He said he didn’t know

He said he didn’t know

There are many
who are there
right here
out Africa-way

Knowing
knowingly
and not knowing

in denial
and denying

they are beyond too
on the rest
of Planet Earth

He said he didn’t know
the little enclave’s last
does as many have done
and many will continue to do

Might Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s
haunting Homeless
be a reminder
a little hint

that the system 
he oversaw
had been declared
a crime against humanity

some even have it
that it was 
an unfortunate past
a glitch on the horizon
of the planet’s timeline

like the Little Troubles
over in (Northern) Ireland
like the fall of Saigon
(and not the people’s struggles
against various imperialisms)

He said he didn’t know
notwithstanding the scars
the scarred and the scared
still

(Image Credit: African Activist Archive)

South Africa: “She bursts with pain and continues walking”

What is pain? This question underwrites a particular narrative that is part of what is called South Africa. Two articles yesterday suggested it’s time to pay attention, greater attention, any attention, to pain, to the pain people suffer and to the pain that engulfs people, individuals and communities, swallows them whole and then … continues walking?

Thirty years ago, February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of incarceration, hand in hand with his then partner Winnie Madikizela Mandela. He walked forth into the strong summer sun of Cape Town and addressed the nation and the world: “Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans. I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.” Mandela went on to greet, salute and pay tribute to all the various sectors and groups that had worked for and would continue to work for the liberation of South Africa and beyond. His tributes end with the invocation of pain: “I pay tribute to the mothers and wives and sisters of our nation. You are the rock-hard foundation of our struggle. Apartheid has inflicted more pain on you than on anyone else … My salutations would be incomplete without expressing my deep appreciation for the strength given to me during my long and lonely years in prison by my beloved wife and family. I am convinced that your pain and suffering was far greater than my own.”

Women: apartheid has inflicted more pain on you than on anyone else. Wife and family: Your pain and suffering was far greater than my own. What is that pain? 

On the same day this week that news outlets in South Africa were sharing Madiba’s speech, and reflecting on and remembering that fateful day, an article appeared with the headline, “South Africans describe the pain of unemployment”. The report distilled the findings of a study based in two South African townships, Orange Farm and Boipatong, both very near and very far from “the economic hub of Johannesburg.” In the original study, one “participant explained that unemployment brings `a black heart full of sorrow and pain; the heart is broken, angry, sore and sad.” This black heart full of sorrow and pain extends to the entire township: “They viewed their township environment as a filthy, painful, sad, and forgotten place with dilapidated infrastructure and resources.” In the shorter, more recent article, the authors tell the story of one of the participants, a woman, who, when “asked to depict what she associated with unemployment …, took a few minutes to think, and there, on the spot, she wrote this poem:

The dry lands filled
with sorrow and tears.
The cascade of showers
of death implemented by
unemployment.
The fatigue that has
impacted to the community
that is left flustered because
of unemployment.
The land filled with fake promises
by fake leaders.
The people who try to contrive
the pain of being unemployed.”

What is this pain?

South African poet Karen Press’s poem “Heart’s Hunger” speaks to that question:

“She dreams of an enormous mother beckoning her. 
She carries her father on her journey’s back.
Her stomach is filled with his bones.
She bursts with pain and continues walking.”

Across the country and across the decades, every day and day after day, she bursts with pain and continues walking, and we still have the State in which women are made to burst with pain and continue walking.

(Image Credit: Clementina Ceramics

Landmark cases: In South Africa, Agnes Sithole said NO! to the oppression of Black women elders … and won!

In South Africa, 72-year-old Agnes Sithole made history last month by insisting that [a] apartheid was really over and [b] as a Black woman elder, she has full and equal rights of every order: civil, legal, human and otherwise. In so doing, Agnes Sithole reminded everyone of the power of women’s insistence on their own dignity and the obligation of the State to recognize that dignity, formally and materially. Agnes Sithole’s individual story goes back almost 50 years, when she married Gideon Sithole. 

