The University Currently Known as Rhodes: Stop shooting at us! Stop shooting!

Watch this video:

What do you see? Is it a turning point, a tragedy, a farce, or just another day of escalating violence? Stop shooting at us! Stop shooting! What do you see when you watch this video? What do you hear?

For the past year and more, students across South Africa have led the national debate, and struggle, towards, and away from, justice, democracy and equality. Starting with the assault on a statue of Rhodes at the University of Cape Town to today, students have consistently pushed everyone to engage in a national movement-based inquiry into, again, justice, democracy and equality. From #RhodesMustFall to #OutsourcingMustFall to #PatriarchyMustFall to #FeesMustFall, and between and beyond, students have insisted that the time for waiting is long past due. From primary and secondary schools to universities, students have taken on racism, sexism, classism, cis-privilege, homophobia, transphobia, and violence, and intersections of violence, of every sort.

Time and time again, they have been met with State violence, from the language of members of the national government to the weapons and arms used by police and private security. While these incidents have been reported, the video of yesterday’s “event” has caught the attention of many. “President Jacob Zuma has instructed the justice, crime prevention and security cluster to `deal with the mayhem’”, but it’s not clear which mayhem is being referenced. “Rhodes University management says it’s outraged at how police manhandled and shot at students on campus”, but then who called the police in the first place?

None of this is new. Worse than not new, it’s all too familiar. As the editor of the Con Magazine lamented, “It’s like the eighties again. South Africa is an angry place, burning itself out at all ends. Beefy white men in police uniforms are hiding behind hedges and shooting at students. They are firing into the Rhodes University campus. The Black body is violated. White Lady Babylon be shoving. Babylon be shoving. All the time. Police open fire at students without warning. They shoot. They shoot without warning. At unarmed students. They grab and bully and shove and violate and traumatise and shoot.”

For some, while reminiscent of the 80s, the theater of violence is also new, in that it has been in process for quite some time: “Fees Must Fall is about how a democracy deals with a history of oppression. It’s about healing broken bones, about a generation’s phantom limbs and its children refusing amputation.” A year ago, Sisonke Msimang noted, “South Africans can no longer educate their children on the basis of luck and the goodwill of overstretched students. The students who have been protesting since April have not yet won the results they are after. Despite this, the mass action has served as a powerful reminder to South Africans that they are capable of far more than they are presently achieving. Emboldened by the courage of those who took to the streets, older South Africans have also been inspired to tell their stories. We are all beginning to understand that what has been hidden must now be made public.”

What has been hidden has been hidden in plain sight. Now, the students are making demands, in what many feel is a revolutionary moment. Their demands are impossible. Faculty commissions and others have suggested possible avenues towards more equitable fee and educational funding structures. Free education is possible. Whether the danger in student demands is the possibility of free, or even mostly free, education or the fact of students organizing and making demands no longer matters, because what now sits alongside their demands is State violence. It’s State violence that is barricading the roads, all in the name of protection. Today the arrested students were released: “It emerged in court charges against them had not been properly formulated.”

Watch the video. What do you see? What do you hear? “Do you feel our pain? Do you feel our pain!”

“Rhodes becomes the university currently brutalised by police”

 

(Video Credit: The Oppidan Press / YouTube) (Photo Credit: The Daily Vox)

Supporting Gordhan against Zuma weakens the resistance politics of the poor

A sense that there is a crisis at the highest levels of government has taken hold in South Africa. The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations, known as the Hawks, has instructed Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Finance, to make a warning statement on allegations of illegal spying and corruption against him relating to his time as tax commissioner. Gordhan’s refusal to comply, plus his stand-off with senior leaders of some state owned enterprises, have led even Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to speak of a state at war with itself as he declared his support for Gordhan.

The finance minister is enjoying an outpouring of support, especially from the business sector and academics and journalists aligned to it. Their positions are all presented as ultimately a concern for the poor, who they say will suffer even more should Gordhan be defeated by his enemies. Even some in civil society have now taken this position, although they disagree with the economic policies Gordhan and his fellow neoliberal capitalists stand for.

Supporting Pravin Gordhan in the belief that the poor are better off with him rather than his ANC rivals in charge of the finance ministry is based on a mistaken theory. Perhaps the cruellest tyranny of politics is that no amount of sincerity, passion and effort can deliver desired results if the political framework does not support those results.

