States of Abandonment: South African prisons are toxic and lethal

On Thursday, the South African Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services, JICS, issued its 2017-2018 annual report on the state, and statelessness, of prisons in South Africa. The findings are both dismal and altogether anticipated. The prisons are in disarray. Due to restricted funding, JICS inspectors only visited 81 facilities. South Africa has 243 “correctional service centers.” Overcrowding is way up, suicide is way up, remand prisoners still make up way too much of the population. Infrastructure is a disgrace. Assault and torture are everywhere. Rehabilitation is virtually nonexistent. According to JICS inspecting judge Johann Vincent van der Westhuizen, “Overcrowding is at the core of everything else that exists (within prisons) … The situation of mentally ill inmates has become urgent.” In one year, the number of prison suicides rose from 52 to 82. In the past year, suicide was the highest cause of unnatural deaths in prison. What is going on?

On one hand, mental health institutions are overcrowded, and so patients are being transferred to prisons. The State has decided to correct of the mistakes it made in Life Esidimeni by dumping those living with mental illness into already overcrowded and under resourced spaces which have the benefit of invisibility. Out of sight, out of mind, out of luck, and, soon, out of breath. This is the State of Abandonment: “Zones of abandonment … accelerate the death of the unwanted. In this bureaucratically and relationally sanctioned register of social death, the human, the mental and the chemical are complicit: their entanglement expresses a common sense that authorized the lives of some while disallowing the lives of others.”

164,129 people are being held in South African prisons. 44,158 are awaiting trial. 27% of those persons in these hellholes are officially still innocent. Further, according to the JICS report, 1200 prisoners diagnosed with mental illness were kept with the general population. Many of those 1200 are awaiting transfer to “an accredited institution.” The public policy right now is to move people living with mental illnesses who are in overcrowded state hospitals to overcrowded prisons … and then “discover” and wonder that suicide is on the rise.

Prisons are not mental health institutions. The staff is not trained, the very architecture is inappropriate. The staff is also not trained to diagnose for mental health issues. Solitary confinement, or segregation, is traumatic. Extended solitary confinement is traumatizing. Intense overcrowding produces trauma. There are individuals who enter the prison with mental illnesses, and there are those who suffer mental illness because of the conditions in prison. 1200 is a low estimate.

Who sees prison as an “interim” solution for people living with mental illness? What is the name of that policy? Call it necropolitical abandonment, a policy of who might barely live and who definitely will die, slowly and in agony. “The report found that most facilities were in a `state of decay’.”

 

(Image Credit: Judicial Inspectorate for Prison Services / Times South Africa)

people like you

people like you

there are mouths
quite wide open
at this statement
on early eve TV

In our country
we rape
people like you

this said somewhere
to a young woman
in a relationship
with another

not another
pointy-eared
sharp-tailed alien
from Planet Other

the same Planet
colouring people
with bigotry hatred
and intolerance

or is it brewed
right here
on Planet Earth

that self-same
where we pollute
and carry on as if
we have another

In our country
we rape
people like you

Reference is made
to our rights enshrined
in the Constitution here

perchance our Constitution
is ahead of its citizenry
and its self too

for people
like you
and I

We remember Eudy Simelane

(Photo Credit: IOL)

No hate no fear, immigrants and citizens, guests and strangers, are welcome here!

Mathabo Mofokeng

Mathabo Mofokeng is 86 years old. She is a citizen of the Republic of South Africa. She was born in Matatiele, at the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains, in the Eastern Cape. She is a citizen of South Africa; Mathabo Mofokeng is South African. Mathabo Mofokeng currently lives in Nhlazatshe, a village in KwaZulu-Natal. Mathabo Mofokeng has lived in KwaZulu-Natal since she was 18 years old. Three months ago, Mathabo Mofokeng lost her ID card and her South African Social Security Agency, SASSA, card. Without those, she couldn’t access her pension. Penniless, she relied on food donations from women in her church. Her electricity was cut off. So, Mathabo Mofokeng did what she was supposed to do. She travelled to the nearest Home Affairs office, in Pietermaritzburg, to have her ID and SASSA cards replaced. An official told her “to go back to Lesotho”. Mathabo Mofokeng says, “I’m scared to go back to Home Affairs offices. An official told me she can’t issue me a new ID; I should go back to Lesotho. There was a time I went three days without food.” Mathabo Mofokeng is an 86-year-old, destitute South African woman who is now terrified and terrorized as well. And she is not alone.

