People Have the Power, Youth Have the Power

On Saturday, the 4th of July 2020, the hashtag #ANCMustFall was trending on twitter. The drive behind the #ANCMustFall twitter hashtag was young South Africans, seemingly desiring an end to African National Congress (ANC) rule governance.  As the 100th Day of Lockdown descended upon us, I had been thinking of how we need to continuously work towards a just future South Africa.

The emergence of the #ANCMustFall hashtag was not surprising, given the horrible state South Africa is in. A horrible state of things brought into even sharper focus by the impact of the coronavirus crisis.  A sharper focus that made it even harder than usual to look away. What we have seen during these past 100 days is the consequences of corruption, mismanagement, racketeering, nepotism, and reckless spending of the past 25 years. 

Over the past 100 Days of Lockdown a light was shone on some of the most dreadful aspects of post-apartheid South Africa. Multiple municipalities in the Eastern Cape are bankrupt and dysfunctional and cannot provide the most basic of services to the people. Livingston Public Hospital located in Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth) failed a safety audit; all around the country young people experience evictions, hunger, and heartbreak; the North West Health Department was placed under administration two years ago, and it is still experiencing problemsCollins Khosa was assaulted and murdered by state law enforcement and no one has been arrested for his murder; the school’s feeding scheme run by the Department of Basic Education has been chaotic since the start of the COVID-19 and this was/is an important source of nutrition for thousands of children across the country; Nelson  Mandela Bay made headline news as the maternity services were said to be near collapse with pregnant women sleeping in hospital corridors; the Unemployment Insurance Fund has been a source of pain and frustration as many people battle to access the funds for basic living; the City of Cape Town was involved in a series of evictions of homeless people, the eviction of a naked man while he was taking a bath in his home was the most horrific; SASSA offices have been operating sporadically, in Cape Town the SASSA offices were closed for a whole weekthere has been reports of food parcels being stolen, and not reaching their intended recipients; in KwaZulu Natal there were reports of missing PPE’s and then they somehow reappeared again; people are complaining about the price of food during the lockdown, the prices of food have gone up while people’s income has disappeared. These are just some of the things that have come out of the 100 Days of Lockdown, and for many of these issues there’s no ready solution. South Africans will have to “make do” and “ride it out” as the corrupt and inept state drags itself forward.  

The South African state is ill equipped to deal with the coronavirus. Granted, this is not unique to South Africa, many countries around the world have been battling to get a handle on the virus outbreak. What is evident is how the coronavirus and its effects are made worse by the lack of service delivery, and dilapidated infrastructure that has in part been caused by corruption and mismanagement of state funds.  In other words, public health care in South Africa was broken before Covid-19 arrived. So, the state is not just ill equipped because this is a novel virus that came out of nowhere, it is ill equipped partly because state run hospitals, which are the hospitals used by the majority of the population, have been run down by mismanagement. They are unable to function properly under “normal” circumstances, when there is no virus. 

No matter where you look, in all directions, the ANC-led government is RESPONSIBLE for the hunger people are experiencing, the lack of inefficient rollout of Unemployment Insurance Fund, the collapse of public health institutions in certain parts of the country, and the collapse of the economy. 

Granted, the ruling government inherited apartheid legacies and structures and these are hard to change overnight. But the ANC-led government has had more 25 years to fix some of the most basic infrastructure and services that were legacies of apartheid, particularly in health and educations sectors. Furthermore, stealing state funds meant for service delivery through embezzlement and corruption in 2020 cannot be blamed on apartheid. 

The consolidated general report on the local government audit outcomes for the 2018-19 cycle demonstrates astronomical theft, mismanagement, and corruption in ANC-led municipalities around the country. The findings of this report cannot be blamed on apartheid. The ANC-led government needs to take responsibility and be accountable to citizens about the horrible theft of state resources. 

This is taken from the Consolidated General Report on the local government audit outcomes.

Over the past 100 Days of Lockdown, it has been heart-breaking to read the stories that appear in the media, the stories shared on social media networks, and personal stories of close relatives over the phone. 

After the 100 Days of Lockdown we have had in South Africa, the hashtag #ANCMustFall is really an appropriate response. I am angry over the state of things. Many people, as demonstrated by the #ANCMustFall hashtag are also angry with the state of things. South Africa deserves better than the corruption, mismanagement, and the lack of accountability from the ANC-led government.

While I agree with the sentiments of the hashtag #ANCMustFall, if we are to create the kind-of country we deserve, then we need to be strategic, we need to build a movement. As I shared in the piece Notes Towards A Better World: 100 Ways to Better South Africa, a youth-led political movement is what South Africa needs. Like many have pointed out in the #ANCMustFall tweets, the elders in the ANC are out of touch, and are unable to govern. 

Seeing that the youth of South Africa will inherit the country, it makes sense that they take charge of moving South Africa into the future. Furthermore, the youth of South Africa have a history of being at the helm of revolutionary change and June 16 is a testament to that as an annual celebration of South African youth power and determination. 

While the #ANCMustFall hashtag is a good start, a youth-led movement for a future South Africa will need to be strategic in unseating the ANC-led government. The ruling government will not be defeated without a well thought-out, clear, and strategically executed plan. There was a funny #ANCMustFall tweet that jokingly said they were going to hide their grandmother’s ID book in order for the grandmother not to vote for the ANC. I don’t condone the hiding of people’s ID documents, but there’s a lesson here. Statistically, older citizens have a higher voter turnout than young people. This means that the first order of business in a youth movement for the future of South Africa would be to ensure that young South Africans go and vote. By “young South African” I am referring to anyone and everyone eligible to vote born after 1980. 

Once we have mobilised a Youth Movement for the Future of South Africa, we will need to think about who to vote for as we try to carry out the #ANCMustFall hashtag. This is and will be the greatest challenge to the youth movement, finding, or grooming, the kind of leaders we envision for the future South Africa. I saw a twitter correspondent this past week between Gwen Ngwenya and Karla Saller, where Saller was arguing that it’s difficult to find a good candidate, and/or a good party to vote for in South Africa. The choices seem to vacillate between political parties with histories of corruption, and political parties with racists policies and philosophies. As I said to Saller, many South African voters, myself included, are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. 

Many South Africans are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea when it comes to voting.

This is a conundrum that a youth-led movement can possibly solve. But in order to solve this conundrum, let’s say for 2024, a well thought out plan would need to be put in place, with strategic long-term goals. We need to create something, a future, a possibility that South Africans can believe in again. This can be achieved with a buy-in from the majority of young people, and those who are interested in this new future South Africa.  

Many conversations about change in South Africa often cannot get past the power of the ANC. What many don’t realise is that over the years the ANC has been losing voters, receiving less votes with every election. With a concerted effort of massive youth mobilisation, the fall of the ANC can be achieved. 

The ANC has been losing voters over the years.

Recently, Doug Coltart wrote a piece called Rule of law must first be strengthened by people power, for the Mail and Guardian. In the piece Coltart argues for the need for grassroot movements in South Africa because state institutions are fundamentally broken. Coltart argues that, “To strengthen the rule of law, we first need to focus on strengthening people, not institutions. This involves the difficult, dangerous and often unglamorous work of grassroots organising that empowers citizens to act through informal channels outside of established institutions.” Furthermore Coltart states that “Building people power starts with opening citizens’ minds to a different type of society and a new way of doing things.”

With a strong youth movement that mobilises young people to actually register and vote, real change can be created. Through mobilisation, real opposition to ANC rule can be created. Often, when we think about political change, or challenging the dominance of the ANC, we see winning as impossible because it has not been done successfully before. I think this kind of thinking is what has led us to where we are as a country because we don’t bother to challenge the status quo. With a strong and coordinated youth movement we can provide a serious challenge to contemporary party politics that have been disastrous for poor people. 

As the youth of South Africa, we have the power to change the course of this country.

Changing the current political climate, through a youth-led movement is necessary for the future of South Africa. 

As I write this I am listening to the sounds of Zoë Modiga, particularly the song “Abantu” where she says, “Uzojiki izinto, uzojiki izinto.” Her album Inganekwane, and particularly this song, “Abantu” is exactly what this pivotal moment in South Africa calls for. In writing this, it is my hope that we would heed Zoë Modiga’s call and sijike izinto.  

SA Social Structures make gender based violence possible

We are weeks away from the first anniversary of the horrific murders of University of the Western Cape student Jesse Hess, and University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana. Leading up to the first anniversary of their deaths, we have been overwhelmed with news of the brutal murder of Naledi Phangindawo by a man wielding a knife and an ax. 

While digesting this news we were confronted by the news that Tshegofatso Pule was murdered by her partner who stabbed her and hung her from a tree. She was 8 months pregnant. There was then another report of a women who was stabbed and dumped in an open field in the Eastern Cape. Her boyfriend was arrested for the murder by the Mthatha detectives. 

In KwaZulu Natal, Zamadeyi Goodness Ngaleka, was shot dead by her husband, and then he turned the gun on himself. We are hearing about these horrific stories while we are under a Covid-19 induced lockdown, where there were reports that the police received a record number of calls reporting Gender Based Violenceduring the lockdown. The stomach churns as we read, as we hear, as we bear witness to the violence and the murder of women by men in South Africa. 

Reading about these murders, seeing hashtags demanding justice on social media, and knowing that this is a repeat of a cycle one has witnessed before sits heavy on the heart. Being alive right now and absorbing the news of all this violence is traumatic. 

In August last year, with the murders of Jesse Hess and Uyinene Mrwetyana, words seemed so banal. In the current moment as well, words seem so trite, so vacuous. It feels like everything has all already been said, and that words may not be enough. In all the despair, what do we do? 

I find courage in the words of the late Toni Morrison, speaking about dark times, dark times like the ones we find ourselves in this country. Morrison writes: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” So through the hurt, through the powerlessness, we do language. We speak, and we speak truth to power – we speak truth to patriarchal power. 

My high school going cousin recently gave birth to a baby girl. She herself is really still a child. Truth be told she doesn’t have the means to take care of the baby. My aunt, the grandmother is helping. Like usual, the women are the caregivers. In 2017, it was reported that 62% of birth certificates issued in South Africa had “no information on the father”. This is the social landscape of South Africa. 

While I am relieved the baby is healthy, all I have been thinking about since the child’s birth is her trajectory in this country. To be born poor, to a teenage mother, in a country with what seems like a careless government. To be born a girl in a country with war-time-like rape statics. I ask myself what are her chances in this society? 

