#SADecides2019: We made our mark

We made our mark. This is one of the most hotly contested elections, and the trajectory will change, and it must. 

I walked up to the voting booth feeling nervous (maybe a bit emotional even) and happy with my choice, throwing a fist in the air as an activist would, as I walked out. Lol. Even though we are so angry and just gatvol of the looting of the state, of failure of government to deliver, failure to deliver on basic services and rights, to failure of government to take gender based violence seriously, to white privilege and wealth still firmly intact, especially in Cape Town. 

There is a lot to be angry about and disillusioned about, but my vote is my voice and my power as a citizen. As long as I have right to vote, I will, even if the choices are hard. My parents and grandparents fought hard for us to have this vote and so I must exercise my right even if I don’t have much faith in the system as it stands. But rest assured WE WILL HOLD GOVT ACCOUNTABLE. 

Twenty-five years ago was the first time Black people could vote. There are many people across the world who can’t vote in their own country and will be killed for their vote. I am feeling privileged to go vote with my mum, my sister, our baby Tatum and Peter. As long as we have a vote, we have a voice and we must speak and use it. For the people who fought for this freedom and for fighting for our future generations. Be Bold. Be Brave.

(Photo Credit: Facebook / Lucinda Van Den Heever)

We see remarkable women

The team at Centre for Early Childhood Development, Cape Town

We see remarkable women

We see remarkable women
says Professor Eric Atmore 
Stellenbosch University graduate
and he who puts children first

We see remarkable women
every day working with
young children and living
the Mandela legacy

they do it for long hours
with shockingly low pay
they do it for nation building

We see remarkable women
yet they are few and far between
up the poles where politicians are
plying their trade

We see remarkable women
says Professor Eric Atmore 
revealing that less than a third
of children under 7 in South Africa
get quality pre-school learning

(only 30% of our 7 million children
under the age of 7 are in
a quality learning programme)

he tells us too that we need
a policy champion (in cabinet)
as the state does not have 
the political will capacity 
or money to support
its early childhood development programme

We see remarkable women
Now don’t you

We see remarkable women
Now what are you going to do

We see remarkable women
Now what is to be done

“Policies need proper backing, prof says” (Tatler April 11 2019)

(Photo Credit: Southern Suburbs Tatler)

Just like

Just like

Just like
a dictator-past
(apartheid-military style)
finger erect

finger erect
(a Freudian slippage)
taking the moral
high on power

previously she warned
beware the elderly
a political hack competing
foot-in-mouth with others 
in election-time

no doubt she’ll say
no journalist here was
tortured or murdered (yet)
as we’ve seen recently
out at the Saudi consulate

finger erect
it can lose you votes
you might need greatly
in the hawking season

beware little children
as you grow up
to the age of voting
and thinking first

finger erect
journalists still
under attack
be warned 

Just like

The ruling class shows its class. Renowned Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered some months ago. And, you remember “We don’t listen to old people like Tutu – Duarte”, Cape Argus April 23 2009; Jessie Duarte, then ruling party spokeswoman, putting her foot in it.

(Photo Credit: JacarandaFM)

Yet again we learn how inept at dealing with rape culture we are as a patriarchal, rapey society

So, yet again, we’re learning how inept at dealing with rape culture we are as a patriarchal, rapey society. Each time has become an opportunity to expose just how entrenched we are as reproducers of this rape culture. 

Womxn’s organisations and survivors fought for the right of survivors to be believed before we are criminalized while the rapist gets the benefit of the doubt (as is always the case and is the case with this Zizi situation). Oh and don’t ask me what it was to be at varsity on a Friday and witness our leaders (I could name some names indeed) back then already, coming for their Friday pick-ups of the fresh and fleshy beauts and no that was for no cadre political education sessions. And we all know the hand that lingers too long during the fake handshakes and the midnight knocks in your door by some envoy of some leader to check some nefarious thing in those all too important conferences with those all too important leaders. Yes, I know it and you know it!The complex dynamics of sexual relations, power and interactions on consent within such a context means the very premise of the law as it’s designed is wholly incapable of being an instrument of justice for the many survivors whose stories are a lot more “complex”, which is in fact the majority of survivors.

Whilst it helps no one to have our pain instrumentalised for extortionist or any such intentions, why is it that the default place for our response is they are extortionists?

