Just not (speeches and elections)

Just not (speeches and elections)

Just not 
speeches and elections
our own Women’s Day is
a radio fellow expounds 
like he needs to convince
someone out there

Just not 
though most 
to be heard is 
often same old story 
often same old song

(and for some reason
a bigwig male-head
does an official advert
saying “all racial groups” 
were at that historic March)

Just not 
politicians politicking
preying on the moment
feeding on the moment
angling for a sound-byte

Are we all talk 
the world over
at a time of a pandemic
and Gender-Based Violence

and SA’s Women’s Month
where women are free
where women are not
where women are not yet

Are we alone
unique at that

See, too: “OPINION: What are we really celebrating this Women’s Day?”

(Photo Credit: Sune Payne / Daily Maverick)

NOZIZWE

NOZIZWE 

Dead words tumble off 
stilted tongues
like time-singed paint 
flaking off walls that crumble
from the unbearable 
weight of hollowness

I search for Nozizwe
on democracy’s streets
I wanted to ask if she’d seen 
her hopes hanging
on ramshackle street-poles
and podiums on stadia filled 
with zombie-arms reaching
for air they cannot inhale

But she was Busy:

In the kitchens 
scrubbing indelible marks off 
grease-mantled dinner tables
slippery floors and 
corroded psyches

Baking bread 
for tables she lays but does not sit on 
’n grooming roses whose thorns 
she tames but who’s sweet scents
she has no time to smell 

In hospitals, society’s sick halls
sewing surface wounds 
and reaching for the ones 
she knows must be healed
for the nation to live 

In the streets 
trading bananas ’n 
bite-size chunks of kindness 
for a promise

In the bedroom
performing intimacy
with the ghost that hides
behind the mirror 

In the classroom 
painting futures she wishes 
to bestow as homage to the living
even as she fears 
time’s fist will crush into dust 
like so many before

Crawling in and out of her skin
weaving webs as pre-emptive strike 
because survival in this society’s 
hunting games is mastering 
the art of the spider 

In laboratories whipping the magic 
of her Afro into lanterns to shine 
the nation’s path out of history’s dungeons 
creating paths to new civilisations 
where her name is the music 
that calls the spirits home

Mothering the nation’s orphans
for if children must raise the dead
not haunt the future
they must know tenderness
before storms come down
to drown their innocence

But when witching hour comes
and her world has stopped swirling
Nozizwe can hear the music of the stars
rehearses the steps of her new routine
because she knows struggle is a dance 
where womxn does not greet a new day
with yesterday’s steps

Nozizwe. In my language, this name means She/Her of nations. There is so much I want to say to her, about her, hear from her. And yet, I too should shut up, which I shall henceforth do. But before rushing off, for a long time, perhaps…

I wrote this on May day, 2019. It feels like a century ago since CountryZA held its 6th national elections. And yet, it’s only been 15 months. As elections go, it was the same predictable, humdrum. Deafening noise. Promises falling from the skies. Nauseating, corny political theatre. Political parties competing to give us free t-shirts. Service delivery done. Click. Big men in party regalia and shiny shoes with their entourages pour out of zooty cars onto Alex’s heaving streets like volcanic lava, marking territory long after they’re gone. Communities are divided into little squares, marked in party flags. War zones really, with all that violent contestation for party political interest. This kind of grabbing at a piece of the soul of communities over time must explain, at least in part, the fading colour in the eyes of so many of our communities, why so many are no longer able to in fact be communities. Click. Gogo in a shack spills the guts of her life at the man’s knee and the blinding gaze of the camera. Click. Political party builds her and her grandkids a house. Click. Politicians visits overcrowded clinics in Soweto. Click. Click. Click. Song and dance we…Click. 

