Women cleaners and domestic workers confront violence against women

From Hong Kong to Qatar to Greece to the United States, domestic workers and women cleaners are under attack. They are under attack because they are women. In South Africa this year, domestic workers and women cleaners have confronted the attack head on.

Delia Adonis works as a cleaner in a mall in Cape Town. Last month, Adonis saw five men attack a sixth. She called the police, who intervened. She then went to the parking lot, where the five men encircled her, knocked her to the ground, and beat her. Throughout the assault, the men used racist and sexist epithets.

Adonis called the police and laid charges on the five men. It turns out they’re UCT students. Adonis claims that the police came to her and offered her money to drop the case. The officer allegedly said that the men were afraid of being kicked out of school. Adonis rejected the offer, and all it represented: “I’m really angry about this. I’m traumatised and still in pain. These youngsters verbally abuse us every weekend, and now this? I’m a mother of six – how would they feel if someone beat up their mothers like that? There was so much blood pouring from my face I couldn’t see. When I washed my face. I just thought to myself: ‘Boys, you can run but I leave you in the hands of the Lord’.”

Cynthia Joni works as a domestic worker in Cape Town. One morning, Joni was walking to work, when a white man leapt out of his car, slapped and threw her to the ground. She screamed, and he drove away. He was later identified and charged. His `explanation’ was that he mistook Cynthia Joni for a sex worker and `snapped.’ To no one’s surprise, it turns out that Cynthia Joni is not the first woman he’s assaulted. Now others are coming forth.

While the toxic mix in both the physical violence and then the subsequent violence that passes for explanation are important, the women’s response is more important. Domestic workers, sex workers, women workers reject the violence and call on the State to address it … forcefully and immediately.

Gloria Kente is a live-in domestic worker in Cape Town. Last year, her employer’s then-boyfriend got angry with her, allegedly grabbed her, spat in her face, and screamed a racist epithet at her. Kente called the police and had him charged with both assault and a violation of her human and civil rights. She called him out for hate speech and harassment. When the man tried to extend `an apology’, Kente said, “NO!” If an apology meant not going to court, not having the State fully involved, then Gloria Kente wanted no part of it.

Today’s stories echo the past. Over six years ago, four white students at the University of the Free State videotaped their assault on five cleaners, Mothibedi Molete, Mankoe Phororo, Emmah Koko, Nkgapeng Adams and Sebuasengwe Ntlatseng. The video went viral, as did disgust, and the cleaners, four women and one man, fought back. This June, the five cleaners launched their own company.

Today, however, domestic workers and women cleaners are making demands on the State. Domestic workers and women cleaners reject the protectionism that would see them as a separate class in need of help. They are workers with rights, women with rights, and humans with rights. As women workers increasingly demand their civil, labor, and human rights be respected, they consolidate power. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust)

Love is all around

Love is all around

Love is all around
is my lyrical response
to a Vukani letter-writer
from out yonder KTC

Where is love
in the townships
is the question asked
(amidst partying and drinking
round our social grant days)

Love is all around
I declare as I ramble
in and about Site C Khayelitsha

A bustling Saturday morning
down Govan Mbeki Road
to the Whizz ICT Centre
for their Youth Centre Launch
and an end-user computer Graduation

(them a small light of hope
all about community sustainability
in a place overshadowed)

Love is all around (too)
at the Moses Mabhida Library
where I’ve been before
for a Reading Competition
(fall in love with learning
says a mural on their wall)

Love is all around
5 happy earthly hours I spend
(language notwithstanding)
as the Youth Centre is launched
and students joyously graduate

Love is all around

What stops you
from making it so too

 

“Where is love in the townships?” (Letters, Vukani community paper, October 30 2014)

 

(Photo Credit: Whizz ICT Centre/Rlabs.org)

Where people’s suffering is a commodity to be sold

Speaking truth to self: in these times of neoliberal careerism, where people’s suffering is a commodity to be sold in the market place of the development industry, what is a politically conscious and ethical thing to do?