It’s exactly because this is our default response that our suspicion, which may or may not turn out to be right, says more about us than it does about whether the accusers may in fact be extortionists. If this becomes an issue for you, in a context like South Africa where rape is a norm, that’s really just exposing your rape culture agent status. 

If justice means you pay me money for violence and trauma you’ve inflicted on me, whose bloody damn business is it to say what I want isn’t right? After witnessing how the criminal justice system ravages survivors, why would anyone with pure intentions question why a survivor may exercise her agency to protect themselves from that secondary trauma and victimization which is what this unjust system has come to symbolize? 

Who appointed you arbiter of survivors’ truth and justice! How about castigating the fact that women get raped exactly because the criminal justice system means a survivor has lost even before they enter the court’s door? The complexity of the truth of rape doesn’t fit in legal statutes, even with impeccable investigation. Why don’t you talk about who do we need to become for us to be capable of advancing justice for survivors instead? We have to reinvent ourselves to become capable of ending impunity. We have to learn a whole new way of seeing, analyzing, asking and articulating questions, a whole new set of questions, a whole new lens. And you can’t do that if you’re so caught up in your own privilege (the privilege to tell a survivor what justice they can ask for and prescribe timing for reporting and how they must feel), that’s unchecked privilege usurping the agency of the survivor. To end the culture of impunity, we need to do the hard work of changing ourselves, our lenses, and journeying to stop being agents of impunity. To those who want to do this, I’m right there, masambe Comrade! 

We’ve all made mistakes we wish we could erase, but it’s those mistakes that demand of us to be and to do different. We may not have the formula, but it won’t emerge like a pill from some rat experiment in a laboratory. It will emerge from active work we do to unlearn being agents of rape culture, intentionally and not. 

As for the rest, must be nice to have a right to appoint yourself judge and jury as it pleases. A real nice life problem!

(Photo Credit: Deutsche Welle)

This is a thank you note to South African feminist writers, doctors of the mind, heart, and soul

Writing is more than just the presence of words on a page. As much as writing is a repository of knowledge, it is also a living, breathing thing capable of healing and reconstructing. The words in a book do not merely exist in the static moment of a sentence; but they can also reshape and revitalize the lives of those who craft and read them. In a specifically South African context, writing is a dynamic revolutionary and restorative tool. Written works by South African feminists tell of the past as they breathe life into a better future. These writers are doctors in their own right; mending parts of their own lives and those within a larger collective, using their words to stitch together what has been torn open. We should regard these individuals in the same way that we do doctors; they have the capacity to save lives with the work they do, to stitch together broken pieces intricately and profoundly.

We need to look at writing as something revolutionary not just because it challenges ideas, but because it has the power to radically alter our own life and the lives of others. We need to see more spaces organized with the intention of bringing together writers and works that have the power to heal. The history of South African feminist activism speaks of efforts to rebuild and reclaim. It is critical that there are spaces within South Africa (and abroad) that support the sharing of radical and restorative texts. We should be able to call a collective of South African feminist writers a conference of medical professionals. While they may not perform surgeries or shrink tumors, their works have the power to ease mind, heart, and soul. I argue that collections of pieces such as Feminism Is: South Africans Speak Their Truth are medical journals. We need more books like these that foster healing writing and support restorative conversations between authors and readers. We need more conferences, discussions, and forums that acknowledge and actively promote the life-saving work that feminist writers do. When we move beyond just looking at physical health, we open ourselves up to an intellectual activist world rife with possibility.

Writing is a tool for both its creator and its consumer. South African feminists who retell their stories, craft feminist futures, or simply muse on what it means to be who they are may very well be healing themselves while they work. Their writing also serves to help others move past what has wounded them. Collections of South African feminist writing, voices amplified and in conversation with each other, are healing grounds for many people. These books, or medical journals as I’ll call them, serve as accessible and powerful points within a larger conversation. They lay the groundwork not only for a restored feminist South African future, but for other futures as well. It is naive to assume that writing only serves to inform others. It is also crucial to understand that feminist writing can be transformative and life-saving for anyone who interacts with it.