Maybe Gordhan is a better person than whoever might replace him. And let’s say a neoliberal capitalist system based on the rule of law, which Gordhan is debatably seen to represent, is better than a neoliberal capitalist system without the rule of law, which the so-called patronage politicians in the ANC fighting against Gordhan are seen to represent. But the amount of resources going to the poor is not determined by the ethical character of the rulers, nor by the presence or absence of the rule of law. All three of these factors are the result of the relative strength of the resistance politics of the poor. Supporting Gordhan against Zuma subordinates the resistance politics of the poor to the factional battles of the ANC and thereby weakens it.

This resistance politics of the poor is ultimately based on two broad tactics known as direct action. The first is where poor people simply take resources denied to them, for example through occupying land for residential or agricultural purposes or through poaching. The second tactic is to disrupt the wealth and comforts of the elites until they concede needed resources to the poor, for example through strikes, road blockages and office occupations. Both of these are high risk options usually forbidden by law and almost always repressed by force, and therefore there are a number of other tactics such as marches, demonstrations, negotiations and media interventions, which are often in effect threats to employ direct action and, importantly, processes of building up the necessary support for it.

How does supporting Gordhan weaken resistance politics? Because this support is framed as supporting the rule of law and the power of the ANC. The rule of law is an idea through which the ruling class legitimises their power. It does not exist in reality, although it influences reality, sometimes in ways that benefit the poor. The ruling class does not seriously operate within the law, least of all the faction that Gordhan is part of, even as they use the law to present their power as just and fair. It is precisely the power of the ANC legitimised by the rule of law that has enforced neo-liberal capitalism and led to explosive growth of poverty and inequality.

The struggle for more resources for the poor is essentially a struggle to build the politics of resistance against elite power. Aligning with one elite faction against another on the basis of a framework supportive of elite power as a whole just consolidates the position of the ruling class. Those concerned that Gordhan’s defeat will mean less resources and freedoms for the poor should step up direct actions and deepen the exposure of the power of the ANC and the so-called rule of law as sources of domination and exploitation of the poor.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Roar Magazine) (Photo Credit 2: Right 2 Know Campaign)

The shaming of Black Women’s bodies cannot continue to be a casual matter

Pretoria Girls High. A disgraceful bastion of White privilege and ongoing violence against the Black psyche. It joins University of Free State, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch, Wits and so many other historically White institutions that remind us and now our children that we are visitors to our own country and extras in the imperial imagination. As a mother of two dreadlocked/braided teen girls, I salute these girls aged 12 to 18 who are rejecting the body shaming that insists that afros, dreadlocks and braids are ”dirty and messy” and the cultural genocide that does not want African pupils to speak African languages to each other at school, the criminalising of their movements that surveys Black girls when they are in groups of more than 2.

I recall being body shamed all through High School because of my baby fat and beautiful African bum. It was brutal. The shaming of Black Women’s bodies cannot continue to be a casual matter. It is violent. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Racist South Africa where White minority imagination is resisting the liberation project and where the revolution IS being televised. Just like 1976, language and Black being are sites of contestation. This Women’s Month is far more meaningful and has done far more to honour the spirit of the 1956 Women’s March than the pointless, vacuous , de-radicalised , ”soft and fluffy” celebrations of the past 15 years. Thank you Khwezi 4, thank you Marikana widows, thank you Caster Semenya and thank you Pretoria Girls High.

Black Girl – you MATTER. Your HAIR matters, your LANGUAGE matters, your CHOICES matter and your VOICE matters. In case I haven’t told you today – you are valuable, loved, precious and powerful. Speak even if your voice shakes and fight even while you are scared. I LOVE you Black Child, Black Girl, and I stand with you. You give me such hope and courage. #Racism and imperialism ARE falling #Afros and Dreadlocks are Rising.

Our Lives Do Matter! Women Fight for Water in Somkhele and Fuleni!

“We have been reduced to animals now. Our lives do not matter, that is why no one cares about our suffering over water,” says Mrs Nkhosi from Somkhele. “The water taps are mere decorations now, nothing ever comes out.” On August 12, women representing the communities of Somkhele and Fuleni gathered at a Women’s Water Assembly in Embonambi Kwa Zulu Natal. The Water Assembly was a critical moment for women to reflect on a participatory action research process on women’s experiences of water scarcity in both communities. Women activists also shared findings from the research with key stakeholders, including representatives from the local municipality and WoMin allies – Centre for Environmental Rights (CER)Earthlore, and the Global Environmental Trust (GET), and developed a set of clear demands to inform their strategies going forward.

