One social worker per 50,000 high school students is not okay

Today, one of the youth I work with calls me, and tells me that it’s her birthday. I start singing to her, but then hear she is crying, so I ask her what is wrong. She tells me her 25-year old big brother hung himself today, and she had found him.

We are living in a painful painful world. And while some of us encounter emotional turmoil in our privileged lives, others’ turmoil stems from economic poverty and inequality. In South African high schools, there is on average one social worker per 50 schools – that’s one social worker per 50,000 students, when problems such as rape, alcoholism, violence, gangs, depression, family turmoil, absentee fathers and family deaths abound.

This is not okay. We must do better.

(Photo Credit: Rape Crisis Blog)

The Kanga was in the room

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

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

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

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

 

(Photo Credit: Siphokazi Mthathi)

On the run

On the run

(women) going strong
in a Brave Run
against violence 
(and patriarchy) 
from Khayelitsha
 to central Cape Town

Not waiting
(waiting in vain)
for our ritual
16 Days of Activism
for No Violence
against Women and Children

(when one and all come out
to be seen and heard)

Manenberg’s Rock Girls
and others braving
crime-affected areas
(and the country’s male-folks
who rape and murder)

(combined with
454 kids murdered
in (a) single year
combined with
smacking kids
making them anti-social)

On the run
braving the elements
(not the weather)
an inaugural event in memory
of the killing of 2 teenage girls
(raped and murdered in the same week)

On the run
not running away

 

“Concerned residents, activists sweat it out as Rock Girl uses 34km run to call for safety” (Cape Times, April 25 2016), “Brave Run links city in fight against violence” and “454 kids murdered in single year” (Weekend Argus, May 1 2016). See also “Smacking kids can cause them to become anti-social” (Argus, April 29 2016).

 

(Photo Credit: Rockhoppin’ Trail)

I don’t like (to be black)

 

I don’t like (to be black)

A mere chess game it was
where a young lass had
to decide on the hue
of her chess pieces

I don’t like to be black
she duly declared
not a hint of anything

no Freudian slip
no racism

not even an appreciation
(in a manner of speaking)
of the import of her words

I cringe almost instantly
peering around furtively
in the local library

in the local library
these things happen
not just in places
of ill-repute

(you know like
board-rooms like
sub-committees like
on official government forms
and in Public Holiday speeches like)

I don’t like to be black
merely a game of chess
two sides of different shades
one light and the other dark

there are pawns too
doing their bidding
some pieces more
valuable each trying
to capture the other

I don’t like to be black

A mere chess game it was

Our emperor’s relapse into black-white during the anti-racial-non-racial-tolerance part of his Human Rights Day speech, reminds one that we have far to go, still, 21 March 2016.

 

(Image Credit: WallPapersCraft)

Berta Cáceres, Nelson Garcia, Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe: We must take action!

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
John Donne, “Death Be Not Proud”

Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe, chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, on the Wild Coast of South Africa, was brutally assassinated last night, and so joins Berta Cáceres and Nelson Garcia, and who knows how many others martyred in this month alone? The Amadiba Crisis Committee, largely made up of women, has been struggling to stop mining in Xolobeni, the Mgungundlovu area of Amadiba Tribal Administrative Area in Pondoland, and to continue a program of people-driven, sustainable development. The response has been a reign of fear and intimidation. Repeatedly, the women and men of Xolobeni have said, We are ready to die for this land. Last night, Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe was murdered, or better executed. It did not come as a surprise. As Nonhle Mbuthuma explained, for the last year, the police have waged a campaign of intimidation, and, when called on to stop the violence, “There has been nothing.”

Men come with guns and women respond, “My tears won’t fall on the ground for nothing. You can bring your machine guns. I am prepared to die for my land; I am not going anywhere.”

The crisis is not mining. The crisis is violence: violence against nature, women, the community, and democracy. Nonhle Mbuthuma has grown up in the struggle for a decent and better life, and for a State where one can’t say, “There’s too much `democracy’ in this democracy”; and Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe is dead, having striven to make that democracy-to-come a reality today.

It is not a reality today. Reality today is State violence, from Honduras to South Africa and beyond. As Berta Cáceres exhorted, “We must take action!” We must turn the swords of murder into the ploughshares of sustenance. Berta Cáceres, Nelson Garcia and Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe will not rise out of the earth, no matter how fervently some might pray, but their dream, their collective unified dream, cannot be killed. We must take action!

