(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)

Women doing it (for themselves)

Women doing it (for themselves)

Unashamedly 
there they are
on a busy main road
soliciting

soliciting they are
what will the neighbours 
have to say

especially those ones
gated and walled in
their neighbourhood
watches standing guard

Women doing it
for themselves 
on Mandela Day 
in a SnapScan 
Donation Drive-By 

this in aid of CECD’s
#PPEforECD campaign
to support their ECD centres 
with personal protective
equipment – PPE

Women doing it 
for themselves 
in memory of 
Nelson Mandela

Unashamedly

I mask-up and join the Centre for Early Childhood Development on Rosmead Avenue, almost Claremont. To much hooting!

(Image Credit: Centre for Early Childhood Development / Facebook)

What do they learn (in school today)

What do they learn (in school today)

a hawker deliberate
she open-mouthed at the youths of today
unmasked undistanced
outside their local high

What do they learn
in school today
assembling now
up close and personal in our Covid-19 era

do teachers not teach about these new times
about this invisible enemy
along with the other
linking all pandemics in critical thought and analysis

(do they just stick
to the usual to the syllabus to what is dictated
not wanting to stir)

What do they learn
in school today
it being just a day
before June 16
a Public Holiday

are there doctors here
epidemiologists too
gathered boisterously
it being just a day before a Public Holiday

Remembering June 16 1976
of struggles past and present

South Africa’s Youth Day, June 16 2020

(Photo Credit: Simon Fraser University)

Self-care is not synonymous with selfishness, but is necessary for survival.

Since we’ve been back at school, I’ve managed to wake up before the alarm every single day. Yesterday I woke up with a fluttering heart just after 5, and after 6 today. Not cool for a weekend. Especially not when you have to be at your full senses, on high alert for the coming week. Being positive, encouraging the kids, telling them how brave and wonderful they are, because they are, staying in touch with the kids who are still home, teaching in the real and virtual world, trying to teach, be expressive and animated with a mask on, watching which board marker you pick up, using the same pen for everything, not being able to walk to a desk, hand on child’s shoulder and explain. Coming home, absolutely famished because you only drink the coffee which the hubby packs, because you had a sandwich at school once since being back, but you didn’t know which side plate to use and it was embarrassing having to raise and lower the mask everytime someone came into the staffroom and you imagine the virus lurking in every surface which you know has been sanitized.

Watching these amazing teenagers listen intently, take in every single word we say, fear for their future, ask if they will have to repeat the grade, be afraid to even speak to each other. I miss their quick retorts, funny quips, and especially their random, offbeat questions and comments. We used to ‘get’ each other. Now we’re just afraid of getting the virus from each other.

Watching your friends and colleagues struggle with their own fears, speaking to parents’ concerns about their child at school, their child at home, their child with a co-morbiditiy, their child without a co-morbiditiy, but with vulnerable family members. The parents’ huge and understandable irritation and then their ensuing vitriolic expression when Ministers and MECs don’t say the same thing. Being at the receiving end of that expression, but using diplomacy and exercising patience when you yourself are ANGRY! Watching our principal try and do the right thing by everybody, carrying what seems too much on those slight shoulders. Being available to parents at odd hours because questions, fear, anger and confusion knows no school hours.

Since Lockdown started, we’ve repeatedly told the kids and their parents ‘We’re in this together and we’ll get through it together’…. Now I’m not so sure. What will we come out as? Resilient, tenacious and ALIVE, or defeated, overwhelmed…

I remind myself, as I remind any other teacher and parent reading this, we can only take it one day at a time, and most importantly, this is the time to have and exercise an active and living faith.

Wishing you a blessed Sunday. Do what makes you happy. Be kind to and gentle with yourself. Self-care is not synonymous with selfishness, but is necessary for survival.

(Photo Credit: Phando Jikelo / African News Agency / Cape Times)

We didn’t get to finish

Tembinkosi Qondela

We didn’t get to finish

We didn’t get to finish
a social media dialogue
in between the music
I sent TQ to keep
our spirits up

We didn’t get to finish
he asking leading questions
in response to my saying
that I miss the schoolchildren

What will you do he asks
when most are infected 
the school has to close 
and you can’t even 
visit them at the hospital 

Children whose nutrition 
and immune system 
is compromised are also 
vulnerable and then they 
bring it home to those 
who are more vulnerable

Whizz Centre suspended classes 
for 60 of their learners 
who were a major source 
of the Centre’s income
putting people’s health first

This is the TQ we knew
health before profit
health before economy 
not economy before health
he maintained you cannot sacrifice 
people’s health for the economy

Then he asks me
what is this economy 
we are talking about  
are we talking about 
food or gold

We didn’t get to finish

(Photo Credit: Facebook / Tembinkosi Qondela)

Perfect day

Perfect day

it is
with a young author
all of 11-year’s old
on my morning radio


she bubbling away
enthusiastic is she
about writing
and reading too


(World Book Day
has passed virtually)


A tad later
another is on
she somewhat 
longer in the game


Perfect day
is her first 
choice of music


a song surely 
to bring cheer 
to humanity


surely not
what with we all
held to ransom 
by a virus


one that has exposed
the planet’s cracks
for all to gasp at
and then to act on


A Perfect day


Two authors and a Lou Reed song on Michelle Constant’s show get this going, on South Africa’s Lockdown Day 31.

