Saziso Nkala spent over five years in prison awaiting trial

Saziso Nkala spent five years and two months in prison, in squalor and degradation, awaiting trial for a crime she never committed. In 2006, Zimbabwean immigrant Saziso Nkala was arrested for robbery and sent to the Johannesburg Women’s Prison, or Sun City, to await trial. When arrested, she was a single mother with a seven-year-old son. In May 2011, after five years and two months, her case was thrown out of court for lack of evidence. At the age of 32, Nkala was unemployed, broke, without any compensation from the State, and struggling to make a life with a boy now 12 years and a stranger. When Saziso Nkala left Sun City, she carried the mark of prison, for, while inside, she had contracted tuberculosis. Innocent until proven guilty. Free.

For years, Saziso Nkala lived in a cell with 36 beds, and life was hard: “That side, if you are sick, they don’t care – especially if you’re a foreigner… one lady was dying in the cell. We called the warders, but they said they were busy having breakfast. Then she died. Inmates who die in the cell after lockdown are left with the other inmates in the cell until morning. If you start getting labour pains and the door is locked, it’s locked. You bang (on) the door for help – and if they eventually come – they only come to the window. They will not open till the following day…”

They will not open till the following day.

This week, the South African Parliament heard that the number of long-term remand prisoners, prisoners awaiting trial, is declining, as a result of new regulations implemented last year. That `improvement’ means that since last year the number of remand prisoners who had been behind bars for two years or longer dropped from 2200 to 1816. While that is a reduction, it means that 1816 people, innocent until proven guilty, have been imprisoned for two years or longer. According to the Department of Correctional Services, as of Tuesday, of 157,394 prisoners, 43,735, or 27.8 percent, are remand prisoners.

Despite reports of `improved conditions’ in South Africa’s prison system, the situation remains grim, according to The State of South African Prisons, a report released this week by the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders, or NICRO. This report considers only sentenced prisoners.

According to NICRO, South Africa’s prisons’ maximum capacity is 118,154 people. Of that, 25,000 places are held for remand prisoners. The total prison population is 162,162. When NICRO finished its study, 49,695, or 31%, were remand, and 112 467 were sentenced prisoners. That means a national level of overcrowding reaching 137%. It also means that remand prisoner overcrowding was at 200%. Today, remand prisoner overcrowding is at 175%.

Women make up 2% of the sentenced prison population. 45% of sentenced women prisoners have committed `economical crimes’. For men, it’s 22%. 10% of sentenced women prisoners are in for `narcotics’ offenses, while for men, it’s 2%. Proportionally, more women prisoners are awaiting trial than are men prisoners. Most `economic crimes’ are survival crimes. How many women awaiting trial are in for the crime of being poor? How many are remanded because they cannot afford bail? How many are Saziso Nkala? For too many women, innocent until proven guilty has become guilty until you can show a receipt. Who will compensate for that bill?

For Nozuzile Mankayi, the struggle continues

Nozuzile Mankayi is a gold widow.

Her husband, Thembekile Mankayi, spent 1979 to 1995 working underground in the Vaal Reefs gold mine, in South Africa. In 1993, Mankayi contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. He received treatment, improved slightly, and then suffered a recurrence, and had to leave. When he left, he was paid a mere R16,000 for his troubles. In 2006, he was diagnosed with silicosis.

In 2006, Thembekile Mankayi sued AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. for 2.6 million rand. He sued for dignity. Four years later, in August 2010, the Constitutional Court heard the case. Seven months later, March 2011, the Constitutional Court decided in Thembekile Mankayi’s favor.

Thembekile Mankayi died one week before the decision was announced.

It’s been three years, and his widow, Nozuzile Mankayi, has not received a single penny.

The South African compensation system is designed to strangle and choke gold widows to death. First, they have to submit their respective partner’s bodies to a post mortem. For many families, cutting open the body is forbidden. So, women have to be prepared to withstand often intense opposition and worse.

Second, women survivors receive far less than their partners would have.