Grabbing media headlines is easy and sexy.

What is meaningful solidarity with people who are suffering and in struggle? Where does fetishism end and where does defeatism begin? What would going to Liberia achieve for the dying of Monrovia?

Africans are dying. Some of us Africans are standing on soap boxes talking about and pointing fingers at those not-so-pure or not-so-legitimate ones doing things we should be doing.

What has South Africa done in solidarity with Africa in this case? I’m not even having this conversation. I am a mere bystander observing with my shiny anti-imperialist microscope. Neither is self-flagellation attractive, ethical nor useful.

So, what then? Well, get some fresh air I guess!

 

(Photo credit: Flicker.com, United Nations Development Program)

I was raised in a world around the fire

I was raised in a world around the fire. Where every waking minute was learning. There was no TV. No newspapers. No phones. No electricity. No running water except from streams and waterfalls. With the locked in aura of apartheid we barely ever left the farm, and then the village.

Besides, grandma always said kids who run around in other people’s places get food poisoning or get sick from other people’s dirt. How this reconciled with the “You must know every corner, every hole in your village. Know everything about your neighbours. When they are hungry. When they are sad. When they are happy. You must know everything about the plants that like growing there.”

The language of the forest. The seasons of the river… eluded me really. The thing about how we were taught in the school around the fire is the capacity for alertness. You had to listen. Observe. Interpret. Work out the meaning of things. There was no “moral of the story” discussion at the end of a story.

You discussed why the rabbit didn’t run this or that way. Why the wolf took so long to outwit the fox. Why the aunt was so mean to her brother’s kids. Why the boy was so stupid and didn’t follow his sister. Why the old people didn’t trust the girl until she killed the monster. Why the people thought the woman was a witch even though they never saw her kill anyone. Why the visitors were so ungrateful and mean even though the village people were so nice and welcoming. Why we didn’t have nwelezelanga’s, mlenzanamnye’s or Nompunzi’s magic powers…but the rest you made meaning of yourself. For that reason, you learnt to be alert, fast, your mind learnt to keep every detail – that thing they call photographic memory.

Well, a combination of that and books was powerful. But an erosion of that and filling it with television…not so great. Even though in the absence of a library with more than 5 books I learnt most of my English from TV. Thank goodness for those comrades who later came from South Africa (we lived in Ciskei not SA thina mos) bringing subversive books i couldn’t read but tried desperately and those subversive teachers who gave us the books we had to hide behind the school toilets or leave at home when uMhloli came. And then the half-torn hand-me-down books from the Maritz’s my mother looked after in the town.

Yes, and thanks to whomever it was that thought to do school TV. It did so much to supplement for the science experiments where I could learn how you make that fart – like smelly thing called sulphuric acid. But I did lose my alertness. My photographic memory. And the other nice things like the fearlessness to explore “every corner of your village”, which for a long time of course has been the city with too many walls and ever diminishing space and foggy skies and people who try hard to not to know their neighbours.

Siphokazi Mdlankomo challenges perceptions of domestic workers in South Africa

Siphokazi Mdlankomo, a domestic worker from Newlands, South Africa, is garnering international attention – and she’s using her new celebrity to call for the equal treatment of domestic workers. Mdlankomo debuted as a contestant on the popular show “MasterChef South Africa” last month and quickly became a fan favorite. The show’s contestants compete against each other in cooking challenges in the hopes of securing a future as a professional chef.

But becoming a chef is not Mdlankomo’s only goal. As noted in her biography for the show and reported last week, she also aims to use her time in the limelight to challenge global perceptions of domestic work and prove that domestic workers are not “second-class citizens.” “People, not only in South Africa, but all over the world should start taking domestic workers much more seriously,” she said. “People need to start thinking of domestic work as any other profession … it’s not just cleaning and cooking, there is far more talent in domestic workers.”

