ASHES TO ASHES

Kwanele

ASHES TO ASHES 

A fly sits on a woman’s lip
she spits and swears

a priest in black and white 
raises his hands 
“Ashes to ashes may our holy god give 
your bleeding hearts peace…” 

Plastic petals
red and white 
rain on the wood 
covering your flesh
dead leaves falling 

Your mother throws soil
dust falls
her tears follow the motion 
wind scatters them 
before reaching ground
mourners swallow 
march behind her in procession  
footprints embroider 
the path from your grave

I stay and read the headstone, 
“Nomaphelo, 1973-1992, 
we will remember you always
beloved daughter”

Walking from where you sleep

I remember your legend: 
the day the gods made you 
they carved and carved 
once happy they called a heavens’ Imbizo   
the heavens came 
breathed life into you and next day 
you opened your eyes

At five you asked the priest when god
was coming to our village
he pulled your cheeks and turned his back 
at six you chased policemen with a spoon 
and at twelve taught us 
mellow yellow engine sound 
yaqal’inyakanyaka
rooftops raining
a million feet rise 
Molotov cocktails 

White lies ashes

On your fifteenth birthday 
we exchanged gifts on Makana’s Kop
three years later an East Cape paper 
reported “liberation movements unbanned, 
exiles come home”
the story of the girl found naked 
at the foot of Ntabezono,
a stick shoved into her vagina 
did not make news 

A young boy found the silver chain 
I gave you in his brother’s jacket
Mothers whispered “a familiar voice, 
early hours of the morning 
pleading forgiveness” 
Fathers moaned of “the howling dogs
and the screaming whore 
who disturbed our sleep”  
The law spoke for months 
of “circumstantial evidence”
looked your mother in the eye 
“docket lost, case now closed

Two decades on 
I rest my head on your stone 
and hear your heart’s beat 
the sound of a tidal force twirling 
waves of fists that roll time 
into cannon-balls
churning flames that shred the sky 
as they rise
roaring
Kwanele!
Kwanele!
Kwanele!

(Photo credit: New Frame / Barry Christianson)

Beginning nowhere

Beginning nowhere

So then, we continue from the end…

Mabuded’ubumnyama
(Let the darkness fade)

Arms crossed 
in prayer to gods who 
no longer know how to hear us
we stand at the edge of darkness
bearing a forlorn witness 
to our own slow-motion descent 
into night without stars 
or moons 

We lift our hands to the skies
Makudedubumnyama
kuvelukukhanya
Makudedubumnyama 
Kuvelukukhanya

The pounding of our hearts 
levitates us to the weightlessness 
of questions whose answers 
land like boulders 
on our shoulders
It was never the light 
but us who left 

(Photo Credit: Jane Alexander / artthrob)

NOZIZWE

NOZIZWE 

Dead words tumble off 
stilted tongues
like time-singed paint 
flaking off walls that crumble
from the unbearable 
weight of hollowness

I search for Nozizwe
on democracy’s streets
I wanted to ask if she’d seen 
her hopes hanging
on ramshackle street-poles
and podiums on stadia filled 
with zombie-arms reaching
for air they cannot inhale

But she was Busy:

In the kitchens 
scrubbing indelible marks off 
grease-mantled dinner tables
slippery floors and 
corroded psyches

Baking bread 
for tables she lays but does not sit on 
’n grooming roses whose thorns 
she tames but who’s sweet scents
she has no time to smell 

In hospitals, society’s sick halls
sewing surface wounds 
and reaching for the ones 
she knows must be healed
for the nation to live 

In the streets 
trading bananas ’n 
bite-size chunks of kindness 
for a promise

In the bedroom
performing intimacy
with the ghost that hides
behind the mirror 

In the classroom 
painting futures she wishes 
to bestow as homage to the living
even as she fears 
time’s fist will crush into dust 
like so many before

Crawling in and out of her skin
weaving webs as pre-emptive strike 
because survival in this society’s 
hunting games is mastering 
the art of the spider 

In laboratories whipping the magic 
of her Afro into lanterns to shine 
the nation’s path out of history’s dungeons 
creating paths to new civilisations 
where her name is the music 
that calls the spirits home

Mothering the nation’s orphans
for if children must raise the dead
not haunt the future
they must know tenderness
before storms come down
to drown their innocence

But when witching hour comes
and her world has stopped swirling
Nozizwe can hear the music of the stars
rehearses the steps of her new routine
because she knows struggle is a dance 
where womxn does not greet a new day
with yesterday’s steps

Nozizwe. In my language, this name means She/Her of nations. There is so much I want to say to her, about her, hear from her. And yet, I too should shut up, which I shall henceforth do. But before rushing off, for a long time, perhaps…