Jenni Williams, of the Women’s Legal Centre, has argued, “The women who take care of miners are doing unpaid care work. At the moment we are developing a strategy around what would be the best way to litigate around this, but for now we are saying that unpaid care work should be recognised in the context of damages claims, but also in government planning and budgeting. There needs to be recognition that women contribute towards the economy in that they are working for free, which means that there is a saving. In other words, where you had to hire a nurse to look after the sick person, you would have the wife or daughter doing this for free. In terms of this class action suit, what we are proposing is that part of the damages award is a trust that is set up that acknowledges the saving that the mining companies would have by virtue of the fact that these men’s partners and daughters are going to look after them … The court should take that into account when they look at the damages claim because the person doing the harm is actually benefiting from the woman’s unpaid care work.”

It has been said, “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important.” All the harm addresses women. When miners are attacked, in their lungs by dust and in their chests by bullets, women carry them, through the long day’s night and to the graveside. The persons doing harm benefit from that. They benefit from women’s unpaid labor and used up lives. They benefit from the tragedy of others deemed unheard and unseen: women.

Thembekile Mankayi waged a mighty campaign against predators who ultimately exploded and collapsed his lungs. Nozuzile Mankayi will not stay unheard or unseen. For her, and for the more than 200,000 former gold mineworkers and gold widows now engaged in a class action suit, the struggle continues.

 

 

THE CRY OF THE GANGSTER PARENT

THE CRY OF THE GANGSTER PARENT

Ooh I wish this day was never gonna come
Ooh how I wish that I will never hear these words
Ooh how I wish that I will never see this scene
Ooh how I wish that I will never have to say I told you so.

All the words of Wisdom from me never said a thing
Tragic deaths of your friends and the likes never woke you up
Several police arrests of you never deterred you
Miserable life style you lived never brought you back
Six gun shots in your leg never stopped you.

Ooh how I wish I would never said these words
Ooh how I wish I would never had to see this scene
Ooh how I wish I would never have to hear these words
Ooh how I wish I would never have to say that I told you so!

Even though I knew that it was supposed to be
Even though I knew that the sun rises from the darkest nights
I have hoped that there is a way out even in the densest forest
I was optimistic that one day you will come to your sense of reasoning
Religious teachings told me that the prodigal son will come home begging for crumbs

But with you it was never gonna be.
The night with you was never gonna dawn
The forest with you was full of beasts
The sense of reasoning with you was n’t gonna be
The prodigal son in you was lost forever

Ooh how I wish I was never gonna say these words
Where is the power of wisdom to stop this madness?
Where is the power of prayers to stop this cry?
Where is the power of humanity to push this inhumanity back?
Where is the power of community to bring back our being?
Let this be done before it dawns forever!

(Please find and share the poem I wrote after my nephew was shot down yesterday afternoon from his gangster activities.  Conditions of gangsterism are created by our society and it is this society that have to deal with it.  What can we do to preserve the precious life for all?)

What Dembe, Mari, Masani, and Flavirina knew and what they learned

Dembe Ainebyona has suffered: State violence, mob violence, rape. Ainebyona is a 31-year-old lesbian, originally from Uganda, currently living in the Cape Town metropolitan area. In 2009, she applied for asylum status in South Africa. Unaware of South Africa’s liberal laws concerning LGBTQ people, Ainebyona hid her lesbian identity and hid the real reasons she had fled Uganda. She was denied asylum. Her appeal comes up in a few months.

This is not a story about Uganda. This is a story about South Africa and the reality of its so-called liberal laws as lived by LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers. It’s not a pretty story.

A recent report, Economic Justice: Employment and Housing Discrimination Against LGBTI Refugees and Asylum Seekers in South Africa, read against the account of Dembe Ainebyona, reveals a story, that of asylum seekers and refugees in the Cape Town area.

Why focus on Cape Town? Dembe Ainebyona lives there. It’s a global tourist as well as refugee destination. It’s a `model’ for neoliberal urban redevelopment.

