ON: Sweeping #OperationFiela

Operation fiela. Fiela in Sepedi means “sweep away”. This is the name my government chose as a response to the recent spate of xenophobic attacks in the country.

This year it started in Soweto, when “foreigners” were looted out  of the shipping containers that are their livelihoods. Some kicked, slapped, knifed and burnt. Our leaders said it was all down to criminality, not xenophobia but added that perhaps sharing business secrets with unemployed, discouraged South Africans would help- because it wasn’t xenophobia.

“Foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost. They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners,” Lindiwe Zulu, Minister for Small Business Development (January 28, 2015)

Then last month “afrophobic” attacks (the chosen instigator this time) broke out in Durban and copycat attacks spread to other parts of the country. We were told lies about how many had died as a result, reminded that South Africans had also died. This time were even treated to the “third force” delicacy – nice. But back to operation sweep away.

In May 2008, South Africa witnessed its worst wave of xenophobic violence. An estimated 20 000 people were displaced, 62 died during clashes, 600 more injured, over 500 arrested but only 132 convicted for crimes committed during that time.

Screenshot from a short clip I took in Jeppestown, Johannesburg last month.
Screenshot from a short clip I took in Jeppestown, Johannesburg last month.

Often the names given to police or government operations have more bark than the implementations bite. Normally bad things happen, they say nothing for what seems an inordinate window between the occurrence and their reaction. And then (normally) things that make it look like things are happening happen – photos are taken, interviews conducted, live crossings on the scene – some people feel like something has happened because their voices are heard or a heavy police presence alters their daily reality somewhat. Then we all run towards the smoke of another fire in the distance and leave before a pile of ashes can form before us, at the current crisis.

Normally.

Sometimes the (re)action comes in the form of a temporary structure or a wrongful arrest – something, anything that will appease even the skeptics for a few beats.

This time they chose force, brute force and swift broom strokes to deal with the problem.

Every police man or government official I have spoken to has said that Operation Fiela is in no way linked to xenophobia, it’s just a standard joint operation to deal with criminal activity in certain areas (read hostels, informal settlements and other such places where they can stamp their boots with unadulterated impunity). Even though they’re collaborating with the same army that was deployed a few weeks ago and conducted humiliating night time raids.

“Large sections of police were unleashed on people, their doors kicked down and people were asked to show their papers. It was a military operation in the middle of the night,” Stephen Faulkner, Cosatu nine unions representative (May 12, 2015)

This week, Stephen Faulkner said it perfectly, to paraphrase: this entire operation needs  a rethink, we can’t go around unleashing the military on people and sweep them away (deport them) like rubbish.

Wayne Ncube, human rights lawyer, explained that deportation is a lengthy process with many steps, which is why they are concerned with the high number of arrests and possible deportations that have already happened. This week they are working towards consulting with about 400 of the latest victims of such a raid which took place at the Central Methodist Church last Friday.

I have not spoken to a single person who isn’t in government who has stood behind the operation. The raids never made sense to begin with, nor do the arrests. It would be easier to believe that these are “standard joint operations” if they were in actual fact standard. If we knew about weekly or monthly raids to seize illegal firearms, bust prostitution rings and arrest undocumented people it would have been easier.

But the timing – first the limp condemnations a week after the first attacks, then the army deployment and raids two weeks after that – the boasting and plenty photo opps say otherwise.

PS

Meet the Amateur Photographer Covering Baltimore’s Protests

Great images!

TIME

Devin Allen, a 26-year-old amateur photographer with aspirations to make a career out of his work, has become a viral sensation. This week, his images of protests in Baltimore have amassed thousands of likes and have been shared by international media organizations around the world.

Allen grew up in West Baltimore, just five minutes away from where Freddie Gray’s encounter with the police left him with a fatal spinal injury. The police have denied using force against the 25-year-old, but one of the family’s attorneys said Gray’s spine was 80% “severed at the neck.”

“When I first saw the news of what happened…

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Free The Word: A literary gathering

I attended a night of poetry and literary goodness in a jazzy place earlier this month. Finally got down to editing and packaging this short(ish) video of what transpired that night, enjoy.