Of course, far away on some dusty streets where the cameras are not, womxn, party foot-soldiers knock on doors in the name of the party. We know how womxn labour to build these parties, but even far away from the cameras, it is still the big man showing up. After all, it is his face on the t-shirts they wear. And so, the machine rolls on, reproducing the symbolism, political leadership is a man. Yes, sisters in politics, this is not to erase you, I know you are all there being powerful and working hard to change this image/shift this norm. Its fantastic so many of you, younger and younger, are breaking the doors and occupying this space too. Even as I am yet to see politicking differently because often I struggle to see how we’re not borrowing the tired ways of maledom politicking, I see you. Yes, I see you! And of course some of you have chosen to play the game, and I hope you reflect on that deadly choice. Is conceding patriarchy is hard to break, that politics is a man’s game and to survive in it we must play their game really the only choice? Ayikho hlambi enye indlela? Masithethe boodade. I still see you kodwa ke, all of you, and ndiyanibulela for the small shifts that do occur because you are there. Kodwa kuyafuneka sithethe. 

So, yes, the silly season rolls on. So many men talking at us, about us, for us, around us, through us,talking even when they’re not talking. Appropriating our dreams, turning them into melodic hymns that lift us to the heavens. We fly so high we forget the music will soon fade and we will need to return to earth. That there is no cushion to catch us on landing, at least some of us. So we pray on the way down for the gods to let us land last so we land on top of the others. Those dreams, when not sung in glorious melodies, they are painted in gloss only to be sold back to us at the price of our ballot concession, like the new Gucci fashion item. Yes, it’s the name of the game but gosh its violent. And sidikiwe uxelelwa izinto esizaziyo sibizwa emaralini kwiztadium ingathi sizobukela imatch yechiefs nepirates kodwa sizoxoxa iindaba zomzi owonakeleyo. We know politics is spectackle, kodwa yhu ha ah!


So many men’s faces. Plastered on street poles, public walls, private walls, highway billboards. Whole streets lined from top to bottom with the faces of the men of our politics. It feels like a kind of haunting, months long daymares and nightmares. From head to tow I feel bloated with maledom. The symbolism of it winds my psyche so vigorously if it were a clock the dial would break. Yet something in me does breaks. Because this is a story of something in the heart of our society being broken. All the talking has sucked the life out of us, deafened and zombified us. 

After months of this assault on our ears, I wish they could all just shut up. Change up the game, take off the suits, ditch the entourages, get off the stage, if visiting gogo leave the cameras at home and don’t spend 5 minutes with her and then go capitalise her story for 5 million campaigning rands or the priceless imagery of yourself as a man of the people. If you visit her, maybe sit and just listen, or maybe help her prepare lunch for the 10 biologically orphaned kids she has to look after and cook for everyday. Or maybe spend a day with the Counsellor at Rape Crisis centre who goes home with boulders on her back and then comes back the next day because the war on womxn and children claimed more casualties last night and someone must soldier on. 

Anywho, amidst all this noise and being crowded out by men’s faces I begin to be obsessed with the question of the invisible bodies. My mind needs to find her. We Nozizwe, uphi? Why are you not lining my street and polluting my ears with delicious promises?. 

Then I remember that in a patriarchal society, when you do not see a womxn, it means she is somewhere busy working. The reality is that womxn are everywhere, all the time, working. I begin to think of the many ways this thing called work hides her from the “public” sphere. How systems of male domination thrive on this invisibilisation. Whipping up or letting social chaos reign so that someone has to do something about it, most likely it will be her. Orchestrating state failure to run countries well, showing up properly to supplementing the social reproductive capacity of societies so womxn have to step into the gap because well, somebody must. How this exiling of womxn from the public space and view through keeping them busy is how systems of male domination entrench themselves in society. 

More importantly, but for the work she does, no society gets to stand. Often unpaid, unrecognised, but without which society would not be able to reproduce itself, capital would not have free labourers to extract value from without ever having to even know them, political parties would not have numbers and “foot-soldiers” to win elections, and of course without her nations fall. No, please stop calling her effing mother of your nation. This instrumetalisation of womxn’s identities to con us into believing we matter when we really are just tools to be used to prop up maledom, male power and male interests in society is so transparent. We see it, how even in politics patriarchy has caught on with iys co-opting ways, send the “powerful” womxn to deal with the difficult situations and have them clean up your big men mess, but of course, see no irony in coming back and saying, well, they are not ready to lead. Mnxm. Like, iyabora maan legame. 

Anywhowho, bendingekho kulonto ingaphezulu apha…I’m just here to say hail to the workers of the world, the ones in the visible and invisible working spaces, keeping the sky from falling. 