I wrote this on May day, 2019. It feels like a century ago since CountryZA held its 6th national elections. And yet, it’s only been 15 months. As elections go, it was the same predictable, humdrum. Deafening noise. Promises falling from the skies. Nauseating, corny political theatre. Political parties competing to give us free t-shirts. Service delivery done. Click. Big men in party regalia and shiny shoes with their entourages pour out of zooty cars onto Alex’s heaving streets like volcanic lava, marking territory long after they’re gone. Communities are divided into little squares, marked in party flags. War zones really, with all that violent contestation for party political interest. This kind of grabbing at a piece of the soul of communities over time must explain, at least in part, the fading colour in the eyes of so many of our communities, why so many are no longer able to in fact be communities. Click. Gogo in a shack spills the guts of her life at the man’s knee and the blinding gaze of the camera. Click. Political party builds her and her grandkids a house. Click. Politicians visits overcrowded clinics in Soweto. Click. Click. Click. Song and dance we…Click. 

Of course, far away on some dusty streets where the cameras are not, womxn, party foot-soldiers knock on doors in the name of the party. We know how womxn labour to build these parties, but even far away from the cameras, it is still the big man showing up. After all, it is his face on the t-shirts they wear. And so, the machine rolls on, reproducing the symbolism, political leadership is a man. Yes, sisters in politics, this is not to erase you, I know you are all there being powerful and working hard to change this image/shift this norm. Its fantastic so many of you, younger and younger, are breaking the doors and occupying this space too. Even as I am yet to see politicking differently because often I struggle to see how we’re not borrowing the tired ways of maledom politicking, I see you. Yes, I see you! And of course some of you have chosen to play the game, and I hope you reflect on that deadly choice. Is conceding patriarchy is hard to break, that politics is a man’s game and to survive in it we must play their game really the only choice? Ayikho hlambi enye indlela? Masithethe boodade. I still see you kodwa ke, all of you, and ndiyanibulela for the small shifts that do occur because you are there. Kodwa kuyafuneka sithethe. 

So, yes, the silly season rolls on. So many men talking at us, about us, for us, around us, through us,talking even when they’re not talking. Appropriating our dreams, turning them into melodic hymns that lift us to the heavens. We fly so high we forget the music will soon fade and we will need to return to earth. That there is no cushion to catch us on landing, at least some of us. So we pray on the way down for the gods to let us land last so we land on top of the others. Those dreams, when not sung in glorious melodies, they are painted in gloss only to be sold back to us at the price of our ballot concession, like the new Gucci fashion item. Yes, it’s the name of the game but gosh its violent. And sidikiwe uxelelwa izinto esizaziyo sibizwa emaralini kwiztadium ingathi sizobukela imatch yechiefs nepirates kodwa sizoxoxa iindaba zomzi owonakeleyo. We know politics is spectackle, kodwa yhu ha ah!


So many men’s faces. Plastered on street poles, public walls, private walls, highway billboards. Whole streets lined from top to bottom with the faces of the men of our politics. It feels like a kind of haunting, months long daymares and nightmares. From head to tow I feel bloated with maledom. The symbolism of it winds my psyche so vigorously if it were a clock the dial would break. Yet something in me does breaks. Because this is a story of something in the heart of our society being broken. All the talking has sucked the life out of us, deafened and zombified us. 

After months of this assault on our ears, I wish they could all just shut up. Change up the game, take off the suits, ditch the entourages, get off the stage, if visiting gogo leave the cameras at home and don’t spend 5 minutes with her and then go capitalise her story for 5 million campaigning rands or the priceless imagery of yourself as a man of the people. If you visit her, maybe sit and just listen, or maybe help her prepare lunch for the 10 biologically orphaned kids she has to look after and cook for everyday. Or maybe spend a day with the Counsellor at Rape Crisis centre who goes home with boulders on her back and then comes back the next day because the war on womxn and children claimed more casualties last night and someone must soldier on. 

Anywho, amidst all this noise and being crowded out by men’s faces I begin to be obsessed with the question of the invisible bodies. My mind needs to find her. We Nozizwe, uphi? Why are you not lining my street and polluting my ears with delicious promises?. 

Then I remember that in a patriarchal society, when you do not see a womxn, it means she is somewhere busy working. The reality is that womxn are everywhere, all the time, working. I begin to think of the many ways this thing called work hides her from the “public” sphere. How systems of male domination thrive on this invisibilisation. Whipping up or letting social chaos reign so that someone has to do something about it, most likely it will be her. Orchestrating state failure to run countries well, showing up properly to supplementing the social reproductive capacity of societies so womxn have to step into the gap because well, somebody must. How this exiling of womxn from the public space and view through keeping them busy is how systems of male domination entrench themselves in society. 

