There isn’t a school

There isn’t a school

There isn’t a school
for protesting 

but there is
for police
and policing

There isn’t a school
for protesting or
for protesters

to learn the trade
to learn the skills

but there is
for police
and policing

There isn’t a school
Though we have 
plenty of schools

(who is schooled
who is educated)

There isn’t a school

When might there be

An afternoon SAFM radio presenter ponders the killing of a passer-by “caught in the cross-fire” by the country’s police in the Wits student protests, 11 March 2021, in South Africa’s Human Rights Month.

By David Kapp

(Photo Credit: News24 / AFP / Emmanuel Croset)

Landmark case: In South Africa, five sisters said NO! to the exclusion of women … and won!

Constitutional Court

This is the story of Trudene Forword, Annelie Jordaan, Elna Slabber, Kalene Roux and Surina Serfontein, five women who refused to be denied their birthright, and In so doing affirmed, once again, that justice means justice for everyone. The story begins in 1902, in Oudtshoorn, in the Klein Karoo, in the Western Cape. Oudtshoorn is known for ostrich farms. Maybe now it will also be known as yet another cradle of democracy and justice for all. On November 28, 1902, Karel Johannes Cornelius de Jager and his wife, Catherine Dorothea de Jager formally signed their will, leaving some of their farms to their children, with one stipulation. The farms would pass from their children only to male generations until the third generation. But what if, at some point, the only direct descendants are women? Last month, South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled on that question. 

In 1957, brothers Kalvyn, Cornelius and John de Jager inherited the property. John de Jager never had sons, and so when he died, his property was split between his two remaining brothers, Kalvyn and Cornelius. When Cornelius died, his sons – Albertus, Frederick, and Arnoldus – inherited his half share in the farms. In 2015, Kalvyn de Jager died. He had no sons, and he had five daughters: Trudene Forword, Annelie Jordaan, Elna Slabber, Kalene Roux and Surina Serfontein. Their male cousins claimed the property, noting that while the situation may smack of “unfair discrimination”, the law was the law, and a will was a will. The sisters didn’t buy that argument and went to court. Both the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeals decided in favor of the male cousins. The sisters persisted and went to the Constitutional Court, the court of last resort, in this instance. Last month, the Constitutional Court decided in the sisters’ favor.

Acting Justice Margaret Victor explained, “The provisions of the preamble to the Equality Act make its nature and intended purpose clear. The consolidation of democracy requires the eradication of inequalities, especially those that are systemic in nature and which were generated in South Africa’s history by colonialism, apartheid and patriarchy. Inheritance laws sustain and legitimise the unequal distribution of wealth in societies thus enabling a handful of powerful families to remain economically privileged while the rest remain systematically deprived. In my view, this system entrenches inherited wealth along the male line. In applying this critique to the facts in this case our common law principle of freedom of testation is continuing to entrench a skewed gender bias in favour of men.”

The consolidation of democracy requires the eradication of inequalities, especially those that are systemic in nature and which were generated in history by colonialism, apartheid and patriarchy. What else is there to say?

By Dan Moshenberg

(Photo Credit: GroundUp / Ashraf Hendricks)

Say it out loud

Say it out loud
(Gender-Based-Violence)

Irked is he
at the acronym
saying it hides
the word violence

Connected to jazz
is Nigel Vermaas
on evening Bush Radio
the 16 Days Campaign
at its end

Say it out loud
Gender-Based-Violence
don’t hide it
don’t let it hide

Behind an acronym
Behind a committee
Behind closed doors
Behind a veil a cloak
Behind a pandemic

Woman got a right to be
follows the little opinion
a Caiphus Semenya song
he finds fitting

He said it out loud

Bush Radio’s Nigel Vermaas puts his foot down on evening community radio.

By David Kapp

(Photo Credit: Design Indaba)

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)

Once again, South African domestic workers win in court, expanding domestic workers’ rights everywhere!

Sylvia Mahlangu outside Constitutional Court

Great news! Last week, South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled that domestic workers ruled that domestic workers injured on the job in the past can claim damages, under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, COIDA. This ruling includes the family of Maria Mahlangu, a domestic worker who had worked for the same family for twenty years. While washing windows, Maria Mahlangu slipped, fell into the pool, and drowned. Her family received no compensation. More to the point, the family offered no compensation and the State excluded domestic workers from COIDA. Last May, the North Gauteng Court ruled that that exclusion was unconstitutional but did not rule on whether that unconstitutionality covered past injuries. Last October, the Gauteng High Court ruled that the Constitutional invalidity of the exclusion of domestic workers meant that all domestic workers are due unlimited retrospective COIDA compensation. The case of Sylvia Bongi Mahlangu and the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union, SADSAWU, vs the Minister of Labour then went to the Constitutional Court. Last Thursday, November 19, the Constitutional Court decided that the exclusion of domestic workers from the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, COIDA, is unconstitutional. Further, “the order is to have immediate and retrospective effect from 27 April 1994.” After 26 years of struggle, domestic worker organizers, Black women such as 77-year-old SADSAWU organizer Eunice Dhladhla “nearly broke into song inside [the Constitutional Court], breaking the law.” After the ruling, Sylvia Mahlangu said she was excited at the decision. We all should be.

