One can ask the question

June Orsmond and students asking the question


One can ask the question

One can ask the question
empowering young minds
as a 77-year-old is doing
at Lavender Hill High School
(outside of our ritual Days)

One can ask the question
why the white woman label
20-odd years in to a democracy
the media reports as such
(are they still group-thinking)

All the white I know
is the hoary-old ditty
A whiter shade of pale
a little-known collective noun
a whiteness of swans
(and the Beatles’ White Album)

I ask the question
from a non-racial rearing
enfolded by humanists
political educators teachers
civic-minded campaigners
(African) Marxists and Socialists
feminists and womynists too

(with Achebe and Ngugi
and Neruda and Brecht
they made their mark though
not with corporal punishment)

One can ask the question
with all the progressive battles
(no normal sport in an abnormal)
where has all the non-racialism gone
was it just a passing charade

One can ask the question
what seeds do we plant
as June Orsmond is doing
(the power of one person)
in Lavender Hill and elsewhere
in the ghetto of young minds

Marina da Gama grandmother June Orsmond’s work, in “The power of one” (Argus, July 2 2014), brings forth the question.

(Photo Credit: Cape Argus)

What Dembe, Mari, Masani, and Flavirina knew and what they learned

Dembe Ainebyona has suffered: State violence, mob violence, rape. Ainebyona is a 31-year-old lesbian, originally from Uganda, currently living in the Cape Town metropolitan area. In 2009, she applied for asylum status in South Africa. Unaware of South Africa’s liberal laws concerning LGBTQ people, Ainebyona hid her lesbian identity and hid the real reasons she had fled Uganda. She was denied asylum. Her appeal comes up in a few months.

This is not a story about Uganda. This is a story about South Africa and the reality of its so-called liberal laws as lived by LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers. It’s not a pretty story.

A recent report, Economic Justice: Employment and Housing Discrimination Against LGBTI Refugees and Asylum Seekers in South Africa, read against the account of Dembe Ainebyona, reveals a story, that of asylum seekers and refugees in the Cape Town area.

Why focus on Cape Town? Dembe Ainebyona lives there. It’s a global tourist as well as refugee destination. It’s a `model’ for neoliberal urban redevelopment.

And this: “In July 2012, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) closed its Cape Town RRO [Refugee Reception Office] and refused to accept any new requests for asylum at the location. The temporary shutdown was particularly problematic for undocumented LGBTI newcomers because it placed them at risk of detention and subsequent repatriation. In fact, the largest population of refugees and asylum seekers reside in Cape Town. To push back, PASSOP and other advocates protested outside the closed RRO. Another human rights organisation also challenged in court the legality of the RROs closing. In July 2012, the Western Cape High Court ordered the DHA to continue accepting new asylum applications until the court provided a final determination on the case, thereby providing new asylum seekers entering Cape Town interim relief. After months of rallies and public outcry spearheaded by PASSOP, the Western Cape High Court ordered in March 2013 that the RRO fully resume operations by July 2013. However, despite these 2012 and 2013 court rulings, it was reported in April 2013 that the Cape Town RRO had not accepted any new applications since June 2012.” Welcome to Cape Town!

Here’s the story of Mari, Masani, and Flavirina, residents of Cape Town.

Mari: “Lesbian asylum seeker Mari has an educational background in finance management and worked as an accountant in her home country of Angola. She reports that she had two interviews where, after having a positive reception on the phone, the potential employer would not even ask for her CV or paperwork after meeting her in person and assuming her sexual orientation … Mari, who recently escaped from Angola with her girlfriend, explained that she and her girlfriend had to sell all of their possessions and combine their savings to purchase plane tickets to flee to South Africa. Since arriving in Cape Town, they have been unable to find work and therefore are unable to afford housing. (Mari explains that despite their efforts to find employment, they are extremely limited because they cannot seek asylum seeker status and obtain legal documentation since the Cape Town DHA office has stopped accepting new arrival applicants.)”

Masani: “Lesbian refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable as they are often victims of sexual assault. As a result of discriminatory attitudes, police officers do not take reports of sexual assaults targeting the LGBTI community seriously. [Masani, a Ugandan lesbian] explains that police often respond with additional harassment when speaking with victims, asking questions such as, `How can you enjoy sex with ladies?’”