More importantly, but for the work she does, no society gets to stand. Often unpaid, unrecognised, but without which society would not be able to reproduce itself, capital would not have free labourers to extract value from without ever having to even know them, political parties would not have numbers and “foot-soldiers” to win elections, and of course without her nations fall. No, please stop calling her effing mother of your nation. This instrumetalisation of womxn’s identities to con us into believing we matter when we really are just tools to be used to prop up maledom, male power and male interests in society is so transparent. We see it, how even in politics patriarchy has caught on with iys co-opting ways, send the “powerful” womxn to deal with the difficult situations and have them clean up your big men mess, but of course, see no irony in coming back and saying, well, they are not ready to lead. Mnxm. Like, iyabora maan legame. 

Anywhowho, bendingekho kulonto ingaphezulu apha…I’m just here to say hail to the workers of the world, the ones in the visible and invisible working spaces, keeping the sky from falling. 

And lastly, with all the respect for real poets, uxolweni kuni nonke ngalecorruption yobizo lwenu nina zimbongi zomthonyama. Bendisazoshwaqa nje apha ndibhiyozela nina nonke because umntu uzathini ngeSunday yonke engena ndawo yokuya egoli (hides face)? 

As for ooComrade bhuti bam, ndiyanithanda maan va, qha ngaske nipheze uthetha gqithi khe nimamele niqaphele instead hlambi nizofunda something! If lento ndiyithethileyo iyakucaphukisa, iske wenze isMalaika Mahlatsi, thumela ewallet ndizakunika inombolo, I promise you will feel better afterwards. Or, lets have a drink and laugh on it, it is after all just a game, right! You must understand, I’ve seen all 6 elections now. For the 1st one, I wrote a non-poem about holding hands with an old men I was helping get to his voting station, but who in fact was holding my hand to enter a future as the child of democratic South Africa, I imagined unfolding very differently from what we have today, but for whom I remain hopeful because even when all is lost we must hold on to hope or we die. So, yabona mos neh, andikho so so I’m just qhubaring incoko. 

Nam ke, starting now, I begin my 3 years (or is it forever I don’t know anymore) of silent retreat, being guilty of the things of maledom and polluting people’s ears all these years, silence will be how I apologise for my own crimes of contradiction…Bahlali, let’s hope sizobonana in 2022, or not. Niberight. 

With gratitude to Nozizwe, who is all the womxn out there, young or forever young like Kota nomfanelo, old, or whatever age you are, who keep inventing new steps in this dance of struggle! This is how I love you. May you hear the music of the stars tonight. Here’s to you!!!

(Photo Credits: Siphokazi Mthathi / Facebook)

Feminist meditations on transforming power and privilege

Xenobia Bailey, Sistah Paradise’s Great Wall of Fire Tent (installation view, John Michael Kohler Arts Center)

My grandmother taught me that when you are working things out, emotional or otherwise, talk to yourself. Talk it over with yourself until your mind is clear and your body sinks with lightness. So, I’m one of those shocking crazy people who talk to themselves all the time. As a child people thought I was mad, I’d wonder off in the distance talking and talking, forgetting I was getting further and further from home. Luckily, I also had a grandmother who never tired to entertain our madness. This time calls on us all to talk to ourselves, to practice truly listening with self first in preparing for the hard and bruising conversations with each other in a world that is broken and requires mending. Facebook is evil but is a platform to talk to self. In here speaking to self this morning, as usual…

“The thing about oppressive systems and spaces is that they are oppressive. Emotionally draining, structurally and intellectually blind to their true nature. Their violence, their gaslighting ways that cut deeper than skin. They erase everything about the world and then proceed to create the world in their image, leaving no room for imagination of how the rest of the world could look different. With rules and rituals and reinforcement they cement the oppressions, proceeding to co-opt everything in the space into tools of its own reproduction.

Those on the sharp end of the knife have their lives circumscribed as perpetual performances of resistance. When they get tired, have no more fight left in them or must choose the battles to maintain their sanity, they are labelled. When they no longer have the patience to educate, persuade, teach, perform the theatrics of holding fragile sensibilities, they are unhelpful. 

Before you ask a person who does not hold power and privilege within a system or space “what can we do”, think about the gaslighting effect of that, and remember to ask also “what can we stop doing”. If they tell you once, listen and hear. Or else you’re not interested in changing, and that is violence.

Before you tell a person in a situation where they are outnumbered by the stacks of privilege “oh but you have power you can just speak”, ask yourself, is this really true when seen from their perspective. 

Before you ask someone in a structurally oppressive system ” be propositional”, consider whether they haven’t been trying to be all this time and you didn’t hear because privileged ears are deaf. 