All conversations of Gender Based Violence need to take into account the social structures that make violence possible. Indeed, inevitable. With Gender Based Violence we need to start at the beginning. To echo Kagiso Molope, in order for us to really end Gender Based Violence, the sexual assaults on women, and the general brutality on women’s bodies, we need to raise boys differently.

The men who become rapists were once boys who were taught to think very little of women. Boys are born and raised into a social language of violence, where the humanness of women is less than that of men. As a society we need to rethink, and redo, the way we raise boys. 

I can’t help but invoke bell hooks here, “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”  

From the beginning boys are taught a very limited palette of emotions, which often don’t include empathy, vulnerability, healthy demonstrations of sadness, tears, and solution of problems that don’t include violence. In homosocial settings, pressured by other men, men are forced to outperform each other at manhood. Often, the demonstrations of manhood are wrapped up in a valorised culture and language of violence where women become collateral damage. 

Gender inequality, like racial inequality, is difficult to change because it is structural, and so we need to stop individualizing the gender problem. The gender problem is a systemic problem. For example, there is a horrible tendency in South Africa to walk on eggshells when it comes to religion. Religion is almost beyond reproach in this country. Yet some forms of religion clandestinely endorse Gender Based Violence. 

Take the scriptures; I Timothy 2:12 “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” There’s also, Mark 10:12 “And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Who can forget Ephesians 5:22-24 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” 

I use these scriptures to make obvious the larger system that has built and upholds gender inequality. While I use Christianity as an example here, this pertains to other religions as well. We can’t have honest conversations about Gender Based Violence without engaging the structures that make violence possible. 

“Culture” is also similarly constructed as beyond reproach in this country. By culture I mean the practices that people engage in that are attached to their language groups and/or ethnic identities. Like, Xhosa culture, Venda culture, Afrikaans culture. The violence committed in the name of culture on women in South Africa is danced around by many. 

The horror of the way that culture is wielded in the subjugation of women in South Africa is exemplified by the Jacob Zuma rape trial, where Fezekile Kuzwayo was demonized. We dance around practices such as Ukuthwala. Often, the “protection” of culture from imperialism is invoked as we count the mutilated bodies of women and girls in South Africa. 

Often, we speak of imperialism, colonialism, and apartheid as if colonialism and apartheid didn’t affect women in this country. When hard evidence shows us that women were adversely affected by colonialism and apartheid. Residue of which is the gendered power structures that remains with us. 

As demonstrated by Kopano Ratele in his book Liberating Masculinities, there is a particularity to black men’s experiences and their inhabiting of masculinity and manhood. Here, in talking about black men I am including coloured and Indian men and other “men of colour.” I take my cue from the words of Koleka Putuma’s Collective Amnesia, particularly the poem on Black Solidarity, where she writes, “Black solidarity at the expense of a black womxn’s anything is a farce, a rip off.” 

Putuma’s words remind us of the Rhodes Must Fall and the Fees Must Fall student movements where gender issues, queer issues were purposely undermined by the men in the student movements as unimportant and divisive. Imagine, women and gender non-conforming people asking for their humanity to be recognized, to be taken into account, was read as divisive in student movements that were calling for “decolonization” of the university. 

This warrants us to question the place of gender, of non-normative genders, and of sexuality in the “decolonial” moment? Can we talk about “decolonizing” without talking about Gender Based Violence? 

No. We can’t. 

Unless decolonization takes seriously gender inequality, the ideas on decolonization are half baked. 

While we were reeling from the news of Gender Based Violence and murders over the past couples of weeks, there were reports of the violent murder of Kirvan Fortuin, a gender non-conforming queer person from Cape Town. Fortuin was allegedly murdered by a 14-year-old girl in a homophobic attack. 14 years old. Kirvan Fortuin’s death, a person who challenged society’s understanding of gender, particularly manhood, in the midst of the murders of other women, necessitates that we recognize the connections, make the links, to understand the operations of systemic violence brought to different kinds of women, gender non-conforming peoples, and girls, in South African society.

Gender inequality is a systemic problem, therefore solutions to gender inequality need to address the system. All of us are implicated in finding solutions to Gender Based Violence, to sexual violence, and the ongoing mutilation of women’s bodies. When I say we are all implicated, I mean that ALL men are implicated. 

It was striking in the media reports of the murders of Naledi Phangindawo and Tshegofatso Pule how there were “witnesses” and/or “bystanders”. There are so many questions about these witnesses and how they are implicated in these heinous crimes. While I am not sure what “witnesses” means in these reports, it does point to the many ways people are complicit and therefore implicated in the murder of women. 

South African institutions are implicated in the ways they perpetuate gender inequality in hiring decisions, undermining women’s positions, and participating in mansplaining. In the university environment, the fact that gender as an area of academic inquiry is marginalized speaks volumes on the seriousness the academy itself takes Gender Based Violence. Gender is not only the business of the women’s studies department, it is the business of the university, it is the business of commerce, it is the business of architecture, it is the business of law, it is the business of the health science. 

Similarly, with government, gender politics and policy are not solely the mandate of the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disability, but the business of all sectors of government. Government response to Gender Based Violence is to invoke a distancing language of “we condemn violence”, as if it is not part of their duty to be hands on in the fight for gender justice. President Ramaphosa speaks as if the “enemy” is elsewhere, when the state is complicit in the sloppy handling on gender-based crimes and murders. 

Until it is recognised that gender justice is the responsibility of all of us, and leadership in corporate, government, universities, and other institutions takes the appropriate-yet-radical steps, we are not going to solve the gender inequality in South Africa. 

The fight for gender justice is a fight for freedom. It is a fight to achieve freedom for women, and those who are strangled by the patriarchal gender order. As South Africans who are living in post-apartheid South Africa, we need to continuously make the links between freedom and gender justice. In many ways, in post-apartheid South Africa, we tend to have narrow ideas of freedom. The fall of apartheid was not just for cisgender men to be free; it was so that ALL South Africans can be free. 

In thinking about freedom for all people, including women, it is useful to invoke Martha Nussbaum’s idea about capabilities as fundamental entitlements. The idea of capabilities differs from the narrow libertarian idea of freedom from state interferences. Capabilities is about freedom to be able to live, a freedom to pursue your dreams and flourish. I find Martha Nussbaum’s articulations on “Life” and “Bodily Integrity” being essential in enabling not just Human Rights, but Human Capabilities useful. According to Nussbaum: 

“Life. Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not dying prematurely, or before one’s life is so reduced as to be not worth living.” 

“Bodily Integrity. Being able to move freely from place to place; to be secure against violent assault, including sexual assault and domestic violence; having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction.”

In post-apartheid South Africa men experience women’s liberation – the push for gender justice, as their disempowerment. Men need to ask themselves, what am I without misogyny? What am I without power to dominate women? To end, I would like to invoke Toni Morrison again, “If you can only be tall because someone’s on their knees, then you have a serious problem.” And South Africa, we have a serious problem on our hands. A problem that demands all men’s hands on deck, as we overhaul dominant and violent tropes of manhood and masculinity.

Notes Towards a New World: 100 Ways to a Better South Africa

While under lockdown due to Covid-19, we have all been forced to reckon, perhaps more than usual, with the glaring inequality and injustice we live with in South Africa. Crippled by the sense of my powerlessness to change things, I have been preoccupied with the idea of a new world. The following 100 points are my way of imagining a different South Africa. In many ways, the points I am making here are obvious, and that is the point—that while they might be obvious, they are not our reality. I write these in the hope that they can galvanise us, particularly young people, to push for a more just, more equal, and more empathetic society. The kind of South Africa we deserve, one grounded in social solidarity.