Flavirina: “Flavirina arrived in Cape Town from Burundi as a guest for an LGBTI/transgender conference. When people in her hometown heard why she had left the country, an official from Burundi contacted her and warned her to stay out of the country or she would likely be imprisoned or attacked upon her return. She applied for refugee status in South Africa and is still pending a determination. Since living in South Africa, she has lived in various shelters, on the streets and is currently living in a township. At one point, Flavirina found refuge at a Christian shelter, where she had to hide both her Muslim religion and her gender identity. The shelter separated the living quarters by gender, forcing her to share showers, dressing rooms, and other living quarters with men. As the shelter did not allow new members to leave the premises for the first three months of their stay, Flavirina was trapped in this environment, having to dress and act male. After coming out to the pastor in charge of the shelter, he told her he could no longer guarantee her safety.”

Most interviewees in this report were aware of the protections in South Africa’s Constitution, and the minority that were not came to the country following rumors of tolerance in the nation’s communities.” They found violence and promise, persecution and hope. They found that, in South Africa, life can be hard and dangerous for lesbians. They found as well that, in South Africa, life can be hard and dangerous for women marked as `foreigner’.  As non-national Africans and as lesbians, they face housing and employment discrimination.

In February, Free Gender, the Khayelitsha-based Black lesbian organization, celebrated 20 years of democracy and lamented 20 years of fear. They celebrated the rule of law as they decried the rule of violence and torture.

For those who decry and work to reverse the current wave of homophobic legislation, continue to do so. At the same time, ensure your country has more than good laws. Make sure you welcome and care for the stranger in your strange land, whoever she may be.

 

(Video Credit: The Atlantic Philanthropies / YouTube)

Cry the beloved Khayelitsha (Commission)

South Africa is currently awash in commissions of inquiry. There’s the ongoing and perhaps never-ending Marikana Commission. Today we read there’s to be a new commission of inquiry into the Tongaat mall collapse, last November. And there’s the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into allegations of police inefficiency in Khayelitsha and a breakdown in relations between the community and police in Khayelitsha.

While women are significant participants in the Marikana and the Tongaat events and commissions, women are in many ways the subjects of the Khayelitsha Commission. This is not surprising, given the nature of the inquiry. The Commission’s mandate isn’t to get to the bottom of a tragic event, but rather to investigate and get to the texture of decades long dissolution of everyday life.

In the 1980s, the State built Khayelitsha and has continued to do so ever since. Part of this construction has involved the establishment of a State of sexual tyranny. That State of sexual tyranny has come forth in the testimony of Khayelitsha residents to the Commission.

The Commission began in response to a complaint lodged by the Women’s Legal Centre, representing the Social Justice Coalition, Treatment Action Campaign, Equal Education, Free Gender, Triangle Project, and Ndifuna Ukwazi. That complaint was lodged in 2012. The Social Justice Coalition had been organizing hard for two years prior for an investigation into the situation of justice administration in Khayelitsha. As the complaint noted, “Since 2003 the civil society organisations have held more than one hundred demonstrations, pickets, marches and other forms of protest against the continued failures of the Khayelitsha police and greater criminal justice system. The organisations have also submitted numerous petitions and memorandums to various levels of government in this regard. There have been sustained and coordinated efforts from various sectors of the Khayelitsha community for action to be taken by government agencies, including the police, to improve the situation.”

For over a decade, intensifying police incompetence, corruption, violence, and disregard for the local population went hand in hand with `vigilante justice’. In 2012 alone, 20 `vigilante’ collective killings were reported in the area. The struggle for space and for citizenship was running with blood and smoke. In the struggle for safe space and full citizenship, women, again, have been key. As the Women’s Legal Centre complaint noted, “Girls and women are frequently beaten and raped whilst walking to and from communal toilets or fetching water from communal taps close to their homes, while domestic abuse poses a threat to the safety of many women within their own homes. Between March 2003 and March 2011 there has been a 9.36% increase in the number of reported sexual crimes reported in Khayelitsha.”