 

(Photo Credit: United Front)

Memory and other mirages

Like June 16th, March 21st and the many dates in between, another missed opportunity to advance a truthful discourse on ownership of both the past and the present looms. The politics and ethics of memory present an ongoing tension for countries such as ours, which are emerging from a period of deeply fragmented recollections of what was and was not. Andre Brink suggests that: “the best we can do is to fabricate metaphors – that is, tell stories – in which, not history, but imaginings of history are invented. “ Although deeply dissatisfactory, this seems to be the narrative pursued by Official historydom.

South Africa is not the only country that is contending with heritage as a site of political battles.

Memory is an act of defiance particularly because erasure is an instinct of conquest. Cultural identity and truthful interpretation of the past are scarce currency in South Africa today. This is largely because the official archives and accounts of political exploits and the historical context of Apartheid colonialism are constructed to privilege partisan political interests. Equally inimical is officialdom’s insistence on erasing or diminishing the wrong doing of former oppressors. The act of remembering is nourished by deliberate and vigilant consciousness that is anchored by a strong ethical framework. It must be divested of party political claims that clutter the national discourse.

A particularly capricious form of national identity and nationalism, which is often utilised in neo–colonial states, can promote or consolidate political objectives. The fabricated reconciliation, as part of South Africa’s heritage, serves the merchandising of the fictitious rainbow nation rather than the redemption of the Afrikan psyche. Such sentiment is difficult to reverse or reshape once wielded. The United States has similarly built itself on the imagination of the American Dream even though the contradictions of racism, sexism and class oppression have kept a huge part of the population in conditions of poverty, early death, police brutality, unemployment and despair. Despite this, millions of people enter America to partake in a heritage that extends to very few people beyond the white, male, middle class. The South African scenario is similarly unfolding and the practise of manufactured nation building has come at a price of dispossession, coercive silencing and constant un-remembering. This contributes to creating the condition of unknowing and unseeing the truth as a survival mechanism.

The ethics of remembering should not allow the sacrifices of the dead to be diminished by acts of political vandalism. The vandalism that we witness daily has multiple locations. The education system has remained uncritical of allowing a colonial aesthetic to shape the minds and discourses of young minds. The manipulative form of nationalism that has been sanctioned over the past twenty years seems determined to reconstruct a nation of disfigured memories and half-truths. The heritage industry is sometimes another site of vandalism rather than a broadly representative recollection of the past 350 years of battle and painful formation of this nation in all its contradictions. Corrosive recollections are not unique to this country. They reflect the characteristics, power and intent of the ones who shape history.

The most spurious wars such as the ‘War on Terror‘ have been valorised for posterity in some quarters. Enquiry of memory must be accompanied by an underlying discomfort and reality that memory is often subjective and chauvinistic. This necessitates greater space for multiple and competing narratives. In the context of neo-colonial nation building, these narratives should be anchored to formation and celebration of Afrikan stories, contexts, histories and herstories. The extent of the genocide on our being, our continent, our imaginations and humanity requires an ongoing and dynamic rehabilitation of our core. An ethical memorial framework should transfer not only political and economic power, but also transfer the sovereignty of memory and Afrikan identities.

Erasure has allowed and enabled the men and nations who violated the ‘comfort women ‘during the World War 2 to remain unaccountable. Erasure has enabled the slave trade in Congo, which reduced the population by 70%, to be airbrushed even in national discourses. Erasure was the catalyst for the forced removal of millions of aboriginal children in America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand (Aotearoa) from their loving families, in order to be culturally whitewashed in cruel state orphanages or adopted into white families. Erasure is the reason that Welsh and Irish children’s tongues were cut in English run schools, to prevent them from asserting self-knowledge in Gaelic. Erasure has removed Shaka from Heritage Day, removed Moshoeshoe, Bambaatha, Manthatisi, Modjadji and countless others from the national calendar. The names and battles of the ones who fell and continue to fall today should be etched in our consciousness .

Heritage is always contested and the uncomfortable connection with colonial legacies is evident in the architecture around us, the food we eat, the music we hear, the languages of instruction and commerce. This hybrid of culture should neither confuse nor befuddle our aspirations towards Afrikan consciousness embodied in our poetry, languages, literature, moments of national remembrance and ways of being. Millions of Afrikan minds, ideas, words, thoughts, inventions, musical notes, physical efforts, intellectual endeavours and epistemic undertakings have contributed towards and built imaginations, monuments and empires across the world. Despite this, the US and European empires remains unapologetic and impervious to the huge debts they owe to Afrikan creativity, brilliance and blood. The subjugation of others seems to be an indelible core of those empires and the defence of the indefensible an inherent legacy born out of a culture of conquest.