And this: “In July 2012, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) closed its Cape Town RRO [Refugee Reception Office] and refused to accept any new requests for asylum at the location. The temporary shutdown was particularly problematic for undocumented LGBTI newcomers because it placed them at risk of detention and subsequent repatriation. In fact, the largest population of refugees and asylum seekers reside in Cape Town. To push back, PASSOP and other advocates protested outside the closed RRO. Another human rights organisation also challenged in court the legality of the RROs closing. In July 2012, the Western Cape High Court ordered the DHA to continue accepting new asylum applications until the court provided a final determination on the case, thereby providing new asylum seekers entering Cape Town interim relief. After months of rallies and public outcry spearheaded by PASSOP, the Western Cape High Court ordered in March 2013 that the RRO fully resume operations by July 2013. However, despite these 2012 and 2013 court rulings, it was reported in April 2013 that the Cape Town RRO had not accepted any new applications since June 2012.” Welcome to Cape Town!

Here’s the story of Mari, Masani, and Flavirina, residents of Cape Town.

Mari: “Lesbian asylum seeker Mari has an educational background in finance management and worked as an accountant in her home country of Angola. She reports that she had two interviews where, after having a positive reception on the phone, the potential employer would not even ask for her CV or paperwork after meeting her in person and assuming her sexual orientation … Mari, who recently escaped from Angola with her girlfriend, explained that she and her girlfriend had to sell all of their possessions and combine their savings to purchase plane tickets to flee to South Africa. Since arriving in Cape Town, they have been unable to find work and therefore are unable to afford housing. (Mari explains that despite their efforts to find employment, they are extremely limited because they cannot seek asylum seeker status and obtain legal documentation since the Cape Town DHA office has stopped accepting new arrival applicants.)”

Masani: “Lesbian refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable as they are often victims of sexual assault. As a result of discriminatory attitudes, police officers do not take reports of sexual assaults targeting the LGBTI community seriously. [Masani, a Ugandan lesbian] explains that police often respond with additional harassment when speaking with victims, asking questions such as, `How can you enjoy sex with ladies?’”

Flavirina: “Flavirina arrived in Cape Town from Burundi as a guest for an LGBTI/transgender conference. When people in her hometown heard why she had left the country, an official from Burundi contacted her and warned her to stay out of the country or she would likely be imprisoned or attacked upon her return. She applied for refugee status in South Africa and is still pending a determination. Since living in South Africa, she has lived in various shelters, on the streets and is currently living in a township. At one point, Flavirina found refuge at a Christian shelter, where she had to hide both her Muslim religion and her gender identity. The shelter separated the living quarters by gender, forcing her to share showers, dressing rooms, and other living quarters with men. As the shelter did not allow new members to leave the premises for the first three months of their stay, Flavirina was trapped in this environment, having to dress and act male. After coming out to the pastor in charge of the shelter, he told her he could no longer guarantee her safety.”

Most interviewees in this report were aware of the protections in South Africa’s Constitution, and the minority that were not came to the country following rumors of tolerance in the nation’s communities.” They found violence and promise, persecution and hope. They found that, in South Africa, life can be hard and dangerous for lesbians. They found as well that, in South Africa, life can be hard and dangerous for women marked as `foreigner’.  As non-national Africans and as lesbians, they face housing and employment discrimination.

In February, Free Gender, the Khayelitsha-based Black lesbian organization, celebrated 20 years of democracy and lamented 20 years of fear. They celebrated the rule of law as they decried the rule of violence and torture.

For those who decry and work to reverse the current wave of homophobic legislation, continue to do so. At the same time, ensure your country has more than good laws. Make sure you welcome and care for the stranger in your strange land, whoever she may be.

I was one of six young females from Chaneng who were arrested

Next Wednesday, in South Africa, six young women activists go on trial. They have been charged with “public violence.” Their crime was protesting peacefully, on Human Rights Day, March 21, 2013, against the physical and structural violence at the Styldrift Project, run by the Royal Bafokeng Platinum Mine. They were protesting the collusion between the local mining corporation and the South African government. Around the world, Styldrift is touted as an example of `community beneficiation.’  It’s not.

For having engaged in peaceful protest, the six young women were thrown into jail, without charge, and were held for seven days without a hearing. Those who had been wounded by rubber bullets were left untreated, and their wounds were left to fester.

Mpho Makgene has described the police brutality: “I was one of six young females from Chaneng who were arrested and a few injured by rubber bullets, while participating in a peaceful march. The youth of Chaneng took to the streets … making sure there was no movement in the village. Their voices were clear as they said ‘we won’t allow cars in and out of our village, no one goes to work’ Public Order Police blocked the group, encircled them, set off the tear gas and shot rubber bullets even in people’s yards.”