Throughout the decades, women have kept their eyes on the prize. Khayelitsha is home. They should be able to live, and love, at home without fear of violence. Their children, partners, parents, friends, neighbors should as well. Through the use of public funds and private security forces, Cape Town has established `improvement districts’ … in the central city, inner southern suburbs, Sea Point and Green Point. Not in Khayelitsha. The women know that, and they don’t accept it.

Funeka Soldaat, founder of Free Gender, recounted her story of being raped, because she is lesbian, in 1995. She went to one police station, where nothing happened. Finally, without here statement being taken, she was taken to a hospital and dumped outside. The hospital said she needed a statement, and so she walked to Khayelitsha Site B police station, all of this right after having been raped. There she was treated disrespectfully, she felt because of her sexual orientation, and no statement was taken. Finally, literally barefoot, she walked home and went to sleep. The rest of the story is pain, healing, organizing. As to the police: “Khayelitsha police appear to lack the energy, will and intent to provide a service to LGBT [people].”

Malwande Msongelwa described what happened when she found her brother, stabbed to death at a bus stop. She called the police, and they didn’t come. She called again, and they finally came, but did nothing. Worse, they refused to get out of their cars: “The police do not care about people… [they] will only come out if there are drugs. Then they will come out with 10 cars …They do not even care if you are injured… If the ambulance hasn’t arrived they won’t touch you. They wait in their car… I don’t trust the police.” Her brother lay on the ground for six hours. The crime scene was never investigated.

The stories continue. Ms. Nduna describes how a police van hit and dragged one of her children. This was the fifth child in the area to suffer harm, and worse, at the hands of a police vehicle. What happened? “We buried and there was nothing still.”

The harrowing stories of violence, of police inaction and worse, of vigilante action and worse, occur in a framework of radical hope. Phumeza Mlungwana, Secretary General of the Social Justice Coalition, put it simply and directly: “Most of Khayelitsha is policeable.”

Witness and after witness explained that lights, presence, a diversity of site appropriate techniques, a committed and engaged and respectful police force are what are called for. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not impossible. The women of Khayelitsha know that. They know, from experience, that when the work of struggle accompanies the work of mourning, they can make things happen. The Commission itself is a step along that path. The struggle continues.

(Photo Credit: Kate Stegeman / Daily Maverick)

(Not) While the city sleeps

(Not) While the city sleeps

(Not) While the city sleeps
there is a child rape
crisis in the city
(a World Design Capital city)

(children should be
seen and not heard)

(Not) While the city sleeps
a terrifying epidemic
of sexual assault
(4 a day reported)

Never mind the police
Never mind our constitution
and flowery speeches about it
(Women’s Month quite far away
16 Days of Activism a memory-distant)

(Not) While the city sleeps
we attack our children
(and our women too)
with impunity

Malnutrition and hunger
crosses security fences
(that protect us from ourselves)
to be right on your doorstep

Is it the poor
Is it the hungry
Is it the jobless
matriculants and even
the homeless

Is it you
behind closed doors
in gated mansions
in ivory towers
be-suited in committee

How does the city sleep
(the city that works)
in the cold light of day

How do you sleep

 

“Child rape crisis in city” (Argus, 31 January 2014)

Auriol Cloete, the Tiresias of Hangberg

Auriol Cloete

Sometimes a dune is a dune is a dune (thank you, Gertrude Stein). And sometimes … it’s not.

The Cape Times reports: “The city council has created a Frankenstein’s monster by planting grass on the Hout Bay dunes to stabilise them.” Here’s the story, in a nutshell. Until the 1940s, the winds between Hout Bay and Sandy Bay created a mobile sand dune. Then, people built houses. Then, homeowners demanded the dunes be stopped. And so the City started grassing the dunes. Now, Sandy Beach is just about disappeared, and Hout Bay has a second dune that is literally devouring roads, houses, and more. And there’s more to come. It’s the urban development eggplant that ate … Hout Bay.

This would be a laughable parable of urban `development’ if it weren’t for other recent Hout Bay news: toilets. A little while ago, 14 new toilets were installed in the Hangberg informal settlement. In 2010, Hangberg was the site of ferocious engagements, as the City Council, the same one that has created the second dune, did its best, or worst, to pound the location into smithereens. That resulted in the uprising of Hangberg.