  1. We need to develop a kind of civic education class/module where the South African Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, becomes part of the school curriculum. This would mean that by the time a South African matriculates, they should hopefully know the constitution very well. Imagine a South Africa where 18-year-olds are able to assert their constitutional rights!
  2. We need a concerted effort to build solid healthcare and education sectors in post-apartheid South Africa. These two sectors, in many ways, are the foundations of a great nation. The idea is that with a healthy and educated populace, we can build a strong nation. 
  3. South Africa should invest in public libraries. Public libraries should be made technologically savvy and systematised with efficient processes, in an effort to make them accessible to all South Africans. In time we can move to building state of the art libraries in at least four corners of the country, with different themes and designs. Imagine the pride in our sanctuaries of knowledge.
  4. We should create pathways whereby South Africans can fund and gift book donations to South African libraries. Libraries could have accessible lists of books they need, and ordinary people could assist libraries in obtaining them. We can develop a unique system called the ’South African Library System’.
  5. The South African state needs to invest in making books affordable and easily accessible. This could mean local printing, perhaps buying books from countries with cheaper publishing press, but something has got to be done to fix the inaccessibility of books.
  6. The South African government should invest in Lovedale Press and make it a functioning National Heritage. We should all do everything we can to save Lovedale Press. 
  7. Our government should really take the learning conditions of pupils seriously and invest in the infrastructure of schools all over the country. By infrastructure I mean roofed buildings, working ablutions, electricity, and safe playgrounds. 
  8. To ensure we have a great education system, teachers must undergo continuous training, where their skills are “updated” or “upgraded” to suit the changing needs of incoming pupils. 
  9. The training curriculum of teachers, over and above their subject areas, needs to include intersectional issues of race, class, gender, disability, and sexuality. 
  10. Teachers need to be remunerated adequately for their work, which in itself would be a recognition of the importance of the work teachers do. Investing in teaching will mean that the profession becomes desirable, which will be great for morale in the profession. 
  11. On a national level, teachers need to be honoured for their work in educating the nation through boards that recognise excellence in teaching. 
  12. Schools in South Africa need comprehensive sex education. Considering the high rates of teenage pregnancy, sex education must start as early as possible. 
  13. South African schools need to build better relationships with parents, where parents are involved in the operation of the schools. The facilitation of parent-teacher meetings should be done in ways that accommodate parents’ schedules. 
  14. The history of the feminist and women’s movements and the history of the sexuality movement need to be part of the history curriculum in South Africa. 
  15. We need to make sure that indigenous languages are taught in South African schools, making it compulsory for pupils to study South African languages other than English and Afrikaans. This should begin at grade one.  Furthermore, knowledge of indigenous languages should be linked to admission to university, while granting scholarships and hiring for jobs could factor in knowledge of indigenous languages.  
  16. More investment through funding is needed for institutions of higher education. Particular attention should be paid to historically black institutions to ensure their survival and thriving into the future. The desire to learn should always be fulfilled. Investing in higher education is a way for South Africa to invest in itself. 
  17. Resuscitate and fund technical colleges to ensure diverse skillsets and training for the South African workforce. People’s strengths and passions are differently distributed in society, and providing different kinds of institutions of higher education shall capture this distribution.
  18. We need to encourage and invest in the transfer of skills in our country. The fact of the matter is that because of apartheid policies there is unequal distribution of skills development amongst South Africans. In the transition from apartheid to post-apartheid South Africa, there hasn’t been a concrete plan for skills transfer, and this has been to our detriment.
  19. Education is not just a means to an end; we should develop and cultivate a culture of education as an end in itself, with the goal of cultivating critical thinking, broadening our minds, and possibly contributing new ways to organise our society. 
  20. The SABC should institute another channel that is singularly geared towards educational programmes. The programmes can include South African and world history documentaries, current political debates, book discussions, contemporary South African life documentaries, creative arts seminars, and entrepreneurship seminars, elections around the world, wildlife and science documentaries, how-to-get-into-university seminars, and South African Constitution 101 seminars. 
  21. The state needs to invest in public WIFI in public institutions like libraries and other strategic places all over the country to enable access to the internet and the many resources it avails. This would enable citizens to look for work, improve their qualifications through many free online learning, and access the plethora of DIY resources online. 
  22. Investment in healthcare infrastructure is crucial to ensuring optimal care to all citizens. By infrastructure I mean efficient administrative processes, the necessary equipment, ambulances, and rigorously trained first responders and personnel. 
  23. The South African government needs to create, diversify, and fund pathways to medical schools and general healthcare work. 
  24. The South African Police Service and the South African Defence Force require an overhaul, where apartheid-style policing is done away with and a new citizen-centred policing approach is instituted. 
  25. The training of the South African police force and army should include a comprehensive understanding of Constitutional Law, particularly the Bill of Rights, and Criminal Law. 
  26. The police services need to be made more efficient, and digitisation might help increase efficiency. The police services need secretary-style frontline workers with impeccable listening and administrative skills to ensure the smooth running of police services, all designed to aid citizens in distress. 
  27. Many South Africans have pointed out how law enforcement is energised to work in certain “breaking of the law cases” but not in others. A case in point is that law enforcement is slow, sloppy, and inconsistent in investigating and prosecuting gender-based violence, but has been eager to break down protests, and during the Codiv-19 lockdown has had a “heavy handedness” (as President Ramaphosa put it) and even murdered citizens for “breaking” lockdown curfews. This kind of excitement and heavy handedness of law enforcement is nowhere to be found in almost all the corruption accusations of politicians. Law enforcement needs to treat every case of wrongdoing with seriousness, if it is to be trusted by citizens. 
  28. There is a culture of violence in South Africa. It is a culture that partly stems from our violent history. It is the responsibility of everyone to end this culture of violence and cultivate a different way of solving disputes. 
  29. All parents must cease to beat their children. It is, after all, against the law. Beating children as part of child rearing contributes to the culture of violence. Consider what kind of lessons you are imparting to your children by solving issues using violence on another human (because your child is another human). As a parent, and an adult, devise new ways of discipline. Consider the lesson you are imparting on girls and boys when you beat them, and then tell them that you love them; how conflating violence with love plays out in adult behaviour. 
  30. As a society we need to raise boys differently. The boys in our society become men who are violent towards women. The gender hierarchy that boys and girls are socialised into from a very young age creates gender inequality in our society. 
  31. The values of accountability, empathy, vulnerability, care, and consideration are some of the ways we need to consider in the constitution of new manliness and masculinity. It is unfortunate, but men in South Africa experience the empowerment of women in post-apartheid South Africa as their disempowerment that leads to a demonstration of toxic masculinity traits.
  32. In 2017, 62% of births in South Africa had “no information on the father”. That means that 62% of the children born in 2017 had no father. The culture of men not taking responsibility for their children needs to be challenged, and processes need to be put in place to ensure that accountability takes place. 
  33. All babies born in public hospitals in South Africa should receive a pre-packed “starter kit” that includes all the essentials needed by an infant in the first few months of life. 
  34. Rape is a terrible violent crime perpetrated by men in South Africa. We need to fight it with everything we’ve got. And it all starts with undoing – no – demolishing the gender hierarchy. 
  35. The gang wars in the Cape Flats are a South African problem. The interventions to end gang violence in the Cape Flats require serious community involvement; they require economic upliftment, an engineering of a different society. 
  36. We need to have honest debates about the problematic aspects of our traditional cultures. Some of the traditional practices in South Africa’s cultures do not serve the wellbeing of our communities and need to be reconsidered. The rationalisation of “we’ve always done it this way” is not good enough to sustain hurtful practices. I am speaking of practices such as Ukuthwala.
  37. Embracing our cultures, and/or rejecting certain aspects of them, shouldn’t be dependent on who is watching. We need to consider whether practices are harmful to members of our communities, and how to justly deal with such practices. 
  38. A feminist and women-led political party would be a good addition to the South African political landscape, where it could push for policy agendas that prioritise women and disrupt the current political landscape. 
  39. We should encourage young people to be active in politics in order to foster new ways of thinking about South Africa. Many young people don’t vote, because they don’t believe their voices are heard or make any difference. Perhaps there is a space for a youth political movement/party.  
  40. The payments of social grants and senior pensions should all be done electronically by now. The system of making senior citizens queue for their monthly payments is archaic and lacks dignity. The state should lead this process and encourage safe and efficient ways to access state grants.
  41. The South African government is there to serve South Africans. People who work for the state, and state parastatals, work for the people. While those who work for the state deserve our respect as citizens, they are not above citizens in their role of service. 
  42. Party politics will be the end of our country. As citizens, as young people, as people who desire a different future, we need to vote differently. Firstly, we need to vote against power, and vote to decrease the power of the of parties who are currently ruling. As citizens we need to engineer a situation where different political parties are in charge of different provinces. The ANC majority in parliament brought us the devastating years of the Zuma presidency, which we will literally be paying for  for years to come. It really is upon us to lessen the power of political parties; in so doing, we also lessen their power to harm our society. Imagine a South Africa with a DA-led Western Cape, a UDM-led Eastern Cape, an EFF-led Limpopo, an IFP-Led KwaZulu Natal, a Good-led Northern Cape, an ANC-led Gauteng, an ACDP-led North West, an NFP-led Mpumalanga, and a COPE-led Free State. What would our politics look like? 
  43. Serious social solidarity demands that we vote against “our favourites” in order to achieve a better state of things. The demand is not that members of political parties necessarily leave their “political party home”, the ask is that you don’t vote along party lines, rather, if necessary, you betray party solidarity in solidarity with South Africans, and the future of our country. 
  44. All politicians involved in the mismanagement of parastatals funds and corruption deals must account for their involvement in court and face jail time. They must furthermore be liable to pay back the mismanaged funds. 
  45. The office of the Presidency, Members of Parliament, and Members of the Executive should all take part in mandatory, comprehensive training grounded in intersectional politics of race, class, gender, disability, and sexuality. It cannot be taken for granted that people occupying these positions fully grasp these concepts as lived realities and as they play out in contemporary South Africa. 
  46. The Life Healthcare Esidimeni Tragedy in 2015 was indicative not only of the South African government’s approach to people with disability, but of that of the majority of South Africans. As a country we are in desperate need of Critical Disability Theory – especially for those who work for the Department of Women, Youth, and Persons with Disability. 
  47. The biggest disappointment in the current ANC-led government is the lack of prioritising the poor in South African society. While there are things I can look away from, it’s impossible to ignore this. The continued suffering of black people with a black government in power heartbreakingly demonstrates Frantz Fanon’s “the pitfalls of national consciousness.” 
  48. At times it feels like South Africa is at war with the poor and the homeless. The City of Cape Town deserves a special mention here; the city governance becomes even more heartless when one considers the history of District Six staring us in the face as it continuously treats homeless people with contempt and violence. 
  49. The “Social Welfare Services” should be better equipped to deal with homelessness, mental illness, and people who find themselves destitute in the streets of South Africa. One would imagine that with a history of forced removals, labour migrations, and people’s precarious work life, we would be more empathetic to the hardships of people on the streets. 
  50. Since the election of President Ramaphosa there has been talk of the “fourth industrial revolution”. The fourth industrial revolution is the technological revolution where most, if not all, aspects of life are run by advanced technologies that replace each other. There has been talk about tablets for all students. This is of course difficult to take seriously, because the majority of schools in South Africa lack the most basic infrastructure, and it seems that tablets should come after proper classroom lights, electric sockets, and ablutions. 
  51. The aim of the state should be to create social solidarity over and above extreme individualism that is prized by the capitalist system. This is of course difficult to achieve when there is a lack of trust in the state by citizens, like we find in South Africa as a result of unbridled corruption. 
