untitled

Some people are not allowed to dream. Some people are not granted the space to think beyond their circumstance and no amount of “hard work” in too many people’s cases can fix that. Some people are only given enough space to think to 6pm that evening when they have to pull off another miracle  to feed all five mouths waiting for  them at home. This thing of living just to survive another day is not okay, that’s what I hear the young lions saying and I don’t see how anyone else can hear anything but that obvious truth.

The country has been burning, things have been falling, people have been arrested, charged with treason, many assaulted but thankfully no longer ignored. Placated in some places with some concessions made, abhorred in others, attacked still, but no longer ignored.

#RhodesMustFall #FeesMustFall #OutsourcingMustFall #AccessMustRise #AfrikaansMustFall

Fallists will probably be my people of the decade. They did what those before them dared not to, in fear of shaking things up too much and as a result losing their promised place in relative comfort. They stood up for not only themselves but everyone else too. Which is why it’s so difficult to hear voices of dissent from their peers, their teachers, their parents and (most disappointingly) the people who are tasked with telling their stories to people on the continent and around the world. 

I don’t deserve to write about the fallists, but I think I am allowed to say I am so proud and continue to support them in their efforts. Yes there have been very unfortunate instances of waywardness, reports about sexual assault and the like along the way – a reflection of the society we live in because academic spaces are mere microcosms of the larger world, not separate special entities where having a degree exempts one from being sexist, homophobic, racist etc. This doesn’t excuse the messiness at all, rather contextualizes it. 

**Quote: Andile Mthombeni, student at Wits

Advertisements

Literary Postmortem: Memoirs of a Born Free

I remember being insanely jealous when I saw this book being advertised when it was first published in 2014. Watching Malaika wa Azania doing interviews about the book, thinking “that’s what I wanted to do, surely that should be me”. I’m so glad the universe gave her the gig because this is honestly one of the best books I have read about the state of South Africa – now more than ever really.

This nation’s students stood up last year to say enough is enough and more importantly stood up for themselves when nobody else would. This book reads like a brilliantly timed prologue to what we have seen happen in the past few months at universities across the country.

I was part of the generation that has witnessed the end of our people being oppressed and trapped by the false belief that they owed their eternal gratitude to you (the ANC), and that there would be none brave enough to take you on. (page 167)

For the longest time, until recently,  people have expected and have thought about “born free’s” as one homogeneous group that is “non-racial”, not oppressed and has countless opportunities to drag themselves out of poverty and joblessness. This has never been true in this country and remains untrue today. This book made me acknowledge the nuances of inequality in this country, I’ll explain by way of example. memoirs of a born free

Malaika and I are exactly the same age. The schools we went to were relatively similar. We both fell in love with books an words in ways that changed our lives. Our experiences of whiteness in high school were quite similar. Our thoughts about this continent and it’s people on par. But even though we share some experiences there are a lot, too many that we don’t. And that is our reality. My heart almost broke when she shared a story about taking a friend home from school one afternoon. They ate and did what they did very other afternoon when they went to one another’s “houses” (I say houses like that because a shack isn’t isn’t a house). It started raining. Heavily. The topmost form of zinc protection between them and the heavens caved in from the rain. The shack flooded. Pots and pans floated around the girls. We see similar images on news bulletins every now and again but being inside the head of that little girl who was embarrassed that she had a friend over as they and everything her family owned took an involuntary swim. Some people routinely experience such things as  drainage systems and plumping systems are non existent in the places that house tin enclosures.

Merely by being born black in this country you had problems. I didn’t think I’d need therapy to cope with my own circumstances. (page 104)

Her life was rough, she dealt with and took on so much just to survive. There are some who would look at her story and begin telling the “magic negro/against all odds” narrative, that instead of speaking to and addressing the conditions that make people have to trudge through hell just to eat or have a place to sleep or gain entrance into an institution of further education, praises this magical black person who “overcame” those challenges and puts them on a pedestal with a placard reading “HARD WORK PAYS” as inspiration for the other lazy blacks – who are obviously poor because they don’t work hard enough, lol.

She has an amazing mind and can so easily put forth her observations in ways that had me screaming out yes on the train while I was reading this. It was like having one of those heated debates in a politics lecture that I miss so much, affirming and teaching me things at the same time. She speaks to the reality of now, the discord between the state and us, the animosity between black and white and the poverty keeping the majority of our people scrapping at the bottom of the barrel.

There are times when the only weapon a black child can use to fight against a system that dehumanises her is to be so angry that she is left with no choice but to dare to be alive.

While I bemoan the resilience narrative, I also found her political resilience inspiring. Fighting “the system” is an uphill battle with assured losses along the way, choosing to keep on fighting is necessary to achieving any kind of change. It’s not about winning or reaching a point where you get something that you want, like the vote, thinking that you have attained freedom once you have it. It is a journey, a continuous one that will not end any time soon if we rest at historical pit stops for a feast.