Since the Hangberg Peace Accord, according to Auriol Cloete, the number of folks living in Hangberg has tripled. Who’s Auriol Cloete? Here’s a report from 2010: “Hangberg resident Auriol Cloete made breakfast for her children, saw two of them off to school and felt proud as she sat in the house she had built for them. Hours later the mother of four was partially blind, cowering on her bed, bleeding from the left eye, and screaming at her children to keep lying flat on the floor as police and residents clashed outside…. She was injured…when violence broke out between residents and police who had entered the settlement to escort workers contracted by the City of Cape Town to demolish about 20 unoccupied dwellings erected illegally on a firebreak. Residents threw rocks and petrol bombs and fired distress flares at officers who used rubber bullets in retaliation. A rubber bullet hit Cloete in the left eye… Cloete ran back into her house as it was too dangerous to try to get to an ambulance… Later, she was taken to hospital with another resident, who was apparently also shot in the left eye, and who is now unable to see because his right eye has become infected… Cloete, who worked whenever she could secure a job, has lived in Hangberg all her life and had spent more than R60 000 on a home for her children.”

Auriol Cloete is the Tiresias of Hangberg, and what she sees today are 14 toilets that, after three years and untold injuries, somehow signify welcome.

Here’s what Cloete might see in the future. Sometimes a dune is a dune. And sometimes a toilet is a toilet. And sometimes, urban development isn’t development at all. When nature and populations are seen as problems to be controlled, when – in the name of well being and prosperity – the histories of shifting sands and populations on the move are ignored or worse, expect the worst.

 

(Photo Credit: Thomas Holder / Independent Newspapers)

Welcome Irene Kainda as a neighbor, not as a stranger

What are the borders of being-a-refugee? When does one stop being a stranger and become simply a neighbor? Irene Kainda wants to know.

Irene Kainda is 21 years old. She lives in Cape Town. She has lived in Cape Town continuously since 1998. She used to live with her mother and her brother, Felipe, who is two years younger than Irene. In 2006, Irene and Felipe’s mother abandoned them. The two children spent three years in a homeless shelter, and then were taken in by some good people. Now Irene is in college and so is her brother, thanks to Irene’s hard work. In many ways, this is, or could be, a tale of great promise, a tale of a young woman who keeps on keeping on.

Irene and Felipe came to South Africa as refugees, and there’s the rub. The civil war in Angola is officially at an end, and the situation is both improved and improving: “Angola is a nation of bright minds, brilliant writers, exceptional musicians, and a civil society that, almost 11 years after war’s end, is ready to have its voice heard.” Of course, there’s much room for improvement, but that’s true everywhere.

Recently, the South African government decided to `encourage’ Angolan refugees to return `home’. The `invitation’ to `apply for repatriation’ is universal. Everyone has to `apply’. Hundreds of thousands of people, call them Angolans who have sought refugee status, live in South Africa. Many of them have lived there for twenty years. For many of them, South Africa is the only home they really know. Irene Kainda notes, “I came to South Africa when I was seven. I don’t remember Angola, I don’t know where I am from and who or where my family there is.”

What are the borders of being-a-refugee, and how does gender inflect those borders? Women and girl refugees haunt the world. According to the most recent UNHCR Global Trends Report, at the end of 2011, 42.5 million people were displaced. Of them, 15.2 million were refugees. Women and girls made up 49 per cent of persons “of concern to UNHCR.” According to the UNHCR, 48 percent of refugees are women and girls. Further, “in 2011, UNHCR submitted some 92,000 refugees for resettlement. Ten per cent of all submissions were for women and girls at risk, the highest percentage of the last six years.” The next UNHCR report comes out in a month.

The civil war in Angola saw massive, programmatic and widely acknowledged violence against women and girls, and yet the processes and structures concerning demobilization altogether avoided women and girls as a distinct group. Thus, no resources were dedicated to their specific needs. And now it looks like South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs will do the same, avoid any recognition of the specific situations of Angolan-born women and girls living in South Africa.

