In South Africa, the forced sterilization of HIV positive women is part of the plan

In March of this year, we wrote: “In South Africa this week, 48 women living with HIV and AIDS responded to the indignity and abuse of forced sterilization. Represented by Her Rights Initiative, Oxfam, and the Women’s Legal Centre, 48 women who had suffered forced sterilization in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal came forward and lodged a formal complaint. These 48 `cases’ were from 1986 to 2014. These 48 women are the tip of a rumbling volcano.” Yesterday, the volcano rumbled, as a report indicated that, of 6719 HIV positive women interviewed, 498 said they had been forcibly sterilized. “It is the largest number of reported forced sterilisation cases ever uncovered in the country.”

The report, The People Living With HIV Stigma Index: South Africa 2014, noted, under Sexual Reproductive Health: “Of concern is that 7% of respondents reported that they were forced to be sterilized. In addition, 37% of the respondents said that access to ARV treatment was conditional on use of contraceptives.” Sindisiwe Blose, a research project manager and a member of the Treatment Action Campaign, elaborated, “We heard from people living with HIV who had refused marriage due to stigma, had avoided work promotion, or had been coerced into undergoing sterilization. Behind the figures lies a depth of suffering that struggles to be addressed.”

Close to 500 women forcibly sterilized doesn’t just happen. In this instance, the incidents were distributed all over, with the hotspots in three provinces: Eden, in the Western Cape, accounted for 22%; Buffalo City, in the Eastern Cape, 20%; and Sedibeng, in Gauteng, 19%.

Sethembiso Mthembu, of Her Rights Initiative, responded to the numbers: “The data of 498 cases basically confirms the practice is widespread. It is systematic. It is not a few rotten apples.” The Women’s Legal Centre also described the sterilization as systemic, with Jody-Lee Fredericks, of the Centre, adding, “This is horrific.”

The horrific this is the banality of the policy. As Helen Rees of the Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute recently explained, the biggest concern right now is young women, ages 15 to 24, and women sex workers. Many of the young women who are “placed in this situation” are poor, vulnerable and “prey to sexual exploitation.” In other words, none of this is surprising.

Yesterday, Nkhensani Mavasa, the Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign, addressed the opening session of the South Africa Aids Conference 2015. She spoke of a new denialism among the leadership of the nation, and she warned, “If you choose to ignore the crisis in the healthcare system, this crisis that is a fact of our daily lives, you may, like those other denialists in the past, end up on the wrong side of history.”

The forced sterilization of HIV positive women is an integral part of that new denialism. In the complaint filed in March, 48 women and their supporters rejected the double stigma of being HIV positive and being unable to have children. They also rejected the third stigma of having failed the nation-State. Women who are HIV positive are viewed as failed citizens. That’s why they can be treated this way, despite Constitutional and legal protections to the contrary. The Department of Health says forced sterilization is not department policy, but it is practiced, in the open, regularly. The forced sterilization of HIV positive women is an integral part of State violence against women, and it is never accidental or incidental. It is part of the plan.


(Photo Credit: The Star / Chris Collingridge)

If I ever do (become a writer)

If I ever do (become a writer)
If I ever do become a writer
one Isabel Pritchard pens
a letter to her 8C teacher
at Oaklands High 1992
(thanking her for having 
faith in her promising 
to dedicate her first book to her)
Yet another bit of history
unearthed in our household
in between and betwixt Africa 
and Youth Months
If I ever do become a writer
for that is what I wish to be
a dreamer too she says
(sounds like teacher’s 
John Lennon influence)
When she writes she feels
as if she is giving a part
of herself away
(did she follow her passion 
her dream in some way 
educating and encouraging) 
She stops herself
(I will have to end it
says she dramatically)
before her letter turns
into a novel 
Ending with something 
her tea-drinkingly English
teacher quoted
Hold fast to dreams
for if dreams die
life is a broken-winged bird
which cannot fly
Did she stop herself
Did she hold fast and fly
A “Dear Miss” letter surfaces in the Kapp household, circa end-May into June 2015.