  52. Growing up, I remember the “buy South African products” campaigns, which were filled with a sense of pride in South African products. As a nation, we really need to cultivate and foster the idea of supporting home grown products  and sustain local businesses. This is social solidarity. 
  53. The trust between citizens and the government is broken and rebuilding this trust will be a long but necessary a step. The trust is so broken, that when the German Consul General pledged money to help buy testing kits for Covid-19, South Africans responded by asking that the German man buy the tests and give them to us because the money would otherwise be misspent by the state through corruption. Reading that Twitter thread is all kinds of embarrassing. 
  54. Information about corporate money that supports and sponsors party politics needs to be readily available. This would be one element of radical transparency in South African politics. 
  55. South Africa is a relatively middle-income country. Everyone, absolutely everyone, should have access to clean water and sanitation. 
  56. We should be building decent RDP houses for people. By this I mean that new RDP houses shouldn’t be leaking, should be of a decent size, and should give people a small yard space where they can have a garden or build a nice red stoep. 
  57. Mismanagement of funds and corruption deals through government parastatals with foreign sovereignties and multinational corporations should be considered treason. Such corruption is looting taxpayers’ money and handing it over to foreign land, crippling the South African state. 
  58. The years of Jacob Zuma’s presidency have ensured the collapse of government parastatals, to a point where these parastatals are ineffective. We need to rebuild the government parastatals for them to properly serve South African citizens. 
  59. Both in the ANC-led national government and in the DA-led provincial government, citizens are often treated like children, nannied when it comes to policy decisions. This is insulting to many citizens who take their role in democracy seriously and desire to participate in the country’s democracy. 
  60. We need radical transparency in order to rebuild citizens’ trust in the government and to rebuild our society. The lack of transparency in the ANC-led government has created distrust among South African citizens.
  61. Through our wandering in the dark because of power cuts, cutely called “load shedding”, it has seemed that those in charge do not understand the gravity of their effects. Those blackouts have seriously affected people’s daily lives, functioning and productivity, ruined aspects of small businesses, and affected the ability to teach. The blackouts have become so bad and so frequent, that South Africans have begun organising for “life without electricity.” This is unacceptable. Not to mention that these blackouts affect those who do not have the means to “keep the lights on” without electricity through gas and petrol generators. This should be fixed with urgent priority.
  62. We all want nice things. Nice things shouldn’t only be reserved for historically whites-only suburbs, they should be availed to everyone. By nice things I mean regular refuse collection, regular painting of roads, trees, streetlights and signs, and access to the councillors who supposedly represent us. 
  63. More thought and consideration need to go into the appointment of judges in South African courts. Our judges are not diverse enough in terms of gender, f values, and a myriad of other factors, which adversely affects people who are “too different”, because the current judges do not “get” or are biased against them. Not to mention the gender bias in gender-based violations affecting women. 
  64. South Africa should decriminalise sex-work. 
  65. In the selection of people for government positions, we need to consider educational skills and professional experience. The position of Minister of Health, no doubt, requires impeccable knowledge of the healthcare sector either as a practitioner or in another capacity. Similarly, with a portfolio like that of the Minister of Arts and Culture, I imagine a veteran in the Arts and Culture sector would be most suitable for the job. 
  66. As South Africans we need to be able to make connections between the mismanagement of state funds and corruption, and the lack of funds for services and other necessities for citizens. Take the example of South African Airways, where billions of rands have been spent to financially rescue the company; imagine what else those billions of rands could have been used for. 
  67. South African Airways (SAA) needs to be shut down. The idea of a national carrier is archaic, and the majority of South Africans do not use SAA. Keeping SAA afloat is a waste of taxpayers’ money that could be better spent elsewhere. 
  68. I have often thought of the Post Office as one of the most important state-run enterprises. South Africa should resuscitate the Post Office and ensure its efficient management and administration. The Post Office shouldn’t necessarily be making a profit, but rather rendering services to citizens at minimum cost. Considering that we are moving towards a culture of e-commerce, the Post Office, with its built-in infrastructure, would be a crucial service right now. In South Africa one hesitates to use the Post Office, as the goods may arrive a year later or not at all. I have goods posted to me two, even three years ago that are yet to arrive. 
  69. We should have a Pen Pal programme for young South Africans to connect and share their lives with one another through writing. This could of course be done through email, but it would be a disadvantage for those who don’t have internet access; it’s also much more interesting through the post. This is another reason the Post Office needs to function at an optimum level.  
  70. South Africa should invest in local and national public transport infrastructure in order to facilitate efficient ease of movement. Enabling people to travel will help in South Africans learn more about the country, so people would be able to see how others in the country live. There are many ways to create connections between citizens; often, the infrastructure is already there.
  71. White parents and white communities should raise their children with comprehensive conversations about colonialism, apartheid, and white privilege. Without this knowledge, white parents are setting up their children to NOT be responsible members of South African society poised to make socially conscious contributions. The failure of white parenting was on full display during the fallout over the Miss SA hopeful Bianca. 
  72. White South Africans need to learn humility. At times it seems almost as if white South Africans enjoy the prospect of a failed South Africa just so they can say “we told you so.” This attitude ensures that white South Africans are only tentatively invested in the success of our new democracy. 
  73. In response to white people’s antics, black South Africans pay too much attention to whiteness. Whiteness is a distraction. The irony is that Steve Biko is always quoted for his philosophy on the psychological effects of whiteness, yet black South Africans do not seem to heed his call. Bianca, “Karen”, and Penny Sparrow are all distractions. 
  74. We should create a programme where South African families adopt each other and share life experiences across racial lines and across different kinds of families. Imagine the kinds of solidarities that could emerge through a process of sharing ourselves with one another. 
  75. While race continues to play a role in how our lives are shaped, we must also imagine ways to surpass our current understandings of race. It’s a difficult task, but we should all be on board if we are to overcome our divided racial past. 
  76. South African schools and other institutions should facilitate exchange programmes with countries in the Global South, with an emphasis on countries on the African continent, in order to foster better South-to-South relations, and for South Africans to be able to situate themselves within the world and its history.
  77. We need to create more humane prison environments. Environments where education and rehabilitation are not only possible but the goal. Currently, prisons are spaces where people are hardened and become more dangerous to society because of prison life. 
  78. We need to ask ourselves what environment produces the people who are in prison. Perhaps an honest conversation about the conditions that produce criminality will aid us in creating a crime-free South Africa. 
  79. The South African state does a very bad job, perhaps intentionally, at regulating the unbridled cowboy capitalism that has rendered South Africa the most unequal country in the world. When South Africans are not being screwed over by the state itself, they are being abused by corporations, particularly financial institutions. The way corporations abuse poor working people has the same tenets as colonial extraction with little to no reward.   
  80. South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. We need to do everything in our power to solve the inequality in South Africa. To do this, we have to be bold and creative. Under consideration should be a wealth tax and an inheritance tax.   
  81. We owe it to ourselves to test out what South Africa would be like under a different leadership than the one we currently have and have had over the past 25 years. Maybe the ANC-led government has done all it can, and we owe it to ourselves to try a different kind of leadership. 
  82. A conversation and a move towards the redistribution of land are not only just but would hopefully bring peace to many South Africans. We need to have many, many transparent conversations about the redistribution of land, and come up with creative ways of implementing this in ways that will benefit those who were seriously injured by forced removals, whose pain and suffering are visible in their destitution today. 
  83. Africans from other countries on the African continent are not our enemies. They have never been our enemies, in fact quite the contrary—they were there for us in our time of need. Afrophobia is a deflection from the real source of South African misery, which is caused by an alliance between the ANC-led black government and white-owned and operated corporations.
  84. No one ever flees their home because they want to, and certainly not to a country where one is hated. People leave home in search of liveable lives. Their lives are usually unliveable because of war, joblessness that leads to hunger, persecution, and many other reasons. We need to cultivate a Pan-African social solidarity. 
  85. The contribution made by artists and the arts to South African culture is undervalued. This is demonstrated in the lack of adequate funding for artists and the arts, and the lack of proper regulation of how different aspects of the arts industry function. The under-appreciation of the arts in South Africa is proven by the appointment of Nathi Mthethwa as the Minister of Arts and Culture. In one word – insulting. 
  86. We need to duly honour South Africa’s artists. Street names, boulevards, types of flowers, university buildings, state structures, you name it.
  87. Miriam Makeba’s oeuvre should officially become a National Treasure. 
  88. We need to rethink Christian holidays as part of the secular calendar. We need to rethink this either by incorporating other minority religions into the official calendar, or by doing away with special religious holidays altogether. 
  89. We need a consortium of experts in different fields—like scientists, philosophers, lawyers, economists, and environmentalist, as well as lay people and young people, to come up with a plan for the next 30 years. What do we want South Africa to look like in 2050? 
  90. The South African state underutilises experts and specialists in many fields. What is the point of having world renowned specialists if they can’t use their skills to better South African society? This is a sad reality.
  91. Considering the degradation of the environment, we should seriously ban all single use plastics, and then move slowly to banning other things that are choking the planet. Industries can be given timeframes to get their act together. Growing up we used to buy milk and cooldrinks in deposit bottles. Let’s go back to that.
  92. I was in Port Elizabeth, now called Nelson Mandela Bay, and it was hard to stay in my lane while driving, because the roads have not been painted, there are potholes, and there has not been basic maintenance done in what looks like years. The white lines on the roads are invisible on a major highway—Settler’s Way (a name that should probably be changed), between Deal Party and South End. This is a safety issue. The maintenance of roads—road signs, electricity, water pipes, water dams, streetlights, drainage systems—is necessary. South Africans deserve to have working things. 
  93. The critique of the state by citizens is necessary for a healthy democracy. In South Africa, particularly those who support the ruling party, both nationally and provincially, act as if it’s treasonous to critique the state and what the state does. The critique of the state is our role as engaged citizens. 
  94. And NO – critique of the ANC-led national government does not mean one endorses the DA-led provincial government. And vice versa. It’s revealing, perhaps even painful, to actually have to say this. 
  95. We have a strong constitution. We have so many great policies. We have a strong and progressive judiciary. It is not more laws that we need. We need to teach citizens to embrace and follow the laws we have. A case in point is that we have come so far with sexual liberation in the law that same-sex marriage is legal, yet violence remains an ongoing feature of queer people’s lives, particularly gender non-conforming people. 
  96. The silence over human rights violations by other African states South Africa has a “relationship” with is a demonstration of complicity. As a country overcoming the difficult past of apartheid, we need to do better with speaking up against injustice in other parts of the world, particularly on the African continent. 
  97. The legalisation of cannabis for personal consumption was a progressive move. Used effectively and in moderate quantities, the plant has many positive effects. There are people, particularly women, who have been ahead on the cannabis cultivation front in the rural Eastern Cape, and no doubt in other rural communities in the country. Those people should really have first dibs in the obviously budding cannabis industry in South Africa. It is revealing, and against the spirit of entrepreneurship of “vukuzenzele”, to hunt down and burn cannabis fields in rural areas, when many in white coats and white-collar industries are poised to make a killing from cannabis. Ensuring a stake for these communities in this budding industry would be a creative way of the redistribution of wealth. 
  98. Take down the pictures of the president and other public officials in entrances of public buildings. There is something ill-fitting and somewhat cheap about the smiles of public officials in public buildings, particularly on walls with peeling paint and spider webs. 
  99. Public officials should be forced to use public facilities; public transport, public hospitals, even public toilets. Perhaps then they could understand how those public services need to be funded, improved upon, and maintained.  
  100. Engender a philosophy of freedom that is expansive and accommodative. Engender a freedom that enables liveable lives. A freedom that enables each and every South African to pursue their dreams and fulfil their human potential, whatever that potential may be. 

