Inserting your Blackness

Being black in Cape Town can seem potentially lonely and alienating. When I walk into a restaurant, bar, or club in the Cape Town city centre I often notice one or two other black faces. Unless you choose to visit what is widely known to be one of the predominantly “black” institutions in Cape Town, a sea of happy white faces will confront you.

It is not uncommon to go out to one of the beaches in Clifton and only see white bodies spread on the sand. It is also not uncommon to visit a museum or the opening of art exhibitions and only see a handful of black people in the crowd. Many black Capetonians choose not to frequent spaces that used to be “white only” under apartheid. Consequently these spaces continue to be whites only spaces. There continues to be a separation between what people consider black spaces and white spaces. The same is true for spaces that are considered black; very few white people choose to frequent such spaces.

There are many reasons why black people do not inhabit these predominantly white spaces. Fear of being discriminated against (it still often happens), being mistreated, receiving bad service, and generally being made to feel as if you do not belong or as if you are invisible are some of the reasons often cited by black people for not occupying predominantly white spaces. Many city centre establishments are also more expensive and because of economic apartheid many black people are economically excluded from such spaces. And generally the more expensive the establishment, the more unwelcoming it will treat black patrons. I have listened to black friends and acquaintances complain about some of their negative experiences at different locations in the city of Cape Town. I have never heard my white friends complain of similar experiences. These are all valid reasons not to go to predominantly white spaces. It can be painful and emotionally charged to be confronted by this kind of exclusion and prejudice, which makes them hard to deal with.

But no one said the struggle for justice and equality will be easy. That is why I contend that despite the danger of experiencing racism, maltreat, and bad service in spaces dominated by whites black people should insert themselves into predominantly white spaces. We need to fight for and assert the freedom promised by our Constitution. Although it might not always be comfortable black people need to insert their bodies into these spaces. Black people need to be more aggressive about physically owning spaces in Cape Town. Black people need to be vocal about mistreatment, and not just shrug it off as “another day in the city.”

The presence of black people often makes white patrons and white owners ‘uncomfortable’ in institutions that are used to having an almost exclusively white clientele. This is especially true if there is a critical mass of black patrons and not only the odd black face making white patrons feel good about embracing diversity. But this is not the black person’s problem to deal with. Black people need to resist being chased away from establishments by subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ‘you don’t belong here’ gestures. Black people need to be more vocal about mistreatment at these establishments and call institutions out for their bigoted ways. There are so many channels, both formal and informal, black people can challenge predominantly white institutions for their racism.

By insisting that black people insert themselves into predominantly white spaces, I am not underestimating the trauma and the indignity of racism. After experiencing mistreatment it is perhaps an instinctive need to protect yourself that make people threaten to never go back there again.

I think black people should not shy away from confronting these emotionally charged and possibly humiliating problems head on. Instead they must let the establishment know what they are doing is wrong; raise hell if it is warranted, but promise to come back. They must put an establishment to terms and demand an improvement in service. They should threaten such establishments with exposure in the printed and social media. They should threaten to approach the Human Rights Commission and take up the racial discrimination.

Threatening never to come back lets the establishment off the hook, especially if you are not going to take the matter to social media or lodge a formal complaint. Black people often let establishments and people in establishments get away with racism and mistreating black patrons because black people often don’t want to start trouble. The fear of a little bit of trouble will always prevent people from voicing their grievances and blacks need to rid of themselves of that fear.

Establishments must realise that the people have the power to call them out on their racism. Mistreatment and racism at predominantly white establishments is an unfortunate legacy we have inherited from apartheid, but here it is, we need to have strategies to deal with it and ultimately change it. This change will not happen while black people let white establishments mistreat them and then say nothing or just threaten never to return. Black people need to hold white institutions accountable.

It is very easy to say, why don’t black people just go to black spaces where they won’t experience any racism or mistreatment. It is easy to have this separatist way of thinking and doing things, but this is exactly what apartheid was about. We are living in a new era now, one where we should all be busy with the project of rebuilding a non-racist, non-sexists, and non-homophobic society, and having separate spaces for black and white people goes against these ideals.

South Africa is 20 years into its democracy and we should really be working harder to integrate South African society and to smash both the overt as well as the subtle forms of racism (the latter often being invisible to many white people) that still permeate our city. Also, black people who live in Cape Town should be able to experience ALL of Cape Town, not just the places in which black people are tolerated. All who live in this city, not just a few, must experience the beauty of Cape Town and its establishments. It is terribly unjust how people from different parts of the world are made to feel at home in Cape Town, while the locals, who make this city work, can’t enjoy the city. It is not unheard of to meet black locals who say that they were born in Cape Town but they have never been on Table Mountain or they have never been to Robin Island and express wanting to go. This is all linked to people feeling like they can’t enjoy some of these Cape Town institutions because they are often treated like they don’t belong to the city.

This upcoming summer and beyond, I challenge black people to insert themselves into the predominantly white spaces that they are yearning to visit. Black people should resist the intimidation by white institutions and insist on their black presence be felt all over this city. To black people all over Cape Town, this is your city.

 Own it!

Written by Lwando Scott 

Queer Consciousness

The on going homophobic hate crime attacks on black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in various townships in South Africa, the rape and murder of black lesbians, and the anti-homosexuality legislation in Nigeria and in Uganda in recent months cloaked as protection of African cultures is enough for you to loose hope. As LGBTI Africans we are often told that we come out of nowhere, that we do not have a history in Africa, and that we are a western invention. We are often depicted as people who are ruining African cultures, cultures falsely assumed to be without homosexuality.

As LGBTI people, just like black people during colonisation, and during apartheid, we have internalised that we are less than human. We often adopt the inferiority complex projected on to us by society. Our lives are riddled with shame because of our sexual identity. Anecdotal evidence and studies show that LGBTI youth are more likely to be homeless than non-LGBTI youth because of homophobic families who make home life unbearable. Many transgendered youth turn to prostitution to make a living because they can’t find employment.

Living in a world that discriminates against you, a world that denies you the right to exist, how does one develop a healthy self-view? The feelings of shame that LGBTI Africans harbour about themselves can be self-destructive. The feelings of unworthiness can and have led many LGBTI to endanger their lives with drug and alcohol abuse and high-risk sexual behaviour, and experience trauma and mental health issues that impact personal growth.