The dishonesty of the liberalism of Gareth van Onselen

“One of the most liberal constitutions in the world”

The dishonesty of the liberalism of Gareth van Onselen must be exposed. He writes that ‘the ANC is sick’, but he is unwilling and unable to see the role his beloved liberal ideology played in the ANC’s increasing dissoluteness, conservatism and authoritarianism.

For Van Onselen the ANC’s ‘sickness’ can be seen in it ‘losing support, wracked by infighting, held hostage by division, a slave to an economically regressive mind-set, unable to organise internal conferences and denuded of talent as thinkers and an older generation desert it in the face of contemporary demagoguery.’ He also mocks Jacob Zuma’s turn towards traditionalism and religion. He does not ask why this is happening to the ANC right now.

Why, at this particular point, is the ANC – divided along unprincipled, tenderpreneurial lines – turning back to its Stalinist authoritarianism of the 1960s to the 1980s and its traditionalism of the 1910s to the 1950s? This is the question the Van Onselens cannot confront.

The rise of tenderpreneurialism, traditionalism and authoritarianism are good reasons to be worried, but we do not live under a traditionalist or Stalinist authoritarian political system. We are living under a liberal, constitutional political system. It is the effects of South Africa’s liberal, constitutional framework that is directly responsible for what is happening to the ANC.

In the 1990s the ANC adopted liberal constitutionalism and specifically South Africa’s constitution. It did not completely abandon its previous ideological postures but blended it with liberal constitutionalism in ways that often lacked consistency. However, its commitment to writing, promoting and implementing the constitution during this period cannot be doubted. What was the effect of this?

South Africa’s constitution was carefully designed to protect the basic structures of capital. By doing that, by protecting wealth, it inevitably protected the main means through which it is generated – cheap and unpaid black labour. By acceding to capital’s demands for liberalising the economy, the ANC oversaw the intensification of South Africa’s structural racism. White wealth and its opposite pole, black poverty, grew to make South Africa the most unequal society in the world.

South Africa’s constitution was never designed to cure the main sickness of Apartheid and actually made it worse. The ANC was now confronted with rampant inequality and explosive growth in the tensions and resistance this engendered. At the same time, the neo-liberalisation of the state-business nexus had completely embroiled it in corruption, tenderpreneurialism and factional conflicts based on it. It is under these pressures, that are a direct result of the liberal constitutional regime, that the ANC started looking back to its past for possible solutions to the multiple crises it was confronted with.

It is not possible to understand the ANC’s return to Stalinist authoritarianism and traditionalist conservatism without understanding it as the outcome of its turn to a liberal constitutionalism that prioritised the interests of white wealth. For people like Van Onselen the ANC’s sickness appear out of nowhere, because he needs to deny the oppressive nature of our liberal constitution. The constitution contained its own demise. It ostensibly sets out to protect the wealth of the rich and the rights of the poor. This cannot be done. The ANC is realising that. It is therefore, to some degree, abandoning the pretence of protecting the rights of the poor.

Yes, the ANC is morally sick. But so is South Africa’s liberal constitutionalism and so are its promoters such as Van Onselen.


(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Rex Features) (Image Credit: Roar Magazine)

My forefathers died for this land. If I’m going to die, I’ll not be the first one!

There’s an uprising, once again, in Pondoland, on the eastern coast of South Africa, and, as before, it concerns the violence brought on local populations by the State and its international partners, all in the name of `development’ and national improvement. This time the “resistance is distinguished by the prominence of women.”

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.” Her story goes back a ways.