The abusive and corrosive conditions at the Styldrift Project are longstanding and well documented. Top to bottom and end-to-end corruption grows ever more intense. Police violence is rampant. Police and private security have destroyed homes, and violently evicted families. Ancestral gravesites have been desecrated. The environment has been polluted. The community has repeatedly sought help from various levels of government, to no avail. And throughout the Royal Bafokeng Platinum Mine, which purchased Styldrift through highly contested processes, rolls along with seeming impunity.

How has Styldrift benefited Chaneng? Youth unemployment is astronomically high and rising. Carbon emissions are dangerously high. As a result of emissions and dust, children suffer respiratory problems. Local water is polluted. The local health clinic is collapsing.

But the biggest concern is collusion: “All complained of the lack of jobs, the poverty despite the wealth of platinum under their land. The biggest concern for all is the collusion between their traditional authorities and the mining corporations, between the local government and the mining corporations, between the politicians and the mining corporations.”

Styldrift touts itself, to South Africa and to the rest of the world, as “a community-based investment company”, but the community only gets violence and refusal. The people of Chaneng have demanded transparency and consultation; reparations for destroyed homes and desecrated ancestral graves; employment; in short, real community investment. Instead, they have received insults, rubber bullets, and jail time. On Wednesday, Mpho Makgene and five others will go to trial. In the next two weeks, sixty-four others will be brought to trial. The mining corporation that crushes the earth thinks it can as easily crush the women. It can’t.

Where is the boundary between solidarity and paternalism?

Where is the boundary between solidarity and paternalism?

Last week, a prominent New York Times’ columnist wrote that South Africa [a] is an adolescent going through that awkward phase; [b] lacks the maturity to develop a mature, sustained opposition, as witness the failure of Ramphele and Zille to consummate the deal and the various locations of Cyril Ramaphosa; and, most African of all, [c] is mired in something called tribalism. He did all of this in the name of caring for the `fledgling’ nation.

There’s so much wrong with the piece it’s hard to know where to begin. The author locates `opposition’ in a curiously isolated purely electoral laboratory, the location of which only he knows. Even the Democratic Alliance is unfairly treated, which is a hard trick to pull off. Somehow, the roles of Helen Zille, Lindiwe Mazibuko, Patricia de Lille, and others, especially other women, don’t qualify, unless they have someone who can pull them out of the morass of `tribalism.’ What? Somehow, Marikana never happened, and NUMSA isn’t happening. Somehow, women aren’t organizing critical interventions into State practice as well as party formations.

The week after the Times piece, the Traditional Courts Bill was killed … largely by the work of women organizing across the country. The Mail & Guardian had a long piece on prominent activists, such as Zanele Muholi, who are organizing all over the place, and not as individuals but as members and promoters of movements and organizations. Somedays, it seems there’s nothing but opposition in South Africa. Others have written, and others, especially those better placed than I, will write about those issues and more.

I want to to reflect on the scenario in which a White Man who “watches and roots for this struggling young democracy” declares that a Sub-Saharan Africa, read Black, nation and population is going through its `adolescence.”

In a period in which much of the United States fixes its gaze on the United States’ lethal agenda for Black youth, and in particular for young Black men, who’s calling whom not yet ready for prime time? As much of the United States, agonizes and struggles with the death of Jordan Davis, and behind him that of Trayvon Martin, and behind him that of … so many others, as Black parents look at their adolescent sons and daughters with love and anguish, how does anyone in the United States blithely render a majority Black population as adolescent?

But that’s precisely what happens … all the time. Those who `watch and root’ turn to dismay and despair at the drop of hat, or the refusal to drop a hat into a ring, as they use the oldest narratives of Black delayed political, read mental, development. Where is the boundary between solidarity and paternalism? Ask the `adolescent’ Black individuals and populations of the world.

The Traditional Courts Bill is dead. Long live Sizani Ngubane!

The Alliance for Rural Democracy, South Africa, announced today that the Traditional Courts Bill is dead: “The Traditional Courts Bill (TCB) is dead. This follows years of opposition from civil society and is a massive victory for the thousands of people in rural parts of the country who spoke out against the bill during provincial public hearings … Women have been at the forefront of opposition to the TCB, arguing that it would legalise and entrench current discrimination.”