Take time to remember the many times when they did propose and because your privileged ear which hears only the echoes of its own interest wasn’t capable of hearing, you didn’t, you couldn’t hear. Consider that asking people to be propositional is violent, is a tool of silencing, because people who are without real power in an oppressive system or space don’t go around mouthing off meaningless things, they are always speaking, even with their silence, they are speaking. Read what feminists have said about strategic silence, or just be decent and wonder when someone is silent, why because everyone has a mouth and has ideas. People are never without a thing to say. 

Each time they speak, they are being propositional. If you don’t know how to listen to them, it is not their fault. And before you are tempted to ask what exactly are you saying, consider that with 5 words you just ripped their heart, erasing them only to ask them to get over it and show up in the way that serves your interest. 

So consider if the way the space of conversation is structured is off putting or silencing, or if people have just given up because they’ve experienced that it’s not worth it. And consider that giving up is not weakness, it is an act of survival for those sitting on the knife’s edge of an oppressive space or system. Sometimes people chose not to “fight” any longer because they either know the space is not able to survive their unleashing of things they really think and feel. Or, they are not ready to deal because each time they must do this talking and taking on, the energy they extend is like circling the globe three times. And they will be the ones left there to live with the muscle pain and you’ll be moving on with your life. Consider that speaking, taking on for those without real power and privilege is wounding. And the thing about oppressive systems and spaces is that they have instinctive capacities for defaulting to their ways, to wound and do so violently. 

And no, oppressed people don’t get to bear the burden of your fragility as the powerful ones in a system or space. That’s your work. Practice allyship by working on oneself. Because each time your response is “oh but that’s personal attacks”, it means you’ve not reconciled with what it means to be an embodiment of an oppressive system and the cost of responsibility you have to bear on the way to your so called allyship. 

So, show them you care, you are here, then let them be. They will come when they are ready, and if they do not, just keep being kind and doing everything else you need to do as the one with power and privilege within an oppressive system or space. Stop hiding behind oppressed people by shoving them to the front or putting them on the spot, that patronising and violent invisible hand, “go ahead, speak, we are listening, we want to hear your voice”. Consider that when people haven’t been heard for so long, they stop believing that oppressive systems are capable of listening.

Before you jump to building structures, creating processes, apportioning positions trying your hand at “levelling the playing fields”, recognize that there is hurt and pain and it is sitting in the bodies of those without power and privilege in a system or space. And the thing about things that sit in bodies is they take time to exorcise. Bodies are fields of chemical reactions where it can take one trigger to create an explosion inside a person who does not hold privilege. Do not gaslight them for feeling things that only bodies can feel. Consider first your behaviours. 

Consider starting with “what will it take for this space to hold your need to heal”. Then rituals must be in place that affirm over and over the belief that those who hold power and privilege in a system do really want to change, that the space is willing and is doing the work of being different. 

No, to say is not to do. So, ease off on the declarations and words. Symbols matter greatly in this but declarations of intent are not symbols, they are tools to make us feel good, or a little less bad as the privileged. 

Consider that blindness is a luxury, a con actually, in this day and age. “Blindness” is itself an act or strategy of maintaining privilege. You can tell me how many times you ‘re an ally, stand on top of the Himalayas screaming anti-racism, anti-patriarchy, anti-homophobia, blah blah. You can build structures and all, but if I do not feel it, It’s not real. Remember that the thing about oppressive spaces and systems is that they erode belief. 

So, behaviours that affirm belief must be foremost. They must feel real and authentic. Being “willing to change means being vulnerable”. That great feminist theoretician and intellectual Dawn Kavanagh says always, “our vulnerability is our power”. That is true, because in being vulnerable together we recognise each other’s humanity. We build a new space where in time, healing may be possible because there is now a neutral space where empathy is both a value and a currency of a new kind of power. Yes, empathy is not a warm and fuzzy thing, it is a thing of deeply political and material value. 

But remember that vulnerability is a two-way street. We must both be naked in the street otherwise it’s not building a foundation of equality. If I haven’t seen you naked, asking me to be naked in front of you is violence. It’s reducing me to a performer on a stage whose rules are not mine, and of course I can act. But consider that people in a system or space that is oppressive go through their daily lives within that system or space in perpetual performance. So, don’t be violent. Give people a break from the acting. Workers fought for an 8-hour workday for a reason. But remember also that systems or spaces of oppressive power and privilege dehumanise, it will take time for people who’ve gone through daily dehumanisation to see the humanity of those holding power and privilege (who embody the system) within the space. So, these rituals of vulnerability must be exercised over and over.

So, all this talk about diversity, read Angela Davis’s lectures, educate yourself about its pitfalls and how the concept is being instrumentalised to mask the real transformative work required. 