On the one hand, xenophobia is not new to South Africa. Since 1994, the national government has periodically worked to “secure the borders”. With national elections coming up, political parties across the spectrum are ramping up the rhetorics of xenophobia. One hears repeatedly that Home Affairs is in disarray, but the situation goes much further than accidental shambles. For twenty years, Home Affairs so-called Refugee Reception Offices have been a publically acknowledged atrocity. Three years ago, the Supreme Court of Appeals told the Home Office to clean up its act. For three years, the Home Office has refused.

Of course, South Africa is not alone in its xenophobia. In India, Assam has effectively told 4 million citizens that they’re not citizens. The majority of the 4 million are, predictably, women. They’re not Indian enough. In Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is trying to find ways to strip Roma citizens of Italy of their citizenship. They’re just not Italian enough. In Australia, Huyen Tran, a Vietnamese asylum seeker, faces imminent deportation. She has been in Australia since 2011. She has a six-month-old daughter, Isabella, born in Australia. Isabella can stay, but her mother is just not Australian enough. In the United States, hundreds of migrant children, forcibly separated from their parents, have been moved “under cover of darkness” to a tent city in the Texas desert, where they have been left to rot. This comes just weeks after the United States government threatened to remove citizenship from more than a thousand Latinx U.S. citizens, all delivered by midwives in the borderlands.

This is the world in which a State official told Mathabo Mofokeng, a South African native born citizen, to go back to Lesotho. Despite its Latinate appearance, xenophobia is a fairly recently coined word, a word that emerges in the late 19thcentury with the emergence of strong nation-States engaged in global imperial adventures. And what is xenophobia? A deep antipathy, call it hatred, to guests, strangers, and foreigners. Xenophobia doesn’t `merely’ target those born in other lands. Xenophobia targets the citizenship, humanity, personhood, and dignity of anyone deemed foreign, anyone thought to be a stranger, and, most significantly, anyone who is a guest. After reporters began investigating, Home Affairs issued Mathabo Mofokeng a temporary ID. In this brave new world, all it takes to secure your citizenship is a team of investigative reporters. Everyone, say it together: No hate no fear, immigrants and citizens, guests and strangers, are welcome here!

 

(Photo Credit: GroundUp / Nompendulo Ngubane)

#RememberMarikana: The Widows of Marikana say, “WE ARE STILL SUFFERING”

(Image Credit: BASFLonmin)

 

National Women’s Day 2018: Where are the women prisoners?

Yesterday, August 9, across South Africa, people acknowledged, in various ways, National Women’s Day, the annual commemoration of the 1956 Women’s March on the Union Buildings, in Pretoria, to protest the pass laws and much, much more. On August 1, across South Africa, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of women and gender non-conforming people engaged in an “intersectional women’s march against gender based violence” and stayed away from all work and commerce. This was under the banner, #TotalShutdown. Organizers asked people to find ways of supporting those women who were forced to work that day. Additionally, for women in rural areas, where a march to a High Court might not be feasible, women were asked to `simply’ stand together, to unite and stay away from work and commerce. In between August 1 and August 9, on Sunday, August 5, Barbara Hogan, anti-apartheid activist and politician, returned to the Women’s Jail, now turned into a museum, on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. Hogan remembered her stay in that prison from 1982 to 1983. On Women’s Day, in Women’s Month, and in the #TotalShutdown, where are the women prisoners? Where are South Africa’s women prisoners, generally, and where are they in the movements for women’s emancipation and power?

According to the most recent Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services Report, covering April 2015 to end of March 2016, South Africa has 236 operational prisons, of which 9 house women prisoners. Only 2.6 percent of prisoners are women. As Johann van der Westhuizen, the inspecting judge of Correctional Services, noted, this is “one of the lowest percentages in the world. Not bad for a population that is just more than half female. This means slightly more than 4 000 women are in jail — some with their babies.” Not bad? No. Johann van der Westhuizen continues, “Women’s prisons are also overcrowded. I was told that a cell for 25 with 37 inmates was not overcrowded. And that, in other instances, additional mattresses were put on the floor, almost doubling the number of inmates.”

The number of women in prison is low, and yet the women’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded. How can that be? Part of the answer appears in van der Westhuizen’s report, “Due to the high turnover rate of remand detainees, remand units were found to have deplorable health conditions and dilapidated infrastructure compared to those occupied by sentenced offenders.” Pollsmoor Remand was 251% overcrowded, and was “short” 2448 beds. According to the Department of Correctional Servicesmost recent annual report, 2012 to 2017, the number of male remand prisoners has declined fairly steadily, from 44,742 to 41, 397, while women’s numbers have risen, from 998 to 1,128.

