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.