How do we then counterattack the seemingly ubiquitous homophobia in this country, indeed continent? How do we as LGBTI individuals and communities face up to the prejudice we experience in society? While there are many things that we need to be doing, and many we are doing, like protests, supporting LGBTI organisations, supporting LGBTI art and scholarship etc., we need a way to think about ourselves that moves us away from internalised prejudice towards a Queer Consciousness.

Queer Consciousness entails understanding that sexual diversity is part of the human experience. It is the self-acceptance of LGBTI individuals with full knowledge that there’s nothing unnatural about being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and/or Intersex. It is learning to be comfortable with yourself and your sexuality while learning about other people’s sexuality and ways of being. Queer Consciousness is about fostering LGBTI communities that are underpinned by pride, solidarity, and a steadfast approach to LGBTI Rights and wellbeing.

Firstly we have a responsibility to ourselves, secondly to our communities to reject the inferiority complex we have adopted. We have to reject negative images and assumptions about ourselves that we have come to believe that have been created by society in their aim to demonise us because of who and how we love. In the same vein as Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness, Queer Consciousness recognises “that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

As LGBTI Africans we need to discard the psychological grip that homophobic rhetoric has on us by vehemently rejecting the constructions of homosexuality as “un-African” and subsequently Western, as immoral, as unnatural. Queer Consciousness is more than just a fleeting verbal assertion against false constructions of homosexuality, but must translate into our deeds, into the way we approach life, into the way we relate to each other as LGBTI, and the way we take pride in our sexual identity as both individuals and as a community.

Queer Consciousness can impact society as a whole. Perhaps this consciousness can impact both LGBTI and broader society, and perhaps be adopted by people who are not LGBTI. In sync with feminism, Queer Consciousness questions the way we think about, talk about, and “do” gender. It is an attitude that embraces, celebrates, and encourages the disruption of gender norms. It encourages the blurring of the lines of what is expected of women and of men.

Queer Consciousness confronts the complex intersection of race, class, and gender that makes black lesbians vulnerable to ‘corrective rape’ and murder. It is the recognition that black lesbians are victims of hate crimes because of their gender non-conforming behaviour that challenges patriarchal dominance. It is a stance that challenges the dominant forms of masculinity not only in the larger society, but also within LGBTI communities. Queer Consciousness is therefore at odds with patriarchal structures of society and it is constantly wrestling with these structures.

Homosexuality is not at odds with African-ness. Queer Consciousness is about understanding that one can hold an African identity simultaneously with a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and/or Intersex identity. It is about knowing that difference is not something to be feared but something to be engaged with because we grow by learning things we have never encountered before.

The discovery of someone’s unorthodox sexuality is an opportunity to learn about the fabulously complex myriad ways in which we love, lust, and sex. Queer Consciousness is about opening yourselves up to other people’s life experiences, because we take different paths to get where we are. We cannot sanitise the complexity of life by legalising anti-homosexuality bills and by terrorising people who are assumed to be homosexual. The stifling of people’s gender and sexual expression is really the stifling of people’s humanity. A Queer Consciousness outlook understands that sexuality is as complex as human existence. That we do not have a hold in the multiple ways that people’s sexuality develops.

Queer Consciousness is recognising that the way LGBTI communities structure their relationships has the potential to educate us all about gender, about shifting the boundaries that society places on sexualities, and about liberating people’s sexuality, including heterosexuality. An unintended consequence of homosexuality is the liberation of heterosexuality, that society might see heterosexuality as nothing static, but adaptable and influenced by other sexualities.

Queer Consciousness demands that we in LGBTI communities be very vigilant about the ways in which “new” normative standards of establishing relationships and life in general can be used to subjugate others within LGBTI communities. Same-sex marriage is legalised in South Africa, but Queer Consciousness demands that we as LGBTI communities emphasise that forming personal relationships goes beyond the “one guy, one guy” or “one woman, one woman” relationship structure modelled after heterosexual coupling. Queer Consciousness is knowing that there are myriad ways in which people can organise their relationships, and that the simplistic ways in which marriage laws are structured are inadequate to fully capture the ways in which people love.

Queer Consciousness is about letting the imagination run wild in trying to answer the existential question of “who am I?” It is a way of thinking and seeing the world that encourages and nurtures the creative fashioning of the self. It gives you the ability to reject the models of “how life should be” from the everyday and gives permission for new ways of being in the world. Self-invention is at the centre of Queer Consciousness.

Self-invention becomes that much more prescient because we are busy with the postcolonial project of Africa’s Renaissance. The spirit of the African Renaissance revived in recent years by former South African president Thabo Mbeki emphasises a creative, intellectually stimulating, and self-directing Africa. He asserts, “They (Africans) are determined to define for themselves who they are and who they should be.” If we are truly invested in Africa’s Renaissance we cannot prescribe the ways in which Africans should express themselves and live their lives in a free postcolonial Africa.

Binyavanga Wainaina’s recent coming out and the videos he subsequently released talking about how “we need to free our imagination” capture the spirit of Queer Consciousness – we need to step out of the boundaries of what we know and into the creative world of imagining. The blue prints of how life should be, left behind by the colonial and apartheid administration are inadequate for life in postcolonial times and beyond. Our imagination in fashioning our lives in 21st century postcolonial Africa needs us to be without boundaries. The human potential is infinite and if we are to prosper as countries and as a continent we cannot limit the possibilities of innovative self-identities.

Written by Lwando Scott 

Disrupting Gender – One red nail polish at a time

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Living in a masculinist culture it can be a challenge embracing the side of you that likes things society sees as feminine if you are a man. There is often shame attached to flamboyancy in boys. I remember growing up and struggling with trying very hard to be a boy’s boy and “doing” boy things and failing dismally. I remember the pressure, which is still there, to live up to my friends and family’s ideals of masculinity. A masculunity that is strictly defined by an ability to be good at sport – or at least the desire to be good, to be more aggressive, to care-less about how I look, not to see women as friends but only as potential sexual conquests.

Although even as a teenager I challenged masculinist ideals by embracing flamboyancy and performing my masculinity in an effimate manner, it was not until university that I would proudly claim my gender non-conformity.

When I went to university, I came into contact with other boys who were flamboyant like me, but most importantly I came into contact with feminism. Feminism taught me that there is a gendered social structure in which we function under. It was liberating and affirming to learn that I was not abnormal to veer away from traditional masculine behaviour as a boy, and that it is the way society is structured that is faulty.

