As we scramble to understand and “articulate” the true nature of our political crisis

As we scramble to understand and “articulate” the true nature of our political crisis, unpacking strategies and the “political programme”, how to position ourselves and what positioning this or that way means for where you are perceived to be sitting in the political ideological spectrum (i.e are you woke or not/ radical or liberal/ coconut or sellout…).

I am reminded of the lonely days of struggle as an activist in the Treatment Action Campaign. I was a young person full of the beautiful dreams of liberation. Coming from a working-class family, watching other young, working class people like me die whilst the powerful ones used their power to let them die. This wasn’t Apartheid South Africa. Leaders of our ruling party and democratic government and Tripartite Alliance partners were labelling us agents of drug companies and all manner of descriptors to delegitimise our struggle. There is a particular NEC/alliance meeting we were once “invited” to after we launched our civil disobedience campaign, where I watched the big men of the then ANC Top 6 and alliance partners (Lekotas, Blades, etc were there), perform power in the grossest, most nauseating way. Having been summoned, we were made to sit for hours waiting for them to deliberate important things, then we were given a few minutes to be interrogated, then sent off with nothing. We warned them we would not back down and left. That meeting shuttered all my hopes, it showed the depth of callousness of our leaders, how self-obsessed they have always been…!

Then, as now, the “clever” ones debated, analysed, researched, “articulated” whilst young working class black people, many of them young women, in villages, townships, servants’ quarters in white middle class suburbs, were dying like flies. The clever ones criticized our campaign for not being “systemic”, because we were not speaking in clever phrases about how “neoliberalism must fall”. Mandela’s ANC had chosen GEAR, that meant that public goods like lifesaving medical treatment would remain for-profit commodities, to be traded at the highest margins for shareholders, and government had to toe the line of those who control the rules of international trade, that Government wouldn’t defy WTO rules in defence of their people…

Organizing was all complex then, as now. But then, as now, government had a choice, power to make that choice in favor of justice, accountability for a just future for all, particularly the poor. It was black working class people who were dying, who’d been left to own devices, those with money were dying because of denial and fear of stigma not inability to afford medical care. It was black working class people who showed up, filled the picket lines and fought for their lives and won. Many of the black-like-me’s with education who could interpret medical science to help people understand how to save their lives, who could have given their education privilege to contribute, many did not. As Edwin Cameron said, being “white, privileged and middle class meant he could access lifesaving drugs” at a time when one month’s treatment cost more than a year’s wages of a black working class family. It is unforgivable what our leaders did, the silence and hubris of the middle class illustrated how as the middle class we’re fickle, trapped in our parochial class lens and interests, and are not to be trusted, even when we spew revolutionary rhetoric. The issues were raced and classed and gendered then as they are now. The betrayals from soapbox podiums often dominated by men happened then as they are now.

So then, let’s organize, and march to end racialised, gendered inequality. Let’s organize to end white supremacy, for land, for neoliberalism to fall, for the black young women set up for infection and who still die to live with dignity. For mine-workers to get their fair share of the wealth they dig. For domestic workers not to live in servants’ quarters not even dogs live in and be sent off into the wilderness with nothing when their old legs and hands can no longer hold the weight of the labour needed to prop up white and elite black capital. For men who rape to not be rewarded with more power. For corrupt, captured politicians and their parties to be ejected from power. For women to not live their lives like we’re in a war zone, under brutal patriarchal rule. For an intersectional struggle against corrupt power, in all its manifestations. A society that sustains life and dignity for all. And then, all of us middle class, black white and whatever shade, to have an honest interrogation of our own complicity in the mess. Our cronyism and rent seeking and what it has made of us, and life for many who’re on the wrong side of the game Board. So, I will join the action for intersectional justice Bethuna. And no I don’t mean who’s twittering about it? Who’s organizing it? And no, I have no interest in going to Saxonworld!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Council on Foreign Relations/Reuters/Mike Hutchings) (Photo Credit 2: South Africa News Today)

The Kanga was in the room

 


This day in 2006, Willem van der Merwe handed down a prison sentence to a rape survivor. It wasn’t just a prison sentence, it was an ex-excommunication. An exiling. A sacrificing at the altar of hetero-patriarchal politics. A public lynching. An annihilation. An erasure. A powerful exhibit the criminal justice system as it is, is an instrument of power and the powerful. A tool of racist, classist misogyny. Designed for aiding, abetting, cementing the citadel of the hetero-patriarchal system.