And lastly, with all the respect for real poets, uxolweni kuni nonke ngalecorruption yobizo lwenu nina zimbongi zomthonyama. Bendisazoshwaqa nje apha ndibhiyozela nina nonke because umntu uzathini ngeSunday yonke engena ndawo yokuya egoli (hides face)? 

As for ooComrade bhuti bam, ndiyanithanda maan va, qha ngaske nipheze uthetha gqithi khe nimamele niqaphele instead hlambi nizofunda something! If lento ndiyithethileyo iyakucaphukisa, iske wenze isMalaika Mahlatsi, thumela ewallet ndizakunika inombolo, I promise you will feel better afterwards. Or, lets have a drink and laugh on it, it is after all just a game, right! You must understand, I’ve seen all 6 elections now. For the 1st one, I wrote a non-poem about holding hands with an old men I was helping get to his voting station, but who in fact was holding my hand to enter a future as the child of democratic South Africa, I imagined unfolding very differently from what we have today, but for whom I remain hopeful because even when all is lost we must hold on to hope or we die. So, yabona mos neh, andikho so so I’m just qhubaring incoko. 

Nam ke, starting now, I begin my 3 years (or is it forever I don’t know anymore) of silent retreat, being guilty of the things of maledom and polluting people’s ears all these years, silence will be how I apologise for my own crimes of contradiction…Bahlali, let’s hope sizobonana in 2022, or not. Niberight. 

With gratitude to Nozizwe, who is all the womxn out there, young or forever young like Kota nomfanelo, old, or whatever age you are, who keep inventing new steps in this dance of struggle! This is how I love you. May you hear the music of the stars tonight. Here’s to you!!!

(Photo Credits: Siphokazi Mthathi / Facebook)

On Women’s Day, who sings for Brenda Sithole? And tomorrow?

Brenda Sithole

August 9, 2017. It’s Women’s Day in South Africa, a national holiday that commemorates the 1956 women’s anti-pass march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria: “Now you have touched the women you have struck a rock: you have dislodged a boulder: you will be crushed.”Wathint’ abafazi, Strijdom! wathint’ abafazi,wathint’ imbokodo,uza kufa!” The women, 20,000 strong, sang that song on that historic day, and it has inspired, and continues to inspire. Inspirational as it is, it is a song of survivors, of those who lived to attend. Two weeks ago, in Gauteng not too far from Pretoria, 17-year-old Brenda Sithole committed suicide, or was killed, because she didn’t have proper papers to attend school, and so … she’s dead. She was not a rock. No boulder was dislodged. Brenda Sithole is dead. There was little notice at her death, and, today, August 9, 2017, who sings for Brenda Sithole?

Brenda Sithole’s personal story is brief. When Brenda Sithole was three months old, her mother left. Her mother died before registering her daughter’s birth. Brenda Sithole was raised by her aunt, Terry Sithole, and her father. Only recently was it discovered that Brenda Sithole didn’t have a birth certificate. When they were about to sort things out, Brenda’s father died. Brenda Sithole returned to school, explained the circumstances, and the school replied. According to Terry Sithole, “When school opened last Monday, she was told that the school wanted a birth certificate by the next day or she shouldn’t come back.”

That night, Brenda Sithole, by all accounts a happy child, a good student, a young girl with dreams for the future, went home, cut a piece of paper into the shape of a heart, wrote a note on that heart, and ended her life. The note reads: “”Am sorry. I do not mean to hurt anyone. Am sorry. I had loved and respected you all. I give my best to everyone but I felt like I did not belong here with you. I am only an embarrassment to you my family. I did not have a future even [though] I had big dreams that I wanted to see them come true but that was not going to happen because I was going to go to be kicked out of school because I did not have the rights like having an ID to show where I belong. I was just a normal person living my life at the [mercy] of God but yet that didn’t pay up. Am just useless.”

This is what happens in the state of abandonment. The State says that students must have birth certificates, and if a student doesn’t, she’s out. That’s it. Brenda Sithole was seventeen years old, a child. She had big dreams. For her, there was no rock, there was no boulder. Today, on Women’s Day, who sings for Brenda Sithole? And tomorrow?

(Photo Credit: News24)

Hiding behind Women’s Day. Again.