This is a case to shift the conversation on South African feminist writing, which should not just concern itself with the words on a page. Rather we should look at the radical potential of written pieces crafted by South African feminists. There is a great healing power in the books, poems, sentences, and words crafted by South African feminist authors. This is a sales pitch for a medical journal composed of works by South African feminists, whose works redefine both activism and healing. Most of all, this is a thank you note to them, those doctors of the mind, heart, and soul, whose works have helped me and others in the continuous process of healing. 

What happens when we start to understand doctors as not just those who help others physically? We open the door to a world where we can decolonize our minds and heal as a collective, inspired and strengthened by the lives and stories of powerful people. Moving beyond that, we begin to put more stock into the sharing of lived experience and collective healing. Giving weight and validity to South African feminist writers allows the authors and those touched by their work the opportunity to grow and shape whatever future they see fit.

(Photo Credit: BooksLive)

What are you worth (children of Valhalla Park)

What are you worth (children of Valhalla Park)

Valhalla – the palace of immortality
in Scandinavian mythology –
where rests souls of heroes slain
and there are statues and the like 
to the memory of illustrious individuals

What are you worth
children of Valhalla Park 
(might some even say
children of a lesser)

I know folks out there 
a computer literate mother 
of many offspring who 
I’ve not seen for a while

(how might they be
are they on the straight
and the narrow path
are they safe there)

What are you worth
children of Valhalla Park 
and the immediate surrounds
of your fertile growing minds

Are you worth more
or less than the biologically 
blue-eyed and blonde souls
wherever they find themselves

Are you worth more
than your counterparts
in the Palestines Yemens Syrias
of our globalized earth-ghetto

(what of the girl-child
forever at the bottom 
of the feeding queue
voting fodder cannon fodder
for politicians and spokesmen)

What are you worth
children of Valhalla Park 

What are you worth children 
anywhere and everywhere

Penned after a social media condemnation of the recent slaying of children in the area.

(Photo Credit: Voice of the Cape)

Where is the emotion? Using stories as vehicles for liberation

Stories are powerful tools to remembering the history of oppression as they illuminate emotions that convey larger themes of structural inequities. In South Africa, storytelling is cultural tradition that allows the rich past of South Africa to be passed down through generations. In a country, whose history is colored by the violent systems put in place by apartheid and colonialism, stories are a necessary tool to resistance as their emotional power inspires individuals to work to envision a more just future. However, the lasting legacy of apartheid and colonialism is working to erase certain stories by censoring them. 

In February 2018, the film, Inxeba, was banned by the South Africa’s film appeal tribunal. The film tells the story of the relationship between two men who meet during a traditional initiation rite in the mountains of the Eastern Cape. The tribunal critiqued the film’s scenes of gay sex as having no artistic value, and that they could “increase tensions in society”. Protestors claim that the ban is homophobic, unconstitutional and a way to perpetuate toxic masculinity in South African culture. While it is imperative to reflect on what the censorship of Inxebameans for queer men, it is also essential to reflect on what it means for South African women. This censorship supports the toxic masculinity that not only perpetuates violence against queer men but also against women. About one in five women in South Africahave experienced physical violence, and 40% of South African women have experience some form of sexual violence. What does it mean for the safety of oppressed people in South Africa if a story about love and tenderness that combats toxic masculinity is erased? 

These stories are not only erased through film censorship but also through global social media platforms. In December 2017, about 200 young girls marched through the streets of Johannesburg to demand that Google and Facebook respect African culture. The platforms continuously remove cultural images and videos that feature bare-breasted women. Lazi Dlamini, the organizer of the march, explained, “These are Africans celebrating their culture. Google and Facebook must respect us because they are operating in an African land”. Social media is an important platform for stories to be heard and shared globally. The censorship of African bodies by western social media platforms demonstrates how pervasive colonialism is, as oppressive structures adapt to a digital era. 

The active erasure of the stories of South African people is another way the South African education system remains colonized. Alex Mashilo of the South African Communist Party says that when schools teach about communism they do not teach about the role the South African Communist Party played in liberating South Africa. Instead, schools teach the narrative of the communism of Joseph Stalin. This speaks to how the colonized educational system in South Africa wants to lift up western narratives and silence alternative stories of liberation in order to keep individuals oppressed within a capitalistic patriarchal society. 