Justice Margaret Victor, writing for the majority, opened her decision: “Domestic workers are the unsung heroines in this country and globally. They are a powerful group of women whose profession enables all economically active members of society to prosper and pursue their careers. Given the nature of their work, their relationships with their own children and family members are compromised, while we pursue our career goals with peace of mind, knowing that our children, our elderly family members and our households are well taken care of.

“Many domestic workers are breadwinners in their families who put children through school and food on the table through their hard work. In some cases, they are responsible for the upbringing of children in multiple families and may be the only loving figure in the lives of a number of children. Their salaries are often too low to maintain a decent living standard but by exceptional, if not inexplicable effort, they succeed. Sadly, despite these herculean efforts, domestic work as a profession is undervalued and unrecognised; even though they play a central role in our society.”

Later in her decision, Justice Victor noted, “In considering those who are most vulnerable or most in need, a court should take cognisance of those who fall at the intersection of compounded vulnerabilities due to intersecting oppression based on race, sex, gender, class and other grounds. To allow this form of state-sanctioned inequity goes against the values of our newly constituted society namely human dignity, the achievement of equality and ubuntu. To exclude this category of individuals from the social security scheme established by COIDA is manifestly unreasonable.

“For all these reasons, I find that the obligation under section 27(2) to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within available resources, includes the obligation to extend COIDA to domestic workers. The failure to do so in the face of the respondents’ admitted available resources constitutes a direct infringement of section 27(1)(c), read with section 27(2) of the Constitution.”

This case crosses beyond the borders of South Africa and beyond the African continent. Many countries across the globe, including the United States, continue to exclude domestic workers from labor laws and from labor law protections and rights. That time is coming to an end. Domestic work is decent work, and domestic workers demand formal recognition of the dignity of their labor. Tell your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors about Maria Mahlangu, Sylvia Mahlangu and last week’s decision. Tell them Sylvia Mahlangu is excited. The time to sing the song of the unsung heroines has arrived. Amandla!

Eunice Dhladhla outside Constitutional Court

(Photo Credit 1: Sowetan / Penwell Dlamini) (Photo Credit 2: New Frame / Cebelihle Mbuyisa)

I crush them

I crush them

Justice Albie Sachs
on evening Safm radio
is reading from his
Quest for justice

I crush them
says a teacher 
quite nonchalantly 
of the insects falling 
into her tea

Cutting Edge
is on evening TV
highlighting schools
or rather their dilapidated 
physical states

shaky toilets
shaky classrooms
shaky infrastructure 
shaky promises too 

Justice Sachs tells
of The New Age paper
distributed back then

I crush them
the school’s office ceiling
letting the insects in

No New Age there
No Albie Sachs there
No justice either

How much longer
for learners 
and educators
will to be
crushed

A Tuesday night passes.

(Photo Credit: Daylin Paul / New Frame)

(2020) you’ve taken away enough

(2020) you’ve taken away enough

A community in pain
out in Eldorado Park 
a youngster the victim
where crime and drugs rule

A community in pain
out in Oudshoorn 
a doctor on the frontline
the victim of our pandemic 

2020 
you’ve taken away
enough from us
a teacher-friend’s remarks
could be a world-wide echo

from the Eldorado Parks
to the Oudshoorns
from Africa to Asia 
to the Americas and beyond

2020 
you’ve taken away
enough from us

The youngster brought comfort
The doctor brought comfort 

Comfort well needed
in schools
in communities
everywhere

2020
you’ve taken away
enough from us

(Photo Credit: The Conversation)

Love Me (tender)

Love Me (tender)

Love me tender
love me sweet
never let me go 
connections have made
my life complete
and I love them so

Love me tender
love me true 
my pockets now filled
money dearest I love you
and I always will

Love me tender
love me long
Covid-19 a good start
for it’s here that I belong
opportunity and l will not part

Love me tender 
love me dear
tell me you are mine
I’ll be yours in freedom’s name
till the end of time

When at last my dreams come true
Darling Democracy this I know
the rotten stench will follow you
everywhere you go

Here down South, an Elvis Presley song is the obvious choice.

Just not (speeches and elections)

Just not (speeches and elections)

Just not 
speeches and elections
our own Women’s Day is
a radio fellow expounds 
like he needs to convince
someone out there

Just not 
though most 
to be heard is 
often same old story 
often same old song

(and for some reason
a bigwig male-head
does an official advert
saying “all racial groups” 
were at that historic March)

Just not 
politicians politicking
preying on the moment
feeding on the moment
angling for a sound-byte

Are we all talk 
the world over
at a time of a pandemic
and Gender-Based Violence

and SA’s Women’s Month
where women are free
where women are not
where women are not yet

Are we alone
unique at that

See, too: “OPINION: What are we really celebrating this Women’s Day?”

(Photo Credit: Sune Payne / Daily Maverick)

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)