On inclusion, feminists have said it, inclusion in untransformed structures is co-option, participation in bolstering structures whose only job is to uphold the very systems of oppression. Yes representation is a right for those “excluded” from power but consider how you will make representation meaningful. What is the new thing being built that is capable of holding true and genuine “inclusion”? Consider this, is inclusion really possible in structures built inherently from a foundation of privilege? 

Take time to figure out your answer and be prepared to be honest. Consider that sometimes suicide is what is needed for transformation to happen. No, it’s not the knife on your throat, its surrendering privilege, those acts of nakedness together. Its recognising that you’re not the cradle of humanity, cleansing yourself of your sense of supremacy. This is an art and a hart (art of the heart) which makes it ultimately a science.

No, don’t patronise people, it’s not handing over power, it’s not charity, its transformation.

Nobody wants to be handed a rotten power. It’s building a new formula of power, on new foundations. Its patronising to keep talking about handing over power, too many overtones. 

We must consider, what are our constructs of “change”, both as those on the knife’s edge and on the side where power and privilege is weighted. 

Blah blab blah. 

Oh and consider that this can’t be put in a log frame. Indicators are important but its tangible acts and tangible experiences of something different from oppression. If oppression is a negative application of power and privilege by those who have it, a negative experience of how power and privilege works by those on the receiving end, then the converse, the creation of space, behavioural codes, rituals that both distribute and make possible a positive experience of power. From the power within to the power with.

Consider that this is about “culture” change, and culture is as much about things that are felt as things that are seen (the material, the symbols, or markers). So, you can put up material things but if attaining those things is itself violating, it’s not change, its torture. And you can make people feel warm and fuzzy and “included” but it’s not transformation, it’s not inclusion, it’s co-option. So, consider your recipe for inclusion, that inclusion is more than the sum total of your performative acts as the ones in whose favour power and privilege is weighted…”

And then proceed to hold humility as intonga nomsimelelo wakho (a stick for you to lean on). That means considering the idea that systems of oppression are historical, layered, cellular, that the experience of those who live in bodies that systems of privilege and power cast in role of “victims”, even when they do hold positional power, is like being on a treadmill, that the overtures and efforts of your space or institution will not be enough. 

Systemic and systematic oppression damages in deep ways. Reparations, justice is the only balm. But that in itself is so big. So, be honest about the project, be humble because if you cannot hold your own disappointment about how even when you “mea culpa” 5 times a day, people are still not happy, then you’re not honest. So, do not make it about you, it’s not about you, it’s about the experience of those on the receiving end of the system’s abuses. And, please don’t ever ask people to stop being triggered. This is not curation, people can’t curate when and how they respond in one situation, compartmentalising in the way that you would like. Be humble, work like a donkey to transform yourself so you don’t show up as the system itself anymore. Khulula longubo yobugwenxa, masihambe ze sizozibhenca bhenca sizijonge sizilungise!

Oh by the way, blame Hope Chigudu, Everjoice J. Win, Shereen Essof, Dawn Kavanagh, Phumi Mtetwa…, and all these other feminist witches dead and alive. Witches always be poisoning and corrupting innocent minds. 

(Photo Credit: Elephant)

Maria Mahlangu is still dead. How many Maria Mahlangus died without justice?

Maria Mahlangu is still dead. We do not know how many Maria Mahlangus died without a voice, without their story making news, without justice. Many domestic workers are in jeopardy because our homes (their workplaces) are not always safe workplaces. We can end this, by joining the call of thousands of domestic workers to end the era of exclusion, of them being treated as third-class workers. 

Domestic workers, predominantly Black women, make up “more than 8%” of Black workers in South Africa, far outnumbering Black professionals in our workforce. The way we treat domestic workers (in law and in our homes) is an expression of our disdain for Black bodies, for Black women’s bodies and their labour as a nation. The extent to which we continue to extract their labour with little recognition of their dignity and rights, and even less legal recognition, is a moral outrage, a profound injustice. This is a cause we are obligated by our morality and our sense of justice to get behind. If there are more than 2million domestic workers in this country, this is a cause of millions of us in this nation. 

Let this be where we begin our full stop to injustice, gendered injustice. It is an outrage that this had to go to court to begin with, but it has come to that. Tomorrow domestic workers will be in court to defend what should be a constitutional right. How will you stand with them? It is not enough to be nice to Mavis, although Mavis deserves all the respect you should give. We can do something more fundamental than that, that improves the lives of all the Mavis’s. So, dear friend, how will you show up for the people who show up for millions of our families every day? 

Domestic workers, their union formations and those who support them started the campaign under the Domestic Workers Rising banner. They are co-founders of #Shayisfuba, an intersectional movement of womxn individuals and formations who’ve come together to build solidarity with each other, to learn about and fight common struggles. The movement is saying a feminist government would have prioritised equal protection for all workers, particularly the least protected, domestic workers. It is not too late!