Oppikoppi Odyssey

This year I headed out to camp out in the bush again for the 20th year of Oppikoppi. These are some of the photos I managed to take at some of the performances I watched.

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Marshall arts

NOTE: Article first appeared in The Citizen newspaper on August 14, 2014. 

Sitting on a black leather couch in a tent on a farm in Limpopo, 42-year-old singer-songwriter Chan Marshall – also known as Cat Power – shared some intimate details of her life.

Marshall had just come off stage after her first appearance at Oppikoppi on Saturday, a performance on the Bruilof stage that saw fans shout words of encouragement when the sound equipment was not working properly.

Cat Power (Chan Marshall) on the Bruilof stage at Oppikoppi Odyssey on 09/08/2014
Cat Power (Chan Marshall) on the Bruilof stage at Oppikoppi Odyssey on 09/08/2014. Picture: Pheladi Sethusa

Between constantly apologising for the staccato nature of her performance, Marshall had to change the sound on the amplifier, sing into two microphones and figure out how to work a keyboard she had never played by herself – a visibly nerve-racking experience.

“I always have stage fright,” she says.

It’s a situation that’s not entirely foreign to Marshall, though in the past her erratic performances have been attributed to problems with alcohol and drugs. “People used to say ‘Oh, did you go see the train wreck?’” she says.

She does admit to having had a drug problem a while ago after her partner passed away.

“I chose it every day and I knew what I was doing every day. It wasn’t me being oblivious. I was riding that train because I couldn’t take the pain of losing the love of my life.”

Marshall wished the women in the audience a happy Women’s Day while on stage, and spoke about feminism afterwards.

“A lot of times women don’t have the simple, casual dignities that men have as their birthright,” she says.

“I’m called a feminist because I protect myself from someone else trying to get something from me,” she says.

Marshall’s latest album, Sun, was produced independently, using the singer’s life savings.

“I had to make a choice between what the label wanted me to do and what I knew I could do myself, and the album made the top 10,” she says.

She performed at the Baxter Concert Hall last week, a performance she had asked for in December when she came back after Nelson Mandela passed and she witnessed “social change” that inspired her.

Marshall intends to return to Cape Town next January to write about the experiences she has had in the city over the years.

New contender in the arena

Third year law student, Zareef Minty, is the national youth president for businessmen Kenny Kunene and Gayton McKenzie’s new political party, the Patriotic Alliance (PA).

The slight looking 20-year-old Minty, who is also a fashion designer said the PA was youth-centred and had a strong focus on giving second chances to the reformed, like two of its own founders.

Second chances and new alliances

“If Nelson Mandela could have that chance to be reformed (sic) coming out of jail and having an opportunity, then we should allow Kunene and Gayton to have the same thing.

UGGLING: National youth president for the Patriotic Alliance, Zareef Minty, explains how he manages between being a law student, political figure, fashion designer and author.                                                                         Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
JUGGLING: National youth president for the Patriotic Alliance, Zareef Minty, explains how he manages between being a law student, political figure, fashion designer and author. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

“In the same way a student has been charged with something should be allowed to have a future as well,”  said Minty.

“Ex-cons” Gayton McKenzie, president of the PA and general secretary Kenny Kunene, met each other in jail and following their release in 2003, became business partners.

Minty met the two through his clothing line partnership, after Kunene was asked to be an ambassador for Minty’s own fashion label, Self Made Billionaire (SMB). “Kunene liked the idea of an up and coming clothing brand worn by celebrities,” said Minty.

Youth-centric

He said the party also included more young people in its decision-making. He said four of the party’s 12-member national executive committee were under the age of 25.

“We are the only party out there who allows youth to have a platform in the NEC. The ANC and the Democratic Alliance has a separate Youth League so you don’t get young people in parliament,” he said.

Minty is sixth on the PA’s parlimentary list, which means if they manage to get six seats after the national elections this year, he could be sitting in parliament and not in stuffy lecture rooms.

The party’s focus on the youth and a “practical approach” to politics are what Minty believes will make the PA “a better alternative to the ANC”, which he said was policy heavy with little to no implementation thereof.