“I would like to ask the Municipality, councillors and officials how they feel that they bath every day and have safe water and my family and I do not.” – Medical, from Somkhele

The absence of water…

Water is a critical issue in drought-stricken communities impacted by heavy coal mining and other extractives industries—it’s an even bigger issue for women. “Water is big issue for women because water is for them life itself as it touches on the everyday facets in their lives. Women are socially responsible for ensuring that the family has water,” says activist, Nyonde Ntswana. “Without water women cannot have livelihoods, no farming, no livestock, without water they cannot work as they have to walk long distances for look for water and have to time to engage in productive work. Without water they cannot prepare food and keep themselves and the household clean. The absence of water is the absence of a productive life for a woman.”

The communities of Somkhele and Fuleni are especially vulnerable to the challenges of water scarcity due to drought and coal mining activities in the area. Somkhele is situated where the Somkhele (Tendele) Coal Mine, a subsidiary of the Petmin group, has been operating for over 10 years. Nearby Fuleni is the proposed site for a highly contested coal mining project under Ibutho Coal. Some of the core issues surfaced in the research include:

  • The long distances women walk to fetch water on a daily basis, sometimes spending up to six hours – which impacts women’s livelihoods and leaves them extremely vulnerable to sexual harassment and rape as they travel long distances to isolated areas in search of water.
  • How unsafe the water collected is, despite efforts to purify it such as adding a bleach (JIK), cement and keeping it standing overnight, many often fall ill after drinking the water and women are further burdened with caring for the sick because of a highly unequal existing division of labour which assigns them primary responsibility for the care of the sick.
  • The scarcity and pollution of water has led to inadequate nutrition and rising hunger as most families can no longer engage in farming to grow variety of food as they previously used to and most of the livestock has since died.
  • Inadequate delivery of public water supplies by the local municipality, meaning families have to spend ZAR600 for just 5000 litres of water provided by private companies. This is a clear violation of the government’s Free Water Policy to these communities who are then forced to rely on contaminated water to survive.
  • Kwa Zulu Natal is currently experiencing a severe drought and most parts including where Somkhele and Fuleni fall have been declared Disaster Zones by the government.
  • Women in the communities have tried to engage with community leaders such as councillors and indunas over access to water but have met many challenges along the way. Some of the indunas do not take women’s demands seriously and see the women’s organising as a ‘challenge’ to authority.

At the assembly, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) conducted an information session to give women a framework for understanding what rights citizens within these communities have when it comes to water access.

Building a collective voice for concrete change

The assembly, supported by WoMin, was a powerful moment for women from the Somkhele and Fuleni communities to share their experiences and build solidarity so they can mobilise and co-strategise going forward. Given the political moment in South Africa, women are poised to raise their voices and use their collective power to push the government, local leadership and corporate interests to listen. “How do the politicians expect us to vote for them yet they have neglected us in this manner,” declares Sthoko from Fuleni. “Come election time we will show them our anger over this water issue.”

 

(This first appeared, in slightly different form, here. Thanks to Maggie Mapondera and to WoMin for this collaboration.)

(Photo Credit: WoMin)

Michell Joyce Raduva said NO to the trauma of child detention … and won!

June 1st 1987. International Children's Day

June 1st 1987. International Children’s Day

On April 6, 2008, two police officers arrested 15-year-old Michell Joyce Raduva and her mother and held them in custody overnight. Michell’s father came to the police station to secure their release, to no avail. Both were released the next day, without imposition of bail, and ultimately no charges were filed. But Michell and her mother knew the arrest was wrong, and so they immediately sued for wrongful arrest. They lost, repeatedly and at various levels, until last week, when the highest court in South Africa unanimously ruled that Michell’s rights, as a child, had been violated in the arrest and detention. The Court decided South Africa’s Constitution “seeks to insulate them [children] from the trauma of an arrest by demanding in peremptory terms that, even when a child has to be arrested, his or her best interests must be accorded paramount importance.” Amen to that.

The case is fairly straightforward. Two police officers came to the Raduva house to arrest Michell Joyce Raduva’s mother. Michell tried to intervene. The two were then arrested. The daughter was arrested for obstruction of justice. They were taken to the police station, booked, and held overnight. Whether the police knew Michell’s age at the time of arrest, by the time they arrived at the police station, they knew she was a minor. Not that that matters, since the police said, in court, that they would have arrested and detained her anyway, minor or not. To this, the Court responded, “What is more disconcerting is … a lack of knowledge and appreciation by the police officers of their constitutional obligation when arresting a child to consider her best interests as demanded by section 28(2). They demonstrate that the police officers did not care whether the applicant was a minor or not. Sergeant du Plessis said it expressly, that even if he knew that the applicant was a minor, he would still have arrested her. This is because he considers it to be his job to arrest. The fact that the arrestee is a minor would make no difference.”