The Alliance statement quotes Nomboniso Gasa, of the Alliance for Rural Democracy and the Centre for Law and Society, University of Cape Town, and Sizani Ngubane: “Sizani Ngubane of the Rural Women’s Movement in KZN states: `The TCB was never about custom. It was about bolstering the power of chiefs. Government can no longer deny the abuses that many chiefs are getting away with, because we explained these abuses over and over again in the public hearings. What we need now is a law that protects real custom and protects women, especially, against the kinds of autocratic power that chiefs got used to under apartheid.’”

Many other women, and women’s organizations, contributed to the death of the Traditional Courts Bill. The Women’s Legal Centre has worked tirelessly in the courts. Siyasanga Mazinyo, of the Rural People’s Movement, has been organizing and representing tirelessly across the provinces. And Aninka Claasens has been researching and writing tirelessly on the implications and injustices of the bill.

For decades, Sizani Ngubane has been speaking out, organizing, researching, writing with rural women initially in KwaZulu Natal, and then across South Africa. She founded the Rural Women’s Movement in 1998, which later became the National Movement of Rural Women.

In 1999, Sizani Ngubane met with women across the rural expanse of KwaZulu Natal. She was conducting research about the situation of women and the prospects for organizing a women’s movement. Here’s her conclusion: “Although no longer constitutionally defined as minors in the law of the country …women continue to be treated as subordinates to men; this subordination is defended by many (including some women) in the name of `African culture’ … As a result of the gendered division of labour in the communities, women carry much of the responsibility associated with food production … Women also carry the burden of responsibility for maintaining the household, energy and water collection and childcare. As a result women have less time to develop themselves as individuals or as groups. The prime constraint women face is the absence of a strong lobby campaigning for women’s land rights in rural areas … Organizing women around the land their needs is central to meaningful land reform: that process must begin now.”

The Traditional Courts Bill is dead. Long live Sizani Ngubane and all the women who killed it!

Cry the beloved Khayelitsha (Commission)

South Africa is currently awash in commissions of inquiry. There’s the ongoing and perhaps never-ending Marikana Commission. Today we read there’s to be a new commission of inquiry into the Tongaat mall collapse, last November. And there’s the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into allegations of police inefficiency in Khayelitsha and a breakdown in relations between the community and police in Khayelitsha.

While women are significant participants in the Marikana and the Tongaat events and commissions, women are in many ways the subjects of the Khayelitsha Commission. This is not surprising, given the nature of the inquiry. The Commission’s mandate isn’t to get to the bottom of a tragic event, but rather to investigate and get to the texture of decades long dissolution of everyday life.

In the 1980s, the State built Khayelitsha and has continued to do so ever since. Part of this construction has involved the establishment of a State of sexual tyranny. That State of sexual tyranny has come forth in the testimony of Khayelitsha residents to the Commission.

The Commission began in response to a complaint lodged by the Women’s Legal Centre, representing the Social Justice Coalition, Treatment Action Campaign, Equal Education, Free Gender, Triangle Project, and Ndifuna Ukwazi. That complaint was lodged in 2012. The Social Justice Coalition had been organizing hard for two years prior for an investigation into the situation of justice administration in Khayelitsha. As the complaint noted, “Since 2003 the civil society organisations have held more than one hundred demonstrations, pickets, marches and other forms of protest against the continued failures of the Khayelitsha police and greater criminal justice system. The organisations have also submitted numerous petitions and memorandums to various levels of government in this regard. There have been sustained and coordinated efforts from various sectors of the Khayelitsha community for action to be taken by government agencies, including the police, to improve the situation.”

For over a decade, intensifying police incompetence, corruption, violence, and disregard for the local population went hand in hand with `vigilante justice’. In 2012 alone, 20 `vigilante’ collective killings were reported in the area. The struggle for space and for citizenship was running with blood and smoke. In the struggle for safe space and full citizenship, women, again, have been key. As the Women’s Legal Centre complaint noted, “Girls and women are frequently beaten and raped whilst walking to and from communal toilets or fetching water from communal taps close to their homes, while domestic abuse poses a threat to the safety of many women within their own homes. Between March 2003 and March 2011 there has been a 9.36% increase in the number of reported sexual crimes reported in Khayelitsha.”