Almost 50 years ago, Agnes and Gideon Sithole entered into civil marriage. As two young Black South Africans, their marriage fell under the Black Administration Act of 1927, which specified that all Black marriages were considered out of community of property. That meant everything went exclusively to the man. Period. Gideon Sithole ran a business, which Agnes Sithole supported as a manager. She also has run her own successful clothing business. The money from Agnes Sithole’s business went to their four children’s education. The children are now adults, successful in their own rights, and “fiercely loving and protective of their mother”. She also raised four children and took care of … everything. She made the Sithole estate what it became. 

In 1984, the Matrimonial Property Act changed the marital property landscape for South Africans … except for Black South Africans, who were explicitly excluded from the new order. That meant that Agnes and Gideon remained under the rules of the 1927 Black Administration Act. In 1988, the government passed the Marriage and Matrimonial Property Amendment Act, which overturned conditions of the Black Administration Act for Black South Africans, but there was a catch. The State provided a two-year window in which change marital status from out of community property to community property. Gideon and Agnes Sithole had heard of earlier changes and assumed they were already in community property. They never filed for the change, and so Agnes Sithole remained under the jurisdiction of a 1927 law that specifically targeted Black South Africa women. About 400,000 Black South African women are in the same situation.

None of this mattered much, until, about two years ago, Gideon and Agnes Sithole’s marriage started falling apart. With the end in sight, Gideon Sithole threatened to sell their home and leave Agnes Sithole penniless. Much to Agnes Sithole’s surprise and dismay, according to the law, Gideon Sithole could actually do that, and she had no recourse. 

Agnes Sithole said NO! She said that apartheid was over, had to be over, and that she didn’t care what the State thought the law was, this was wrong, discriminatory, misogynist, racist, and evil. She decided that the specter that haunts South Africa cannot be apartheid, it must be the living mass of women, especially Black women, on the move, organizing, mobilizing, and setting things right. So, she sued.

On January 24, 2020, the Durban High Court agreed with Agnes Sithole, and her attorneys from the Legal Resources Centre, LRC, working with Geoff Budlender. Writing for the Court, KwaZulu Natal Deputy Judge President Isaac Madondo wrote, “The discrimination the impugned provisions perpetuate is so egregious that it should not be permitted to remain on our statute books by limiting the retrospective operation of the order or by suspending the order of invalidity to allow Parliament to rectify the error. The effect of the order is that all civil marriages are in community of property. The recognition of the equal worth and dignity of all black couples of a civil marriage is well overdue.” In response, LRC attorneys noted, “The default position for all other married couples in South Africa is in community of property – except for African couples married before 1988. The consequences of this discriminatory provision have remained to haunt older African women like Sithole.”

The consequences of this discriminatory provision haunt older African women, haunt Agnes Sithole, haunt South Africa … and beyond. The High Court decision must be approved by the Constitutional Court, and so, for now, Agnes Sithole “is relieved and overjoyed. She has celebrated with her children. She is now praying that the Constitutional Court application will go well” as do 400,000 African women elders in South Africa and their supporters. The struggle continues.

(Photo Credit: Legal Resources Centre)

His hands were up

His hands were up

His hands were up
He was reaching out

So remarks the presenter 
interviewing Section 27
on morning SAFM radio

His hands were up
five year-old Michael Komape’s 
he drowning in a pit toilet

(learners and teachers
forced to learn and teach
in the state we are in)

His hands were up
He was reaching out

Now there is justice
some 5 years later
his family awarded 
damages for emotional
shock and grief

A most appalling
and undignified death
says the judgement
(Supreme Court of Appeal)

The SAFM interview also
tells us of the insensitivity
and callousness of officialdom
in this regard

(have we lost our principles
along with so much else)

His hands were up
He was reaching out 

How many more

See “Michael Komape’s family awarded R1.4 million in damages by appeal court” (Franny Rabkin, Mail & Guardian, 18 December 2019), and “Komape family awarded R1.4 million for emotional shock and grief” (Ciaran Ryan, 18 December 2019 © 2019 GroundUp).