Many of the points I have raised here cannot single-handedly fix South Africa, but must be seen with reference to other points. For example, point number 1 cannot really be fulfilled if points 7 and 8 are not met. We need to somehow imagine and work ourselves out of the dark place we find ourselves. And sometimes the most obvious route is the most ellusive.

A Queer-llaboration

The month of June is known globally as World Pride Month, a month that celebrates and brings awareness to the LGBTQIAP+ community. In South Africa, Pride Month takes place in October, but throughout the month of June, much light is cast onto our colourful community through mainstream media and it doesn’t stop there. This June marks the first South African Intervarsity Pride Month Collaboration! 

This will be the biggest and most exciting intersection of queer organisations with QueerUs, RainbowUCT, Activate WITS, Up&Out and Specturm all coming together throughout World Pride Month. This will in no way commercialise the LGBTQIAP+ community or use the community to benefit separate parties. We all know Rainbow capitalism during the month of June is an ongoing issue. However, this is purely a collaboration for the community, by the community to help raise awareness for, and celebrate our Pride.  

If there is one thing that this global pandemic has truly taken away from us, it is a sense of community. Consider this: for many members of the LGBTQIAP+ community, who are excluded and made to feel unwelcome and accepted in their home environments, a virtual sense of union is the little that will go a long way. Add onto that the people will feel seen, acknowledged, and loved in a world that usually pushes them to the side? All I see here is a recipe for success in bringing smiles to people’s faces. 

 Look out for the first event which is already underway and will continue throughout the month of June which is the Queer Art Showcase where queer art will be showcased weekly! Engage in this showcase by following the prompts on the social media links which will be linked. You can also just watch and support as part of the community or as an ally. Simply log onto Instagram and search for or spectrum.tygerberg (both Stellies), rainbowuct (UCT), activate_wits (Wits) and tuks_upandout (UP). 

The promo visuals provided by Reatile Maphoto

Celebrating 30 years of Johannesburg Pride

Today, 30 years ago, the first Lesbian and Gay Pride March in South Africa was held in Johannesburg. The Pride March was organised by the Gays and Lesbians of the Witwatersrand, led by Beverly Ditsie and Simon Nkoli. When the Pride March took place, I was knee high to a grasshopper and had no idea what was taking place in the country politically. The seeds that were being sown at that Pride March would affect the trajectory of my life as a young queer kid growing up in South Africa. 

Growing up I remember seeing the Johannesburg Pride March on the SABC news and hearing people around me passing all kinds of remarks about gay people. So, while I was interested in the Pride March and what I was seeing on television, I did not make my interest known. As a queer kid in Kwazakhele I wasn’t sure what Pride was, all I saw were people wearing interesting clothes with placards who were involved in something that looked like a “Toyi Toyi” and a Toyi Toyi was something I was already familiar with. Toyi Toyi had been a mainstay of South African society and therefore the news, so that element of the Pride March I could figure out immediately. 

As I grew older, and grew into my queerness, I started to seek queer media like Gay Pages, EXIT, and other international gay magazines, and through these reading materials I would learn more about Pride. 

I only really understood the history of Pride when I went on a study abroad trip to the United States in my second year of university. It was here that I was exposed to the history of the Stonewall Riots of 1969 that took place in New York City. The realisation that there were so many queer people in the world was profound. Learning about this history had a great impact on me because growing up, I had only thought there was me and a few others who were queer. Existing in isolation. Queer people were not part of the curriculum in school, and even at university, there were no classes that touched on queer people or the sexuality movement’s history. So, in many ways, my study abroad trip helped to shape the way I saw my queerness and helped me situate the Pride Marches I had been seeing on SABC news over the years. 

I attended my first pride in 2007 in Cape Town. I was in my first year of postgraduate studies, in other words, I was in my honour’s year at the University of Cape Town. Cape Town Pride takes place early in the year, February, and so I was just fresh from Port Elizabeth when I attended Cape Town Pride. I had met a group of Swedish visitors in Port Elizabeth just before I left PE. I had served them at the restaurant I was working at in Port Elizabeth, and coincidentally they were going to Cape Town after their time in PE and we exchanged numbers. I met up with the strange group of Swedish young people who were friendly and sweet. The young Swedes made my first Pride memorable as we went marching through the streets of Cape Town. 

I remember that I wore the tiniest shorts and a small pink t-shirt on that day. It was also during this time that I was obsessed with Ntlantla Nciza of Mafikizolo fame’s bug-eye-sunglasses that covered half your face from their Sophia-Town-inspired music and dress during the 2000’s. I remember feeling on top of the world during Pride, and marvelling at such a glorious gathering of queer people from all works of life.

The Pride March started in Somerset Road in Green Point and went through the CBD, moved through Adderley Street, and up Wale Street, and then went back to Green Point via Buitengracht Street where there was a huge party. To think this was 12 years ago, and so much has happened to Pride politics in South Africa since then. I suppose in many ways, the political contestation preceded my attendance of Pride but have, indeed, intensified in the last couple of years as we all struggle with the meaning and politics of Pride in South Africa. 

Since my first Pride in 2007, I have since attended Pride events in other parts of the world. I have seen the different ways that other countries and cities organise Pride and some of the politics involved in organising Pride. I remember being awed by the magnitude and glory that is San Francisco Pride. I had never been to a “world city” Pride like San Francisco before, where the size of the Pride itself was hard to wrap your head around, and you must accept that you will miss most of the Pride because it’s impossible to see everything. 

I have attended Minneapolis Pride with friends I met while studying in Minnesota. This was a radically different experience from San Francisco, both in magnitude and also in the way in which people approached Pride. Minneapolis Pride was midwestern in nature, like a “mom and pop” shop, while San Francisco was like a “corporation” (Thanks Mariah). While on holiday in Nice, France, my boyfriend and I discovered that our visit coincided with Pride, and so we participated in the Pride March and the party afterwards. The Pride March was relaxed, and the after party was also very laid back, held at the pebble filled beachfront in Nice. These experiences demonstrated to me that different places do Pride differently. Although the premise of LGBTI rights and the fight for equality is reflected in most Pride Marches, many places go about it in different ways. 

On this 30th anniversary of Johannesburg Pride, I thought it was important to reflect on Pride in South Africa since it has been mired in controversy over the past couple of years, and some would argue, it has been controversial since the 1990’s. It is also important to reflect on Johannesburg Pride because when it took place 30 years ago, it was an important moment for LGBTI rights in South Africa. 

When I attended Pride in Johannesburg in 2012, the Pride March was disrupted by a group of black feminist lesbians from One-In-Nine. I was moved by the One-In-Nine disruption of Johannesburg Pride and their calls for a minute of silence for the lost lives of black queer people, particularly gender non-conforming black women. One-In-Nine also demanded the reinsertion of politics into Pride and the decommercialization of Pride. The response from the Johannesburg Pride organisers that year was hostility, walking and talking over the protesters, and even racists remarks that the One-In-Nine protesters should go to their “lokshins.” This was a painful moment in the history of Johannesburg Pride. It was a moment to pause and reflect on LGBTI politics in South Africa. 

In trying to make sense of this moment and what it meant for Johannesburg Pride, but also for LGBTI politics in South Africa, I wrote about this disruption moment. The piece was published in the journal Agenda, titled, Disrupting Johannesburg Pride: Gender, Race, and Class in the LGBTI movement in South Africa. This was my attempt to use intersectionality to argue for a more nuanced understanding of LGBTI politics in South Africa. In the piece I conclude that in South Africa we need to decolonise the LGBTI movement where the movement takes seriously the postcolonial issues that South Africa suffers from. Also, I argue, there is a need for postcolonial thinkers, and people in the postcolony to seriously engage LGBTI politics as they manifest in the postcolony. I argue that this will enable us to engage and imagine a better future for LGBTI people in the postcolony. 

With the stratification of South African society, the politics of pride is complicated. This is demonstrated by the different Prides that have been created outside of the main Pride events. It is really in response to the hostility found in the “mainstream” Pride in the major cities of South Africa, that alternative Pride events have been established. One such Pride event is Khumbulani Pride which takes place in different townships around Cape Town around April. 

Khumbulani Pride has become an important annual event that centres the lives of black LGBTI people in their backyards. It is a Pride March that also helps to conscientize the communities in township spaces about LGBTI lives. Khumbulani Pride engages in a particular politics with black communities ensuring that LGBTI people are seen. An example of this is how during Pride state service providers like the South African Police Services are engaged with in order to establish and nourish relationships that would help end hate crimes. 

The physical and sexual assaults on LGBTI people, particularly those who are gender nonconforming is an ongoing violation, and the communities where these violations take place need to be engaged with if we are to end the violence. This is what the black feminist lesbians from One-In-Nine were trying to articulate with the disruption of Johannesburg Pride. That the lives of black LGBTI people matter and that there has to be space and a place for politics in Pride. The One-In-Nine members were demanding rights for ALL LGBTI people, and not just those who are white, who are middle class, male, or those who are cisgender. 

In South Africa there is often a tendency to ignore or bypass complexity and nuance. Ironically, this is exactly what is necessary to understand the post-apartheid moment as South Africa democratises. We need to me more nuanced and be able to learn to hold two, or more, seemingly contradictory truths at once. South Africa is an incredibly diverse place with different ways of life, and this demands that we are empathetic to others who do not live, and love like us. 

I was very excited when I saw the promotional artwork for Johannesburg Pride 2019. The promotional material includes a colourful image with the inscription “Pride of Africa” which is befitting for the celebration of 30 years of Pride in Johannesburg, and by extension in South Africa. Johannesburg, and Cape Town Pride for that matter, have been heavily accused of non-inclusivity and focusing on the needs of white middle class men in the choice of venues for pride events, and the route that the Pride March takes. It has seemed, for the most part, these complaints have fell on deaf ears. What this year’s Johannesburg Pride has in store is to be seen at the end of October. What I have gathered online, there’s been some complaints about the programming not prioritising queer artists. It is my hope that Johannesburg Pride organisers rectifying the non-inclusiveness of the past Prides. I hope they take seriously the calls to be more inclusive. 

Pride has played an important role in shaping my queer identity. Whether it is through reading about Pride, looking at pictures of Pride from different places in the world, or me physically attending Pride, Pride creates a sense of connectedness to other queer people. It provides us with a sense of safety in numbers, but also a sense of safety in being yourself in amongst people who “get” you. The question of safety, both emotionally and physically, can’t be taken for granted in the atmosphere of endemic violence in South Africa. 

It is my hope that as we celebrate 30 years of Johannesburg Pride, we think about what pride means to us. To think about what we want Pride to look like. It is my hope that we pursue a Pride that is imbued with politics, that understands that in its essence Pride is Political. I hope that as we celebrate 30 years of Pride, we realise that LGBTI includes more than just gay and lesbian people, that we take seriously bisexuality politics, the issues faced by transgender people, and we seriously engage intersex issues, particularly as it pertains to children. It is my hope that we will recognise how our queer struggles are intricately linked to the struggles of the poor, to the struggles of farm workers, and the struggles of mineworkers. It is important for us to make the connections between queer struggles and the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa. It is my hope that we see the links between forces of Afrophobia (that is often called xenophobia) in South Africa and queer struggles. 