(Image Credit: “Joy” by John Von Wicht: Smithsonian Museums) (Video Credit: YouTube / Eagle Rock)

South Africa’s Covid-19 economic stimulus plan: A chance to rethink or same old same old?

South Africa’s Covid-19 economic stimulus plan contains several of the features of a solid emergency plan, albeit cobbled together under the most unusual circumstances, at least on the surface. At 10% of GDP, far higher than Italy, Spain or the United Kingdom, it is one the largest stimulus packages in the world. To put this into further perspective the United States has committed 11% of its GDP to keeping the lights of its economy on.

President Ramaphosa’s announcement arrives at a time that global economic markets are haemorrhaging, a sad necessity of withdrawing large percentages of the working population from public spaces. Like so many components of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are presented with ongoing trade-offs and dilemmas all of which lead to their own paths of landmines. The largest fork in the road globally has been the cost of closing down the economy whilst livelihoods are increasingly precarious, many communities are restless, some families are starving to death. For countries in the Global South such as South Africa with lower welfare, this is all the more complicated by the uneven pace of dispensing relief to small businesses who employ the largest chunk of the employed workforce. The effort has been further hampered by the disgraceful diversion of food parcels to economically vulnerable communities by parts of the very state machinery that should be distributing relief.

That said, the plan offers clusters of intervention, many of which sound encouragingly social welfarist. It is not dissimilar to the basic income grant suggested by social policy analysts and formulated by several NGOS post 1994. As long ago as 2004, a coalition of NGOs, faith-based organisations and unions across SADC formulated well-researched funding models to finance this. They suggested that the Basic Income Grant (BIG) was affordable, particularly for South Africa, and noted that the political and economic history of South Africa would otherwise consistently reproduce the toxicity of racist and race based social and economic outcomes. These have produced the intergenerational, structural flaws in South Africa’s economy which no amount of foreign direct investment and market orthodox approaches of the past 22 years have resolved.

The proposals suggested a financing menu of diverse local taxes and strongly suggested that a universal grant would be part of a developmental social compact. So while painful, the Corona virus and the measures suggested by the President  might be bringing us closer to the recognition that structural deficits need to be addressed by investing into developing key sectors of the economy, enabling workers to remain in the economy and by cushioning those who are not able to participate in that economy.

Part of this compact is the R200 billion loan scheme to provide companies with relief to remain operational and to pay salaries. At a time when almost a third of the workforce have either been retrenched or are uncertain of their post lockdown future, a R50billion grant has been introduced to augment existing grants for a six-month period. Significantly, relief will be offered to people who are out of the current benefits matrix and receive neither Unemployment Insurance Fund benefits nor social grants.

The R100 billion grant to small businesses includes spazas and those often bypassed and ‘informalised’ by conventional market policy. These horizon industries, including chisa nyamas,   are largely bootstrap businesses that play a significant role in job creation,  community welfare and even a space to report domestic violence. They act as a meeting place for many, and the intimacy of the relationships represents an important part of community welfare in ways that larger supermarkets cannot replicate. During this virus, with limited transport, these outlets are the closest retailers. R70 billion in the proposal represents a tax respite for such businesses, including on skills development levies.

The second major fork in the plan is in the distribution of all this to various stakeholders. To be fully effective, cash transfers and relief subsidies must reach their intended targets including indigent communities, people in the parallel or ‘informal’ sector, and women who largely run household economics and are placed at the helm of social reproduction. They must also represent value for money. The modalities of transfer funds are risk-filled not least because the State itself has often been unreliable and corrupt. The perceptions around cash transfer programmes are often tainted with misinformation, poverty shaming and the idea that social grants or income support are for ‘free loading’ or ‘lazy’ social delinquents and ‘welfare queens’ rather than a recognition that these grants can enhance human capital and social engagement. It is also a form of risk sharing which potentially minimises the ongoing risk of huge parts of the population falling out of the social and economic compact, absent from the market economy. There is little evidence to support the view that child maintenance grants result in dependency.  This is the moment to reframe a socio-economic inclusiveness that is not biased towards corporates. If 2008 taught us nothing else, it’s that we cannot privilege companies over workers and families.

The strained and compromised SASSA machinery would require far greater capacity to minimise risk and maximise fast delivery. Conditional cash transfers linked to particular goods like school uniform, services like medical access or specific food items at listed outlets have often worked better than unconditional transfers in other developing economies to avert the flaws in the systems. The sustainability of these transfers and subsidies was debated as soon as the President mentioned the 6-month time horizon. Most economies, sectors, companies and families will still be on the difficult road to recovery beyond November 2020 and probably into the next 24 to 60 months.  

All this comes at a cost and herein is the final fork in the road, the IMF. The IMF presents a departure from South Africa’s correct historical aversion to securing their assistance. The IMF works on capital account liberalisation, removing barriers to flows of capital; and fiscal consolidation, or austerity. Structural conditions, or Structural Benchmarks (SBs), involve economic actions that require legislation and critical policy changes.

In 2008, in 21 countries over two decades, researchers demonstrated that IMF programme conditionalities help produce worsening health outcomes. Whilst this Corona inspired compact is an opportunity to rethink our economic model, it is crucial to appreciate that this moment is partly a manifestation of historical neglect and a market orthodox model. The solution in form of IMF and World Bank funding models may in fact lead to even more indebtedness and invidious conditionalities in future. A full cycle of market led, corporatist potential disaster. The real pandemic.

(Image Credit: Medialternatives)