That Mdlankomo lives and works in South Africa is noteworthy. There are approximately 1.15 million domestic workers in the country. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than three-quarters of domestic workers in South Africa are female, and their racial breakdown is highly imbalanced. Ninety-one percent of the country’s domestic workers are classified as “African/black” and the remaining nine percent are “Coloured.” Domestic worker employers, however, span all races.

In many ways, South Africa has been a leader in establishing legal protections for domestic workers. The country set requirements for minimum wages and formal employment contracts for domestic workers in 2002 and 2003, and it provides domestic workers with unemployment insurance, skills development opportunities and other resources. It was also one of the first countries to ratify the standards set by the ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention.

Despite these advances, abuse and exploitation of domestic workers is still an issue in the country. Some argue that this is due to a lack of enforcement of the laws. Wages remain low, 70 percent of domestic workers in the country work without a contract, and there are still reports of abuse, disrespect, segregation and racism. Researchers from the Community Agency for Social Enquiry found that many South African domestic workers think their employers view them as inferior and discriminate against them based on their race.

The recent actions of two South African university students exemplify the racism and objectification that still surround domestic work and the women who perform it. Soon after Mdlankomo’s debut, two white University of Pretoria students posted photos of themselves dressed up as domestic workers online, with their faces smeared with brown paint and pillows shoved in their skirts. The photos are a stark reminder of domestic worker stereotypes and the country’s racial history, and they make clear that legal protections do not generate social and cultural change overnight.

The university immediately condemned the students’ behavior, and there was much criticism from South Africans through social media. These reactions suggest awareness among South Africans that racism and ridiculing domestic workers are intolerable, at least in public – and therein lies a big part of the problem. Even though domestic worker employers might know that the mistreatment of domestic workers is socially unacceptable, they may not recognize more subtle forms of exploitation, and what happens in their own homes is ultimately private and hidden behind closed doors.

That’s what makes the reaction to Mdlankomo’s message, her popularity, and her efforts significant. Her presence on the hit show and commitment to using it as a platform to call for respect for domestic workers is helping to make domestic workers more visible to a popular audience. Scholars worldwide have well documented the legal, economic, physical and social forces that contribute to the invisibility and isolation of domestic workers. Pushing domestic workers’ stories, talents and struggles into the public sphere might help counter harmful and dangerous representations that appear all too common, even among a younger generation of university students.

As we noted previously, scholars have long studied media’s impact on public understanding and opinion. For this reason, groups like Migrant Rights have criticized the way media portrayals of domestic workers perpetuate degrading stereotypes that contribute to the mistreatment and abuse of workers. From this perspective, Mdlankomo and her message offer a positive alternative depiction.

News media coverage of Mdlankomo has so far framed her comments as “causing a stir,” “striking a nerve” and “heating up the black servants’ debate.” The fact that her common sense message is controversial and discomforting makes clear that it is necessary. Whether it will have a major impact remains to be seen. In the meantime, Mdlankomo is challenging South Africans’ understanding of domestic workers and confronting them with the need for equal treatment, and that has the potential to generate important and valuable conversations within households and beyond.

 

(Photo Credit: Esa Alexander?TimesLive.co.za)

Gift Makau was laid to rest today

I have struggled to sit down and write about the rape, torture and murder of Gift Makau in Ventersdorp last Friday for days now. The mix of ugly and disturbing emotions that battle within me for expression is something to be avoided. I hate the grief, pain and anger I feel and how they permeate my days. How to say what needs to be said? How to find words, the right words?

Even after almost twenty years of working in the field of sexual violence and violence against women I still have little or no idea why men rape. So often people ask this question both in formal and in informal conversations. Why? I sidestep the answer, I dance around it, I avoid the standard rhetoric and the psychological theories. None of them do it for me. None of them give an explanation that would lead to a solution, a cure, a correction. Rehabilitation of sex offenders is a contentious issue with many believing that it is seldom successful. Certainly our rape rates in South Africa indicate that nothing is slowing this problem down.