All of the struggles I mention above have one thing in common, it is people who are othered, they are seen as not belonging, they are seen as outcasts, they are poorly treated by the state. Sounds familiar? That’s because it is familiar, it is how we as queer people have long been treated by the state and society at large. It will do us good – and the South Africa we want to live in of the future, a South Africa of tolerance, freedom, where people experience love, and have dignity – for us not to forget that we as queer people, not so long ago (and continue to do so), were once othered, harshly. It is through this remembering that we are able to empathise with others who might be less powerful than us at this juncture of human history. 

As we move forward, may we continue to strive for relationalities that surpass the limits placed on us by Eurocentric, patriarchy-obsessed, capitalist, and religious normativities, and the socially constructed fear of difference. 

I want to wish all queer South Africans a happy 30th celebration of Johannesburg Pride. May we move forward with the yearning of a queer utopia where love, dignity, and freedom are in abundance. I hope this year’s celebrations of Pride bring us together like Simon Nkoli and Beverly Ditsie had envisioned in 1990, so that wherever Simon Nkoli might be, he can rest easy and chuckle to himself saying, “even with brown bags on our faces, we did a good thing.” 

On being South African

Recently, I have acutely felt the everyday weight of living in South Africa and being South African. This is because of a recent trip abroad. It is often when I land somewhere foreign and watch others in a different society go about their daily lives that I understand the heaviness I carry as I navigate everyday South Africa. The heaviness is acutely felt when I settle into the everyday life in a foreign city, doing mundane things like taking the subway, waiting for the green figure light to cross the street, or grocery shopping. It is during these routine exercises that I begin to be aware of the weight I carry on an ongoing basis in South Africa. 

I become aware of the weight I carry simply because in the foreign city I begin to lose that heaviness. It is through the process of taking on the foreign city, behaving like the locals, and adhering to the social rules of the foreign society, as one does in a new city, that I start to really appreciate the burden of everyday life in South Africa. This is because the defences I have to put up when leaving the house in South Africa are down. Unlike home, where I have to brace myself for South African society, in the foreign city I do not fortify myself as I do at home. 

For most of my life in South Africa I have used public transport. If you are taking public transport, you have to deal with unsolicited remarks made by taxi drivers, bus drivers, and other public transport operators. This is before the unsolicited remarks made by other passengers. These remarks are often about what you are wearing, whether you are a girl or a boy (even though you are clearly a boy, just slightly effeminate), or other enquiries that have nothing to do with the services rendered of transporting you from point A to point B. 

When I used to live at home, my mother and I would trade stories about public transport navigation, mostly I would listen to her taxi horror stories. In these conversations I only partly shared my taxi horror stories because mine included homophobic comments, and I couldn’t bring myself to share those stories at the time. My mother’s refrain during these conversations was that a taxi ride in the morning can ruin your whole day because you arrive at your destination, which was usually work for her and school for me, wounded and already exhausted. 

With this history in mind, you can imagine the delight of having to take a subway train in a foreign city, without having to interact with any humans because you can buy traveling tickets in machines, and other passengers pay you no mind as they are neatly seated in their seats reading books and newspapers. In foreign cities, I have finished whole books, reading them only while in transit. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanahis one such book that I read almost completely while in public transit abroad.  

It is through living in foreign cities that I have come to appreciate how much I live in fear. As a South African, it is hard not to be aware that I live in a dangerous country. I live in Cape Town, the murder capital of South Africa according to police murder statistics. I don’t personally know a South African that has not been a victim of crime. Security is big business in South Africa, and so is insurance. The suburbs of South Africa are famous for their big walls and electric fences. Where I live, in the Atlantic Seaboard, there are neighbourhood watches, security listservs, WhatsApp groups, and weird random little Wendy houses in the streets for security reasons. The possibility of crime hangs over us and dictates how we navigate our society.  

All of my friends have been mugged at least once. Most of us more than once. The last time I had my cell phone violently taken away from me I went home and slept. The next morning, I woke up and told the story of the mugging. I was hysterically sobbing in my boyfriend’s arms as he comforted me. He kept on saying, “I am just glad you were not harmed; it could have been worse.” He was right, people have died in cell phone mugging situations. Come to think of it, I wasn’t crying because of the cell phone that was gone, it was insured, I was traumatised by the violation. I remember repeating the words as I was sobbing, I feel so violated, I feel so violated, I feel so violated

It has become customary for my group of friends, and as I have seen for many other groups of friends and families in South Africa to always inform others of your arrival at home after a night out. This has become so routine that when someone forgets to report arriving at home, as it sometimes happens when one is intoxicated, panic ensues. 

What I am demonstrating here is the extent of the fear we live with in South Africa and the everyday precautions we take to be safe. It is living in foreign cities that I have come to understand just how much I live in fear. What becomes painfully evident is that the fear and the precautions we take on a daily basis encroach on our freedom and quality of life. It affects where we go, it affects who we go with, it affects how much fun we can have, and even what you might wear. In South Africa when you are thinking about social events or going out, safety is a key element, whereas I have experienced in foreign cities the key element is where is the most fun, or what kind of space do I desire. 

Fear for your safety changes the way you relate to the world around you. In South Africa we have become so conditioned by fear that the safety precautions we take have become second nature. We are ruled by fear. Our fears have become part of the architecture of our lives. Even new buildings in South Africa are constructed with fear in mind and this obviously affects how living spaces are designed. 

Contrast the South African reality with living in a foreign city where people routinely forget to lock their back doors. Contrast it with people losing their belongings and being able to claim them at a lost and found department. I once left a small bag with cards, money, keys, and other personal items in a bus. I realised this when I wanted to open the door of the house and I didn’t have the keys. A week later, when I had given up on the bag, I received a letter in the mail that my bag was at the bus depot. I went to go claim my bag, and it had everything in it, including my money which was counted, placed in an envelope, and stored in a safe. Inevitably I thought about what would have happened if I was back home. Would I have been able to find my things, and sadly I concluded that I would have never seen my belongings again.

In many ways traveling abroad makes you come face to face with yourself, and the question of home. As a queer person, I already have mixed feelings about “home”, and this is compounded when I travel abroad. I am South African. I have a passport to prove this, and I am psychologically and emotionally invested in my South Africaness, but truth be told, I am not even sure what being a “South African” is or means. 

In the current political climate, the question of being South African becomes even more murky as you try to answer follow up questions to “where are you from.” Where are you from is a question I expect when I am the singularly black body in a room full of white people or when people detect my accent in conversations. What has become a landmine to navigate is the follow up questions after you admit to being South African. On more than one occasion I have had to circumnavigate questions of Afro-phobia attacks (often referred to as xenophobia) perpetrated by South Africans on other Africans living in South Africa. I have fumbled my way through these questions, which at times have felt accusatory, and other times said in jest. In all cases, they are awkward, they are hard to answer or to engage with, particularly in social settings with a gin martini in hand. 

Another terrible interjection after you mention that you are South African is the “is it safe there” or “isn’t it dangerous there.” The answer to this question is complicated because I wrestle with how to be honest but not be a bad ambassador for the country. A job I never applied for, a job which I think many South Africans would object to me having anyway. I wrestle with not feeding already existing black and African stereotypes and singular narratives about violence and brokenness. 

Since I am a sociologist, I usually want to give a 15-minute lecture, which of course is not conducive for most social settings, but really should be. The truth of the matter is that the danger question is complicated because yes, danger lurks around many corners of South Africa, as I have shared above in my own personal violations. That danger varies according to class, which is linked to race, which is linked to geographical location, which are all linked to colonialism, and then apartheid. This danger is further complicated by gender, gender identity and performance, and sexual identity. So, you can see how my answers can quickly become seminars and prove very difficult to have in pop-quiz-conversations in a gin-martini-in-hand setting. 

I am currently living in Toronto on an academic fellowship for a couple of weeks. There are different social rules here, different ways of doing things, and I can’t help but reflect on life in South Africa through comparing and contrasting. While I am well aware that societies are not the same, and societies have different histories that shape them, comparing and contrasting societies offers a way to think differently about taken-for-granted social structures at home. 

The question I wrestle with is, do things have to be the way they are in South Africa? The answer is no, there are other ways of making life. 

Experiencing life in foreign cities you begin to see that there are multiple ways of seeing, of doing, of being. Being exposed to other parts of the world you begin to understand that your society’s way of doing things is but one of many ways of doing things. The societies we live in are worlds made up by people, they are socially constructed and engineered in a particular direction over time, which means that we can change our societies. We can create different ways of living. 

Experiencing life abroad also makes you see the many ways humans are connected. That people, the world over, have similar worries, and for better or for worse, we lead similar structured lives. Being exposed to other ways of life one realises, very quickly, that one doesn’t have all the answers to society’s problems, or to life’s issues, but this is not a unique thing, it’s a human thing. It seems to me that it is of utmost importance to embrace the fact that we do not exist in isolation. 

One of the questions that we must ask ourselves and try to answer as South Africans is, what kind of society do we want to live in? What kind of society do we want to create – note here I said create. Which means that we have to decide, we have to construct, we have to engineer the kind of world we want. 

Another important question we ought to ask and try to answer is, what does or could living together look like? This is not a question that should have been asked in 1990 and 1994, and then shelved. It should be an ongoing question, and we need to be open to the answer changing over time as society changes. In South Africa, for the most part, we occupy the same land mass, but we do not live together. 

We need to seriously imagine what living together means and entails? What would we have to do to practice living together? Are we willing to let go of some of the parts of ourselves that are divisive in our society for a greater goal of togetherness? In other words, are we willing to sacrifice some of our strongly held identities in order to create a more harmonious society? 

In writing this I am not oblivious to the history of colonialism, the history of apartheid, and the history of cowboy capitalism that have shaped South African society. I am also painfully aware of the ongoing psychological impact of these historical processes on South Africans. In all of this, I do believe, with political will, and a conscientious and driven leadership, we can build a better society.  

I keep imagining living in South Africa without fear. What does a life without fear look like, what does it feel like? What kind of society would we need to engineer for us to live without fear? Thinking about a life without fear I am reminded of a Nina Simone video that has done the rounds on social media. In the video she is asked what freedom to her is, and she answered, living with no fear. Imagine a life, a South Africa, without fear. 

What is Freedom: Freedom is No fear.