I remember as a child going with my mother to register our domestic worker for a pass book. Two women and a child going to a place far from home to wait in a queue to deal with men behind counters who told us what to do and who represented a violent system. This would have been in the early 1970s, almost 15 years after women protested the pass laws in their march to the Union Buildings in 1956. Now we have a day to celebrate those women and everyone seems to have forgotten that protesting against structural violence was what their march was all about. This is what we should never forget: that we were a country that deliberately oppressed people, restricting their movements and keeping them from their own power.

Today the oppression of women and of poor women in particular continues. We may not be able to say that it is entrenched in our laws the way the apartheid system was but I worry that Women’s Day actually becomes a way to forget, to hide from and to obscure the very real issues that we face today. In an atmosphere of celebration it seems wrong to stand up like the evil fairy at the princess’s birthday party and say, “We are not free.” To invade the corporate pamper day and say, “Our rape statistics are some of the highest in the world. This needs to change.” To stand on the platform at the ceremony to honour women’s achievements and say, “What have we not achieved?”

One of the effects of this watering down of the real issues is that the public forget about the individuals, organisations and communities that do deal with the reality of rape and violence against women every day. Everyone wishes the ugly problem would simply go away. Let’s not taint the celebration with doom and gloom. Also of course, let’s not leave men out. I’ve heard so many people say, “Why don’t we have a Men’s Day?” as though this were the commercial opportunity of Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. And then there is the lure of the dream, “Let’s find the solution to this scourge and move forward.” I would like to find that solution. I fear it may just be a dream.

At the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust we are certainly not in the business of chasing dreams. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the people. We don’t have the money. What we do have are a group of extraordinarily committed women who work every day to make sure that change happens. The change that one woman makes when she comes out of a counselling session and says to herself, “It was not my fault. I did not deserve this.” She sees that she can heal. Or the change that a group of peer educators make when they stand in front of the assembled teachers and learners of their school and say, “Don’t be ashamed to report rape. You were not to blame even if you were wearing a short skirt on that day. A skirt is not an invitation to commit a crime.” They see that they can change the hearts and minds of others. Or the change that a government makes when it drafts a law that says it will empower the victims of crime with information, with counselling, with a proper tracking system for cases in the justice system and with joint planning between government departments to ensure well coordinated, cost effective services. It sees that it can provide a deterrent.

Women’s Day is a day to commemorate. To remember and to show respect. This need not be without celebration but that celebration should include an action that gives tribute and that ties the past to the present in service of the future. Otherwise it is just another holiday or an opportunity to commodify women. Join us as we march from St George’s Cathedral to the Artscape Theatre on Saturday 9 August 2014 at 9.30am but don’t let it stop there. Take your #mydoekselfie every Friday and share it with your friends on Facebook but don’t let it stop there. Make your own extraordinary commitment. It is not for me to say what that should be but let it be something that moves you, something that allows you to change. To change in a way that frees you and a woman that you know. Something that makes her feel safer, more respected, better supported and more free to make her own choices and decisions. Don’t hide. Speak out. Make just one change.

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

(Photo Credit:  Daily Maverick)

I nearly lost it

I nearly lost it
I nearly lost it
on our Women’s Day
dropped Alice Walker’s
A poem travelled
down my arm”
A gem amongst others
found at the Rotary Club
containers where there are
Books for the World
I nearly lost it
(later) on Eid-al-Fitr
traipsing around
showing off our collection
(The Babysitters Club series
A series of Unfortunate Events series
the Sweet Valley Twins series
even the Captain Underpants series)
The morning after
reading aloud extracts
to a literary associate
(from Mutual to Lansdowne
journeying Metro-hell turd-class)
What hair
we here!
Mandela
Douglass
Einstein
Between assassination
&
suicide
living
happily
I nearly lost it
on our Women’s Day
Our Women’s Day skies are blue as Alice Walker’s lovely tome drops from my grasp, on the way to show off Belthorn Primary School’s collection of books in the neighbourhood. She invokes “Mandela with a free heart ... (Frederick) Douglass the same ... refusal of enslavement ... Einstein different but similar” in her intro titled “This is a strange book”
(Image Credit: Penguin Random House)

So it’s Women’s Day in South Africa

So it’s Women’s Day in South Africa, and we went down to hear a friend of mine speak at a local event. It was faintly cheering: we got to sing Malibongwe, which is the one struggle song white people can actually sing. There was clapping, and a bit of praying, which went down well. We then settled in for a desperately dull morning, in which we all bemoaned the general state of women in South Africa, and the wave, torrent, oh all right, tsunami of violence that is unleashed on us every day.