From 1960 to 1962, the `peasants’ of Pondoland waged a mighty revolt against the Bantu Authorities Act and, more generally, against the ravages of apartheid on rural populations. Almost immediately after the Mpondo Revolt, Govan Mbeki researched, wrote and published South Africa: The Peasants’ Revolt, which showed the centrality of peasant and rural struggles to the national aspirations for emancipation and justice. Mbeki ended the chapter “Resistance and Rebellion” prophetically: “The Pondos paid dearly for their failure to ensure the safety and security of their forces at the height of the struggle. And in this they were not alone. Zululand and Zeerust suffered similarly, although on a smaller scale. But the people do not bear sufferings, such as they bore when the army occupied the Transkei, without becoming steeled in their determination to regroup, re-examine their methods of struggle, develop new ones, and retain the spirit that seeks forever for freedom.”

That was 1964. Forty years later, in 2004, mining companies began applying for permission to mine in the Mgungundlovu area of Amadiba Tribal Adminstrative Area in Pondoland. The area, also known as Xolobeni, boasts the second highest diversity of flora in South Africa, one of 26 places on earth with such a rich concentration of species. It’s commonly described as gorgeous, pristine and heavenly.

Local residents have been involved in developing eco-tourist sites, but the prospect of mining threatens everything. At first, people thought the mines could bring jobs and services, but discussions with other communities and the behavior of mining corporations soon disabused many of that notion. And so, in 2007, residents formed the Amadiba Crisis Committee.

The State claims the mines are good for business, even though this particular mine will only be open for 25 years, and then the agricultural and environmental economies will just have to work it out … again. Good for whose business?

The Committee argues for the environment, due process, Constitutional rights, respect for the graves of the elders, sustainable economic development. From the Committee’s inception to today, Nonhle Mbuthuma has been a leader. Throughout, Mbuthuma has taught that the Constitution protects everyone, and especially rural people because of their histories of struggle.

In 2009, Nonhle Mbuthuma made clear that an assault on the land is an assault on the people’s history: “Asilufuni Uphuhliso lwenu! [We don’t want your development!] […] If this mining takes place and the government issues a licence in this area, there will be war. There will be an uprising as it was in the [last] Mpondo Revolt.”

And this is today: “My forefathers died for this land. If I’m going to die, I’ll not be the first one.”

The Pondo Uprising continues to cast more than a long shadow across South Africa and beyond. It lives, inspired and informed by young women, like Nonhle Mbuthuma, who carry it forward and retain the spirit that seeks forever freedom.


(Photo Credit: Daily Maverick / Nzamo Dlamini) (Video Credit: Ryley Grunenwald / Vimeo)

21 already (on South Africa’s Freedom Day)

21 already (on South Africa’s Freedom Day)
21 already
you are
getting there
rather quickly
(might it have been
far too soon)
was the enticement
of international sport
(rugby and cricket chiefly)
much too much to resist
21 already
were we readied
for the occasion
and the great beyond
What have you celebrated
have you always had cause
to celebrate and rejoice
(are you selective 
in your remembrances)
21 already
(this coming of age)
does it seem times
are tougher now
in our rebuilding phase
(will we be reconstructing
forever and a day)
There are folks hankering
for a return to apartheid
corporal punishment
the death penalty and
keeping women and children
(and the other) in their place
(and quite nearby dogs howl
as a neighbouring child 
gets a mother’s loud beating
and a shutting-up)
21 already
would you do it
all over again
(Photo Credit:


As families of the 7 dead are still reeling in disbelief, preparing to bury their loved ones. As the more than 8000 displaced do what they can, mastering stamina to survive by the minute. Thousands of us are preparing to march tomorrow. We are painting placards and banners. Printing t-shirts. We will come armed with our props of protest. The symbolic significance of this action cannot be underestimated. We are in dire need of a public platform to express. Express the shock. Rage. Despair. Impotence. Good intentions. The million questions. These actions are taking place everywhere. The Silent protests. Loud Protests. Angry protests. The Prayers. Night vigils. Theatre and dramatisations. Pamphleteering. Pop-up songs. Petitions. Hashtag campaigns. Donations. Exhortations. Recitals of Mbeki’s “I am an African”. Invocations of Sankara, Nyerere, Lumumba, Cabral…This is the time of the frenzied response.