The trial showed us things about ourselves, the people who govern us today, our society that explain why navigating life is a “nightmare” experience for the people who live in bodies called “women”.

Yesterday we celebrated with tears of grief and joy, One in Nine Campaign’s 10th birthday. The Kanga was in the room. She spoke of how she has been rising since that day. How she has been leaving and fighting to live, in search of a home since then. How she has been building her nest in the place inside that they couldn’t annihilate. How that beautiful mother became sword and shield. How feminist friendship and solidarity is our ultimate hope for survival and triumph against the system whose tentacles are forever multiplying.

It was a sad day. It was a happy and beautiful day. It was a celebration of feminist courage. It was a séance to the many bodies of courage, to young women at universities and the streets who are saying to the system ‪#‎timeisup‬! It was a bold confrontation to the rest of us: what else are you still afraid of? What else can they do to you? What else is there to lose?

 

(Photo Credit: Siphokazi Mthathi)

Women of Burundi speak. Women of South Sudan speak: Imagine …

Women of Burundi speak. Women of South Sudan speak: imagine yourself in this situation. You are out there doing nothing but demanding change and for your government to follow agreed laws of your country and do what you elected them to do and they come after you. They turn the whole country into one big prison where no one can say anything, ask any questions. They sow fear and chaos and division and make up stories in every way they can. If anyone dares they will use their whole arsenal, from police to soldiers to the courts to those who they can buy to kill you to the papers and television screens…

Imagine that, you scream to the world saying help! Our country has just been turned into one big jail. They have killed our voices. Now they are taking our bodies! They are using the radio and papers and schools and churches to sow hate using all and any old differences between the people.

Imagine you are standing on the other side of the razor wire looking out and the world is saying sorry, you must wait, we might negotiate with your government. We could apply the policy of non-indifference but let’s negotiate a bit. Then they tell you about precede and law of unintended consequences and other big words. We’ll ask them if we can please come in to protect you. We’ll make another resolution. We’ll organise a very big meeting and bring lots of big cameras and we’ll let you tell your story and talk about you. We’ll talk about peace and we’ll buy it with money and it will be beautiful. Just wait, just wait a little bit longer…!

That is how we feel. We keep hoping that the fact that their guns can’t kill us all, that they need some of us to remain at least for labour to rebuild the country after they have finished destroying it. For women to bear more children after they have killed many of them. A few men to carry the guns enforcing order after they have killed many and created chaos.

You stand there on the other side of the razor wire hoping that this logic will prevail upon them and that just maybe they will stop before they get to you, or your son, or your daughter, or your husband or your brother, or your neighbour… Running too is tiring. So, we stay and keep trying…!

(Photo Credit 1: Mail & Guardian Africa / AFP) (Photo Credit 2: Broadly Vice)

On Women’s Day and every day, I dream of this movement

 


Here’s to the old ones, the visionaries of our movement! Here’s to their fighting spirit, their vision, their example, which has gotten us this far…!

And mostly, here’s to the young ones, who must now shape a new vision. Who must fight for a qualitatively different future, outside of the imaginative premises and boxes of the “old us” who simply carry too much baggage, are simply too compromised to be capable of dreaming beyond the confines of our locations and vested interests, who grapple too many competing interests to legitimately hold the radical vision their future requires. A future where young women refuse to shoulder society’s blame for its own moral decay, who are fearless in defending their interests and the land that is their lives and bodies, who refuse to be instrumentalised in service of some political and partisan or social or economic agenda, who are uncompromising in their demand for a just status quo.

I dream of this movement, envisioned, crafted and led by and for young women, revolting for their non-conformity, revolting against this rotten status quo!!! I am inspired by Kwezilomso Mbandazayo’s vision… We are the ones we have been waiting for!

 

Poem for South African Women
by June Jordan

Commemoration of the 40,000 women and children who,
August 9, 1956, presented themselves in bodily protest against
the “dompass” in the capital of apartheid. Presented at The
United Nations, August 9, 1978.

Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
fertile
even as the first woman whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world

The whispers too they
intimate to the inmost ear of every spirit
now aroused they
carousing in ferocious affirmation
of all peaceable and loving amplitude
sound a certainly unbounded heat
from a baptismal smoke where yes
there will be fire

And the babies cease alarm as mothers
raising arms
and heart high as the stars so far unseen
nevertheless hurl into the universe
a moving force
irreversible as light years
traveling to the open
eye

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea

we are the ones we have been waiting for!

(From Passion (1980) and from Directed by Desire. The Collected Poems of June Jordan. Copyright 2005 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate Trust)

 

 

(Photo Credit: Faith in a Jar / Neo Jasmine Mokgosi)

Reading the Darfuri women’s 2009 open, signed letter, I wish to be this brave!

 

(Editor’s note: Six years ago, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Omar al-Bashir. Twenty-eight Darfuri women refugees wrote an open letter welcoming the warrant. They signed that letter. Today, six years later, a South African court has issued an interim order stopping Sudan’s leader Omar al-Bashir, who faces war crimes charges, from leaving the country. He is in South Africa attending the African Union summit. Where are those twenty-eight women, six years on?)

We can debate geopolitics, flawed multilateralism, unbalanced application of international laws, how flawed the ICC is and how the fact that it acts on instruction of the UN Security Council, itself rendered illegitimate by its lack of represenrativity, why America won’t sign Rome Statute, how law alone does not narrowly determine how countries balance complex terrain of multilateral politics, indulge in our just bet ration of western duplicity.

But these women speak their truth, they publish their names, a brave act in a context where they know they could be killed and no one will do anything about it. I wish to be this brave!

 

(Photo Credit: Darfur Women’s Action Group)

TOMORROW WE WILL MARCH!

As families of the 7 dead are still reeling in disbelief, preparing to bury their loved ones. As the more than 8000 displaced do what they can, mastering stamina to survive by the minute. Thousands of us are preparing to march tomorrow. We are painting placards and banners. Printing t-shirts. We will come armed with our props of protest. The symbolic significance of this action cannot be underestimated. We are in dire need of a public platform to express. Express the shock. Rage. Despair. Impotence. Good intentions. The million questions. These actions are taking place everywhere. The Silent protests. Loud Protests. Angry protests. The Prayers. Night vigils. Theatre and dramatisations. Pamphleteering. Pop-up songs. Petitions. Hashtag campaigns. Donations. Exhortations. Recitals of Mbeki’s “I am an African”. Invocations of Sankara, Nyerere, Lumumba, Cabral…This is the time of the frenzied response.

This week another tragedy befell Africans fleeing hardship and seeking a better life in Europe, or anywhere but Africa. More than 700 African migrants perished in a boat that capsized in the Mediterranean sea. These perils befall many, all the time, reports say. The realities driving many of us from our countries are deep, layered, painful, complex. In an ideal universe, we should be able to live, subsist, fit in anywhere, at least in this our constructed cosmos we call Africa. Indeed, the constructed borders must come down.

But the borders exist, are real and written in myopic, nationalistic bureaucracy. How tragic it is that Kwame and his fellows did not in their time win the war of an Africa without borders. It could have been the ultimate liberation for Africa’s people. That instead, more borders are drawn within countries, within communities, everyday. Maybe our children will win. Maybe nature will. Living in our countries of birth must be a choice we can make freely because life is possible there. Living anywhere in Africa must be a choice we can make freely because we claim that Africa is our home. Our leaders have created a union they claim is for us. What’s the point of a union if it doesn’t unify?

Tomorrow we will march. For the ones in camps from Tierkidi to Khayelitsha. The ones always running. Running from. Running to. For us who may not be running now, but will run too someday. When will the running stop?

Tomorrow we will march. Big men and women will speak. In their big voices. We will declare ourselves afrophobia-free for the world must see we are different and human. Not like those barbarians! When the feet are blistered and the voices hoarse and the spirits spent, what will it all have been for? What transformations will have happened, to give meaning to “never again”?

Tomorrow we will march for the girls of Chibok and the girls of Ngqamakwe. For Emmanuel Sithole, the 7 dead. The 147 dead of Garissa. The 400 and the 700 and the many many hundreds, swallowed by the waves. The women of the Congo. The women of South Sudan…the women of Nkandla. Maybe even the boys and brothers we lost to Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram and the Industry of war. Tomorrow we will march. For the Africa we lost. Africa we must find. Tomorrow we will march. Justice in Africa. Justice for Africa!

