You need only check the date of this post and the previous one to realize my lax upkeep of this blog. There are a few excuses that I have for this fact. They vary in legitimacy. One week I had a cold. Then I changed jobs. Then I visited the USA for a few weeks. Then I started a new job. In between somewhere there was a second cold. I’m still not sure if I’ve had H1N1 yet, but it is something of which I persist in perpetual fear.

It would be ridiculous to try to catch up on all blog-worthy thoughts (yes, I know that the bar is rather low on this count) and all the stories I had published by The Times. Before I resume regular posting in the here and now I figured I would highlight a couple choice stories that I enjoyed working on and perhaps you might enjoy perusing as well.

I posted previously about a competition of la sape that I witnessed in the Yeoville neighborhood in Johannesburg. I ended up going back there to speak with organizers and the eventual winner of the competition. In all honesty, it was one of the most fun stories I have ever worked on. My hope was that this showed through in the audio slideshow that I produced about the event.

Well, the whole fiasco about the Gandhi house came to a close, though the seller, Nancy Ball, never ended up divulging the details about who bought it. It appears none of the people fingered as the final bidders actually bought the property. In the meantime, I wrote a piece about Gandhi’s not-so-simple legacy in South Africa.

Especially in his early days in South Africa, Gandhi’s activism was much more parochial than the universal non-racialism of the ANC. In attempting to secure fair land rights for Indians in the new, bustling Johannesburg, he protested in 1905 that “kaffirs” (a term he used often in his early writings) were being allowed to live in what was then known as a “coolie location”, theoretically reserved for Indians.

The 1906 incident in the train portrayed in Richard Attenborough’s 1982 biopic film Gandhi is also troublesome. Gandhi was advocating that just upper-caste Indians be allowed to use the train, not people of all races.

His views did appear to evolve over time and it is hard to deny his inspirational fight against British colonialism in India.

In South Africa, his influence as a freedom fighter persists. Annual marches in KwaZulu-Natal celebrating his legacy attest to this.

Still, no South African besides Gandhi’s granddaughter, Kirti Menon, came forward with an offer for The Kraal compelling enough for the Ball family in terms of both money and historical preservation. According to Nancy Ball, the final three bidders were Menon, Malaysian e-commerce tycoon Vijay Eswaran, and a late entry by the Indian government.

Eswaran told The Times that if he buys the house he plans to create a museum that would “remind this South African nation of the great legacy indeed that they have”.

Menon echoed this sentiment. “Gandhi’s period in Johannesburg is of particular importance in his own development,” she said.

Gandhi’s time in Johannesburg was clearly influential. But its “legacy”, as Eswaran calls it, is a complicated one. His philosophy inspired, but his activism, limited in its universality, echoed throughout later Indian-black relations during the struggle against apartheid and discrimination. Mid-20th century riots in Durban are examples of violent tension between Indians and blacks. Some chafed against the ANC’s insistence on non-racialism and tying the Indian cause to the greater anti-apartheid one. Even now, it is an issue that hits a raw nerve.

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In a city known for flashy displays of wealth, I found such opulence in what many might consider the least likely of spots. Kin-Malebo, a cafe on Raleigh Street in Yeoville, an inner city neighborhood in Johannesburg known for its large immigrant population.

A sapeur competition of contestants from Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of Congo) and Congo-Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) was the order of the day. The shoes were worth over US$1000, the designers mostly Italian, the poses striking, and the color coordination either absurdly outlandish, or purposely understated.

“La Sape” is “Central Africa’s equivalent of the Mod movement,” writes Michela Wrong in In The Footsteps Of Mr. Kurtz (2000). “An abbreviation of Society of Ambiencers and Persons of Elegance, La Sape as a movement was actually born across the river in Congo-Brazzaville in the 1970s. But it was in Zaire that it really made its mark, moving hand-in-hand with the explosion of the Lingala music phenomenon onto the international scene and fuelled by the birth of a monied urban elite who had travelled, shopped abroad, and knew their Yamamoto from their Montana, their unstructured jacket from their deconstructed suit.”

… “Asserting oneself (“affirmer”) is one of the key concepts in La Sape’s vocabulary, ranking in importance alongside understanding how to “débarquer” — make an entrance (never, but never, to go unnoticed) — and knowing how to walk. A sapeur’s walk is an art form in itself, a mixture of swagger and stroll as individualistic as a graffiti artist’s tag.”