The Decriminalisation of Homosexuality in Angola and the Idea of Hope

Last month, January 2019, I attended the two day “Gender, (Inter) Generation, and Negotiating Power in Families Workshop” at the University of Cape Town (UCT). At the end of day one of the workshop, Professor John Comaroff, the distinguished professor of African and African American Studies and Anthropology at Harvard University (of Jean and John Comaroff fame) delivered the closing remarks. I was struck and inspired by Prof. John Comaroff when he closed the workshop as he spoke about hope. He said that it sounds like a cliché, and maybe it is, but in these social and economic tumultuous times we must keep hope alive as we struggle towards lasting solutions to the ills of our country, indeed the world. 

Comaroff’s spoke about hope just days before Angola was to announce the decriminalisation of same-sex acts and the banning of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The news was widely welcomed, and people around the world rejoiced for the progressive movement that Angola was taking in acknowledging the humanity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Angola. 

As I was reading about the decriminalisation and the banning of discrimination based on sexual orientation, I kept on thinking about John Comaroff’s words about hope, and how Angola’s move instils a sense hope with regards to LGBT politics on the African continent. Angola’s progressive stance comes months after Tanzania was reported to have searched for and rounded up LGBT people in the country. There were reports that people were being brutalized and tortured and thrown into jail. Many LGBT people, and LGBT activists in Tanzania were reported as going into hiding fearing for the lives. 

The LGBT victory in Angola is not insignificant, considering the recent troubles in Tanzania; considering the unsuccessful introduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, a bill that was widely known as the “kill the gays bill” in Uganda; considering the targeting of transgender people by the Trump administration in the United States; considering the prosecution of LGBT people by the Nigerian government; considering the continuous murder of transgender people in Brazil; considering the homophobia and physical violence still faced by LGBT people in South Africa – despite the fact that same-sex marriage is legal here; considering the rounding-up and torture of LGBT people in Russia; considering the rounding-up and torture of LGBT people in Chechnya; considering the reported story of a man who was raped, reported the rape to officials and was then subsequently charged with same-sex relations under the penal code in Tunisia, a code that carries the penalty of 4 years in prison. 

Angola is a beacon of hope in a world that is adamant about the brutalisation of LGBT people. While it might seem insignificant looking at the widespread persecution of LGBT people around the world, it is significant. It is a move in the right direction towards justice and human rights. Angola provides a progressive roadmap for the other 33 or so African nations that still criminalise same-sex intimacies. In Mauritania, Sudan, Northern Nigeria, and Southern Somalia those found guilty of same-sex intimacies potentially face the death penalty. Hope, then, is important in the troubled times we live in, times of increased fascism (United States anyone) and authoritarianism (did someone say Brazil), where human rights are undermined in the most disturbingly glaring ways. 

Of course, one has to be cautiously optimistic because we know that decriminalisation and the banning of discrimination based on sexual orientation is only addressing part of the problem. Decriminalisation changes laws, but not hearts:  there is much work to be done to transform families and communities where LGBT people actually live and experience everyday harassment, discrimination and sometimes violence. 

While recognizing the limited effect that a change in the law will have on the lived reality of LGBT people, we can’t underestimate how changing of laws creates avenues for citizens to have recourse when they are victimized. The change of laws in post-apartheid South Africa has had profound effect on the sense of belonging of LGBT citizens in South Africa. The recognition afforded to LGBT people by the Constitution of South Africa became a catalyst, first for changes in the law, and then (and more gradually) changes in attitudes. This culminated, as it were, in the adoption of legislation recognising same-sex marriage. So, the changing of laws is a fundamental step in the process of ensuring the human rights and the human dignity of LGBT citizens. It is such an important step, that Pierre De Vos, convincingly argued that the Constitution “contributed to the constitution of lesbian and gay identity” in democratic South Africa in the aptly titled paper, “The Constitution Made Us Queer.” 

It is impossible to speak about the decriminalisation of same-sex intimacies in Angola, or any other African state for that matter, without talking about the impact of colonisation and the laws created by imperialists government on the lives of LGBT Africans. Angola, a former Portuguese colony, adopted anti-sodomy and other homophobic legislation from the Portuguese settlers. And like Mozambique, another African state formerly colonised by the Portuguese, Angola is now slowly transitioning to be a place where LGBT people and their ways of loving are recognised by the law as legitimate forms of intimacy. 

Angola is no longer included in the list of countries that criminalises same-sex love.

It is striking that it is formerly British colonies (Tanzania, Nigeria, and Uganda are three who have made headlines in recent years), that have been historically particularly cruel towards LGBT people. This probably tells us much about the legacies of puritanical values of Victorian Britain with restrictive laws created by settler colonists, and how they have been adopted by native Africans against other native Africans with detrimental consequences. In this context, the progressive movement that Angola has embarked on provides an opportunity for a different narrative for LGBT Africans, a narrative that Africans themselves can be at the centre of constructing. 

LGBT rights are often advanced by the tireless work of LGBT advocacy groups and non-profit organisations lobbying and pushing for change. Groups like Iris Angola Association (Associação Íris Angola), that is now legally operating in Angola, are visible and empowering LGBT people. The kind of work done by Iris Angola Association can only strengthen as the populations they are working with are no longer constructed as “breaking the law.” One of the biggest impacts that decriminalisation does is to afford LGBT organisations space to do the kind of work that is necessary to empower LGBT youth and LGBT communities. This is important in ensuring a better livelihood for LGBT people, and to cultivate a culture built on the respect of human rights. 

Engaging with the developments in Angola, I am energised. I am filled with hope of a better continent, indeed world, for LGBT people. I am given strength to continue the fight for social justice for LGBT people. I am encouraged to continue engaging those in power who have not seen the light yet, that LGBT rights are human rights. I am filled with hope that slowly our societies will see that until ALL LGBT people are free everywhere, there can never be real LGBT freedom anywhere. 

Same-Sex Marriage Around The World

I am near the end of my research project on Same-Sex Marriage that I will be able to share with the world once it has gone through all the formal processes at the university. Over the past twenty years, Same-Sex Marriage has been legalised in many countries around the world. The year, 2016, marked the tenth year since same-sex marriage was legalised in South Africa. In the court case Minister of Home Affairs v Fourie, the Constitutional Court (2005) granted same-sex couples the right to marry and instructed parliament to implement a law that would allow same-sex couples to marry.  The Constitutional Court gave the state a year to implement the new law, and in November 2006 same-sex marriage was legalised. South Africa is the only country on the African continent that legally recognizes same-sex relationships. It was the fifth country to recognise same-sex marriage behind The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, and Spain. It was the first country in the southern hemisphere and the first republic to legalise same-sex marriage. Today South Africa is one of more than twenty nations in the world in a growing list that recognizes same-sex marriage, the majority of which are in the Global North.

In recent years, Australia was added to the growing list of countries that have legalised same-sex marriage. To celebrate the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia, the people at Carvaka Adult Toys created a video to chart the wonderfully positive progress of same-sex marriage law changes around the world. The Australian victory for Marriage Equality is a wonderful moment to reflect on the many nations that have taken the necessary steps towards a more just and more loving world. Enjoy the video from the people at Carvaka Adult Toys.

The Makwande Republic Experience

Last year, I spent Easter Weekend in Hamburg, Germany at an Easter Brunch hosted by a good friend of mine. This year, I spent Easter Weekend in a small village, Goshen, in the Eastern Cape. The village is nestled in one of the many valleys in the Amathole Mountains. The nearest “town” to the village is Cathcart. What brought me to Goshen was the Makwande Republic Experience. It was described as a “creative meander” that was organised by the formidable Ukhona Mlandu. This was my first time in this part of the Eastern Cape.  It’s interesting that I had never been to that part of the country considering that I grew up about 300 kilometers away from Goshen, I grew up in Port Elizabeth. Of course, part of the reason that I never went to Goshen is exactly because I grew up in Port Elizabeth (PE). The biggest “city” in the Eastern Cape, in other words, people in other parts of the Eastern Cape come to PE, not the other way around. I have since seen the limits of such thinking. My experience in Goshen has further demonstrated the shortsightedness of such mentality, as there’s so much to see and experience in many other parts of the Eastern Cape.

When I received the invite to the Makwande Republic Experience, I knew immediately that I wanted to attend the Art Meander. After deliberating on the best way to get there, I settled on a ten-hour road trip from Cape Town to Goshen with two good friends and the cutest-brood-inducing toddler. The road trip was fantastic. It was filled with all the things that make a road trip, stops in cute small towns for coffee breaks, conversations about everything under the sun, the state of South Africa, and our soundtrack was Angry-Girl-Music. But the drive between Fort Beaufort and Cathcart was the absolute best in terms of scenery. I could not get enough of the mountains “waar die kranse antwoord gee”, the winding roads, the never-ending valleys, and the lushness. It was so green, and of course, everything seemed that much greener than usual because in Cape Town there is a draught.

When we arrived in Goshen, it was around 19:00 the village was quiet. It was expansive. The sun was going down but it was still light out. It was serene. It was beautiful. The homesteads were far apart. Goats were roaming. Many of the homesteads had quintessential Xhosa village housing like rondavels, while some were built in “modern” suburban housing structures. While taking in the scenery of the village I realised that as someone who grew up in a township, seeing and experiencing village life is exciting and also an education in South African land politics. The ways that townships were created, and continue to be created is radically different from the layout of the villages. While taking in my surroundings, I wondered to myself how my life would have turned out if I had grown up in a village like this one.

As I was meeting others who were also here for the Makwande Republic Experience, there was a bonfire starting, and people were huddling around the fire. While in Goshen all of us “city” folk visiting the village stayed in different homesteads all over the village. I lived with an incredible woman, who was born in Goshen, but spent most of her life in Johannesburg. We had the most amazing conversations about life in the village; her work life as a nurse in Johannesburg, and about how difficult life was for her when she first moved to Johannesburg because of apartheid. We had such a great rapport, that she gave me as a gift this beautiful hand made bag. The bag really belongs in a museum more than it belongs in my closet. I am convinced that she sensed that I was queer and that I love beautiful things, hence she gave me the bag. The kind of homophobia I experience in Cape Town was absent in Goshen, even though I was clearly Ouma-se-kind. The kind of welcome I felt in Goshen is the kind that I used to read about in Xhosa books like Unojayiti Wam.