Meanwhile, more than one study has noted that xenophobia is the dark side of the new supposedly democratic South Africa: “Intolerance is extremely pervasive and growing in intensity and seriousness. Abuse of migrants and refugees has intensified and there is little support for the idea of migrant rights.” Sometimes the abuse was directed specifically at Angolan refugees in Cape Town: “The City of Cape Town, like many other cities, has seen a number of xenophobic attacks on foreigners…The most well-publicised conflicts have been those in Danoon, Doornbach in 2001 and in Joe Slovo Park in 2002. Perhaps the most publicised incident was in Joe Slovo Park, where four people were killed in clashes between Angolan refugees and South Africans.”

Irene Kainda is an Angolan-born young woman who has lived and grown up, and raised her younger brother, in Cape Town in a very particular historical period. She has labored through abandonment, homelessness, xenophobia, violence against women, and more. At every step of the way, she was supposed to fail, and take her younger brother down with her. Instead, she succeeded, and took her younger brother up with her. And her reward, if the South African government has its way, is to be shipped to a `homeland’ she doesn’t know?

That cannot be. The State cannot punish Irene Kainda who has spent almost all her life engaged in Cape Town in performing the labor of survival with dignity, hope, and humor. Rather than deport Irene Kainda, reform the State. Institute a statute of limitations on being-a-refugee. Take responsibility for being a haven. Stop treating Irene Kainda as a stranger and welcome her as a neighbor.

 

(Photo Credit:Mail & Guardian)

 

Hopelessly devoted

Hopelessly devoted

Hopelessly devoted
actually utterly hopeful
and positive, they are

Hopelessly devoted
the Earth Children
from Rustenburg Girl’s High
(passionately green are they)

Hopelessly devoted
right here down South
in their vegetable garden
recycling at their school

Hopelessly devoted
an assortment of girls
enthused with their earth work

Hopelessly devoted
to their healthy vegetables
and farming worms too

Hopelessly devoted
eating flowers
reducing their carbon footprint
and fund-raising for our rhino

Hopelessly devoted
doing the each one teach one
(a collective consciousness)

Hopelessly devoted
might they re-energise
all of us out yonder
in the material world

[Hopelessly intrigued am I by the Earth Children down Rustenburg Girl’s High-way (“Earth Children passionate about all things green” – Tatler, February 23 2012).]

 

The field of tension of informal settlements in the new millennium


Over the past decade, South Africa witnessed an upsurge in negative labelling of informal settlements in policies and programmes, the removal of informal settlements from strategic positions in the city, and legislative amendments to facilitate such ‘eradication’.

Why were South African politicians and different parts of the state so confident that their negative statements about ‘slums’ and their drives to evict and eradicate were legitimate and beyond question?

Why did they find it appropriate to resort to repealed apartheid era legislation, criminalising the formation of informal settlements and making it easier for municipalities to evict?

Informal settlements occupy a contradictory position in urban policy.

On the one hand, there is articulated concern about urban poverty, and acknowledgement of the need to increase access to water and sanitation and improve the lives of ‘slum’ dwellers. These concerns are captured in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

On the other hand, there is the encouragement to country governments for cities to strive for global economic competitiveness in order to better function as engines of economic growth.

One source of this encouragement has been the UN’s Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitat, in particular through its involvement in Cities Alliance’s ‘Cities Without Slums’ initiative. UN-Habitat uncritically internalised ‘Cities Without Slums’ as a slogan. The UN attached this slogan to MDG 7 Target 11 ‘to significantly improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020’.

The presence of unsightly ‘slums’, of visible poverty and squalor in strategic locations, frustrates states in their efforts to portray an investor-friendly image to the world. This dynamic differentiates MDG 7 Target 11 from the other MDG targets.

MDG 11 contains an un-resolvable contradiction. Improving the lives of ‘slum’ dwellers (rather than removing them from strategic locations in the city) sits at odds with efforts to make the city more investor friendly.

City authorities, in their attempts to attract and hold on to investors, encourage and protect stakes in the urban land market. The adoption of this approach is not to be questioned. It is not submitted to public and political debate.

In South Africa, preparation for the 2010 Fifa World Cup brought this into stark relief. The urgent expenditure of massive public funds remained unchallenged. They resulted in soccer precincts and the acceleration of world class transport improvements, all enhancing economic stakes in the urban land market.

Spin-offs were promised to all, unconvincingly also to informal settlement dwellers. The provision of water, sanitation and housing to a fraction of informal settlements in turn received much public political attention.