The notion that men and woman are fundamentally different and that it is our genders that differentiates us is a fallacy but it is a fallacy that is everywhere. It is in the way we speak, in the way we act, in the way we walk, in the way we greet each other, in the clothes we wear, our favourite colour, the words we use to express ourselves, the perfume we buy, the movies we watch, the books we read, the careers we chose, the drinks we order at the bar, the sports we play and the list goes on and on.

This gendered system is kept in place by people constantly watching each other and correcting each other’s behaviour. It is kept in place by men beating their wives when they “step out of their place.” It is kept in place by families scowlding a boy for being “too much of a girl.” Everybody polices everybody; women police other women, men police other men, men police women, women police men.

People are constantly keeping each other in check and by doing so people uphold the gender system. The gender system is hard to deal with because not only do we believe in the system and its “natural” order we are invested in it. The power that men exercise over women is ubiquitous. In my culture, when a woman is married she wears clothes that show she is married. This is not the same for men. Also, when a woman becomes a widow, everyone can tell because she has to wear visibly “mourning” clothes, but the same is not asked of a widower.

These are just some of the ways in which the gender system operates. There’s an assumption in South African society that gender inequality is only a problem for poor people or the working class. This is a fallacy. It is also a problem in middle class homes where men are doctors, politicians, sports stars, and priests. It is the male professor who talks about gender issues in the classroom to students, but when he gets home the wife is the one who cooks and serves food while he watches TV.

There is something empowering about the ability to retrospectively be able to look at moments in my short life that have been turning points. University was a major turning point for me. Learning how the world is gendered at university made me want to demolish the concept of gender, so people could all just walk around genderless. I wanted gender as something we use to categorise people to dissapper because all of a sudden I could see how the world had been unfair to my mother her whole life. I quickly realised that the project of demolishing gender was unrealistic but what I did find was that there are little ways in which I can disrupt patterned gender behaviour in my everyday life. Through the years I have learned, and dare I say perfected, the art of disrupting gender in my everyday life.

For me this disruption takes the form of little acts from what I wear to the red nail polish on my finger nails. It is me using my mother’s last name and feeling extremely proud of that fact and sharing it whenever I can. It is not being afraid to wear make-up in public. It is braving the stairs I generate when I go to the female populated beauty section of the stores. The disruption of gender is about challenging notions of what it means to be a man, a woman, and ultimately what it means to be human.

Challenging gender assumptions which maintain gender inequality is something we should all be invested in. There are multiple ways one can challenge gender assumptions and does not necessarily require the wearing of red nail polish but it might include men calling out their friends when they are being sexist. It might be that you teach your daughter, niece, or little sister that she is worth more than what the media potrays or what society and culture dictates.

It might be that your way of disrupting gender is by being suportive to the small boy in your street who is being victimised for being “too girly.” It could be championing a female student, co-worker, or the girl next door to achieve in their andevours because you understand the world is not constructed in their favour. The non-discrimination based on gender clause in the Constitution needs to be accompanied by the disruption of the gender system in everyday life as we try to create an ideal society, a more just society. And we know a more just society is society that has achieved gender equality.

Written by Lwando Scott 

Queering Postcolonial Reality

Many of us who grow up intersex, lesbian, gay, or generally with a gender non-conforming way of being often have a difficult time in developing positive self image and self identity. Growing up is complicated further when you have to negotiate this non-gender conforming way of being and/or same-sex attraction with having an African identity. The now very famous adage “homosexuality is un-African” is a deeply held belief that has seeped into almost every segment of African society.

It has been repeated ad nauseam by different statesmen from different corners of the African continent people like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, Jahya Jemmeh of Gambia, the Congress of Traditional Leaders in South Africa. This axiom has come to hold as much power as bible scriptures. It is used at once to denounce the sexual immorality of Western society that is supposedly infiltrating Africa while at the same time promotes the sexual morality of Africans. Growing up in South Africa I was very aware of the supposed contradiction of African identity and homosexuality and how these two things couldn’t and shouldn’t intersect.

The sentiment of homosexuality as un-African is a postcolonial phenomenon. Anti-colonial movements never really addressed the question of homosexuality. The ANC was forced to deal with the issue of homosexuality towards the end of apartheid. We need a queering up of postcolonial understanding of Africa through problematizing the logic used to discriminate against homosexuality. The recent anti-homosexuality laws that have been enacted in Uganda and Nigeria and the passive response, which I read as consent, from African leaders, including South Africa, speak to the narrow and limited interpretation of postcolonial existence in postcolonial Africa.

What does it mean to be an African in postcolonial times, a time that some argue is not as “post” colonial as we would like to believe? What do we do with a postcolonial existence that does not look like the postcolonial world imagined when independence was won and democracy instituted? The ongoing battle over the “authenticity” of the African homosexual is really a battle of what does it mean to be African in the fraught postcolonial existence. Who are we and where are we situated in history? These are really big questions. It is not the task of this piece to address African existential questions. I want to take issue with the ways in which homosexual discrimination is constructed, and then talk about the possibilities for self-invention that are created by a free imagination.

The complexity of postcolonial life needs to be negotiated carefully, and moving away from simplifying human experience in African is paramount. There are three main arguments that are often evoked against homosexuality in Africa. Firstly there is a fictitious Africa that we are often told about where homosexuality never existed. Secondly, religion is used to substantiate the arguments against homosexuality. Popular scriptures are used like the famous Leviticus 18:22 to demonstrate how it is against god to have same-sex attraction. Lastly I interrogate how African homosexuals are misguidedly used to snub supposedly Western imperialism.

Postcolonial reality is burdened with complexity that will not be solved in the near future. Complexity that is baggage from colonialism, the partition of the continent, independence/democracy with “development” loans, which has all lead to unstable economies, poverty, and civil wars. People underestimate the deep and long lasting consequences that colonialism, and in South Africa apartheid, has had on African states.

One of the ways in which Africans deals with the heaviness of a colonial past that paints the African as savage, with no history, hyper sexual, and with no contribution to the development of the world – there is a creation of what Africa looked liked, what Africans used to do with their bodies prior to colonialism. This fictitious Africa is without same-sex attraction, same-sex love, and same-sex marriage. It is an Africa without any homoerotic tendencies. This fictitious Africa is a place where homosexuality doesn’t exist. In this artificial pre-colonial Africa, same-sex love has never existed. It is seen as learned from Western colonizers upon arrival.