To make it a problem of men or to cast women continuously in the passive light of victim is not an answer that I like. Sex is something that happens between men and women. Rape is something that happens between men and women. What is that “between” space? What happens there? The same thing happens between two women or between two men having sex. It is not the province of one gender or one kind of sexual act. It is a like a continuous ongoing conversation of enormous complexity. We bring ourselves, or parts of ourselves, to that conversation and it continues to compel us all. We have to begin to talk about what happens between us. To find the words, the right words.

In the end I decided to address my words to the man that raped and killed Gift Makau. At Rape Crisis we never comment about the motives of the perpetrator of rape. We never claim to know what he is thinking or feeling or what drives him. When journalists or researchers ask us we always refer them to an expert from an organisation that works with offenders. For once I want to break that rule.

To the man that killed Gift Makau: “How lost are you to your own humanity? What made you like that, what shaped you? What choices, if any, did you make that lead you down this path? Could you even answer these questions? What makes you think that you can change something that is not a personal choice? As if you could change your race? Or the fact that your mother gave birth to you? Or the placement of your internal organs in your body? These are facts of your identity. Just as being a lesbian was a fact of her identity. You can never change that fact.

“Just as you can never change the fact that she has sisters and brothers. All across South Africa and all around the world she has sisters and brothers that rage, and sorrow and mourn for her. We will fight this fight to make you know, just as you know your own name, that she is who she was and always will be. There are many, many more like her who will live lives of strength and courage and integrity and never stop asserting their right to do so even in the face of acts such as yours.”

 

((This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, under different title, can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

Trauma and violence have become the global school curriculum

Paballo Seane, 19, was buried recently: “Paballo Seane, 19, a Grade 12 pupil at Cefups Academy, which is on a farm 11km outside Nelspruit, died in hospital over a week ago after allegedly being sjambokked by a teacher. She was buried on Saturday in her home town, Bloemfontein, in the Free State.”

Since Paballo Seane died, or was killed, former students of the Cefups Academy have reported their memories of sjamboks as a fairly regular “pedagogical tool.” Parents are threatening to take their children out of the school, and Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza has said if corporal punishment was used, the academy will be closed.

Will it be closed?

This is not the first time Cefups Academy has run into precisely this trouble. In 1999, Simon Mkhatshwa, the school’s founder, was convicted for sjambokking a teacher.

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana, a graduate of Cefups Academy, describes Simon Mkhatshwa as a “typical traditional man who believed that what must happen at school was teaching and learning and nothing else”.

Is the sjambok teaching, learning, or nothing else?

The violence done to Paballo Seane in school by a staff member is no anomaly, neither in South Africa nor around the world.

Across the United States, schools use so-called seclusion rooms, which are solitary confinement cells. Teachers are not supposed to use the rooms for punishment, but they do regularly. More often than not, the children believe that their punishment was not apt and normal, because teachers are fair and just. And so they don’t tell their parents. Not surprisingly, the majority of children are living with disabilities.

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven? No longer.

And in India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights “has written to state government to make it mandatory for teachers to sign an undertaking against torture to students.” This is due to a spike over the last two years in complaints of torture of students by school staff.

Teachers need to sign a document that says they will not “undertake” the torture of students?

The gender dynamic of staff violence has yet to be studied conclusively. What is known is that the experience is traumatic, hurts deeply and lasts forever. Trauma and violence have become the global curriculum.

Last week, Kathleen Dey, of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, urged South Africans not to use Women’s Day, August 9, as an alibi for hiding from precisely violence against women. This week, on August 12, the world `celebrated’ International Youth Day. Think of that, and think of Paballo Seane dying under the lash of a sjambok. Think of the girls across South Africa, the United States, India and around the world who suffer violence in the one place that is meant to help precisely girls advance in this world and the next: school. Remember Paballo Seane and all the girls, and then do something.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, very different version can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

Sexual Offences Courts Matter, and Here’s Why

August is Women’s Month in South Africa, and so last week, to launch Women’s Month, and presumably `to honor’ women, two judges of the Pretoria High Court reduced to 20 years the life sentence of a man convicted of having repeatedly raped an 11-year-old girl, a girl he says he regarded as “a daughter.” The judges reduced the sentence because they determined that the 11-year-old girl “seemed to be a willing partner.”