The N2 Gateway pilot project in Cape Town, South Africa’s flagship ‘slum’ redevelopment exercise from 2004 to 2010, symbolised a tendency to override policy and legislation, as did numerous cases in South Africa’s six largest cities to evict informal settlement residents from strategic locations without court order and without provision of alternative accommodation.

All these interventions amounted to attempts at exclusion of the poor from South African cities.

In the light of those attempts, urban informality needs to be reinterpreted. It can no longer be viewed merely as the extra-legal, nor as a continuum with blurred edges, as defying measurement, or an organising logic or idiom of planning. Informality needs to be recognised as a field of tension.

While households living in informal settlements often choose an urban life and many find themselves with no alternative, they are confronted with more than just the physical inadequacies and hardships of informality – the lack of basic services, the unregulated and often overcrowded conditions, the inadequacy and insecurity of the shelter.

Recognising the reality of informal settlements as a field of tension forces us to look beyond mere physical symptoms. It forces us to grapple with the underlying causes of informality and the underlying causes of non-improvement of people’s lives, such as top-down interventions.

It also forces us to depart from a normative framework that labels informal settlements as ‘slums’ and condemns every aspect of these residential setups.

It forces us to recognise the tension between creativity and adversity which shapes and often defines ingenious solutions, models of human co-existence that are largely lost in the formal city. Opportunities for such forms of urban living and survival are closed down through tightened anti-land invasion measures and ‘slum’ eradication drives.

City authorities often repressively dismiss demands from economically weak households for space within the city. Their assumption is that such demands stem from poor migrants entering the city in large numbers.

However, the population of many cities in Africa is growing more slowly than is generally assumed. Urban poverty is largely generated by shrinking formal employment. In many instances migration has remained circular, binding rural with urban livelihoods on an ongoing basis.

Poor people’s responses, alternatives and innovations have been homogenised and problematised. Global usage of the term ‘slum’ since 2000 forms part of this homogenisation and problematisation. `Slum’ justifies blanket eradication of poor people’s footholds in the city.

In 2010, something different began to happen. South Africa experienced an about-turn with a new target to improve the lives of 400 000 households by 2014 through in situ upgrading of informal settlements.

Now the government faces the difficult task of chiselling away at the deeply entrenched problematisation and homogenisation, which has long informed largely flawed re-housing programmes. This prejudice has also blocked any investigation of the feasibility of in situ upgrading rather eviction and eradication. Perhaps it’s time to respect rather than remove those who live in informal settlements.

 

(This article is based on the author’s book Cities with “Slums”: From informal settlement eradication to a right to the city in Africa, University of Cape Town Press, Cape Town, 2011)

Rural Women. Period.

October 15 is the International Day of Rural Women. This year marks the fourth celebration. According to the United Nations, the day “recognizes `the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.’”

Rural women do a bit more than ”enhance” and “improve”, and the do so in more areas than “the rural”.

Who, and where, exactly, are “rural women”?

On one hand, they are women in rural zones. As such, they are the heart of the current food crisis. They are the women working the sugar farms, or sweatshops, in KwaZulu-Natal and the citrus farms of the Western Cape, both in South Africa, too often overlooked or forgotten by the trade unions, the State, and, to a certain extent, large swathes of the women’s movement. They are also the South African women who comprise Sikhula Sonke and the Surplus Peoples Project, women who struggle, organize, keep on keeping on.

They are the rural and indigenous women in Argentina who speak out about and who organize to stop the environmental and economic devastation of climate change, a process they see and live with every day.

They are the rural and indigenous women across Asia who struggle with the intensification of patriarchal exclusion the emerges from the embrace of local power brokers, national governments and multinational corporations, especially but not exclusively those engaged in agriculture. They are women, like Rajkala Devi, who have broken glass, linen, silk, and concrete ceilings to attain public office in villages, as in hers in Rajasthan, India, and to move more than the village into more than recognition of women’s rights.

They are the fisherwomen like Rehema Bavuma, from Uganda, who struggle, along with their Asian and Latin American sisters, to do more and better than merely stop land grabs, to change the entire system. These women know, without the `benefit’ of longitudinal studies, that girls and women are the key to food security, to well being. They also know that girls and women are the key to food sovereignty, to something more and better than an end to hunger and an end to threat of starvation.