This argument makes me wonder what does it mean to learn, adopt, and/or copy from Western countries? The structures of many African universities, physically and philosophically, are modeled after European universities. Shouldn’t they be outlawed as well? Albeit sometimes reformed, the parliamentary systems and “democracy” are all systems of governance adopted from the West. The very constitutions governing African states outlawing homosexuality as a Western construct are rough drafts from Western countries. The “homosexuality is copied from the west” excuse is an ignorant and inconsistent excuse to discriminate against homosexuals.

Anti-homosexuality arguments are draped with concern over the disappearance or pollution of African culture. The many ways in which African culture can be preserved for future generations does not include the execution of homosexuals. The best ways in which African culture and traditions can be preserved is by writing books that chronicle African life, we should be writing textbooks and novels in isiXhosa and isiZulu and other indigenous languages. We should be building language institutes and cultural centers whose main goal is to document and preserve culture. We should be making sure that schools in townships, in rural areas, in far flung areas are well equipped to teach students in the vernacular and to teach the history of the very culture in which society is trying to preserve.

Preservation of African culture, African traditions, and African ways of being means that you incentivize people who speak, read and/or write more than two, or three or four African languages. Create and subsidize publishing houses that publish work in indigenous languages. This will go much further and will actually help in preserving some essence of culture, at least in archival form. Indigenous languages are only glorified in the constitution, and South Africans love boasting to foreigners that they have eleven official languages. In reality South Africans mostly use one language, English, all the other ones are basically ornamental, unless of course you live in Stellenbosch.

Now if government leaders were interested in the preservation of African culture, languages would be a priority because we know that culture is lived through language. This is more so for African communities because many of our cultures have not been written down like most of Western culture. Our cultures are passed down mostly orally which means they live and breathe only as far as people speak and practice them. What I have outlined here are concrete steps towards the preservation of African culture and traditions. The creation of laws that seek to prohibit two people of the same-sex from loving and sexually pleasing each other will not do much for the preservation of African culture and traditions.

The issue here is not about African culture. If it were, other strategies of preserving the culture would need to be employed. Moving away from talking about a fantasy Africa is important because we need to be talking more about the Africa we want to live in, an Africa that Nelson Mandela hoped would be “at peace with itself.” An Africa at peace with itself will not be achieved by “correcting” African lesbians through rape or by imprisoning people that are suspected of being homosexuals.

In trying to understand the anti-homosexuality laws, discrimination, and violence I wonder how in the postcolonial narrative homosexuality is Western but Christianity is not branded the same. Christian fundamentalists do not even bother to engage with the arguments that Christianity is un-African. Africans who live according to the bible often act like they are better than people who don’t read the bible. It has been my experience that religious people are the most heartless and will maim people in the name of god.

When listening to the news, reading newspapers, or listening to friends talk, religion is always tip toed around. There is a double standard in our society on calling out religious fundamentalists about the ways in which they inflict pain, harass, and oppress people who are non-believers. African homosexuals have been heavily affected by the hatred of the church, and that’s what it is, hatred.

Religion is not unlinked to colonialism, and I would have imagined that as a society we would have reservations about religion, especially Christianity because it came to be a force on the African continent through missionaries. The missionaries saw the African way of life as barbaric, savage like, and in much need of civilising. The Christianity that is used to demonise homosexuality is the same Christianity that was used to demonise black people during apartheid. We often skirt around the horrible role that religion played in the construction of black Africans as other in colonialism and in apartheid South Africa.

The very people who orchestrated apartheid were reading the same bible that black South Africa were reading then, and continue to read. We are oblivious to the fact that the very notions that are used to lash out by the majority of black Africans on African homosexuals were used by white Europeans in rationalising colonisation of the African continent; indeed apartheid in South Africa.

When I think about colonisation, apartheid, and the bible I am reminded of Eugene De Kock’s confession that he really believed that he was carrying out the mission of God, that black Africans, particularly in the ANC were against God and the state and so should be killed. The bible that Eugene De Kock and many others in the South African Defence Force during apartheid carried the state issued bible with a message from P.W. Botha and it partly read: “The bible is an important part of your calling to duty. When you are overwhelmed with doubt, pain, or when you find yourself wavering, you must turn to this wonderful book of answers. …… It is my prayer that this bible will be your comfort so that you can fulfil your duty.” The “fulfil your duty” from P.W. Botha includes the mutilation of thousands of African bodies at the hands of the South African Defence Force written in a bible. The bible has now found new use, to oppress and to vilify people with divergent sexual orientations. So yes, I am extremely skeptical about the bible and I am vigilant on whom and how it is used to oppress. Religion can and has been used for the most evil of purposes. As Africans we need to be attentive indeed critical of religion because it is the very religion that was used to justify our enslavement.

The convoluted nature of postcolonial reality is revealed when draconian anti-homosexuality laws, which harken back at puritanical anti-sodomy laws, are being created by Africans to oppress fellow Africans in the name of a colonial Jesus. The messiness of postcolonial life is also revealed at burials where priests and church leaders preside over mutilated bodies of African lesbians in South Africa but fail to link the church’s hatred of homosexuality and the consent it generates for the murders of African lesbians. The Christian obsession with people’s sexuality and “how” homosexuals have sex knows no boundaries, to a point where gay pornographic videos are shown in church.

In the tirade against homosexuals many are oblivious or look the other way at African men and women who are not “gay” or “lesbian” but engage in what sociologist would call situational homosexual sex. This is the sex between people of the same-sex that would occur in prisons, in boarding school, in the mines, and in woman only spaces, not because these people necessarily identify as homosexual but the opportunity for same-sex sex presents itself. With this then I would echo Michelle Foucault’s assertion that people are not really affronted about homosexual sex per se but are unsettled by the audacity of people to actually love each other.

I advocate caution with the ways in which everything “African” is measured by “going against the West.” We need to interrogate the narrative that ALL that we are as Africans is what the West in not and vice versa. This is not to say that there aren’t differences between African cultures and Western cultures, there are, but we need to be vigilant of the simplistic rendering of acts, in this case sexual acts, as black and white. Human life is far more sophisticated than that. Human existence and world history provides a precarious and fraught colonial history that impacts on African life today. A history that is difficult to understand because it is ever shifting.

This reactionary business of always going in the opposite direction of the West, for the sake of moving in the opposite direction, just so we are not like them, is not helpful to the African Renaissance. It is not helpful in our journey of building a continent with people who are at peace with themselves. We cannot un-do colonialism; we cannot create legislation to govern people’s lives in 2014 with an invented pre-colonial existence. This is not to say that there was no pre-colonial African life, or that life should be ignored, on the contrary, we can write books about it. What I am suggesting is that, yes, we need to deal with the fact that what we are as Africans today is probably not what we would have been without colonization. But we also have to know and believe that even without the influence of colonization, what we were in 1652 we wouldn’t be the same people in 2014.