 

(Photo Credit: South African History Online / Jürgen Schadeberg)

Watching the images of violence happening near my home in Johannesburg city centre, I think about my uncle

 

Watching the images of violence happening near my home in Johannesburg city centre, I think about my uncle. A mine worker who brought us endless stories of this and that workmate from Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Zimbabwe…somewhere in our region. We knew the names of these places from him before we learnt them at school. His stories about how things are in Russia, in Cuba, Bangladesh, Taiwan. He said, in Russia or Cuba, you could go into any shop and get sweets and no one would say you are stealing. There is no one shop owner; everyone owns everything. You see a bicycle in the street and you ride it where you want and leave it there, no one will arrest you. How I wished this version of socialism had been true when I grew older.

A few times he brought one or so of these Bhutis who spoke fanigalo with a tinge of Portuguese or Chichewa or such home. I could listen to them the whole time, we were little and found the smallest things interesting then. When I grew older I got to understand how much of the South African mining sector had been built on the shoulders of the black man, the social reproductive labour of black women in many parts of South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, Zambia, etc. These black bodies who dug up the shiny stuff for, at the time white monopoly extractive capital to ship off to Europe, Israel for polishing or some such, making people who’ll never know their names or care about them, who just get richer, while they take away their old age, battered bodies, suspended dreams, often disease or some sort or the other and the strange tone in their accent from speaking too much fanigalore.

And the black African woman from some village in Mozambique, Lesotho, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, sometimes Tanzania, etc, got nothing for her productive labour which subsidised big extractive capital.

Then when we grew up, how we learnt about Samora Machel, Joshua Nkomo, Julius Nyerere, next to our Mandelas and Bikos and Cyril Ramaphosas (that one Cyril who had my favourite face, plumpy cheeks and lots of life in his eyes then, and that killer Afro! Well, don’t ask me what I see in those eyes now, I try not to look at them). Fast forward to mid high school, where we learn about the destruction the Apartheid regime wrought on the people of Mozambique, Angola, other parts of our region, how those Africans hopping on one leg or missing some limb in Angola or Mozambique paid for shielding South African Liberation fighters, among other things. I cannot imagine life was like Hollywood then, so I cannot dispute it with facts when Lindiwe Zulu says it wasn’t as romantic as we whom she claims overplay this Africa housed us, fed us, shielded us, gave us an identity to claim for ourselves when South Africanness was denied us by the repressive regime line.

All I can say is that our liberation fighters were on our soil. The Limbless people of Angola, Mozambique, and others who carry different kinds of the scars of the backlash the apartheid regime meted out count for much more than we today give them credit. Forward to some time in the early 2000s, when I start to travel for work in our continent and I see all these South African shops in Botswana and as far as Ghana. I start to read more about South Africa’s economic footprint in our continent. In Lesotho a few years ago I hear how one major retail shop single-handedly destroyed Lesotho’s poultry farming sector by insisting on certain procurement arrangements with a government in a weak and desperate position for “investment”. There are many stories.

Fast forward to late 2000’s. At Human Rights Watch, there is this very smart, knowledgeable researcher who knows lots of what she knows about the Congo. She does this thing with a bunch of us newbies being trained on advocacy in some room in some New York skyscraper. She makes us lift up our phones, then she goes on to explain how all of us are carrying a piece of the Congo in our hands. How the Congo is in our bathrooms. Coltan powers so much of today’s electronics, technological gadgets and utensils. That is just one piece of the Congo, do not get me started.

We grew up on the rich, Africanist literature of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe, Mariama Ba, Ousmane Sembene, Wole Soyinka, who gave us permission and the gift of the decolonising process of telling, consuming our own stories as Africans. With the African Feminist movement, well, you towering witches and wizards, where do I begin? Suffice to say you gave me a language to live by, a higher universe to inhabit, and that is everything. The point I wanted to remind myself of is just how much this continent and its peoples have made us, fed us, gifted us, shielded us, how it defines so much of who we are, how indisputable it is that as South Africa, we stand firmly, always have, on the shoulders of the giant that is this continent and its peoples. That’s all for now. Thank you Africa!

 

(Photo Credit: AFP / Mujahid Safodien)

I miss the One in Nine Campaign

I miss the One in Nine Campaign that occupied the streets in 2006/7 to say violence against women and the silencing is not permissible and the powerful man can’t get away with no challenge.