Yawn.

Yes, we agreed, we are dying. In fact, more than we can count, because the statistics are so unhelpful, given the level of underreporting of rape. Yes, we agreed, it’s very bad. We must fight patriarchy. We nodded our heads. Yes, indeed we must.

And speaker after speaker belaboured this, as though we had just woken up, and decided to talk about this for the first time. Lordy, it was dull. Except for one moment, one interesting electrifying moment. A woman academic, and feminist, and part of the national Commission on Gender Equality said, in one of the tightest, most frustrated voices I have ever heard, ‘We should go and stop the traffic. We should go to the nearest national road, and protest, and stop the traffic.”

And the hall of women groaned and rumbled, and it seemed like for a moment, for a flicker of time, that they would rise up as one and march, limping and dancing, out into the streets and burn things, and break things, and generally get seriously out of hand. It seemed to me that this wave of the possible reached her across the stage and she caught herself, aware of her responsibilities, and said, ‘No, not that I am suggesting violence or anything. But we must do something.’

The hall settled back down. We went to lunch. But that thought spoken aloud is still ringing in my ears.

 

(Photo Credit: http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/)

Be a leader in your community this Women’s Day

This week’s news of the rape of a four-month-old baby and a seven-year-old boy in the same household has left the community of Ceres reeling in shock. These rapes form part of a litany of abuse and violence against women and children in South Africa that just doesn’t seem to stop.

Victims, families and communities are reaching out for support in the immediate crisis and for healing over the longer term so that they can stitch their lives back together again. While services are available in some of the bigger cities and towns across the country, in towns like Ceres there is no specialised Rape Crisis organisation. Victim support will be limited to general welfare services and lay people who volunteer at the local police station.

How can this be the case 47 years after 20 000 women marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria in order to claim their rights to move freely in their society without harassment? Women activists and organisations have been working ever since to try and create safe spaces for women in our communities. At organisations like Rape Crisis we can truly say that survivors of rape leave our counselling programmes with a sense that they have recovered from their trauma with more confidence in themselves, with a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, feeling more in control, with closer relationships and more willingness to be open to new experiences.

The extent of rape in 2013 is enormous and incidents are becoming increasingly violent in nature. In this context why is there such a dearth of services to victims? Rape Crisis was threatened with closure a year ago and was in part pulled back from the brink by the incredible support and generosity of our community of supporters who gave generously of their time and money and in part by the amazing dedication of our staff who worked alongside volunteers with no pay. Yet we are still not meeting the need in the Western Cape. In part this is because provincial government has so seriously underestimated the problem of rape in their situational analysis and have therefore failed to allocate adequate resources.

Many people feel overwhelmed and helpless. Community members are calling out for NGOs “to be everywhere”. This Women’s Day Rape Crisis will celebrate by launching a rape information portal on MXit so that wherever you are in the country you have the information you need at your fingertips if someone has raped you or someone close to you. In this way Rape Crisis is finding creative an innovative ways to extend our services to women in poor and rural areas.

At the end of the day NGOs are simply groups of concerned people that have come together to find a way to support survivors in their communities and to try and talk about violence against women in order to try and bring the voice of the victim of rape to the leaders of our country so that they will again have to listen to the demands of women and respond in a meaningful way. In order for this to happen, people have to do what they did for Rape Crisis. Step forward. Talk about the problem. Donate time. Donate resources.

In past Women’s Days we looked for leaders to step up and respond with purpose and resolve. This Women’s Day we are calling on ordinary men and women to become the extraordinary leaders that the women of 1956 were in their day and ask them to do what they can, where they are, with what they have.

(This was originally posted at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Blog. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the workers at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. Do consider joining their 1000Hearts Campaign and donate now.)

(Photo Credit: Daily Maverick)