The insinuation that African homosexuals are only but a product of the West is really insulting and negates LGBTI people’s agency. It is misguided because the African homosexual has worked tirelessly to create a self without a model. The African homosexual has against horrendous odds claimed an identity that is demonized and relegated to the bottom of humanity. In spite of all of this, the African homosexual says I am here. It would seem to me that African homosexuals embody the spirit of the African Renaissance. They have taken the possibilities afforded by postcolonial reality and in South Africa by post-apartheid freedom and crafted a self, a sexual self.

Remember amongst many things taken from us by colonialism, it robbed us of a way to construct ourselves, but living in postcolonial times we have the opportunity to imagine and subsequently create the Africa and the African-self we envision. The African homosexual is probably one of the greatest examples of the prospects fashioned by living in postcolonial times, the opportunity for self-invention. Freed from the shackles of colonialism, the possibilities are endless and they include forming a sexual self that is different. There cannot put a limit placed on how we imagine a future Africa. We cannot cap the potential of human imagination in how people see themselves and their world and their future. So, instead of stoning, imprisoning, or maiming African homosexuals, I would advocate using them as examples of an uncapped imagination, of possibility, and freedom in a convoluted postcolonial reality.

When meeting white South Africans abroad

I have always found it awkward interacting with white South Africans when meeting them abroad. I always sense a discomfort and often a hesitation to interact on their part. I have also experienced white South Africans being overly familiar with me abroad although meeting for the first time. I am often open to interacting with South Africans abroad, but interactions with white South Africans have consistently proven to be uncomfortable. I have had positive, non-awkward interactions with white South Africans abroad, but they are the exception.

The most baffling interaction was recently when I was studying abroad, I met two white South Africans at the same time, we were at a “global studies” event. The white South African male lives in South Africa and was visiting abroad for a project he is involved in. The other South African, a white woman and lives abroad, and has not permanently lived in South Africa for something like 20 years.

When I met these two white South Africans on the same night at the same time, I had just arrived at the university, where I was doing a yearlong fellowship. They asked me how I was handling the transition. My answer was that I was doing well, and learning how to be in this new city and university. It wasn’t my first time abroad, and I was excited about the academic year, so I was not stressing. After a few chit chats, the woman then asked me if I knew where the African market was, or a place where I can get maize meal and other “African” foods from home in the new city. I was intrigued, but before I could answer the white man jumped in and spoke first. He chuckled in a ‘what do you mean’ manner and said, “what do you mean, why would he need an African market, he lives in the city of Cape Town?” I was stunned and sipped on my wine, and the white woman continued to talk about the African market. I got away from them as soon as I could.

Now, you can read this interaction in different ways. You can read it as a well-meaning white South African woman trying to help me find “African” food. You can also read her as someone who thinks I am a black South African and so I probably crave samp & beans. You can read the white man’s response as someone who sees me as a black Capetownian who lives in the city and has a cosmopolitan palate. But you can also read him as saying that I am a University of Cape Town attending middle-class black that does not eat samp & beans.

None of these readings really matter to me that much, because who knows their intentions. What I really had a problem with is the way in which both of these white South Africans think they know me and know what I want. They both decided which black South African I am, as if we come in these little packages, and then proceeded to treat me as such. I also found it comical how they both had a conversation about me, while I was there and could answer for myself, but in their our conversation I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. And after that little back and forth between the two of them I wasn’t interested.

The white woman assumed that I would be deprived of food that I am used to eating like pap and other “African” foods. The white man looked at me and immediately assumed that because I am a black that lives in the city of Cape Town, there’s no way I eat “African” food. I was really struck by how these two white South Africans thought they knew me and what I would like thousands of kilometres away from South Africa. I was struck by the audacity of these two people to think that they know what I could possibly want. The arrogance of white South Africans knows no boundaries.

The white woman wanted me to be able to find “authentic” African food that would remind me of home, which is a nice suggestion, but then further interactions with her I sensed that she was too obsessed with African “authenticity.” The white man on the other hand was too dismissive of the possibility that I would want to go to the African market. I really didn’t think about trying to find an African market when I arrived. But I also didn’t reject the idea of it either. These white South Africans were both essentialist in their thinking, not taking into account that I could be an African market going black South African with a cosmopolitan lifestyle and palette living in the city of Cape Town. Why the restrictions? Why the compartmentalisation? Why the limited scope of definition? Can I define myself?

Later I thought about how actually that interaction was a true reflection of how white people think of black South Africans. It speaks to the limited, and simplistic ways black South Africans are seen by white South Africans and sometimes-other black South Africans. The compartmentalisation of black South Africans as pap eating and non-pap eating predicts the ways that white people interact with black people. In this interaction I was mostly upset that these two individuals thought they knew me. That they think they can predict what I need. Equally, I found it problematic that my African-ness is measured by the food I eat, because the white woman who asked me about the African market, I doubt if she asks young white South Africans if they want to go to the African market when she meets them.

I never made it to the African market. I did go to a wonderful South African restaurant. I don’t see the point of going to another country only to seek and eat South African food. I prefer to explore local cuisine and the local culture. When I am in Cape Town and it’s suburbs and townships, I visit local eateries serving local food all the time. I have nothing to prove with the food I eat, I just enjoy it. To paraphrase India Arie, I am not my food.

Written by Lwando Scott 

Kindness

“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” – Albert Schweitzer

South Africa is a hard society. South Africans can be really hard on each other. It doesn’t matter where you go, you will experience or see rudeness and unkind behaviour. When I am on the road – whether I am in a mini bus taxi, a MyCiTi bus, or just walking, I observe some of the ways people are so unkind to each other. While shopping at the grocery store or grabbing a bite to eat at a restaurant, I have seen people treat service workers with absolute rudeness and condescension.

I have witnessed in horror a terribly rude white woman customer interacting with a black woman working at the bakery at Spar recently. She was so unnecessarily rude – the customer never looked at the women serving her, spoke in a condescending manner, spoke loud as if she was stupid, asked to be handed over a baguette and then felt it and smelled it and then handed it back asking “is this all you have?” with her nose frowning. Later that day I scolded myself for not alerting the white woman to her rudeness.