What does that look like “on the ground”? For women prisoners, and especially for those awaiting trial, from overcrowding to access to healthcare to food to hygiene and sanitation to access to education, reading materials, decent work or any work, exercise and recreation, to contact with the outside world, the conditions are “horrifying.” At Pollsmoor, for example, more than half of the women prisoners are awaiting trial. Many wait years for a trial that is often thrown out or postponed indefinitely.

Reflecting on her experiences in prison, Barbara Hogan commented, “Prisoners do not need to be told that policeman beat up prisoners. They know it.” Last year, in August, the Women’s Jail opened a new exhibition, paintings from that jail by anti-apartheid activist Fatima Meer. The paintings’ very existence testifies to the myriad forms of women’s persistent, resistant and defiant organizing. At the same time, they speak to the ongoing squalor and dehumanization of women behind bars. The conditions of women prisoners, in particular women remand prisoners, is not an oversight. Those women have not been forgotten. They have been dumped, disposed of, and that’s public policy, not some accident. Prisoners do not need to be told that, but the public does. Someday, along with the Union Buildings and High Courts, women and their supporters will march to women’s prisons across the country to acknowledge, learn from, and build on the intersectional women’s organizing taking place each and every day among those women who are forced to sleep standing but never surrender.

 

(Paintings by Fatima Meer; Mail & Guardian)

In South Africa, at the Curro Waterfall preschool, Black Women teachers demand justice

A half hour out of Johannesburg and “a breezy 23 minutes” from O.R. International Airport lies a place called Waterfall, “one of the fastest transforming suburbs in South Africa” Waterfall boasts “soaring investor confidence …, burgeoning residential, commercial, mixed-use and retail precincts”, Waterfall City, The Mall of Africa, brand name restaurants, malls, schools … and, according to recent reports, racism with a large component of sexism. Specifically, the Curro Waterfall pre-school,  known as a Curro Castle School, has had a practice of slotting Black women as assistants and White women as teachers, often despite respective qualifications, and then segregating assistants from teachers. They are referred to differently, and they have segregated staff rooms. As today’s Mail & Guardian notes, “The signs on the staff rooms did not read `whites only’ or `blacks only’ but teaching assistants were segregated from teachers.” Within a month, three Black Women teachers resigned from Waterfall Curro. The teachers are going under the names of Sibongile Khumalo, Juliet Bongo, Lerato Makhubela. Concerned parents raised a ruckus as did teachers, and now an independent investigation is underway.

While this is clearly an issue of racial discrimination on the part of the school’s management and some of its staff, the events also speak to the importance of an intersectional approach. Where are the women? Everywhere. Three Black Women resigned within a month. White Women teachers told their children to call anyone who was White a teacher, and to call anyone who was Black an assistant. The children age from three months to five years. What are they learning at the juncture of race and gender?

Black women are slotted into lower paying positions and then forced to accept them. Black women are demeaned and told by the administration to tough it out. When Sibongile Khumalo perceived that she was being treated differently than her White colleagues, she went to the executive head of Curro Waterfall, Graeme Waite, who told her she could stay or she could go. “It was a way of killing my confidence or something because, by that time, I was destroyed. Only resilience kept me going. I told myself that I’m not going to leave this school until I can prove a black person is competent,” explained Sibongile Khumalo.

The three Black Women teachers stayed, and stayed in the assistants’ staff room. Finally, a group of parents began investigating and found racist practices in employment and culture. They wrote to Curro Group CEO Andries Greyling and demanded that Waite be fired. As of now the staff rooms are allegedly no longer segregated by `rank’ and Waite continues as executive head of the preschool.

The issues raised here – salary, culture, dignity, happiness – affect all workers and all people, but not necessarily in identical ways or with identical impact. Women workers struggle with the killing of their confidence in ways that are particular to their being positioned as women workers. What happened at Curro Waterfall was racist sexist, with the two parts intensifying each other and the whole. When it came to the three Curro Waterfall teachers who demanded justice, remember this: All the women were Black, all the Blacks were women, and all of them were brave.