(Image Credit: New Frame)

#SADecides2019: Today I’ll be voting for the future, for the ones that will bring us closer to ourselves, to each other

Every minute I believe this. It’s what keeps me going, why I do what I do, what explains the choices I’ve made in life and perhaps those I shall yet make, what makes me who I am. The unwavering belief in the power of people to make a country, a society. To heal themselves and each other. They may get lost in the woods sometimes, sometimes for quite a while. But eventually, they find themselves. 

I’ve come to know intellectually, intimately, how broken societies are a manifestation of broken people.

Today I’ll be voting for the future. For the political formations of the future. The ones that will bring us closer to ourselves, to each other. Those that will inspire us to heal, and to lead ourselves and each other from the inside out. Those who will remind us to honour our own promises to ourselves, and to make promises to each other that we can keep. The promise to love, to value genuinely, to care deeply. Those who will not inspire us by grandstanding on highwaters waving the pennant of empty militancy to our fragile hopes. Those who will remind us that we have survived this long because we are powerful and not because political parties of so-called leaders did anything for us. Who will reconnect us fiercely to our power within, our power to, our power with.

I am sick to my core of big bombastic words and shallow philosophies of big men who perform their fragile masculinity like it’s some spectacular show we zombies must cheer at. After so many years, I’m done with this fake show. As I go out to vote, I am carrying Alice Walker’s poem in my hand, in memory of my mother, my grandmother, all the broken ones in my family, my movement homes, the people known and unknown that I believe in because they believed in me, all the womxn and the theys who are the source of my belief in our hopeful future, the ones who literally hold up the sky from falling and crushing us all. 

And of course also I carry this book to keep me company in case I find no friends in the queue to talk to, such as Xthi Nxngxmso and Mmatshilo Tumelo Motsei. I’m also carrying this book to give as a gift to a new friend I may meet in the queue and discover could use it. It’s that kind of day, maCom.

Alice, thank you for the words, sisi wam, may we find our power in our brokenness!

I WILL KEEP BROKEN THINGS
                        by Alice Walker

I will keep
broken
things:
The big clay
pot
with raised
iguanas
chasing
their
tails;
two
of their
wise
heads
sheared
off;

I will keep
broken
things:
The old
slave
market
basket
brought
to my
door
by Mississippi
a jagged
hole
gouged
in its sturdy
dark
oak
side.

I will keep
broken
things:
The memory
of
those
long
delicious
night
swims
with
you;

I will keep
broken
things:
In my house
there
remains
an
honored
shelf
on which
I will
keep
broken
things.

Their beauty
is
they
need
not
ever
be
‘fixed.’

I will keep
your
wild
free
laughter
though
it is now
missing
its
reassuring
and

graceful
hinge.

I will keep
broken
things:

Thank you
so much!

I will keep
broken
things.
I will keep
you:

pilgrim
of
sorrow.

I will keep
myself.

Yet again we learn how inept at dealing with rape culture we are as a patriarchal, rapey society

So, yet again, we’re learning how inept at dealing with rape culture we are as a patriarchal, rapey society. Each time has become an opportunity to expose just how entrenched we are as reproducers of this rape culture. 

Womxn’s organisations and survivors fought for the right of survivors to be believed before we are criminalized while the rapist gets the benefit of the doubt (as is always the case and is the case with this Zizi situation). Oh and don’t ask me what it was to be at varsity on a Friday and witness our leaders (I could name some names indeed) back then already, coming for their Friday pick-ups of the fresh and fleshy beauts and no that was for no cadre political education sessions. And we all know the hand that lingers too long during the fake handshakes and the midnight knocks in your door by some envoy of some leader to check some nefarious thing in those all too important conferences with those all too important leaders. Yes, I know it and you know it!The complex dynamics of sexual relations, power and interactions on consent within such a context means the very premise of the law as it’s designed is wholly incapable of being an instrument of justice for the many survivors whose stories are a lot more “complex”, which is in fact the majority of survivors.

Whilst it helps no one to have our pain instrumentalised for extortionist or any such intentions, why is it that the default place for our response is they are extortionists?

It’s exactly because this is our default response that our suspicion, which may or may not turn out to be right, says more about us than it does about whether the accusers may in fact be extortionists. If this becomes an issue for you, in a context like South Africa where rape is a norm, that’s really just exposing your rape culture agent status. 

If justice means you pay me money for violence and trauma you’ve inflicted on me, whose bloody damn business is it to say what I want isn’t right? After witnessing how the criminal justice system ravages survivors, why would anyone with pure intentions question why a survivor may exercise her agency to protect themselves from that secondary trauma and victimization which is what this unjust system has come to symbolize? 