I have watched people at the robots be so rude. Sometimes people take a second or two to move when the lights turn green, but people get so angry and hoot and sometimes fiercely speed fast past the car waiting in the lights. People live busy lives yes, but you can spare a second or two for someone to take off.

I have witnessed taxi drivers be absolutely unkind to people who have taken the wrong taxi or missed their stop and be totally unwilling to returning the person to the right spot. I have observed a taxi driver kick someone out of a taxi after discovering that they didn’t have the full taxi fair.

I have observed a manager of a restaurant “discipline” a waiter in front of customers in a condescending manner, and I remember feeling really bad for the waiter. There is way of dealing with these issues without being blatantly horrible and obnoxious.

These are just a few examples of the unkind ways people approach other people. The lack of respect and the lack of kindness can be really depressing to watch. I think sometimes people confuse demanding the best with being rude and unkind. I think we should demand the best from each other and from the places we get services, but one can do that with kindness.

I wonder if we could try and practice being nice to each other. To think about what we are about to say to someone else, especially if we are not having a good day.

It would be one thing if people were unkind to each other once in a while because they were upset. No, it is a constant occurrence. It is a way people go through life – their everyday interactions at work, on the streets, in the shops, and quite possibly at home.

I think if you witness someone being unkind to another person, you should step in and say something. If you are really scared of the person being rude and unkind, console the person who has been subjected to the unkindness. It makes the world of difference when someone who is not involved in the situation alert the person who is being rude and impossible that they are being unkind.

I also think we actually need to practise, school each other on being kind. There needs to be an effort from all of us to be more kind, more gentle, and try to understand that we are all dealing with people with their own life battles. Service workers are people with families who have grocery lists just like the customers.

The distancing of ourselves from the people we meet in everyday interactions is what enables us to be so unkind to other people. It is hard to be unkind to people that you know, and people you understand, people you see as human. Imagine the type of society we could live in if we just thought about what the other person could be facing. Not in a “carry the world on your shoulders” type of way, but in a manner that enables us to empathise with fellow humans.

There are many things we can do to cultivate and show kindness and we can start with people we interact with everyday. The most wonderful thing about being kind is that it doesn’t have to cost you anything. You can be kind to other people without spending any money. Some of the ways we can be kind to others are as simple as greeting someone at the till who is about to ring your groceries. In the Xhosa culture there are few things as offensive as not being greeted and being asked how you are. This is a way of recognising other people as human, and way of saying, “hey, I see you.”

As Schweitzer stated “kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” So imagine the ways that being more kind to each other would change our communities and how we interact with each other. Imagine living in a world where being kind to other people is the standard? I’d like to think that world is possible and we can achieve it with one kind act at a time.

Written by Lwando Scott 

White Supremacist Roots of “Yellow Bone”

The term “Yellow Bone” has gained popularity amongst young black people and it is used in everyday conversation when referring to light skin black people. This term seems to appear everywhere, on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook used to describe people and also used as a hash tag. The term yellow bone is used as a supposedly positive description and reference to black people who have light skin.

Urban dictionary describes yellow bone as “the lightest type of light skinned black female. They can often be very rare to see in comparison to other blacks because there are not as many of them in the general black population.”People seem to really enjoy being called yellow bone because it supposedly means that they are beautiful and as Urban Dictionary put it “rare to see.”

This term is used to suggest that light skin black people are beautiful but it also means that they derive their beauty from the fact that they have light skin. On occasion I have heard people relay their disappointment that someone is yellow bone but is not beautiful. They are disappointed because light skin should get you closer to beauty and some yellow bones don’t seem to make most of their proximity to whiteness.

The description of people as yellow bone and therefore beautiful is very revealing. Firstly, it reveals the ways in which the power of white supremacy continues to rule the consciousness of black South Africans. Black people who use the term yellow bone have internalised white supremacy notions of beauty.

Secondly, it reveals how racism as a system of oppression can function without white people present because black people have been thoroughly schooled on how to be racist to each other. This is something Angela Davis touched on recently when she gave a talk in Cape Town when she said, “other races, like white people, do not have to be present for us to be able to identify racism.” Yellow bone is a white supremacist narrative and tinged with dangerous ways of quantifying beauty and quite honestly psychologically unhealthy.

Lastly, it reveals the long lasting fucked up psychological effects of white supremacy on black people. That people believe that light skin makes them “better” people or more worthy. A light skinned acquaintance recently referred to himself as a yellow bone and spoke about how “poor dark skinned people” (sic) were jealous of him because he is a yellow bone. I didn’t survey the “dark skinned” people, so I don’t know if they really were jealous of his yellow bone-ness. Regardless, I find this term absolutely abhorrent.

Yellow bone talk relies on standards of beauty established through colonialism, slavery, and apartheid. The narratives that established white people as “beautiful” and black people as “ugly” are ever present and continuously reassert themselves in terms such as yellow bone. This is a fact pointed out recently in The New Yorker by Claudia Roth Pierpont who wrote a piece on Nina Simone where she said “the aesthetics of race – and the loathing and self-loathing inflicted on those who vary from accepted standards of beauty – is one of the most pervasive aspects of racism, yet it is not often discussed. The standards have been enforced by blacks as well as by white.”

We, as black people, need to reject white supremacist notions of beauty like yellow bone. We need to be very conscious of the ways in which we buy into “white is right” discourses and actively challenge yellow bone talk. Of course this is very hard to practise because we are inundated with all kinds of things that tell us white is beautiful and black is not.

This yellow bone narrative is not divorced from wider problematic race issues in this country. A walk through CNA or Clicks magazine section will reveal the overwhelming majority of white faces and bodies on the cover of magazines. Never mind the fact that this country is predominantly black in population. Media representation, or lack thereof is implicated in the ways that people construct ideas about beauty. In a country that is predominantly black it is problematic that white bodies represent most things associated with beauty.

Now the big structural problems, like the magazines and the beauty product industries are hard to change, but what we can change is ourselves and how we view each other. We, as black people have to fight against privileging white bodies as measurements for beauty and recognise beauty in each other in all our shades.

The hierarchy of skin tones is nothing new in black communities. The use of whiteness or proximity to whiteness as a barometer of beauty is also not new. What really drives me to write this is the “new” ways in which black people perpetuate white supremacists notions of beauty on other black people. These “new” supremacists ways reassert themselves in the supposedly “post-race” and “born-free” generation.

When I think about the term yellow bone, I can’t help but think of Steve Biko and his insistence that “by describing yourself as black you have started on a road towards emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being.”