They are women who struggle with patriarchal governments, like Lind Bara-Weaver, a stone’s throw from Washington. Bara-Weaver struggles with the economy, as do all farmers. But she also struggles with the US federal government’s policies concerning loans to women farmers.

They are Dina Apomayta, in the highlands of Peru, the seed keepers, the guardians of diversity, the last station against what some call “Holocene extinction”, the end of diversity. And they are everywhere.

Rural women are not just in rural areas. They are in cities, too. They are women like Somali farmer Khadija Musame and Liberian farmer Sarah Salie, both now living and providing food for residents of San Diego … in the United States. They are women like Jenga Mwendo, founder of the Backyard Gardeners Network in New Orleans, and women like Regina Fhiceka, a garden and community organizer in Philippi, just outside of Cape Town.

Rural women are everywhere. They are in rural areas and they are in cities. They are the world. That’s the message we should carry on the International Day of Rural Women, today, and into tomorrow, World Food Day … and beyond. Rural women. Period.

 

(Image Credit: American Dairy Association of Indiana)

Apartheid haunts domestic work

In Los Angeles County, there is one bus route, the 305, that directly links the low- and no-income residents of the southern suburbs to the wealthy homeowners of the West Side. Millions rely on the 305. Millions of employers, millions of workers. The 305 only exists because of decades-long struggles by people of color, in the streets, in the courts, in the corridors of power, in the living rooms and kitchens of neighbors and family. And after all that struggle, there’s one line. And that line is about to be closed.

It’s called an efficiency. Close the one line that actually serves low-income workers of color, and replace it with `a hub’. How’s that worked for the airline industry? Not so well, but that makes little to no difference. After all, what’s a few more unpaid, and costly, hours in transit in the daily lives of workers of color? It is estimated that the hub system will double the length of commutes and triple the price. Los Angeles doesn’t allow for free transfers from one line to another. It’s called efficiency.

Who are these workers? Janitors, nannies, maids. Women of color, women of color, women of color. Women of color with names. Guadalupe Lopez. Ana Hernandez. Marina Tejada. Silvia Conjura.

Every day hordes of `colored’ and Black women board the buses, and travel for hours, to tend to the needs, desires, idiosyncrasies, and mess of wealthy, more-often-than-not White individuals, families, households, neighborhoods, communities. Every day, women workers of color pay more and get less. Every day their debt increases. Every day their own families, households, neighborhoods, communities suffer the irretrievable lose of time. Every day.

And every day, the State figures out a new way, through efficiencies, of seizing yet another dollar, yet another hour, from the pocket, purses, bodies, and days and nights of these women of color. If this sounds familiar, it should. It was the logic of `public’ transport under the apartheid regimes in South Africa.

For coloured and African women workers, the State made transportation impossible and necessary, unaffordable … and required. It was a clear weapon in the war of some against the many. To this day, the country still struggles with the apartheid geography of impossible and unaffordable transport. As one writer noted yesterday, commenting on the death of his own nanny, Florence Mbuli, “You can now easily replace the word `Bantustan’ with `township’ or `informal settlement’”.

Yes, we can.

Across South Africa, women workers organize daily on the trains that take them to work. They organize domestic affairs, they organize political interventions, as women workers, as women of color. In Los Angeles County, the same is true. Women workers, every day on the bus, are organizing, organizing information, organizing domestic affairs, organizing political interventions.

Florence Mbuli lived to see the apartheid regime end. She lived to see her children grow up into “very successful people”. But the trains remain, the buses remain, the collective taxis remain, because the distances between home and work, the distances created by an apartheid logic of efficiency, remain. In fact, in many places, most notably the Cape Town metropolitan area, the distances have grown greater since 1994.

Today, Florence Mbuli rides with Guadalupe Lopez, Ana Hernandez, Marina Tejada and Silvia Conjura. Together they measure the time, the cost, the distances. Together they organize. The State can claim to reconcile individuals, even communities, but it can’t reconcile space. It can’t reconcile distances. From Watts to Westwood, from Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain to Claremont and Rondebosch, and beyond, apartheid haunts domestic work.

 

(Photo Credit: Monica Almeida / The New York Times)