The Komape family was represented by public interest law firm SECTION27

(Image Credit: Daily Maverick)

South Africa confirms the rights of all children to education!

It’s the end of the year and decade, and we need some good news, right? As the United States continues to throw migrant children into the abyss of immigrant detention and India throws millions under the bus of lost citizenship, last week a court in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa came through. In a case concerning the rights of 37 undocumented children to attend school, the Judge President of the Eastern Cape Selby Mbenenge, writing for the Makhanda High Court, emphatically declared that the Constitution of South Africa enshrines the right of all children to access to education. Judge Mbenenge opened his decision: “Central to this application is the right to basic education enshrined, without any qualification, in section 29 of the Constitution … Education is a mighty tool in the hands of the possessor. Its efficacy depends largely on the bulwark that surrounds it – the right to education … In our constitutional dispensation basic education is a pivot of transformation.” Children matter, democracy matters, education matters, rights matter, the Constitution matters, courts matter, judges matter, decency matters, compassion matters, transformation matters … without any qualification. Amen.

Who are the undocumented children of South Africa? According to the Department of Basic Education, of the 998,433 undocumented children currently enrolled in public schools, 880,968 are South African citizens. A little over 88% of those children are South African. Of the 37 children represented in the Eastern Cape case, 23, or a bit more than 60%, are South African citizens. South African children born at home often don’t have birth certificates. There are other barriers. Eight of the children live in a safe house for abandoned and orphaned children. Their situation didn’t matter. Without proper papers, they were expelled. Who are the undocumented children of South Africa? Poor. Black. Vulnerable. But first, they are children.

The Makhanda High Court has said that children’s situation does not matter, because they are children and thus are due an education, and that obligation is without qualification. Section 29 of the Constitution of South Africa reads:

“Section 29 Education

 (1) Everyone has the right –

(a) to a basic education, including adult basic education; and

(b) to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.

(2) Everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable. In order to ensure the effective access to, and implementation of, this right, the state must consider all reasonable educational alternatives, including single medium institutions, taking into account –

(a) equity;

(b) practicability; and

(c) the need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices.

(3) Everyone has the right to establish and maintain, at their own expense, independent educational institutions that –

(a) do not discriminate on the basis of race;

(b) are registered with the state; and

(c) maintain standards that are not inferior to standards at comparable public educational institutions.”

Everyone means everyone. Tell that to the governments of the United States and India, and all those fortress nations in between and beyond. This is a victory for vulnerable children as it is a victory for inalienable rights without qualification. Transformation is still possible. 

(Photo credit: Daily Maverick)

Tell me why (Moody’s)

Tell me why (Moody’s)

Tell me why
we are to join
the dubious ranks 
of the downgraded

(I mean the country
has just been upgraded
to number 1 as it beat
England in a little game)

Tell me why
we seem to be 
your whipping boy
responsible for all
the ills of planet earth

We are not after all
bombing invading
or waging war 
against any country 

(we are only at war
with ourselves and
our women and children
not to mention those
who don’t look like us)

there is concern in Soweto
about Marathon runners’ safety
was the Ethiopian winner at risk
what with an politician waxing on 
about different cultures and races

and an amnesiac sports presenter 
says at the end that the rugby win 
was for the whole of Africa
(where has she been most recently)

Tell me why
Moody’s

is it the economy
stupid

Apartheid gentrification haunts Cape Town and the world

Last Monday, Reclaim the City reported, “Reclaim the City has been approached by a woman (who wishes to remain anonymous) whose rent has been increased by the City of Cape Town (‘the City’) by more than 2000%. She has rented a City council home in Salt River from the City of Cape Town since 1995. When her and husband moved in, they signed a lease agreement with a rental of R220 per month. The house was an uninhabitable mess. Over the years, they improved, fixed and maintained the property at their own expense. Due to minor rental increases, her rent is now R243.81. She has never defaulted on her monthly payments and has lived happily in her home for the last 24 years. In August 2019, the City of Cape Town sent her a letter saying they are increasing her rent to R5 500 per month. This is an astronomical increase from the R243 she is currently paying.” For millions across the globe, this is an all too familiar story, but what exactly is the story? In what world is it acceptable that anyone receive a rental increase notice of more than 2000%?