One of the most beautiful experiences in Goshen was the hike to Iliwa lika Mqede (Mqede’s Valley). The valley is not visible when you are in the village, but the whole village faces the direction of the valley. The hike was incredible. We walked across what used to be farming land but was now used for grazing by cows and goats. We also walked past a beautiful area called Entilini, where I envisioned a beautiful Cape Dutch style house for myself surrounded by rondavels. When we arrived at Iliwa lika Mqede we couldn’t shut up about how eerily it looked like the background of the fighting scene in Black Panther before the coronation of the king. From then on throughout the weekend we would make connections between Makwande and Black Panther’s Wakanda. After relaxing and taking lots of pictures, we hiked back to the village. When we arrived back we were tired but fulfilled.

After the big hike, we arrived at the village with firewood from the fields for a bonfire. After a bit of rest, we were summoned to a homestead nearby to participate in a traditional ceremony. The ceremony was a thanksgiving to the elders. When we arrived at the rondavel of the homestead, we were asked to sing as we enter, as it is traditionally done in many Xhosa festivities. You announce your arrival with a song. The Xhosa way of knocking is a song. So of course, we sang, Nilelena? Nilelena?, Nanku umntu enqonqoza, Nanku umntu esiza. The music created a jovial atmosphere where we danced and sang with the village people before we had even shaken hands. This was a special moment; here we were at the home of people we had never met, we were asked to sing as a way of first encounter. No shyness. No embarrassment, just greetings in song. We sang on top of our voices, we clapped our hands; the village people inside the rondavel joined us. I was touched. I was flying. And the acoustics inside the rondavel were fantastic.

We were offered food and a drink. We were also offered sorghum beer. We drank from the communal bhekile. The elders from the village conversed with us. There was one man who welcomed us. He spoke beautifully about how we were now part of the village, and how we are welcomed to come back. He spoke about how our spirits will stay in Goshen, and we will also take with us Goshen spirits. It was a beautiful connection with elders and young people while drinking sorghum beer and praising the ancestors.

Later on, more visitors arrived, and more singing ensued. When the second round of singing began, the Xhosa drum came out and one of the women from the village began playing the Xhosa drum. The drum was made of cowhide. The cowhide was white and brown. It was a beautiful drum; it looked new, as there were no signs of wear and tear just yet. I love Xhosa drums. I have one myself, and I often play it when I need to hear that unmistakable Xhosa sound. The drum playing skills of the woman who played the drum were incredible. She could go up and down, soft and hard, middle of the drum and outer parts of the drum, all of which create different sounds. Her playing summoned the ancestors. I was so taken by her and her skill that I almost asked for lessons. I think next year when we go to Goshen, they must introduce Xhosa drum lessons.

After the second round of singing started, we never stopped. We were all sick with song in that rondavel. Besixhentsa. Sicula. Siyiyizela. With the sound of the drum, the Xhosa melodies, the moving of our bodies, all inside the rondavel, I was transported to another universe. There was something magical about that space, something otherworldly, something that was out-of-body-experience about being in that rondavel with my people. In many ways, it was healing to be there, in that I never had to explain myself. There was a way in which I was accepted, even though I was a foreigner in that I am a city mouse invading the country, I was welcomed with love and without suspicion. The village people were sharing with me whatever they had, and I was touched and felt honoured.

Since I left Goshen I have been listening to Amanda Black’s Amazulu. She captures my experience at the Makwande Republic Experience in Goshen in the Eastern Cape succinctly. My experience at the Makwande Republic is particularly captured when Amanda sings:

I’m drifting away
Into the darkness
Ndizothath’ umthwalo
Ndimbeke emqolo mama
Ubomi bunzima
So lift my head up high
Open my eyes
And I will fly oh
I’m barely coping
I’m feeling closed in
Looking up, hoping
The heavens will open
Mdali wezulu
Ndikhalela kuwe
Open up, open up
I’m feeling closer now
The light is shining brighter but I’m losing my flow …

Avuleka avuleka avuleka
‘Vuleka amazulu
‘Vuleka amazulu
‘Vuleka amazulu

Avulekile Amazulu indeed.

This was the inaugural Makwande Republic Experience. Personally, I am excited about the next Makwande Republic Experience. This was the beginning of something special. It was a meeting of the minds kind-of place. It was a place where blackness can be without having to explain itself. It was a place where Xhosaness is celebrated, not as an appendage to something else, or as “heritage day” but as an ordinary way of everyday life. I have been inspired by what I experienced at the Makwande Republic and I am excited to have a creative giving back to the village when I attend the next Makwande Republic Experience.

What Ukhona has done with the first Makwande Republic Experience is inspiring. Makwande Republic is an idea that was materialised. Ukhona demonstrates to us as young black South Africans that we must use what we have where we are to create the futures that we think we deserve. With the Makwande Republic, Ukhona embodies the words of June Jordan that “We are the ones we have been waiting.” May we learn from this amazing creative meander, and may we replicate it in our own ways where we are. Makwande indeed!  Kube chosi Kube hele.

Some of the photographs were taken by Ukhona and others by Laura.

Book Review: Under The Udala Trees

Title:                         Under the Udala Trees

Author:                     Chinelo Okparanta

Genre:                        Prose fiction

No. of Pages:             328

Publishers:                Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Year of Publication:2015

ISBN:                        978-0-544-00344-6

Review Written By:                   Eugene Yakubu

I have nothing against the penis, it’s the life support system that comes with it which I object to. – Marianne Thamm

Some literatures only come around once in a lifetime and when they arrive, they make the best use of their advent and leave the readers more enlightened, the world more habitable and our differences tolerable. Matter of fact, Chinelo Okparanta made her debut in a grand and impactful way and her memories will go a long way in African literary history. Her first novel Under the Udala Treesis remarkably devoid of most of the avoidable errors that many first time novels emerge in— stunning, witty, bewitchingly manipulative and still yet simple; little wonder Under the Udala Trees has become a favorite amongst most literature lovers in 2017. She has a masterful description of Nigeria during the civil war and her gory images of war are almost as frightening as her theme.

Under the Udala Trees is a humane account of a tongueless love that dares not speak in African society, an unconventionally truthful narrative of a love— innocent and young between Ijeoma and Amina which is cut up with demeaning stares and accusing fingers. It reflects the different facets of love— sensual, unforgettable and dangerous.

She did in a creatively new way what lesbian and radical feminists have been up and about trying to deconstruct— the omnipotence of the phallus (man) in any hetero-patriarchy. This is readily apparent in the characterization of her lesbian protagonist Ijeoma who has set her mind to always believe that “[a] special man friend was the last thing on [her] mind” (137) but will always cherish her bonding with Amina and Ndidi and eventually forego her marriage and family just to be with Ndidi her lesbian partner even though in the society, women are made taboo to other women not just in sex but in comradeship too. This characterization and trope is grounded in Adrienne Rich’s (1996: 136) essayCompulsive Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence where Rich argued that

Lesbian existence comprises both the breaking of a taboo and the rejection of a compulsory way of life. It is also a direct or indirect attack on male right of access to women…a form of naysaying to patriarchy, an act of resistance

This “resistance” according to Rich is what Chinelo offers in Under the Udala Trees as the subversion and inversion of fixed gender roles, stereotype of women as weak objects, emotionally and sexually needful of a man, the negation of sexist’s notion of women and femininity as only for “reproduction and nurturance, whereby being a woman is trapped in a single function— mothering” (Irigaray, 1981). The characterization of Ijeoma in Under the Udala Trees provides a voice for African Lesbian feminists who are emerging daily to deconstruct hetero-normativity and the superiority of the male sex over the female.

Chinelo will be known as the writer who captures dangerously bewitching themes that are however a break from the overt sociopolitical and stale thematic preoccupation that most African literature is known to be shrouded in. Under the Udala Treesreconsidered the flawed and bias laws of subjugation affecting non-normative bodies and identities in Africa’s strict sexuality.

We tend to undermine the graceful issues lying prominently in this narrative if we dismiss it as only a lesbian narrative, and even at that, Chinelo brought to fore a totally digressive arm of lesbianism which screams in loud tones that women are fixed categories on their own and don’t necessarily need the phallus economy to survive.  This book is about a number of issues, ranging from the mutability of gender roles, subversion of patriarchal hegemony, homophobia, politics, feminism, wars (physical and psychological wars), childhood, innocence and growing up. It has overlapped the tiny canvass of just another LGBTI literature and proffers ideological models that are sure to capture any reader’s attention.

Chinelo did her research so well that after going through this literature, the reader in the end leaves her world unsure of his/her sexuality. This literary feat is applaudable for it has gone a step further to enchant the readers’ psyche and toss it around accordingly to suit the writer’s orientation. Worthy of mention is the place of psychology in the text; the writer shows mastery of the human psyche by instilling psychical cause and effects factors that lead to certain behavioral patterns in man. For instance, it isn’t just a random plot that portrayed Ijeoma as orphaned at a tender age or emotionally detached from her mother, for this factors contributed in forming the main character’s personality. Worthy of mention is also the place of dreams in the narrative. The writer uses dreams to represent reality in symbols, thereby unearthing the subconscious of characters, that part of them that is hidden from the outside world. This masterful feat can be further appraised by psychoanalysts to determine the various shades of events that predispose characters to a certain personality trait.

The feministic notion in Under the Udala Trees can not be overestimated. This text launches a different degree of African feminism, a radical and searing one at odd with anything masculine and tends to encourage women to channel their love and affection towards other women, distancing the feminine sex from anything masculine. Okparanta carved her protagonist to be a desiring subject rather than a timid “object”, emotionally and sexually self- sufficient, a deviant, a heretic, an undomesticated female, a lesbian just to counter the hegemony of patriarchy and contends that because the lesbian makes love to another woman outside the limit of procreation, she stands as the ultimate threat to hetero-patriarchy and jeopardizes the supremacy and omnipotence of masculinity. So basically, Chinelo stands in the same group with radical feminists like Audre Lorde, Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, Adrienne Rich and a host of others who proffer that the feminine body is unique and has its own “specificity” which is totally at odd with heterosexuality and by extension masculinity.

Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees is a timely gift to the whole world— a perfect template of simplistic artistry and humane sensibility— a sensibility valued far above its beauty, its edification above aesthetic valor. Even though her perceptions seem keener than her vocabulary, she demands not just to be read but to be experienced. This ‘Madonna of books’ will literally dislodge your rigid view of sexuality and open up boatloads of possibilities to what you initially consider rigid polar of gender and sexuality. The uniqueness of Under the Udala Treesis that after all said and done, the literary acuity and the enchanting arguments it creates a future more hospitable to differences and tolerant to “otherness”; it tenders that to be one to be different is a good thing; to accept the right to be different is better; and more so to realize that some persons are born different is maybe even best.