What? What?!?

According to South African law, not to mention common sense, an eleven-year-old child is never a willing partner to anything. An eleven-year-old girl cannot give consent to sexual contact, and nobody gives consent to sexual violence. Period.

From start to finish, the decision is all wrong, and, yet again, one can only be outraged and, yet again, foment and rage and lament the betrayal. Or …

Or one can consider this abysmal case as the proof, if one were needed, that greater attention must be paid to serious investment in Sexual Offences Courts.

Alison Tilley began the week by asking, “Did you know we have only fifteen functioning sexual offences courts?” Last August, the Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offence Matters launched its Report on the Re-Establishment of Sexual Offences Courts. After a year of study, the task team issued a strong and clear report, with direct and clear recommendations: “In the final analysis, the report makes a clear finding that there is a need for the re-establishment of Sexual Offences Courts in South Africa … The Department must give priority to the immediate upgrading of the 57 regional courts that have been identified as being resourced closest to the Sexual Offences Court Model. This upgrading process must be done against available resources, and must commence in the 2013/2014 financial year.”

The original plan was to have 22 functioning courts by the end of 2013/2014 financial year. There are 15.

In South Africa, sexual offences courts began in 1993. By the end of 2005, there were 74 sexual offences courts. Little by little, the courts were closed because of “budget constraints.” The budgets weren’t `constrained.’ The legislators decided, with their wallets, that protection of the vulnerable just doesn’t matter all that much. It’s happened before, it’s happening again.

Last year, the discussion of Sexual Offences Courts was impelled by the torture of Anene Booysen. This year, perhaps, it will be moved by the judicial violence done to an eleven-year-old girl raped by a man who thought of her as “a daughter” and by a court, and court system, who didn’t think of her at all.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, slightly different version can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

Hiding behind Women’s Day. Again.

I remember as a child going with my mother to register our domestic worker for a pass book. Two women and a child going to a place far from home to wait in a queue to deal with men behind counters who told us what to do and who represented a violent system. This would have been in the early 1970s, almost 15 years after women protested the pass laws in their march to the Union Buildings in 1956. Now we have a day to celebrate those women and everyone seems to have forgotten that protesting against structural violence was what their march was all about. This is what we should never forget: that we were a country that deliberately oppressed people, restricting their movements and keeping them from their own power.

Today the oppression of women and of poor women in particular continues. We may not be able to say that it is entrenched in our laws the way the apartheid system was but I worry that Women’s Day actually becomes a way to forget, to hide from and to obscure the very real issues that we face today. In an atmosphere of celebration it seems wrong to stand up like the evil fairy at the princess’s birthday party and say, “We are not free.” To invade the corporate pamper day and say, “Our rape statistics are some of the highest in the world. This needs to change.” To stand on the platform at the ceremony to honour women’s achievements and say, “What have we not achieved?”

One of the effects of this watering down of the real issues is that the public forget about the individuals, organisations and communities that do deal with the reality of rape and violence against women every day. Everyone wishes the ugly problem would simply go away. Let’s not taint the celebration with doom and gloom. Also of course, let’s not leave men out. I’ve heard so many people say, “Why don’t we have a Men’s Day?” as though this were the commercial opportunity of Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. And then there is the lure of the dream, “Let’s find the solution to this scourge and move forward.” I would like to find that solution. I fear it may just be a dream.