1995, Cape Town. Apartheid is officially ended, and, across the country, the new South Africa is on everyone’s lips, minds, and hearts. Reconstruction and Development Programme community flora are meeting everywhere … or almost everywhere. There’s a new President, a new Parliament, and a new dispensation.  A rainbow hovers over the nation and over the Mother City, as Cape Town is called.

While some of this picture is accurate, missing are the plans to “re-develop” Cape Town, to turn Cape Town into a thriving “global city”, replete with a metropolitan economy largely driven by real estate development. In the midst of all this, a couple move into public housing, twenty-four years ago, in the working class neighborhood of Salt River, a neighborhood known largely for second-hand shops, a diverse array of working class communities, and Community House, a center for community and labor organizing. It’s also known for the empty textile and garment factories that closed during the 1980s, when the apartheid regime invested heavily in Export Processing Zones that gutted the vibrant garment and textile economies of the Western Cape.

So, this couple moves in, signs the lease, fixes the place up (at considerable expense to themselves), never misses a payment, makes a home for themselves and for their neighbors. This couple survives and makes a life of dignity and self-respect. For their great labors and contributions to the municipality’s well-being, they are rewarded with amounts to an eviction notice. 

The couple have appealed, Reclaim the City and their supporters are organizing to help them remain in their home, the City continues to threaten eviction. Given the recent pattern of “spiraling” evictions in the Cape Town region, this comes as no surprise. As Reclaim the City notes, “If anyone needs more proof that the City is anti-poor and anti-black, this woman’s exorbitant rent hike is case and point.”

Anti-poor, anti-Black and committed to growing inequality as the key to urban development. For millions across the globe, and especially those living in so-called urban cities driven by service sector economies and predatory real estate development, this is an all too familiar story. But what exactly is the story? Remember, this working-class couple in Cape Town live in public housing. Their landlord is the City. The City raised their rent by over 2000 percent. When they responded and asked for help, the City threatened them with eviction. In this instance, eviction is exile, because a couple seeking to pay less than 300 rand a month won’t find anything anywhere near livable in Cape Town. 

What is public housing, if this is how the State acts? What is the public, if the State has committed to exploiting, oppressing and, if all else fails, assaulting the working populations who make it possible for the Public to function? What exactly is the story? That question has been answered recently in the streets of Ecuador, Sudan, Chile, Lebanon, Hong Kong and beyond. This story is not yet over, neither the local one in Cape Town nor its global counterpart; the struggle continues. Apartheid gentrification, gentrification that condemns working people to forced removals to distant regions, haunts the world. In what world is it acceptable receive a rental increase notice of more than 2000%? Our world. Another world must be possible.

(Photo Credit: Twitter)

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

Sylvia Mahlangu, Maria Mahlangu’s daughter, in court

Great news from South Africa! Yesterday, October 17, 2019, the Gauteng High Court ruled that domestic workers injured on the job in the past can claim damages, under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, COIDAThis 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 the point, the family offered no compensation and the State, at that point, excluded domestic workers from COIDA. On May 23 of this year, the North Gauteng High Court ruled that that exclusion was unconstitutional, but they did not rule on those who had been injured prior to the ruling or in past jobs. Yesterday’s ruling clears all that up. The Court ruled that the Constitutional invalidity of the exclusion of domestic workers means that all domestic workers are due unlimited retrospective COIDA compensation. The case now goes to the Constitutional Court. Today, we must celebrate, support and give thanks to all those domestic workers and domestic worker organizers, past and present, who brought the Court to make a decision. They refused to bargain with the State, and said, simply and directly, “Our rights are non-negotiable.”