He believes that PA would be able to relate mostly to the born-frees because it was a party that did not  have any “baggage”.

Campaign trail

The PA’s campaign trail on campus has come with its own set of issues, “Until we have permission to be a club or society on campus we can’t really go out in a group and recruit people. We have been working by going person to person, trying to get them to join,” he said.

The PA, often referred to as the “coloured” or “gangster party”, was founded in Paarl in the Western Cape three months ago and plans to contest in the upcoming elections.

Minty said they have a good chance of having up to six seats in parliament after this year’s elections.

Minty is treasurer of the Wits Law Students’ Counsel and the chairperson of the Student Discipline Committee, which influenced his alignment with the PA and their belief in reforming and empowering the previously charged.

Before the PA, he was part of the ANC Youth League on campus where he took up position as treasurer but the PA presented him with an opportunity for national leadership

Along with the multitude of things Minty has on his plate this year, he plans to publish a motivational book, Empireby March.  Let’s watch this space.

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Artists collabo for LGBTI awareness

CRAFTY SYMBOLISM: Onlookers were drawn to the Faces and Faces wall, full of black and white photographs taken by visual artist Zanele Muholi. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
CRAFTY SYMBOLISM: Onlookers were drawn to the Faces and Faces wall, full of black and white photographs taken by visual artist Zanele Muholi. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Walking onto the eerily silent ramp that leads to the new exhibition at the Wits Art Museum, one is met by death. Small mounds of sand stand,holding up colourful wooden crosses that have dates of birth and death written on them.These graves that lie in glass containers are in the Zanele Muholi’s Mo(u)rning section of the exhibition.

The next piece of the collection, Faces and Faces catches the eye immediately as a wall of black and white portraits look one in the eye. There are some gaps between some of the photographs by Muholi which speak to the nameless but dated graves.

“The spaces were left there to show that they could have been a part of this section of the exhibition if they weren’t killed for being gay and lesbian,” explained facilitator Ace Kekana, whose face appears in one of Muholi’s portraits. Queer and Trans Art-iculations: Collaborative Art for Social Change is a collaborative exhibition by visual artists, Muholi and Gabrielle le Roux. 

“…men who gang rape women, who murder lesbians, who beat their wives – they walk the streets as free men.”

Muholi’s work is on the ground floor of the museum with a focus on the LGBTI community in South Africa – their beauty, their struggle, their murders and more. Muholi is not only a photographer, so her work varies and in this exhibit includes some of her bead work and a documentary film.

The most elaborate display in Muholi’s section are rosaries that hang from the ceiling. The beads in the rosaries are tennis balls and kitchen utensils. The vertical end of the cross at the end of the rosary is made from a knife which represents the violent killings of members of the LGBTI community experience, and the horizontal end from braai forks to represent the supposed hell killers think they’ve sent their victims to, or perhaps the lived hell victims endure.

“When people kill based on gender they like to say it’s for religious reasons, these crosses represent how dangerous that kind of thinking can be,” said Kekana.

The most moving part of Muholi’s exhibited work is a wall with a number of written messages from victims and their family members about their experiences. One of the messages read: “Here in South Africa you have judges sending women to jail for stealing a loaf of bread to feed her baby, but men who gang rape women, who murder  lesbians, who beat their wives – they walk the streets as free men.” 

This is one of the rosaries that hang from the ceiling. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
This is one of the rosaries that hang from the ceiling. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

In contrast to the quiet reception on entering Muholi’s floor of the exhibition, walking down the ramp into the basement area, sounds from the television screens set up with short documentaries by Le Roux lure attendees with their mixed up buzz.

Le Roux’s collection, Proudly African & Transgender and Proudly Trans in Turkey looks at the experiences “trans and intersex people in Turkey and Africa,” said Kekana. Another facilitator, Thekwane Mpisholo is in one of the portraits put on display by Le Roux.

The painted portraits are inclusive of their “subjects” and this can be seen in the quotes the artist let them scribble on their actual portraits.

The newly launched Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, helped to find the funding for this project. “They’re the ones who helped us with the planning and funding because they (Diversity Studies) study things that aren’t ordinarily studied by other faculties – that’s how they came on board,” said Mpisholo.