I miss the One in Nine that disrupted the reduction of the struggle for autonomy to sexual and gender identity self-definition that birthed the Jhb People’s Pride.

I miss the One in Nine that would have been planning direct action against Zuma’s criminalisation of young women and girls tonight, and we’d be talking a different language tomorrow.

I miss I miss I miss I miss the Purple Courage… Long live One in Nine Campaign!

I hope out of this a movement of young women and girls will be born to say the criminals are not us! Criminal is a State, which presides over a corrosive, oppressive, exclusionary, elite oriented socio-economic and political order. That protects elites interests, institutionalises violence against women, fails young women and girls. Flouts and bends the constitution when that suits.

Criminal are sexist, unconstitutional statements like these from a Head of State, criminal is a society that scapegoats young women and girls for its own flaws, criminal are our parents who won’t stand up and defend us against this onslaught…!

 

(Photo Credit: Lee Woolf / The South African Civil Society Information Service)

Where people’s suffering is a commodity to be sold

Speaking truth to self: in these times of neoliberal careerism, where people’s suffering is a commodity to be sold in the market place of the development industry, what is a politically conscious and ethical thing to do?

Grabbing media headlines is easy and sexy.

What is meaningful solidarity with people who are suffering and in struggle? Where does fetishism end and where does defeatism begin? What would going to Liberia achieve for the dying of Monrovia?

Africans are dying. Some of us Africans are standing on soap boxes talking about and pointing fingers at those not-so-pure or not-so-legitimate ones doing things we should be doing.

What has South Africa done in solidarity with Africa in this case? I’m not even having this conversation. I am a mere bystander observing with my shiny anti-imperialist microscope. Neither is self-flagellation attractive, ethical nor useful.

So, what then? Well, get some fresh air I guess!

 

(Photo credit: Flicker.com, United Nations Development Program)

I was raised in a world around the fire

 

I was raised in a world around the fire. Where every waking minute was learning. There was no TV. No newspapers. No phones. No electricity. No running water except from streams and waterfalls. With the locked in aura of apartheid we barely ever left the farm, and then the village.

Besides, grandma always said kids who run around in other people’s places get food poisoning or get sick from other people’s dirt. How this reconciled with the “You must know every corner, every hole in your village. Know everything about your neighbours. When they are hungry. When they are sad. When they are happy. You must know everything about the plants that like growing there.”

The language of the forest. The seasons of the river… eluded me really. The thing about how we were taught in the school around the fire is the capacity for alertness. You had to listen. Observe. Interpret. Work out the meaning of things. There was no “moral of the story” discussion at the end of a story.

You discussed why the rabbit didn’t run this or that way. Why the wolf took so long to outwit the fox. Why the aunt was so mean to her brother’s kids. Why the boy was so stupid and didn’t follow his sister. Why the old people didn’t trust the girl until she killed the monster. Why the people thought the woman was a witch even though they never saw her kill anyone. Why the visitors were so ungrateful and mean even though the village people were so nice and welcoming. Why we didn’t have nwelezelanga’s, mlenzanamnye’s or Nompunzi’s magic powers…but the rest you made meaning of yourself. For that reason, you learnt to be alert, fast, your mind learnt to keep every detail – that thing they call photographic memory.

Well, a combination of that and books was powerful. But an erosion of that and filling it with television…not so great. Even though in the absence of a library with more than 5 books I learnt most of my English from TV. Thank goodness for those comrades who later came from South Africa (we lived in Ciskei not SA thina mos) bringing subversive books i couldn’t read but tried desperately and those subversive teachers who gave us the books we had to hide behind the school toilets or leave at home when uMhloli came. And then the half-torn hand-me-down books from the Maritz’s my mother looked after in the town.

Yes, and thanks to whomever it was that thought to do school TV. It did so much to supplement for the science experiments where I could learn how you make that fart – like smelly thing called sulphuric acid. But I did lose my alertness. My photographic memory. And the other nice things like the fearlessness to explore “every corner of your village”, which for a long time of course has been the city with too many walls and ever diminishing space and foggy skies and people who try hard to not to know their neighbours.

 

(Photo Credit: Hominis Ruinis (The Fall of Man) by Nicola Roos / Erdmann Contemporary)