 

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian / Wikus de Wet)

My first Feminism lesson

My first Feminism lesson:

So in the 80’s there was a famous Soweto Rape Gang called “Jackrollers”. They would go to discos’s parties and take women at gun point to sleep with them without their consent. So this particular day at my home which was a Shebeen run by mother, three women came running hiding themselves under the beds and behind wardrobes. My mother rushed to the door and I was right behind her. She was greeted by a gun from one of the Jackrollers who was demanding her to bring out the women that ran into the house. My mother’s response was NO.

The gang leader asked if my mom was willing to die for the women she did not know and the response from that Nkwanyana queen was .” It is unfortunate that they had to run into this house because even if I do not know them, but as a mother I am not willing to give them over to you just because you have a gun. Maybe if they went next door but they chose this house and that is unfortunate for you because your gun pointing at me will not let me hand them over to you”.

I was scared to death but later became strong after seeing this old woman who was standing up against a gang of rapists that have held the whole of Soweto at ransom.

For me that was feminism in action given by one and only Queen of my heart 90 years old Audrey Babhekile Nkwanyana- Magwaza.

This lesson will never go away, it has always been in my mind but most importantly in my heart.

 

(Photo Credit: Brand South Africa)

Adila Chowan’s victory over racist sexism affects women “not just in South Africa but internationally as well”

Adila Chowan

Last week, the North Gauteng High Court of South Africa handed down a decision in Adila Chowan vs. Mark Lamberti & Co. Adila Chowan sued her former employers – Associated Motor Holdings and Imperial Holdings – and her boss, Mark Lamberti, for economic loss, suffered through wrongful and intentional acts, and for injuries to her reputation and her sense of self-worth, or dignity. Adila Chowan, an Indian Muslim woman, claimed that she was bypassed for promotions, for which she was eminently qualified, in favor of white male candidates. When pressed for reasons, Mark Lamberti told Adila Chowan that she was “a female, employment equity, technically competent, they would like to keep her but if she wants to go she must go, others have left this management and done better outside the company, and that she required three to four years to develop her leadership skills.” In court, Adila Chowan explained, “Because I pride myself on the fact that I am a qualified professional chartered accountant. I had built my career. I had been a CFO. And in Mark Lamberti’s eyes I was being narrowed down because of my colour and being female.” The court agreed with Adila Chowan and found in her favor.

The Court found that Adila Chowan had struggled in a toxic work environment in which white males could reduce her, repeatedly and with impunity, to the status of racialized sexualized object. At the same time, the Court found that, when Adila Chowan filed a grievance, the process was corrupted by the involvement of precisely the supervisor she was accusing. From the smallest detail to the largest structure, everything was wrong.

In his decision, Judge Pieter Meyer noted, “The present matter, in my view, is a classroom example of an appropriate case where delictual liability should be imposed. There are ample public-policy reasons in favour of imposing liability. The constitutional rights to equality and against unfair discrimination are compelling normative considerations. There is a great public interest in ensuring that the existence of systemic discrimination and inequalities in respect of race and gender be eradicated. As blatant and patent as discrimination was in the days of apartheid, so subtle and latent does it also manifests itself today. The protection afforded to an employee, such as Ms Chowan, by the PDA [Protected Disclosures Act] against occupational detriments by her employer on account of having made a protected disclosure that was ‘likely’ to show unfair racial and gender discrimination, is one of the measures taken by the legislature to eradicate the existence of systemic discrimination and inequalities. If employers are too easily insulated from claims for harms, such as the occupational detriments to which Ms Chowan was subjected to on account of having made a protected disclosure to her employer, they would have little incentive to conduct themselves in a way that complies with the provisions of s 3 of the PDA.”

“As blatant and patent as discrimination was in the days of apartheid, so subtle and latent does it also manifests itself today.”

That “subtle and latent” discrimination doesn’t end with Court. Read the articles following the Court decision, and, with rare exception, the focus is on Mark Lamberti and whatever will he do now. One article has a photo of Adila Chowan. All the others picture Mark Lamberti. Adila Chowan has noted that Lamberti apologized to the media, never to her. In reflecting on the case, Adila Chowan said, “For me, I was trying to come out there and tell women that you can make a difference, and you can be heard and can stand up for yourself … Remember, being an Indian Muslim woman, you are seen as marginalised and [you are] basically invisible behind the scarf … This is not just in South Africa but internationally as well, where you see a differentiation between [the attitudes towards] men and women.”

Adila Chowan has waged a mighty struggle at the crossroads of racism and sexism, and she has won, and yet, somehow, even now, she must struggle, again, to have her name and her story told. Adila Chowan is the story. This is Adila Chowan’s story. Remember that.