This week another tragedy befell Africans fleeing hardship and seeking a better life in Europe, or anywhere but Africa. More than 700 African migrants perished in a boat that capsized in the Mediterranean sea. These perils befall many, all the time, reports say. The realities driving many of us from our countries are deep, layered, painful, complex. In an ideal universe, we should be able to live, subsist, fit in anywhere, at least in this our constructed cosmos we call Africa. Indeed, the constructed borders must come down.

But the borders exist, are real and written in myopic, nationalistic bureaucracy. How tragic it is that Kwame and his fellows did not in their time win the war of an Africa without borders. It could have been the ultimate liberation for Africa’s people. That instead, more borders are drawn within countries, within communities, everyday. Maybe our children will win. Maybe nature will. Living in our countries of birth must be a choice we can make freely because life is possible there. Living anywhere in Africa must be a choice we can make freely because we claim that Africa is our home. Our leaders have created a union they claim is for us. What’s the point of a union if it doesn’t unify?

Tomorrow we will march. For the ones in camps from Tierkidi to Khayelitsha. The ones always running. Running from. Running to. For us who may not be running now, but will run too someday. When will the running stop?

Tomorrow we will march. Big men and women will speak. In their big voices. We will declare ourselves afrophobia-free for the world must see we are different and human. Not like those barbarians! When the feet are blistered and the voices hoarse and the spirits spent, what will it all have been for? What transformations will have happened, to give meaning to “never again”?

Tomorrow we will march for the girls of Chibok and the girls of Ngqamakwe. For Emmanuel Sithole, the 7 dead. The 147 dead of Garissa. The 400 and the 700 and the many many hundreds, swallowed by the waves. The women of the Congo. The women of South Sudan…the women of Nkandla. Maybe even the boys and brothers we lost to Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram and the Industry of war. Tomorrow we will march. For the Africa we lost. Africa we must find. Tomorrow we will march. Justice in Africa. Justice for Africa!


(Photo Credit: South African History Online / Jürgen Schadeberg)

Watching the images of violence happening near my home in Johannesburg city centre, I think about my uncle

Watching the images of violence happening near my home in Johannesburg city centre, I think about my uncle. A mine worker who brought us endless stories of this and that workmate from Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Zimbabwe…somewhere in our region. We knew the names of these places from him before we learnt them at school. His stories about how things are in Russia, in Cuba, Bangladesh, Taiwan. He said, in Russia or Cuba, you could go into any shop and get sweets and no one would say you are stealing. There is no one shop owner; everyone owns everything. You see a bicycle in the street and you ride it where you want and leave it there, no one will arrest you. How I wished this version of socialism had been true when I grew older.

A few times he brought one or so of these Bhutis who spoke fanigalo with a tinge of Portuguese or Chichewa or such home. I could listen to them the whole time, we were little and found the smallest things interesting then. When I grew older I got to understand how much of the South African mining sector had been built on the shoulders of the black man, the social reproductive labour of black women in many parts of South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, Zambia, etc. These black bodies who dug up the shiny stuff for, at the time white monopoly extractive capital to ship off to Europe, Israel for polishing or some such, making people who’ll never know their names or care about them, who just get richer, while they take away their old age, battered bodies, suspended dreams, often disease or some sort or the other and the strange tone in their accent from speaking too much fanigalore.

And the black African woman from some village in Mozambique, Lesotho, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, sometimes Tanzania, etc, got nothing for her productive labour which subsidised big extractive capital.

Then when we grew up, how we learnt about Samora Machel, Joshua Nkomo, Julius Nyerere, next to our Mandelas and Bikos and Cyril Ramaphosas (that one Cyril who had my favourite face, plumpy cheeks and lots of life in his eyes then, and that killer Afro! Well, don’t ask me what I see in those eyes now, I try not to look at them). Fast forward to mid high school, where we learn about the destruction the Apartheid regime wrought on the people of Mozambique, Angola, other parts of our region, how those Africans hopping on one leg or missing some limb in Angola or Mozambique paid for shielding South African Liberation fighters, among other things. I cannot imagine life was like Hollywood then, so I cannot dispute it with facts when Lindiwe Zulu says it wasn’t as romantic as we whom she claims overplay this Africa housed us, fed us, shielded us, gave us an identity to claim for ourselves when South Africanness was denied us by the repressive regime line.