The interrogation of memory and the heritage creates is an ethical requirement of nation building and also a powerful opportunity to reframe and challenge the narratives of “reconciliation and truth” that have been efficient midwives for erasure and amnesia. It is a potent instrument of vexing political sentiment. Democratisation of memory removes domination of memory discourse from those who can write or conquer media & publishing houses to essentially frame a narrow and often disjointed interpretation of history. Democratisation brings the stories and accounts of communities and individuals across the socio-political spectrum to the centre. Shared or social memory is the gamut of traditions, languages, food, struggles, legends, taboos, spirituality, battles and interpretations of events and that lend themselves to the act and practise of being Afrikan. Self-knowledge is the highest forms of sovereignty and any nation or people who do not protect or even recognise multiple forms of knowing and remembering are disfiguring their identities.

The negation of one set of memories over another is inscribed by the negation of one set of experiences over another. The politics of negation and erasure in neo-colonial South Africa have resulted in a particular framing of patriotism that has dislocated the Africanist and Black Conscious contributions from the struggle and corralled collective thinking accordingly. Equally problematic is the elitism and othering that is promoted by the framing and site of heritage. Rather than being diminished to a dashiki or Seshoeshoe once a year, heritage ought to form the normative acts, symbols and forms of our daily existence. Traditional clothing is a powerful symbol of being and rather than being fetishised once a year, should from the tapestry of our community, work places, schools until the colonial imagination is diminished. This tapestry includes the languages, names, poetry, literature and human ethic that contribute to the people we are. Nation building requires that we stand as witnesses to the full truth of the past and the present. It requires a critical mass comprising of the plurality of the many who know, who see and who speak.

To quote Cabral: “The colonists usually say that it was they who brought us into history: today we show that this is not so.”

 

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian / Gallo)

#Shackville: This is what it looks like to be at an institution so resistant to change

Last night on lower campus. Fire, police vans and screaming students – this is what it looks like to be at an institution so resistant to change that it would rather eat itself from within.

I’ve been here 6 years and every year brings the same stories of heartlessness from student housing: of students sleeping on campus because they have no where to go, of students from rural KZN, Limpopo etc getting off busses with nothing but a plastic bag and being told they don’t have the bed and food they were promised.

Last night the police were grabbing students at random on Rondebosch main so the argument that they were dealing with specific aggressors isn’t true. I had a gun pointed me while literally standing on the sidewalk and tweeting.

I honestly wish people would stop clogging up social media with so called social commentary and just be honest about the fact that they’d rather everything remain the same. They’d rather not know about the countless stories of dispossession and desperation because it makes them uncomfortable and it makes them complicit for saying nothing. I grew up middle class – I know that we are socialised into ignoring the struggles of the poor – things are going to have to change whether you want them to or not. ‪#‎HomelessAtUCT‬ ‪#‎Shackville‬

 

(Photo Credit: Dela Buhle Gwala)

Remember Marikana

 

(Photo Credit: Dave Mann / The Con)

Patriarchy never fails women; patriarchy always assaults women. #PatriarchyMustFall

In the news this week: in Cambodia rape victims have been “failed” by the so-called justice system; South Africa’s justice system is “failing” women; the United Kingdom “fails” women who suffer from domestic violence; and the United States’ program of mass incarceration fails all women, particularly women of color. The only problem with these “failures” is that they are successes. They are part and parcel of the public policy of patriarchy-as-nation-State. The State does not fail women; the State assaults women.

One of every twenty women in the world lives in the United States. One of every three women prisoners in the world is currently in a United States prison or jail, and that figure does not include immigrant detention centers. Globally, the 25 jurisdictions with the highest rate of female incarceration are 24 individual states and the District of Columbia. West Virginia tops that list, imprisoning 273 out of 100,000 women. There is no failure here. There is a decades long campaign to cage and otherwise brutalize women, and particularly women of color, all in the name of `protecting’ not only Society but also the women themselves.

In Cambodia, LICADHO, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, released a report yesterday that documented the massive “failure” of the State to address rape: “LICADHO’s monitors report that it is usually the result of a failure by police to respond to reports by victims, and in some cases, of suspects being tipped off by police that a claim has been made against them … This report brings to light the immense failure of the Cambodian justice system to properly investigate and punish cases of sexual violence against women and children. The reasons for this failure are many: corruption, discriminatory attitudes towards women and girls, misinterpretation of the law, and lack of resources all combine to perpetuate and entrench a system in which impunity prevails.

