoa Bay.

I grew up in a household where children were to be seen and not heard, and everyone was to be respected equally.  We were to obey the family domestic worker and if we didn’t, she was detailed to mete out the appropriate punishment.  Once we moved to Grahamstown, we had the privilege of the biggest garden imaginable – the botanical gardens.  Each one of the workers was a surrogate father.  We could not have been safer.  Our parents knew that we would be cared for if we strayed too far from the house.  We did, often, and yes, we were often despatched back home.  I did not know that it was not permitted to squat down in the dirt next to a black man and ask him to show me how to clip grass, let alone, to tell me stories.  Nor was I ever told not to do it.

I used to catch tadpoles in this pond.

Some of those men remained in touch with our family for years after they and my father retired.  One returned every year, until he was too frail and ill,  with his horse and cart, to wish the family for Christmas and to present us with a chicken.

I now realise that my childhood was very different from some South Africans.  I did have a little taste of the “other” South Africa when I was at boarding school, but it didn’t really penetrate.  I lived much in my own world and remember not understanding why we were taught, in urban geography, about the buffer zones.  Between the townships of people of different race groups.

The truth crept up on me as I studied and learned at university.  A liberal university where, in my naivete, I thought real democracy was not being forced to be part of any organisation, but to remain independent of other politicised student organisations.  I was drawn into student politics because I appeared to be quiet, conservative and happy to tow the line.  With hindsight, I had a very, very lucky escape even though part of that escape was facilitated by a very nasty car accident that paralysed me for a while. It kept me in hospital for three weeks and off campus for the rest of the term and certainly out of any real action for six months.

Very original slogan. My constituency: Hobson Hall.

Nobody bothered to ask what I really felt or believed and suddenly I was sucked into things that I did not want to be a part of, let alone be associated with.  I was approached to start a conservative student organisation on campus by the then president of the SRC from another liberal university.  He ended up being someone who ended up being a leading light in South African intelligence, and from an organisation funded by the South African government.  We suspected all this at the time, but there was no proof.  That car accident meant an abrupt but merciful end to his (and others’) badgering.

I discovered after I left university, that the person who asked me to run for election, was a member of the special branch of the police.  How did I discover it?  I was living in Johannesburg and was on my way home, through Hillbrow late one evening, and saw him herding people into a police van.  I will never forget either the incident or his behaviour.  My stomach still turns as I remember this.

How nearly was I drawn into the pervasive apartheid machine.

Now let me return to the books.  The other two were written by contemporaries from university who, at the time, were seemingly on the other side of “my” fence.  One was on the same SRC as I;  the other was the editor of the student newspaper.  One, it emerged, four years later, in the mid-80’s had betrayed everyone:  She had been sent to Rhodes as a spy.  I recall the newspaper coverage of her escape from the ANC’s prison camp at Quattro.  My colleague at the time, Flo Duncan, a frequent visitor to Nelson Mandela when he was on the run, and one of the many women who had served time in the Barberton prison in the 60’s, convicted under the Suppression of Communism Act, had understood my horror.  In 1987, twenty-three years later Flo was still barred from international travel. Olivia’s 2015 “act of contrition”, and which I read with great interest, reflects many of the realities of the time, but the defence of her complicity is indefensible.  I listened to this interview, before I read the book.  Her voice on the radio as clear as the memory of her face sitting opposite me endless debates and meetings, as vivid as they had been thirty-two years previously, and my visceral reaction to the individual whom I had not trusted then, just as the same.  Neither that interview, nor my reading of the book, did anything to change that.

The third and final book, on the other hand, Bridget Hilton-Barber’s Student, Comrade, Prisoner, Spy, published a year after Agent 407, is another story.  For all the reasons I’ve mentioned, and mainly because I was a mouse, I was never more than a nodding acquaintance with Bridget.  I do remember her as a funny, vivacious and somewhat intimidating human being.  Probably because she had all the confidence and joi de vivre I did not.  I did know that she’d been in detention;  I did know that she worked hard for the cause as did her brothers.  All this happened after I had been able to leave active student politics.

The Drostdy Arch: the site of many a student protest against apartheid

Both books brought memories flooding back of people, places and things.  Good, bad and plain evil.  What separates the two, profoundly, is that Bridget’s is honest, often gut-wrenching and believable.  Forsythe’s is not.

In the years after university, and all my adult life, except for a short spell in the mining industry, I worked for, or volunteered with, organisations that diametrically opposed to everything the National Party government stood for.  The places I frequented were cosmopolitan; we had the best parties in Yeoville, Soweto and in the heart of Johannesburg.  We were fun-loving, life-loving young people who wanted a better future for everyone.

So returning to C L Bell’s Lost Where We Belong, which I read with interest after going to its launch, and where she read some excerpts.  She articulates – very well – her black paranoia and discomfort in South Africa following the euphoria of that first democratic election.  She recounts the terror that surrounded her as she grew up.  The same years that I wandered the streets of Hillbrow and Yeoville – alone – and when I spent time in Soweto, often the only white woman.  A young person in my early 20’s and when our phones (landlines only) were bugged and our friends were hounded off the buses – because they were black – and shouldn’t have been riding with their white compatriots, let alone stopping on the way home to enjoy a beer!  She left South Africa after university in the 90’s and returned as a journalist on an assignment for an international funder of human rights issues and research.  Some of her experience on this project is recounted in the book, including how her terror re-emerges when she encounters a naked black man taking a healing bath in a stream.  I was confused.  I am confused.  This, from someone who, as a young adult, like me, had fraternised with people of all races.  And with much greater freedom – literally – than I could have dreamed of in the seminal years of my early 20s.  I was not alone in that confusion.  Also at that launch were two other women who had also been at Rhodes, albeit in the years between C L Bell and I.

So, as I reflect on the years leading up to Madiba’s release in 1990 and the contribution that Nelson Mandela made to this country, I realise how privileged I was.  My parents taught me respect for all humanity even though the other, more conservative elements of my childhood (and my personality) meant that my naivete, lack of confidence and stupidity prevented me participating in activities at university that might have made a real difference.

So, although we have a long way to go after Zuma’s corruption and state capture projects, I am as optimistic about this country as I was in 1994.  The irony of my short time in the mining industry is that it introduced me to Cyril Ramaphosa.  We were both young and idealistic then.  He was Madiba’s chosen successor.  Nelson Mandela is watching over him and our country and I can only but believe that on the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth, he too, believes that this is a time of renewal and rebirth (with all the attendant trauma) for our country.

Enkosi Tata

Photo: Daily Maverick