At the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust we are certainly not in the business of chasing dreams. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the people. We don’t have the money. What we do have are a group of extraordinarily committed women who work every day to make sure that change happens. The change that one woman makes when she comes out of a counselling session and says to herself, “It was not my fault. I did not deserve this.” She sees that she can heal. Or the change that a group of peer educators make when they stand in front of the assembled teachers and learners of their school and say, “Don’t be ashamed to report rape. You were not to blame even if you were wearing a short skirt on that day. A skirt is not an invitation to commit a crime.” They see that they can change the hearts and minds of others. Or the change that a government makes when it drafts a law that says it will empower the victims of crime with information, with counselling, with a proper tracking system for cases in the justice system and with joint planning between government departments to ensure well coordinated, cost effective services. It sees that it can provide a deterrent.

Women’s Day is a day to commemorate. To remember and to show respect. This need not be without celebration but that celebration should include an action that gives tribute and that ties the past to the present in service of the future. Otherwise it is just another holiday or an opportunity to commodify women. Join us as we march from St George’s Cathedral to the Artscape Theatre on Saturday 9 August 2014 at 9.30am but don’t let it stop there. Take your #mydoekselfie every Friday and share it with your friends on Facebook but don’t let it stop there. Make your own extraordinary commitment. It is not for me to say what that should be but let it be something that moves you, something that allows you to change. To change in a way that frees you and a woman that you know. Something that makes her feel safer, more respected, better supported and more free to make her own choices and decisions. Don’t hide. Speak out. Make just one change.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

The Women of Marikana invite you to bear witness to their lives

SIKHALA SONKE: The Women of Marikana invite you to bear witness to their lives in Marikana in August 2014

Re: site inspection and speak out by the women of Marikana, 12 August 2014

WHAT? A site inspection of Wonderkop, Marikana followed by a brief speak-out in which the women of Marikana and widows will testify to their ongoing pain and experience of injustice. They will talk about what they want to change in their lives.WHO? Ministers and Parliamentarians, the Office of the Premier in the North-West province, representatives of Chapter Nine bodies, prominent civil society leaders and cultural workers.

WHEN? Tuesday 12 August at 11am outside the main entrance to the Wonderkop Stadium.

Nearly two years has passed since the massacre of striking mineworkers in Marikana on 16 August 2012. Media and public attention has since been focused on the Farlam Commission and, more recently, on the five-month plus strike action on the Platinum belt. Eyes have long been turned away from day-to-day life in Marikana, and the distant rural villages and towns from which some of the mineworkers, killed in the massacre, originate and where their surviving families remain.

As we approach the two year anniversary of the Marikana massacre, it is an appropriate time to ask:

–     Are the Lonmin workers and community members living in conditions any better than two years ago? What has Lonmin done to improve lives? What has the local municipality done?

–     What justice has there been for the widows of Marikana and the families of the mineworkers that were killed? Has there been any compensation for their grievous losses? How are these families being supported by Lonmin and government?

–     Do workers and the community feel that justice has been served in the past two years?

The women of Marikana – organised as Sikhala Sonke – invite you to bear witness to their living conditions, their continued suffering and their acute feeling that justice for workers, for widows, for the community as a whole has not been served.

Please RSVP or send your queries to sikhalasonkejustice@gmail.com. You may also phone ThumekaMagwangqana on 084 714 0111.

We look forward to meet you on the 12th August in Marikana,

Sikhala Sonke

 

SIKHALA SONKE: The Women of Marikana

Site Inspection and Speak Out, 12 August 2014

Programme

10:30am           Gather at tent erected close to the Wonderkop Stadium, Nkaneng, Marikana

11:00am           Welcome, why we are here and outline of programme for the day (Sikhala Sonke)
Bishop Jo Seoka – opening words and prayer

11:15am            Depart for site inspection (Sikhala Sonke)

12:15pm            Conclude site inspection at assembly point
Testimonies from women and widows of Marikana
Remembering Paulina Masuhlo (Sikhala Sonke and family of Paulina Masuhlo)
Reading of Sikhala Sonke letters to government

1:00pm            Responses from invited guests and other organisations gathered in solidarity
Reading messages of solidarity

1:50pm            Closing words and prayer – Bishop Paul Verryn
Refreshments and departure