“The report has focused on the failures of the justice system rather than on the experience of individual victims; it must not be forgotten that at the centre of all the cases discussed there were women and children who had experienced a terrifying and violent attack resulting in psychological and often physical trauma. The failure of the criminal justice system to punish their attackers compounds their experience of abuse and perpetuates the harm they suffer. Moreover, every failure to punish reinforces existing public mistrust of the Cambodian justice system and conveys the message that rape is not an offence that will be treated seriously; it not only lets down the victims concerned but reduces the likelihood that future victims will take the risk of reporting the crimes committed against them.”

There is no failure in Cambodia. Police refuse to respond. The State refuses to put women and children at the center. We hear similar reports from South Africa, where the justice system fails “to adequately address gender based violence since the impunity of men as rapists is tacitly accepted.” Likewise, in the United Kingdom, when the State proposes to cut or almost eliminate domestic violence services, we are told, “The current government is failing women.”

There is no failure here. The State seeks to reduce women’s autonomy and dignity, and thereby extract ever more value, all of which accrues to men’s power, stature, wealth and pleasure. None of this is new. It’s the oldest play in patriarchy’s rulebook. Stop calling structural violence against women “failure.” Call it violence against women, and stop it. #PatriarchyMustFall

 

(Photo Credit: EPA / Kim Ludbrook / Daily Maverick)

Karabo Moseneke: Tell them that I am the mother, I am definitely the mother

Karabo Moseneke

It’s a beautiful day in Mabopane, just outside Pretoria, and Karabo Moseneke is celebrating her ninetieth birthday.” What follows is only a small part of the story of the life and times of Karabo Mabel Moseneke, but even this small part is worth knowing. It’s the story of the grace and beauty of a woman’s endurance.

Karabo Moseneke was raised in a religious family. Her father worked as a chef and her mother worked in a laundry, and they struggled to make sure their daughter would be educated and become a teacher, which she did. She married a man who became a headmaster, and they created a house that cherished the spirit and the substance of freedom, especially freedom that emerges from and within education. They had four sons, the most well known of whom is Dikgang Moseneke, who is currently the Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa, the second most powerful judge in the country. Much of Karabo Moseneke’s story is filtered through the rise of her famous son. Dikgang Moseneke was born in 1947.

In 1960, at the age of 13, Dikgang Moseneke opened the newspaper and was changed forever. Black African children, like himself, had been massacred in Sharpeville: “The inequality was egregious. You could see it out there, jumping at you as a young person … My sense of fairness was inbred and I think it’s inbred in every child.” And so the 13-year-old boy joined the African Student Union, which was intimately linked with the Pan African Congress: “I had caught on to a wonderful phrase from someone called Robert Sobukwe, who said, `You must be your own liberator, in your lifetime.

Three years to the day after the Sharpeville Massacre, Dikgang Moseneke was taken from his home by the police. They wouldn’t tell his parents why nor where he was going. For 90 days, he was tortured and held in solitary confinement. He still bears the scars of those days. His mother searched frantically: “When I got home, I just sat down and started crying.”

When Karabo Moseneke finally found out where her son was, he was about to stand trial. She and her husband went to court every day, during the six-month trial. Every day, the guards would come and ask her if she was the mother of Number Six. Every day, she would respond, “Tell them that I am the mother, I am definitely the mother.” Then the guards would tell her that her son, Number Six, was sure to hang. Every night, Karabo Moseneke would have terrible nightmares of hangpal hangpal, the gallows the gallows, and every morning she would return to the court and say, “Tell them that I am the mother, I am definitely the mother.”

Dikgang Moseneke was sentenced to ten years prison, and was immediately shackled and chained, shoved into a van and carted off to Robben Island. For ten years, Karabo Moseneke brought food and love, food as love, to her son, and watched him grow, behind bars, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. During the ten years, Dikgang Moseneke committed himself to studying and moving forward. He completed his matric, Bachelor of Arts degree and a B Juris degree. When Dikgang Moseneke was released, he was placed under house arrest in his parents’ home, for five years. He continued to study, they continued to suffer and support: “My parents never once judged me, they never once blamed me.”

According to both Karabo Moseneke and her son, interviewed separately, the moral of this story is endurance. Karabo Moseneke endured and then some. She never judged nor blamed, and she never gave up and never stopped asking questions. Why should someone hang? Why should her son, who had done nothing, be abused and tortured? Why should people suffer? Where was God in all this? Where is the humanity? And throughout, according to both Karabo Moseneke and her son, they would cry, freely, without collapsing under the heap of sorrow.

It’s a beautiful day in Mabopane, and it is time to celebrate.

 

(Photo Credit: enca.com)