Throughout the decades, women have kept their eyes on the prize. Khayelitsha is home. They should be able to live, and love, at home without fear of violence. Their children, partners, parents, friends, neighbors should as well. Through the use of public funds and private security forces, Cape Town has established `improvement districts’ … in the central city, inner southern suburbs, Sea Point and Green Point. Not in Khayelitsha. The women know that, and they don’t accept it.

Funeka Soldaat, founder of Free Gender, recounted her story of being raped, because she is lesbian, in 1995. She went to one police station, where nothing happened. Finally, without here statement being taken, she was taken to a hospital and dumped outside. The hospital said she needed a statement, and so she walked to Khayelitsha Site B police station, all of this right after having been raped. There she was treated disrespectfully, she felt because of her sexual orientation, and no statement was taken. Finally, literally barefoot, she walked home and went to sleep. The rest of the story is pain, healing, organizing. As to the police: “Khayelitsha police appear to lack the energy, will and intent to provide a service to LGBT [people].”

Malwande Msongelwa described what happened when she found her brother, stabbed to death at a bus stop. She called the police, and they didn’t come. She called again, and they finally came, but did nothing. Worse, they refused to get out of their cars: “The police do not care about people… [they] will only come out if there are drugs. Then they will come out with 10 cars …They do not even care if you are injured… If the ambulance hasn’t arrived they won’t touch you. They wait in their car… I don’t trust the police.” Her brother lay on the ground for six hours. The crime scene was never investigated.

The stories continue. Ms. Nduna describes how a police van hit and dragged one of her children. This was the fifth child in the area to suffer harm, and worse, at the hands of a police vehicle. What happened? “We buried and there was nothing still.”

The harrowing stories of violence, of police inaction and worse, of vigilante action and worse, occur in a framework of radical hope. Phumeza Mlungwana, Secretary General of the Social Justice Coalition, put it simply and directly: “Most of Khayelitsha is policeable.”

Witness and after witness explained that lights, presence, a diversity of site appropriate techniques, a committed and engaged and respectful police force are what are called for. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not impossible. The women of Khayelitsha know that. They know, from experience, that when the work of struggle accompanies the work of mourning, they can make things happen. The Commission itself is a step along that path. The struggle continues.

(Not) While the city sleeps

(Not) While the city sleeps

(Not) While the city sleeps
there is a child rape
crisis in the city
(a World Design Capital city)

(children should be
seen and not heard)

(Not) While the city sleeps
a terrifying epidemic
of sexual assault
(4 a day reported)

Never mind the police
Never mind our constitution
and flowery speeches about it
(Women’s Month quite far away
16 Days of Activism a memory-distant)

(Not) While the city sleeps
we attack our children
(and our women too)
with impunity

Malnutrition and hunger
crosses security fences
(that protect us from ourselves)
to be right on your doorstep

Is it the poor
Is it the hungry
Is it the jobless
matriculants and even
the homeless

Is it you
behind closed doors
in gated mansions
in ivory towers
be-suited in committee

How does the city sleep
(the city that works)
in the cold light of day

How do you sleep

 

“Child rape crisis in city” (Argus, 31 January 2014)

You (children) know too much

You (children) know too much

You children know too much
observes a grizzly-haired fellow
(his face on quite straight)
to the little ones with him
out in the village’s shop

(soon as you’re born
they make you feel small)

We heard that during apartheid
edicts issued from the mouths
of the guardians of our moralities
(girls wear pink boys)

(chop off their heads
chop off their thoughts
chop off their points
of view)

After all children
should be just
seen and not heard
never mind heeded

(are there young ones
at the Davos talk-shop
or any alternative)

You children know too much
no doubt you need to be
protected from us
who are far behind (still)

(speak when spoken at
we virtuously holler at them
second-hand smoke at our fingertips)

You children know too much
thinking sharp thoughts
getting all erudite
ready to vote one day

(or even to be elected
to rule from a yonder fortress)

You children know
Never a dull moment, Saturday morn, January 25 2014, out in the estate of Belthorn.