Who appointed you arbiter of survivors’ truth and justice! How about castigating the fact that women get raped exactly because the criminal justice system means a survivor has lost even before they enter the court’s door? The complexity of the truth of rape doesn’t fit in legal statutes, even with impeccable investigation. Why don’t you talk about who do we need to become for us to be capable of advancing justice for survivors instead? We have to reinvent ourselves to become capable of ending impunity. We have to learn a whole new way of seeing, analyzing, asking and articulating questions, a whole new set of questions, a whole new lens. And you can’t do that if you’re so caught up in your own privilege (the privilege to tell a survivor what justice they can ask for and prescribe timing for reporting and how they must feel), that’s unchecked privilege usurping the agency of the survivor. To end the culture of impunity, we need to do the hard work of changing ourselves, our lenses, and journeying to stop being agents of impunity. To those who want to do this, I’m right there, masambe Comrade! 

We’ve all made mistakes we wish we could erase, but it’s those mistakes that demand of us to be and to do different. We may not have the formula, but it won’t emerge like a pill from some rat experiment in a laboratory. It will emerge from active work we do to unlearn being agents of rape culture, intentionally and not. 

As for the rest, must be nice to have a right to appoint yourself judge and jury as it pleases. A real nice life problem!

(Photo Credit: Deutsche Welle)

Why I support the demands of domestic workers!


I was born from a mother of multiple identities. The daughter of a farmer who had no land but grew her own food in the space she was allowed on the farm where I was later born, Kwantaba Ziyatsha (place of burning mountains), or Seven Fountains to some. It was only when my grandmother was forcefully removed from the farm where she worked, birthed some of her children and farmed that she could have her own piece of land to grow more food to feed the troop of us grandchildren and many more in our village eMgababa. She was forcefully moved because she was getting old, wasn’t as “efficient” as Baas Robert needed her to be. All her children had left the farm to work in the mines or other farms or the “kitchens” in the towns.

By the time we moved to eMgababa (a village near Peddie), my mother had long left school to go and work in the neighbouring Grahamstown, eRhini or Makhanda as is now known. I am told she was a promising bright student who could have been one of the country’s best netball players. But for a young black girl who didn’t finish school, domestic work became the most obvious avenue and soon enough, she was working in white people’s hotels and homes.

Back then, the story of the “domestic worker” in South Africa was more black and white than it is today. Black women in the towns cleaned white people’s houses, looked after their children, maintained their households, releasing the family to go to school and engage in “productive” economic activities. Black women have always been central to the formation of the white economy in this country. They continue to be in contemporary South Africa’s black middle-class economy. It is still black women (South African born and migrant) who are the majority domestic workers today, an estimated one million of them working in the white suburbs and in the homes of today’s bourgeoning black middle classes.

My mother started domestic work at age 14, was a live-in domestic, which is code for a 24-hour worker available at the madam or master’s ring of the bell. Later we got to witness how she lived alongside her bosses. The family which she served the longest loved her alright. She was the real mother of the household, the one the children cried to when they fell or were hungry. In all the ways she was positioned as the stereotype: walked the dogs in her pink overalls, sometimes fetched the children from school in her pink overalls. She preferred blue but if she didn’t go with the Madam to choose the colour she wanted she got pink. Had to wear her overalls when serving family friends by the pool. Stayed in the garage even though there were enough bedrooms inside the house she cleaned and made a home for the family everyday.

I did not want to know too much about what else happened to her there. Her mood told it all when she came home. I got to experience and observe some of her daily life myself on the days I went to help her. Also, when I worked on my own for her “master” of 27 years during school holidays or weekends to make a little money, and when my mother was no longer well enough to work so I had to replace her when I could.

But my mother was not the stereotype. She was “cheeky”. Baas tolerated her as long as the Madam was alive. When Madam died suddenly the husband persecuted her out of a job of 27 years and robbed her of her entitlements. Madam was a truly nice woman who loved my mother in her own way. She helped save me from dying of a botched appendicectomy in the hands of an apartheid Surgeon who insisted I had an STD at 14 and would not let anyone else disagree with his untested diagnosis. Afterall, Master was the lawyer and she had no real rights under the law, or the ability to fight back against his cunning.

In my family, we used to joke that my mother was like Mandela, she did a 27-year sentence at her last employer. Difference was she got out of it with little if anything while Mandela got a presidency and a saintly status. She didn’t think the joke was funny, but it was too good a joke to not taunt her with. Afterall, she was the queen of mock.  She was so good at mocking others she could reduce a big man to a flimsy little straw with one joke, she wasn’t afraid of anyone. I think this was part of the reason the very tall Baas couldn’t tolerate her in the end, cheeky, old domestics aren’t attractive, nor pleasure to have around.