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian)

In (the) front (of the crowd)

In (the) front (of the crowd)

In the front of the crowd
she was
when #FeesMustFall
hit our campuses
notes a Durban student

not in the margins
was she
says a civil rights leader
out the US way

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
labelled Mother of the Nation
by the everyday
(though apartheid denied her
mothering her own children)

a terrorist in the state’s eyes
and those who benefitted
from the collusions of apartheid

(tortured jailed banished
she kept the flame of freedom
alive during the dark days)

In the front of the crowd
uninvited a unionist jokes
she would just arrive

a journalist says people
have forgotten the past
and have no idea how
apartheid brutalized her

(and the post-traumatic
stress she and everyone
suffered and simply
carried on)

In the front of the crowd
not a spare rib
not an appendage
a person in her own

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Not yet Uhuru

 

(Photo Credit 1: Mail & Guardian) (Photo Credit 2: Wikimedia)

Who will honor 5-year-old Lumka Mketwa, another State execution by pit latrine?

Lumka Mketwa

“Who will honor the city without a name
If so many are dead … “ Czeslaw Milosz, “City Without a Name

“Childhood? Which childhood?
The one that didn’t last?”  Li-Young Lee, “A Hymn to Childhood

On Monday, March 12, 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa went to the toilet at her school, Luna Primary School, in Bizana‚ in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. She never returned. She wasn’t found until the next day. When authorities “reported” her death, they said her name was Viwe Jali. Lumka Mketwa went to the bathroom and drowned in a pool of human shit. No one even noticed until she didn’t show up for her after school transport. Then her parents and the community searched frantically. They found her the next day. The State never came. The parents did, and when they finally found her, the State refused her the dignity of her own name. They might as well have named her Michael Komape, the five-year-old child who, in 2014, drowned to death in a pit latrine at the Mahlodumela Primary School, in Limpopo, South Africa. In the Eastern Cape, as in Limpopo, the State never came. The State refused to acknowledge and refused to act. As with Michael Komape, Lumka Mketwa did not fall to her death in a pit latrine. She was pushed, by a State that decided it had more important issues to deal with. In 2014, five-year-old Michael Komape did not fall to his death. He was murdered. In 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa did not fall to her death. She was murdered.

And then the speeches began. The South African Human Rights Commission pronounced, “Only three years after the tragic and preventable death of 5-year-old Michael Komape‚ the failure of the State to prevent a reoccurrence and to eradicate the prevalence of pit latrines in schools is unacceptable.” Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga expressed “shock”, “The death of a child in such an undignified manner is completely unacceptable and incredibly disturbing.” The provincial education spokesperson first noted that the Executive Council had donated to the child’s funeral and then went on to say that what was truly “shocking” was that Luna Primary is “a state-of-the-art school, with good toilets” and yet, somehow, pit latrine toilets. Everyone is “shocked.”

According to the most recent National Education Infrastructure Management System report, published in January 2018, 37 Eastern Cape schools have no toilets whatsoever. None. 1,945 Eastern Cape schools have plain pit latrines, and 2,585 have so-called ventilated pit latrines. The Eastern Cape has 5393 schools.

Of the nine provinces, only the Eastern Cape has schools with no toilets whatsoever. But, of the 23,471 schools under the aegis of the national Department of Basic Education, 4358 have only pit latrines. KwaZulu-Natal’s 5840 schools boast 1337 schools with only pit latrines, while of Limpopo’s 3834 schools, 916 have only pit latrines. Of the 4056 schools in Gauteng, the Northern Cape and the Western Cape, none has only a pit latrine. None. Zero. This is the state of the art.

Lumka Mketwa’s family has serious questions. We all should have serious questions, rather than hollow condolences. Let’s start with the children who have not yet fallen to their deaths into schoolhouse pit latrines. At the very least, where is the map of these latrines? Where is the actual action plan to remove all of those death traps? Where is the Day Zero for school house pit latrines? Why is this not a national emergency? How many more children have to die and how many more families have to be haunted? Michael Komape’s family is haunted, to this day. Lumka Mketwa’s family is haunted. The State is not haunted. If it were, it would act.

Her name is Lumka Mketwa and she is five years old.” She now resides in that city without a name where so many children are dead. Which children? Which childhoods? Who will honor Michael Komape? Who will honor Lumka Mketwa?

 

(Photo Credit: Times Live)