Founding member of the United Domestic Workers of South Africa (Udwosa), Pinky Mashiane, said, “This is a victory for us and we will now approach the Constitutional Court with confidence that it will also rule in our favour. Government had denied domestic workers their right for a long time as it discriminated against us. We will move forward with the confidence that those injured on duty and the families of those who had died, will at long last receive compensation.”

In July, Myrtle Witbooi, the President of the International Domestic Workers Federation and General Secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers’ Union, explained, “The government ratified International Labour Organisation Convention 189 (dealing with the rights of domestic workers worldwide) in June 2013, which meant that they had a year to include domestic workers in COIDA. We had several campaigns, but all we got were promises. In 2016, the government told the ILO that COIDA would be extended to domestic workers, and it was gazetted in 2018. It is now 2019, and we are still waiting … While we have been fighting for domestics to be included in COIDA, many women have lost their lives or have been injured while on duty and have received no compensation at all.”

Pinky Mashiane and Myrtle Witbooi have called for expanded and deepened support for their campaign from all social justice sectors in South Africa. Hopefully, many will heed and respond to the call. At the same time, this is a case that 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 recognition, formal recognition, of the dignity of their labor. Tell your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors about Maria Mahlangu and about this week’s decision. Remind them that the struggle continues, and as it does, it expands the horizons. Amandla!

(Photo Credit: Zelda Venter / IOL)

Cyril means well. He’s been compelled by womxn making life uncomfortable

This story about amending laws to solve the problem. Cyril means well. He’s been compelled by womxn making life uncomfortable to see that this issue is serious. But fixing bail, sentencing laws as a solution in and of itself, no. The laws already tried to do that quite well in the late 90s – no one really cared to implement them well. They don’t have an impact because you’ve got to change the criminal procedure act. That’s a more radical change, shift the power in the courts towards survivors ‘complainants’ give them standing, more control in the court. You’ve got to change that they are dependent on prosecutors that get their ‘sensitivity’ training, but are not held to account when they treat womxn like a hassel. The laws changed so that the rules of courts could be more alive to the patriarchal construction of rape, but the magistrates, they let the old way of doing things carry on, the prosecutors are weak, they don’t fight, and the defence attorneys, the rapists – well they just laugh and commit more violence on the womxn who stand there further humiliated. That’s got to change. Zero tolerance that. Hold them to account for the laws already changed – show that the standards already in place are worth fighting for, then, by all means, add some new layers. 

Then this sensitivity training. Really, that’s the best that you can do. We worked in the 90s on that. It doesn’t work if you don’t also show leadership on those standards presented in this training – from the Preseident, Ministers, MECs to the station commissioner, the senior prosecutor, the health facility manager. It doesn’t work if you spend a bit of money (never enough) and get some person who doesn’t really ‘get it’ to talk the rank and file through the 20 points of sensitivity and then send them back into the same fucking system. It doesn’t fucking work.

(Image Credit: The Daily Vox)

The English of Domestic Violence, and The Domestic Violence of English

The English of Domestic Violence, and The Domestic Violence of English

We split infinitives
We split the atom
We split a skull

What wonderful beings
we are (we men)
we who are superior
to all things

We crack a walnut
We crack a joke
We crack a (spare) rib

We blow out a candle
We blow into our hands for warmth
Those same hands that 
strike a blow

We strike a match
We go on strike – 
and come home to strike
a woman and (girl) child
(in the quiet and dark 
of family life away
from the glare of the public)

We build confidence
We build houses (albeit matchbox ones)
We build relationships, which we
then break down like they are
our matchbox houses

We march, against apartheid
(of the statute book and the mind)
Sometimes we even march against 
capitalism and woman and child abuse

We name our children
We name hurricanes
We call women names

We take up burning issues
and bride-burning continues

We arrange our furniture
and we arrange marriages

What wonderful beings
we are (we men)
we who are superior
to all things

(Penned Saturday, October 08, 2005)

Photo Credit: Silindelo Masikane / enca)