My mother’s experience, and by extension ours, was as complex, unique as it was typical. When I started to work for Baas, he was very quick to comment how I reminded him of my mother when she was young. How she “followed instructions”. How she would moan but wouldn’t talk as loudly back. How she cleaned “more thoroughly”, didn’t demand extra pay and was just how they all should be, visible only through the work of their hands. Bust she changed, and he “didn’t know what got into her”.

After my mother recognised certain signs in me she demanded I stop going there. Luckily, I got another weekend and holiday job somewhere else where it was just me and the Madam, and my mother was always with me. She was always clear, no daughter of hers was going to become a fulltime domestic worker. She insisted she would sell anything of hers for me to complete my studies. But I knew she had already sold everything, including her health. So, when she got sick, I was happy for her to stop working and we had to find other ways to make do. By then, she had met a wonderful spirit who became many things to us. This one, we didn’t call her Madam. She was daughter and sister and companion to my mother. She shared with us everything she could. One cannot pretend race, class and history away, but she presented an alternative way. When she moved away my mother could not do the work anymore. She was 14 years old when she began this work. It had marked her life, our perceptions of interpersonal relationships and familial intimacies. She was done, but reckoning with its impacts on her emotional and physical wellbeing was only beginning.

October is the month my mother died 6 years ago. She was 54. A feisty, towering tree of our family. With her around we had a stem on which to anchor ourselves. It is a very heavy month for us her children and her siblings. Last month we performed the big ritual of returning her spirit back home, Simbuyisa. Among other things, my mother was a serious Healer. In my tradition people get called to be healers. I do not know how our ancestors decide who to call. Perhaps it’s a combination of one’s life trials and tribulations and a resilience or purity of spirit despite it all might have something to do with it. So, by tradition we perform these rituals, for the healing of her spirit as well as of those of the living. But it is Pinky, Myrtle who raised my mother from the grave for me, and began the healing of my spirit.

A few months ago, I got introduced to Pinky Mashiane, a domestic worker warrior who is leading the charge for domestic workers to receive the same protections under the law. She fights alongside Myrtle Witbooi, the stalwart of the domestic workers movement in SA and the world over. Myrtle has been everywhere carrying the placard for domestic workers rights. She has led SADSAWU, that neglected “child” of our labour movement for decades, making visible the invisible hands who clean up the proverbial mess in so many of our homes and perform productive labour without which our nation, our economy, would come to a standstill.

This month, Pinky and her sisters, my mother’s comrades and sisters in arms, will hopefully achieve a significant victory at the Constitutional Court. I had not known Pinky much before this. I still do not quite know much of her story. But I know my mother’s story and through it I know Pinky. The story of millions of women in SA and the world over who are domestic workers.

I am blessed with these mothers, these comrades, these warriors who are returning my mother to me, and justice for her beyond the grave. I am inspired by the feminists I organize with who did not hesitate to respond when these workers called. For all these reasons, I support every single demand the Domestic workers are making: Same protection under the law. Decent wages, decent working conditions, compensation for injuries and diseases contracted at work!

And no, domestic workers are not responsible for the crimes that happen in our homes. Yes, when we feel vindicated at an occasional video that goes viral of a supposed domestic worker abusing a child we should be shocked as well as look in the mirror. What do we do every day, in the most intimate spaces where we have total control over them, to recognise and affirm their humanity.

No, its not enough to talk nice about how wonderful Mavis and Violet and Zoliswa are and then send them away with a couple of thousands when they are too old or sickly for us to extract anymore of their labour. We must recognize, respect and remunerate them as legitimate workers. Treat them as human beings with dignity. We have the power of control over their lives while they are in our homes, our offices and workplaces. Our own humanity is measured in the way we treat others in general, particularly those who give to us as much as domestic workers do. Hopefully the courts will speak for them this week.

Hopefully the State will finally be forced to recognize all their rights as workers. We owe them nothing less!

That’s why I support the Domestic Worker’s Rising campaign. You should too.

The campaign was launched on October 15. On the same day a group of domestic workers and allied organisations gathered outside the North Gauteng High Court for the Sylvia Mahlangu hearing. In this case, Maria Mahlangu drowned in March 2012 after falling off a ladder and plunging into her employer’s open swimming pool while cleaning windows.

Her unemployed daughter Sylvia and grandchild, who were dependent on her income, were unable to claim for compensation through available legislation, even though Mahlangu had worked for the same family for 22 years. To get more details about this case and the Domestic Worker’s Rising Campaign follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on @OxfamSA and visit the website to see the different ways you can be involved.

(For more information, check out https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/citypress/20181014/282291026197237 and http://www.seri-sa.org/images/SERI_Domestic_Workers_Rights_Guide_Draft_2_reprint.pdf )

(This originally appeared, in edited form, in the City Press)