There is a lot to read, watch and see at this exhibition and people can do so until March 30 2014 at the Wits Art Museum.

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GALLERY: #teamuvuvu End of Year Party

This past Monday was officially the last #teamvuvu event of the year. Everyone was dressed to the nines for our delicious three course dinner at Giles restaurant in Parkhurst. The wine and tears flowed in equal measure. It was a lovely send off 🙂

#teamvuvu: Sibusisiwe Nyanda

Today you get to meet the stunning, Busi/Sibu. Another one of the awesome people from teamvuvu 2013.

Sibusisiwe Nyanda looking gorg. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Sibusisiwe Nyanda looking gorg. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Me: How would you describe your outfit today?

Busi: Summery, fun. It has a little touch of class, it’s a little chic.

Me: How would you describe your style in general?

Busi: I think my style in general is representative of the above. I like to look cute and pretty but there’s always a sense of my personal style in that. While I’m interested in what’s trending and what’s hot, I think it’s always important to have your own sense of style. I actually like a lot of my mom’s stuff, her style is on point.

Me: Now that we’ve broken the ice, are you sure about this journalism thing?

Busi: To be honest with you, I’m sure that journalism is still something that I love. I’m just not sure that journalism is something that I would be good at and that scares me. I know that it’s got a lot to do with, you know, how I performed this year – I don’t think that I put myself out there and gave it as much as I could have. And that’s led to my questioning whether or not this is something I can do. I don’t question whether or not I love it, I question my ability to actually do it as well as I’d like to.

Me: That said, if you weren’t doing what you doing this, what would you be doing?

Busi: I would definitely be doing music. When I left high school I wanted to go to UCT and do music and my parents were just like listen, no – get a real career. That’s how I ended up doing Media Studies and Journalism. I’m still interested in doing music at some point in my life.

Me: How have you found your honours year?

Busi: It’s been challenging, demanding but it’s also been the best year of all my studying. Um, I’ve met awesome people and I feel like I’ve been exposed to the kind of practical, how to you apply theory stuff that I’ve always spoken about. When I started in my first year, I expected Media Studies to be like Journalism and I felt like it was a great waste of time when all that theory was being thrown at me without any place to actually apply it. I think in hindsight it was useful but this year has definitely been the best year. It’s been that kind of put yourself in the deep end and swim type of year, and I’ve loved that.

Me: What’s been the most challenging thing and the most rewarding thing for you this year?

Busi: The most challenging thing has been the Monday pitches. Having to always have your brain switched on and have your finger on the pulse on what’s happening in the community, to be able to come back with something on Monday morning with an idea of what you’re going to put in the paper and making sure that it’s relevant.

The kind of feedback we get from people has been rewarding. People who like the stories that you put out or even for me, what matters more is my own peers telling me “that was cool, I liked the way you did this, I liked the way you did that”. To have your peers respect and admire some of the stuff that you’ve done, when you all started out knowing absolutely nothing was really rewarding for me.

Me: Where will you be next year and what will you be doing?

Busi: I’m going to be an intern-journalist at Drum magazine, in Sandton.

Me: How would you describe #teamvuvu in three words?

Busi: Loud, opinionated and trailblazers. This has been the group that decided that just because this is how things have been done all this time doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Where some of the traditions and structures made sense I think the group conceded but where things didn’t, this group wasn’t afraid to speak out. Whether it was in the department or in terms of Wits  and the community’s attitude towards certain issues – this has just been that group. I think that’s really important because that’s what the industry needs, so ya.

[how quickly  3 words can turn into 100 :P]

Me: A word of advice for the incoming team for 2014?

Busi: Don’t pay attention to people who tell you that what you’re doing is a waste of time, because half the time you’ll find that those people are applying for the course anyway. Where there’s constructive criticism, definitely yield towards it and listen. But make sure that you aren’t paying attention to people who have shallow, empty criticism. Those are just people who have too much time on their hands. Also try not to compete with each other as a group. Have fun yo, enjoy your time here – it’s over before you know it.