It is imperative that stories are working to tell a complete narrative of South Africa. This means that heroic stories about South African men fighting in the liberation struggle are told just as often as the stories of South African women enduring sexual violence at the hands of comrades. If South African education systems are not teaching certain narratives, students cannot remember their past in order to envision a more inclusive future. If the stories about liberation that are being taught are only about trauma, pain, and sadness, then the narrative is incomplete. While the collective pain and trauma of Black people in South Africa is real, so are the moments of profound joy, love, and tenderness. These stories exist and create hope and inspiration for a future to strive toward. These stories are also necessary to demonstrate that trauma and pain do not have to always define the experiences of Black people. However, sitting with the emotions of these stories and how they relate to the present is not enough.As Sisonke Msimang teaches us, “If a story moves you, act on it”. Stories need to be vehicles that lead to action. As we engage in the emotionally laborious work done by storytellers, we must respond by creating action that aims to stimulate a more liberating future.

(Photo Credit 1: Africa.com) (Photo Credit 2: ThisIsAfrica)

Why I support the demands of domestic workers!


I was born from a mother of multiple identities. The daughter of a farmer who had no land but grew her own food in the space she was allowed on the farm where I was later born, Kwantaba Ziyatsha (place of burning mountains), or Seven Fountains to some. It was only when my grandmother was forcefully removed from the farm where she worked, birthed some of her children and farmed that she could have her own piece of land to grow more food to feed the troop of us grandchildren and many more in our village eMgababa. She was forcefully moved because she was getting old, wasn’t as “efficient” as Baas Robert needed her to be. All her children had left the farm to work in the mines or other farms or the “kitchens” in the towns.

By the time we moved to eMgababa (a village near Peddie), my mother had long left school to go and work in the neighbouring Grahamstown, eRhini or Makhanda as is now known. I am told she was a promising bright student who could have been one of the country’s best netball players. But for a young black girl who didn’t finish school, domestic work became the most obvious avenue and soon enough, she was working in white people’s hotels and homes.

Back then, the story of the “domestic worker” in South Africa was more black and white than it is today. Black women in the towns cleaned white people’s houses, looked after their children, maintained their households, releasing the family to go to school and engage in “productive” economic activities. Black women have always been central to the formation of the white economy in this country. They continue to be in contemporary South Africa’s black middle-class economy. It is still black women (South African born and migrant) who are the majority domestic workers today, an estimated one million of them working in the white suburbs and in the homes of today’s bourgeoning black middle classes.

My mother started domestic work at age 14, was a live-in domestic, which is code for a 24-hour worker available at the madam or master’s ring of the bell. Later we got to witness how she lived alongside her bosses. The family which she served the longest loved her alright. She was the real mother of the household, the one the children cried to when they fell or were hungry. In all the ways she was positioned as the stereotype: walked the dogs in her pink overalls, sometimes fetched the children from school in her pink overalls. She preferred blue but if she didn’t go with the Madam to choose the colour she wanted she got pink. Had to wear her overalls when serving family friends by the pool. Stayed in the garage even though there were enough bedrooms inside the house she cleaned and made a home for the family everyday.

I did not want to know too much about what else happened to her there. Her mood told it all when she came home. I got to experience and observe some of her daily life myself on the days I went to help her. Also, when I worked on my own for her “master” of 27 years during school holidays or weekends to make a little money, and when my mother was no longer well enough to work so I had to replace her when I could.

But my mother was not the stereotype. She was “cheeky”. Baas tolerated her as long as the Madam was alive. When Madam died suddenly the husband persecuted her out of a job of 27 years and robbed her of her entitlements. Madam was a truly nice woman who loved my mother in her own way. She helped save me from dying of a botched appendicectomy in the hands of an apartheid Surgeon who insisted I had an STD at 14 and would not let anyone else disagree with his untested diagnosis. Afterall, Master was the lawyer and she had no real rights under the law, or the ability to fight back against his cunning.

In my family, we used to joke that my mother was like Mandela, she did a 27-year sentence at her last employer. Difference was she got out of it with little if anything while Mandela got a presidency and a saintly status. She didn’t think the joke was funny, but it was too good a joke to not taunt her with. Afterall, she was the queen of mock.  She was so good at mocking others she could reduce a big man to a flimsy little straw with one joke, she wasn’t afraid of anyone. I think this was part of the reason the very tall Baas couldn’t tolerate her in the end, cheeky, old domestics aren’t attractive, nor pleasure to have around.