It would seem to me that yellow bone talk does not move us towards emancipation; on the contrary it moves us to imprisoning ourselves with limited, Eurocentric notions of beauty. With the popularity of terms like yellow bone, it is very evident that Black Consciousness is still very relevant for black South Africans, and maybe even more so for the “born-free.”

Written by Lwando Scott 

The struggle for a fulfilling life

Growing up we are never taught how to get the most out of life. We are seldom taught how to live fulfilling lives that are also enriching to others and ultimately the communities we live in. I suppose this is because our parents often don’t have fulfilling lives themselves. Sometimes parents are too busy running a house to think about the ways a child can cultivate a life that is enriched and more fulfilling.

Going to church and being spiritual is one of the ways in which children are taught they will have a fulfilled life. That a relationship with god will lead to a fulfilling life. Many of us who grew up in a church environment and have since left it know that fulfilment does not necessarily come from a relationship with god. Sometimes fulfilment comes after you demolish your relationship with the church as that relationship can be toxic, especially if who you are is at odds with the bible.

 I suppose it would be good for me to explain or describe what I mean by fulfilment. For me fulfilment is realising that we are only here on earth for a short period of time and that we should try and live our lives as if the possibilities are endless.

 Living a fulfilling life necessitates an understanding that we have some power to control the direction of our lives. That we are often faced with difficult choices but regardless, the choices we make will determine how enriching and fulfilling our lives will be. People should really invest in getting to know themselves and encourage children to do the same.

 The project of developing a healthy sense of self is an on-going process that requires consciousness and children need to be guided in this process. Sometimes life doesn’t feel so good, but we must allow ourselves to feel what we feel. Also, not feeling great about things in your life can be a catalyst for a project that will lead to an enriching life. It is sometimes hard to deal with who we are, to be honest with ourselves about who we are.

 We owe it to at least ourselves to be honest about who we are and most importantly who we want to be. Our parents and society are very poor at teaching us to own our feelings and emotions. As children we are often disregarded as things to be “seen and not heard” which cripples us from being able to express how we feel when we are feeling it.

 South Africa is a very hard society. It is an angry society, and sometimes justifiably so, but I do think that this anger gets in the way of us finding ways to have fulfilling lives. Instead we find ways to destroy each other’s lives. We need to nurture the soft side of our beings, to allow ourselves to feel, to hurt, and be emotional. Also South Africans have very limited ideas of what can be fulfilling in life and we often police people who find life satisfaction and fulfilment on things that are out of the ordinary.

 Some people find fulfilment in life by falling in love with people of the same sex as them. Some people find fulfilment in life by changing the sex they were born with to a sex that resonates better with how they feel on the inside. The places where people find their joy, where they find life, are unlimited. The major problem is that we live in a society that discourages people from living their truth, if their truth questions societal standards and norms. This can be limiting when people are trying to find fulfilment in a world that rejects some of the fundamental parts of who they are.

 As a society, one that received a new lease on life when Nelson Mandela was released, apartheid ended, and all South Africans voted for the first time, we had (and still have) a chance to develop new ways to be. We have an opportunity to experiment with what it means to be living in South Africa, indeed the world in the 21st century. We should really applaud people who travel hard roads to find fulfilling lives, even when their lives deviate from the norm. We often encourage people to go on self-discovery journeys only to reject what they have found, because it is not what we expected.

 So, what is really important to ask ourselves, our children, our lover(s), our neighbours, our students, our sisters and brothers, our friends, and our colleagues is – what do you want out of life? Who are you? What makes you feel alive? What will make you smirk lying back on your deathbed? When you can answer these question honestly, at least to yourself first, without fearing what others will say or think, then you are on your way to discovering what can make your life more fulfilling.

 Another crucial aspect of a fulfilling life is the ability or the option to change your mind when the choices you have made at one point in your life don’t seat well with where you are currently. The choices we make at one point, which are incredibly fulfilling at that point, does not mean they will always be fulfilling. The decisions we make, about who to love, where to work, or a course at university, these are things that if need be can changed. This is the glory of knowing yourself and knowing what you want, you also know when what used to be fulfilling is no longer rewarding.

 One of the hardest things to overcome in trying to have a fulfilling life is the fear of failing. The fear of failure is something that holds people back, but what people often neglect is the fulfilment that comes from trying, from giving it your all.

 So, as a society, let us encourage people to know who they are, and to accept the different fulfilling life goals people have. Let us approach each other with a little bit of tenderness because in some shape or another we are all grappling with what it means to be alive.

Written by Lwando Scott 

Reflections: This Book Betrays My Brother

brother

Author: Kagiso Lesego Molope

I love the tittle of this book. And after reading the book you realise even more how smart titled this book is. This book was published in 2012 but I only read it this year after my friend Siphokazi posted a quote from the book on Facebook. I was intrigued by the quote and decided to buy the book. The quote:

 “First of all, any album worth listening to is released in December, and the songs often mention the time of the year. In northern countries songs are about summertime, but here you will hear “December.” One of the most popular songs the year before I left home for varsity starts with: ‘Hello! Hello, December!’”

When I read this I knew immediately what the author was talking about. I knew I had to get this book because it already referenced a part of my life with fond memories of dancing to TKZee. I was a senior in primary school, getting ready for high school, when Halloween by TKZee came out. It was the biggest Kwaito album of all time, and it remains a staple for dance floors across South African townships. I used to spend December holidays with my cousins in Motherwell, Port Elizabeth and the December Halloween came out was one of the best Decembers of my life.

So it is through Siphokazi that I come to this book. After reading This Book Betrays My Brother I remember thinking what a South African story. This is a story about how gender operates in South African communities. It is evident in the way Kagiso Lesego Molope lays out the story how she has been paying attention to the ubiquitous-ness, the taken for granted, and ultimately the destructive nature of a misogynistic culture like the one we have in South Africa. The detailing of the seemingly innocent ways boys are praised and girls are cautioned is revealing.

This is a story a sister tells about her brother who she idolises but then she is witness to a darker side of him. What Kagiso Lesego Molope accomplishes in this beautiful yet heart-wrenching novel is the detailing of the familial and societal structures that create her brother – Basimane – the man and the things he is capable of. The book opens with the details of Basimane’s birth that was so monumental it crossed country borders. His birth was like the coming of Jesus and then he was treated like a king throughout his life and Naledi his sister, who is the narrator, is basically invisible in his shadow.