All I can say is that our liberation fighters were on our soil. The Limbless people of Angola, Mozambique, and others who carry different kinds of the scars of the backlash the apartheid regime meted out count for much more than we today give them credit. Forward to some time in the early 2000s, when I start to travel for work in our continent and I see all these South African shops in Botswana and as far as Ghana. I start to read more about South Africa’s economic footprint in our continent. In Lesotho a few years ago I hear how one major retail shop single-handedly destroyed Lesotho’s poultry farming sector by insisting on certain procurement arrangements with a government in a weak and desperate position for “investment”. There are many stories.

Fast forward to late 2000’s. At Human Rights Watch, there is this very smart, knowledgeable researcher who knows lots of what she knows about the Congo. She does this thing with a bunch of us newbies being trained on advocacy in some room in some New York skyscraper. She makes us lift up our phones, then she goes on to explain how all of us are carrying a piece of the Congo in our hands. How the Congo is in our bathrooms. Coltan powers so much of today’s electronics, technological gadgets and utensils. That is just one piece of the Congo, do not get me started.

We grew up on the rich, Africanist literature of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe, Mariama Ba, Ousmane Sembene, Wole Soyinka, who gave us permission and the gift of the decolonising process of telling, consuming our own stories as Africans. With the African Feminist movement, well, you towering witches and wizards, where do I begin? Suffice to say you gave me a language to live by, a higher universe to inhabit, and that is everything. The point I wanted to remind myself of is just how much this continent and its peoples have made us, fed us, gifted us, shielded us, how it defines so much of who we are, how indisputable it is that as South Africa, we stand firmly, always have, on the shoulders of the giant that is this continent and its peoples. That’s all for now. Thank you Africa!


(Photo Credit: Ainhoa Goma / Oxfam)

In Zimbabwe and South Africa, girls say NO! to coercion and exploitation

In November last year, Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi filed a suit in Zimbabwe in which they charged that the situation of “child brides” violated girls’ constitutional rights. They named Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community and the Attorney General’s Office as respondents responsible for implementation of the Customary Marriages Act, which allows for girls to be married at 16.

Age prohibitions are like speed limits. There’s the letter of the law and then there’s the car on the road. Ruvimbo Tsopodzi, now 18, was married off at 15: “I’ve faced so many challenges. My husband beat me. I wanted to stay in school but he refused. It was very, very terrible. I want to take this action to make a difference. There are a lot of children getting married.” Tsopodzi is the mother of one child.

Loveness Mudzuru, now 19, was married off at 16. By the time she was 18, she had given birth to two children: “Young girls who marry early and often in poor families are then forced to produce young children in a sea of poverty and the cycle begins again. My life is really tough. Raising a child when you are a child yourself is hard. I should be going to school.”

Across the border, in South Africa, the Western Cape High Court this week upheld the conviction of a 32-year-old man on various charges related to the trafficking and rape of a 14-year-old Eastern Cape girl. He tried to argue that the girl was not kidnapped and that there was no rape, but rather they were husband and wife, by a customary practice known as ukuthwala.

The Court rejected the man’s appeal and, more broadly, the argument that customary or traditional law allows for violence against girls and women: “The practice of ukuthwala has in recent years received considerable public attention… inasmuch as its current practice is regarded as an abuse of traditional custom and a cloak for the commission of violent acts of assault, abduction and rape of not only women but children as young as eleven years old by older men.”

Speaking of so-called child marriages, African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, commented: “We cannot downplay or neglect the harmful practice of child marriage, as it has long-term and devastating effects on these girls whose health is at risk.”