My mother’s experience, and by extension ours, was as complex, unique as it was typical. When I started to work for Baas, he was very quick to comment how I reminded him of my mother when she was young. How she “followed instructions”. How she would moan but wouldn’t talk as loudly back. How she cleaned “more thoroughly”, didn’t demand extra pay and was just how they all should be, visible only through the work of their hands. Bust she changed, and he “didn’t know what got into her”.

After my mother recognised certain signs in me she demanded I stop going there. Luckily, I got another weekend and holiday job somewhere else where it was just me and the Madam, and my mother was always with me. She was always clear, no daughter of hers was going to become a fulltime domestic worker. She insisted she would sell anything of hers for me to complete my studies. But I knew she had already sold everything, including her health. So, when she got sick, I was happy for her to stop working and we had to find other ways to make do. By then, she had met a wonderful spirit who became many things to us. This one, we didn’t call her Madam. She was daughter and sister and companion to my mother. She shared with us everything she could. One cannot pretend race, class and history away, but she presented an alternative way. When she moved away my mother could not do the work anymore. She was 14 years old when she began this work. It had marked her life, our perceptions of interpersonal relationships and familial intimacies. She was done, but reckoning with its impacts on her emotional and physical wellbeing was only beginning.

October is the month my mother died 6 years ago. She was 54. A feisty, towering tree of our family. With her around we had a stem on which to anchor ourselves. It is a very heavy month for us her children and her siblings. Last month we performed the big ritual of returning her spirit back home, Simbuyisa. Among other things, my mother was a serious Healer. In my tradition people get called to be healers. I do not know how our ancestors decide who to call. Perhaps it’s a combination of one’s life trials and tribulations and a resilience or purity of spirit despite it all might have something to do with it. So, by tradition we perform these rituals, for the healing of her spirit as well as of those of the living. But it is Pinky, Myrtle who raised my mother from the grave for me, and began the healing of my spirit.

A few months ago, I got introduced to Pinky Mashiane, a domestic worker warrior who is leading the charge for domestic workers to receive the same protections under the law. She fights alongside Myrtle Witbooi, the stalwart of the domestic workers movement in SA and the world over. Myrtle has been everywhere carrying the placard for domestic workers rights. She has led SADSAWU, that neglected “child” of our labour movement for decades, making visible the invisible hands who clean up the proverbial mess in so many of our homes and perform productive labour without which our nation, our economy, would come to a standstill.

This month, Pinky and her sisters, my mother’s comrades and sisters in arms, will hopefully achieve a significant victory at the Constitutional Court. I had not known Pinky much before this. I still do not quite know much of her story. But I know my mother’s story and through it I know Pinky. The story of millions of women in SA and the world over who are domestic workers.

I am blessed with these mothers, these comrades, these warriors who are returning my mother to me, and justice for her beyond the grave. I am inspired by the feminists I organize with who did not hesitate to respond when these workers called. For all these reasons, I support every single demand the Domestic workers are making: Same protection under the law. Decent wages, decent working conditions, compensation for injuries and diseases contracted at work!

And no, domestic workers are not responsible for the crimes that happen in our homes. Yes, when we feel vindicated at an occasional video that goes viral of a supposed domestic worker abusing a child we should be shocked as well as look in the mirror. What do we do every day, in the most intimate spaces where we have total control over them, to recognise and affirm their humanity.

No, its not enough to talk nice about how wonderful Mavis and Violet and Zoliswa are and then send them away with a couple of thousands when they are too old or sickly for us to extract anymore of their labour. We must recognize, respect and remunerate them as legitimate workers. Treat them as human beings with dignity. We have the power of control over their lives while they are in our homes, our offices and workplaces. Our own humanity is measured in the way we treat others in general, particularly those who give to us as much as domestic workers do. Hopefully the courts will speak for them this week.

Hopefully the State will finally be forced to recognize all their rights as workers. We owe them nothing less!

That’s why I support the Domestic Worker’s Rising campaign. You should too.

The campaign was launched on October 15. On the same day a group of domestic workers and allied organisations gathered outside the North Gauteng High Court for the Sylvia Mahlangu hearing. In this case, Maria Mahlangu drowned in March 2012 after falling off a ladder and plunging into her employer’s open swimming pool while cleaning windows.