The politics of social mobility in this book speak to the ambivalent place that some black South Africans find themselves. Naledi and Basimane and their family move out of the poor section of the location into the more middle class section but Basimane more than anyone else in the family retains strong affiliation with the “real” township to the dismay of his mother. The fissures that class creates amongst black South Africans are not adequately dealt with in everyday conversation and it is also absent in fiction. When black families move out of the township there are all kinds changes that need to be negotiated from new neighbours to the new relationship one has with the township one comes from and the people in it.

A very strong thread in this book is that the people we know and love are capable of some horrible things. It is really difficult to call to order family members for their wrongdoing. How does one call out a family member for doing something wrong to someone else who is not a family member without being seen as betraying the family? How does one hold an esteemed family member accountable when they have inflicted pain on someone who is not family, and you know the family member is wrong? These are questions I grappled with growing up when I would witness my uncles cheating on their girlfriends. It would be taken for granted that I would be loyal to my uncle and say nothing. I was both being socialised into the world of men and also learning about family loyalty; that you protect family even when they are in the wrong.

As an only child the brother and sister relationship between Basimane and Naledi and the loyalties that are expected of this relationship fascinated me. As Naledi grows older and she starts to experience the world as a young woman, she starts to see her brother in a different light and that dark incident one afternoon changes her view of her brother. This book makes you question how well you think you know your siblings and what they are capable of.

In the end it is Naledi who carries the guilt of what her brother does. The brother moves on while his family and his community protect him. He is unscathed by his own bad actions. In fact Basimane is defended by his family and by his community without really engaging the fact that he might be guilty of wrongdoing.

The author calls to attention the ways in which families and society nurture boys. This book calls into question the expectations we have of young men like Basimane. This book unveils the built in nature of the unequal gender system in operation in our communities; a system where women are already disadvantaged by the mere fact of being born women. This built in system of protecting male privilege at the expense of women is captured in laugh-it-off phrases like “boys will be boys” which endorse destructive behaviour. This is a South African story that exposes our troubled gender relations. This is a story that left me feeling like we have a lot of work to do in undoing gender. We have come a long away particularly with legislating gender equality, but we are far away from making constitutional gender equality a reality in women’s everyday lives.

Reflections: In Search of Happiness

In-Search-of-Happiness-Cover

Author: Sonswabiso Ngcowa

Written by Lwando Scott 

“This novel is dedicated to all young people who feel and know that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. Your love is as beautiful as love can be. One day all people will understand and respect love, however it comes.This time will come. Sometimes it is here.”

In Search of Happiness gripped me from the dedication page. The dedication is an affirming beginning and sets out the tone for the book. A book about self-discovery, family, loss, and ultimately love. Sonwabiso Ngcowa’s In Search of Happiness succeeds because of its accessibility, the book that can be read by teenagers and adults. It succeeds because it is a story about a black young woman, Nanase, and her journey from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape. It succeeds because it is about discovering that you can find love in places you never thought it could be. This book succeeds because it centres the life of a young black woman who falls in love with another young black woman. This book succeeds because it centralises a love story that is often not seen as a love story in this country.

While many may still consider LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) lives a taboo subject, Sonwabiso dares to go there. LGBTI South Africans are often depicted as people without friends, without brothers and sisters, without parents. They are rarely seen as parents themselves. Sonwabiso’s lead character, Nanase, is a young woman with friends, a grandmother that she loves, she has a mother and father, and she has siblings. Nanase’s story helps society see LGBTI people as part of social circles and coming from families and that homophobia doesn’t just hurt the individual but entire families.

There is something very real about Nanase’s journey of discovering her attraction to another woman when she moves to Masiphumelele, Cape Town. Although there is a sense of ambivalence in Nanase while she is in the Eastern Cape about her sexual identity, it is not until she moves to Masiphumelele and she meets Agnes that she fully comprehends what’s going on inside her. In Agnes she finds someone she can experience and experiment her feelings with that she had bottled up inside her.

Every chapter tittle in the book is in English but is accompanied by a Xhosa translation. I like this infusion of vernacular language in English texts; maybe we are moving into a time where English fiction will be heavily infused with the vernacular. That is after all how many South Africans speak. Sonwabiso captures the way people in the Eastern Cape view Cape Town. In the Eastern Cape, Cape Town is seen and talked about as the place of dreams, a place where people go and realize their dreams hence the popular phrase “iKapa lodumo” which translates to “the Cape of Fame.” Of course, like most people from the Eastern Cape, Nanase soon finds out that iKapa lodumo is not exactly what it is cracked up to be because it comes with it’s own set of challenges.

When Nanase comes out to her parents it is predictably a very tough conversation and is handled poorly by her parents. She comes out of the experience feeling confused and bewildered and it struck me how family and friends – straight people in general – make coming out all about them and ignore the emotional turmoil of the person coming out. Coming out is a very peculiar experience in the township because unlike in Western society, people don’t often talk about sex/sexuality regardless of orientation. So like Nanase, most LGBTI identified young people in townships struggle with a way to package what is going on in their lives in a way that won’t be read as disrespectful and foreign. Sonwabiso handles the coming out conversation in a relatable manner and I think we need more South African literature that deal with the messiness of coming in the South African context. If we can even call it “coming out.”

Sonwabiso gently manages the issue of difference in this book. South Africans pride themselves of being a diverse country, but at the same time South Africans are intolerant of difference. Difference in South Africa must come in neat and familiar ways in order for it to be palatable. As Nanase discovers that she is different and that her neighbour is also different, she has to deal with intolerance of the community and her friends at school. She has to deal with the mean spirit of people who refuse to constructively engage with difference.

This book is an easy read that touches on very complex issues that people living in townships of South Africa are dealing with. Sonwabiso touches on homophobia, xenophobia, sexual assault, and poverty. These are hard issues to deal with, but Sonwabiso manages to mindfully weave these things together showing us that they are connected. Where you find gender violence you are likely to find homophobia and where you find homophobia you are likely to find xenophobia and so it goes.

In Search of Happiness is aptly titled because we all share this quest for a happier and a more fulfilling life. Like the rest of us Nanase is trying to find her way through a world structured to her disadvantage. In Search of Happiness is the type of book I wish someone had given me when I was in high school going through my own self-discovery phase.

To say this book is timely would be an understatement. This is a must read for high school going young people. It is a must read for all South Africans who are interested in what it means to be young in post-apartheid South Africa. This is a must read if you are interested in stories about young black people written by young black people.