While these stories describe girls living in poverty and struggling against physical and structural violence, they also speak of the courage and determination of precisely those girls, who speak for themselves. They say they deserve education, health, well being, safety, and peace. They say as well that individual and collective dignity and justice begin and end with informed consent. They say NO! to all forms of coercion and exploitation of girls, and boys, and they mean it.


(Photo Credit:

In South Africa, women say “My body, my rights, my womb, my choices!”


In South Africa this week, 48 women living with HIV and AIDS responded to the indignity and abuse of forced sterilization. Represented by Her Rights Initiative, Oxfam, and the Women’s Legal Centre, 48 women who had suffered forced sterilization in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal came forward and lodged a formal complaint. These 48 `cases’ were from 1986 to 2014. These 48 women are the tip of a rumbling volcano. They are the faces and bodies of gendered inequality in South Africa and beyond. They represent the untold numbers of women living with HIV and AIDS who have been forced to suffer one indignity after another. They represent all women in national and regional economies where women’s bodies are viewed as consumables with ever declining values.

The women tell their own stories, for example, Zanele, who was 19 years old and 38 weeks pregnant: “As I was thinking about it, [the doctor] turned to this lady who was with her, I think she was an intern, and said we [referring to HIV-positive women] were a problem to the hospitals, we give birth all the time … at that time I felt guilty as a patient. Then [the doctor] came back and asked me if I wanted to be sterilised and I said yes.”

There is another, connected story, as told by Dr Ann Strode from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In 2012, Dr. Strode published a study published that examined the situation of forced sterilization of women living with HIV and AIDS. At the time, the research team believed that the practice had more or less ended by 2006, with the national rollout of antiretroviral drugs, or ARVs. In the present group of 48, more than half of the violations took place after 2006. Dr. Strode and her colleagues were surprised by the findings.

Consider the story of surprise. When those who are the most informed and the most engaged, when the advocates and the organizers, think the story is over, it takes the subjects, the women themselves, to step forward and `surprise’ the public consciousness out of its slumber. Two of the cases were from last year, and one has already resulted in a civil suit in Gauteng.

Some talk about the double stigma women living with HIV and AIDS suffer: being HIV positive, being unable to have children. But there’s a third stigma: having failed the nation-State. Women who are HIV positive are viewed as failed citizens. That’s why they can be treated this way, despite Constitutional and legal protections to the contrary. The Department of Health says forced sterilization is not department policy, but it is practiced, in the open, regularly.

Each of those 48 women represents tens and hundreds of other women living with AIDS, and each of those 48 women represents thousands and tens of thousands of women who struggle and organize in the unequal and violent spaces between policy and practice.

End this violation on women’s bodies! My body, my rights, my womb, my choices.”


(Photo Credit: The Star / Chris Collingridge)

I miss the One in Nine Campaign

I miss the One in Nine Campaign that occupied the streets in 2006/7 to say violence against women and the silencing is not permissible and the powerful man can’t get away with no challenge.

I miss the One in Nine that disrupted the reduction of the struggle for autonomy to sexual and gender identity self-definition that birthed the Jhb People’s Pride.

I miss the One in Nine that would have been planning direct action against Zuma’s criminalisation of young women and girls tonight, and we’d be talking a different language tomorrow.

I miss I miss I miss I miss the Purple Courage… Long live One in Nine Campaign!

I hope out of this a movement of young women and girls will be born to say the criminals are not us! Criminal is a State, which presides over a corrosive, oppressive, exclusionary, elite oriented socio-economic and political order. That protects elites interests, institutionalises violence against women, fails young women and girls. Flouts and bends the constitution when that suits.

Criminal are sexist, unconstitutional statements like these from a Head of State, criminal is a society that scapegoats young women and girls for its own flaws, criminal are our parents who won’t stand up and defend us against this onslaught…!


(Photo Credit: Lee Woolf / The South African Civil Society Information Service)