According to Judge Lebotsang Bosielo, who handed down the Court’s decision, while the situation may be messy, the Constitution is clear: the best interest of the child is paramount. Period. In the balance of rights, the best interest of the child is paramount. In the actual existential moment, the best interest of the child is paramount. In this, the South African Constitution agrees with human decency and common sense, but, too often, not with State practice, not in South Africa nor the United States nor Australia nor England, where the State “considers it to be his job to arrest” and detain.

Judge Bosielo notes, “Under any circumstances an arrest is a traumatising event. Its impact and consequences on children might be long-lasting if not permanent … Detention has traumatic, brutalising, dehumanising and degrading effects on people … The applicant was seriously traumatised by this experience. Her detention has left her with serious psycho-emotional problems. Wounds that are still festering. These are the deleterious effects of incarceration against which the Constitution seeks to protect children.”

Being arrested is traumatic; being detained is traumatic … for anyone. For children, each can be catastrophic, and combined they can be life altering in the extreme. Michell Joyce Raduva and her mother sued so that we might all know that, so that we might all remember that children are children are children. Children are children are children. Each child is a child and must be treated, and respected, as a child. That’s the law.

 

(Image Credit: South African History Online)

Whether they vote or not, the excluded, oppressed and routinely killed are NOT stupid!

If previous trends continue, millions of people will choose not to vote on 3 August in the local elections across South Africa. According to Eusebius McKaiser people abstain from voting because they either think voting will not make a difference, or they think it will implicate them morally in a system they do not agree with. These reasons are ‘stupid’, according to McKaiser.

It is breathtakingly arrogant to judge people stupid without knowledge of their goals, and, unlike McKaiser, I do not presume to know the goals of the millions who will not be voting. It is however necessary to say that it is not at all stupid to refrain from doing something you believe will not change anything. To do or not do something for moral reasons, even if it affects you materially in bad ways, only seems stupid to people who believe material self-interest should always be the only or main motivation for political actions.

Perhaps it is more important to remember that there are good practical reasons to abstain from voting for an important group among those who are staying away from the polls. In their case we have a good idea of what their goals are, because they have been articulating it since at least the elections of 2004. I am referring to the various social movements and protest groups that have arisen against the neoliberal capitalist approach of the state and taking positions like ‘no land, no vote’ or ‘no housing, no vote.’ Examples of these movements include the Landless People’s Movement and the Anti-Privatisation Forum.

While the early post-2000 social movements have become much weakened or defunct, their line of thinking has continued to find resonance. The latest group to take it up powerfully is organizing under the hashtag #IamSpoilingMyBallotWithMyBlood in the Cape Town township of Bonteheuwel. This campaign is led by a group of activists mainly associated with the Joint Peace Forum. They are resisting the waves of gang violence that killed thousands of Bonteheuwel residents with the complicity of the police and politicians of all stripes.

The most important idea behind the actions of these activists is that the system oppresses them to such a degree that they need to build movements as alternative sources of power capable of fighting the system as a whole. This does not mean voting and working within the system is morally wrong or does not make any difference. It means that the changes possible within the system still leave people trapped in the hellhole Bonteheuwel has become. It is also based on the calculation that whoever is in power of those on offer, people are better off when they have strong grassroots movements.

Far from being stupid, the decision to refrain from voting serves this movement building agenda perfectly. As we learned from boycotting the tricameral parliament and other Apartheid institutions, building effective liberation movements require foregoing the marginal benefits of working within the system, in favor of the more important benefits of drawing a clear line between oppressor and oppressed. McKaiser cannot see this, because his watered down liberalism tells him we have the best possible form of democracy. Those excluded, oppressed and killed routinely, beg to differ. It’s stupid to think of them as stupid.

(This series is about the unbreakable link between means and ends in politics – the tyranny of politics.)

 

(Image Credit: IOL)

 

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

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

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

This is not okay. We must do better.

(Photo Credit: Rape Crisis Blog)

The Kanga was in the room

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

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

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

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

 

(Photo Credit: Siphokazi Mthathi)

On the run

On the run

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the run
not running away

 

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

 

(Photo Credit: Rockhoppin’ Trail)

I don’t like (to be black)

 

I don’t like (to be black)

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

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

no Freudian slip
no racism

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

I cringe almost instantly
peering around furtively
in the local library

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

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

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

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

I don’t like to be black

A mere chess game it was

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

 

(Image Credit: WallPapersCraft)