Her unemployed daughter Sylvia and grandchild, who were dependent on her income, were unable to claim for compensation through available legislation, even though Mahlangu had worked for the same family for 22 years. To get more details about this case and the Domestic Worker’s Rising Campaign follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on @OxfamSA and visit the website to see the different ways you can be involved.

(For more information, check out https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/citypress/20181014/282291026197237 and http://www.seri-sa.org/images/SERI_Domestic_Workers_Rights_Guide_Draft_2_reprint.pdf )

(This originally appeared, in edited form, in the City Press)

In South Africa, Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and 37 comrades said NO! to mining hegemony … and won!

Women of the Lesetlheng village community celebrate the Constitutional Court decision

A specter haunts the Republic of South Africa, the specter of rural people’s power joined with the spirit of Frantz Fanon. Thursday, the South African Constitutional Court issued a ruling in the case of Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and 37 others vs. Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources (Pty) Limited (IBMR) and Pilanesberg Platinum Mines (Pty) Limited (PPM). The decision, written by Justice AJ Petse, opens: “The statement by Frantz Fanon in his book titled `The Wretched of the Earth’ is, in the context of this case, apt. It neatly sums up what lies at the core of this application. He said that `[f]or a colonised people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity’. Thus, strip someone of their source of livelihood, and you strip them of their dignity too.” The Justice had me at “Hello”.

The story officially begins in 1916, when 13 families of the Lesetlheng Community, in what is today North-West, decided to purchase some land. They saved money, and, in 1919, the Community bought that land. In 1919, Black Africans couldn’t officially own land, and so the land was registered to the Native Commissioner, who ostensibly held the property in trust for the Chief of the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela, the traditional authority under whom the Lesetlheng Community fell. According to Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and the 37 other descendants of the original purchasing families, it was understood that only the 13 families could farm on the land. The land was divided into 13 sections, which the families controlled individually. Over the years, the families built various structures, for themselves, workers, livestock and equipment. And that’s how things stayed until 2004.

In 2004, Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources, IBMR, gained the right to prospect the Lesetlheng Community’s land. In 2008, IBMR won a mining right over that land. According to Justice Petse, “On 19 May 2008, IBMR was awarded a mining right over the farm by the Department. On 20 June 2008, an environmental management programme required in terms of section 39 of the MPRDA was approved. On 28 June 2008, IBMR concluded a surface lease agreement with the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Tribal Authority and the Minister in respect of the farm. In 2014, preparations for full-scale mining operations on the farm commenced … In 2015, and in order to relieve themselves of the intolerable situation that had arisen as a consequence of the respondents’ mining operations, the applicants obtained a spoliation order against the respondents.”

The Lesetlheng Community won that case. IBMR immediately applied for, and won, an eviction order. That order was approved by various courts, and so, until Thursday’s Constitutional Court decision, it looked like Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and the 37 others had won a battle and lost the war … and everything they owned and cherished. That the lower courts based their decisions on the Lesetlheng Community not being actual owners of the land was devastating, as was the collusion of the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Traditional Authority with the mining companies.

With a unanimous decision, the Constitutional Court turned that around. They based much of their decision on Section 25(6) of the Constitution: “A person or community whose tenure of land is legally insecure as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an Act of Parliament, either to tenure which is legally secure or to comparable redress.” In this case, that meant that Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and her 37 comrades were indeed owners of the land, that the mining corporations had not sufficiently consulted with them, and that, if mining were to occur, the process would have to start all over.

More broadly, the decision stated that “informal land holders” have rights equal to those of formal landholders. The court decided that history matters. Courts and judges matter as well. Language matters, too. By invoking Fanon’s analysis, Justice Petse identified the history of land ownership in South Africa as colonial and stated that the nation has not yet entered into the dawn of the post-colonial, rainbows notwithstanding. Justice Petse made it clear that that dawn is coming.

In 1919, thirteen families bought a farm named Wilgespruit, locally known as Modimo Mmalo. Next year, 2019, will mark the centennial of that purchase. Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and 37 other descendants of the thirteen families will celebrate in their own fashion. We should all celebrate, and honor, Grace Masele Mpane Maledu for their perseverance in the pursuit of “bread and, above all, dignity”.

 

(Photo Credit: New Frame)

 

 

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)