But comrade Malema was the closest thing to ourselves than anyone else at that point. (page 114)

I was particularly saddened by her account of what transpired while she was part of the EFF, the way they treated her really hurt and frightened me considering their trajectory and my allegiance.  Either way this woman is a fighter and I can only hope that one day I can follow in her footsteps in using words to paint truth bombs for pictures.

In other words, a must read.

 

ON: Gentrification

“If you drive over the bridge, you’ve gone too far. Then you’re in the CBD CBD” – this was the warning I would add when giving directions to my friends when I used to live in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. As a student it was public knowledge that crossing the Nelson Mandela bridge, meant leaving the relative “safety” of the patrolled, student filled streets of Braam and entering, “real” downtown Johannesburg.

Patrons at the Motherland coffee shop. Photo: Me
Patrons at the Motherland coffee shop. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

When I lived in Braam four years ago, the prettification of the place had only just begun. The trendy, art decor-ish apartment block I had moved into still had builders coming in and out, paint fumes choking us and an irregular electricity supply. But it was by far the safest and cleanest place around me. Standing on the balcony of my brand new apartment, with supplied furniture and 24-hour security and fingerprint access, were the rows and rows of rusty, bird-shit-stained, peeling walls that housed the bane of property developers and the state’s existence. The blaring gospel music and the sight of panties on balconies became mine.

The run down apartments – housing entire extended families – around me reminded me of Lucky Kunene, a fictional character in a local movie, Jerusalema. Basically this ex “baddie” buys rundown buildings in the inner city, promises reduced rent to inhabitants, collects it then forces the landlords to take the reduced rent. When they fight him on it, he makes running the place and evictions impossible; then buys the buildings when landlords inevitably give up. And when he gets control, the twisted Robin Hood of Hillbrow rids the buildings of drugs, prostitutes and general squalor. The apartments around me are the places we see red ants descend upon where people are evicted after not paying rent because of the lack of services, which are a result of unpaid rent and so on and so forth.

Dictionary definition of Gentrification: the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.

By the time I was in third year, our prettified part of the inner city had really come alive. Jolling in Braam was now a viable option. You could hop from Puma Social Club, to Great Dane to Kitcheners. None of which had entrance at the time, Great Dane just had a password some nights and if you didn’t have it R20 was your fine. In the daytime there was Post and Double Shot and Father – all of which my student budget could never quite afford but made an effort to save for come allowance day.

“Once you start to notice bike lanes in your neighbourhood – especially if you’re from the hood – that’s an indication that  the neighbourhood is about to be gentrified.” – Negus Korby in Not in my Neighbourhood (2013)

Thrift stalls at Kitcheners Cravery Bar. Photo: Me
Thrift stalls at Kitcheners Cravery Bar. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Then there was that whole “take the streets back” thing Nike had going on, I asked myself “back from who?” but those thoughts were quickly sanitised by the cute banana loaves and frozen lemonades at Motherland. At the time all the change happening on the streets I walked on daily was exciting. I spoke about the “rejuvenation of the inner city” with that hipster smugness we all hate. Without thinking about the people that lived on the periphery of these changes, on the other side of the bridge or even in the middle of these changes but not being able to enjoy the changes because of financial barriers.

I love Braam with all of my heart. As a girl from Pretoria it helped me begin to navigate the city in a way I never would have if I lived in res or at home. Of late, I have had to reevaluate this love. Gentrification and spatial violence in these rejuvenated spaces has come under some scrutiny. I’ve read the articles with an open mind, making me question myself and ultimately feeling guilty for my entire social life being based in one of these questionable spaces.

In 2013 evictions of informal traders in the inner city, saw over 2000 people displaced. Operation Clean Sweep (uncanny coincidence huh) was apparently an initiative aimed at ridding the city of “illegal hawkers”.

One of the things that has contributed to my mixed feelings is Not In My Neighbourhood, a unfinished documentary by Kurt Orderson. I saw the full version  this past week for the first time, screenings haven’t come up to the city of gold yet but I have spoken to him and he assured me it will happen at some point. Watching this actually made me think about spatial violence in our current context. The evictions we see in buildings too close to our little bubbles are akin to the forced removals of apartheid, are they not? But perhaps instead of bulldozers arriving suddenly, we now force people out with the exorbitant rental fees imposed after renovations.

“For inner city street traders, who are increasingly pushed into smaller and smaller spaces… Gentrification is also about – in Johannesburg – urban redevelopment is also about not just a particular aesthetic effect, it’s also a mode of governance.” – Mpho Matsipa in Not in my Neighbourhood (2013)

It had never occurred to me until I wrote this, but there are no street vendors in Braam, there are many little spaza shops and cellphone shops and salons – but no one has a little table set up on the street. Now I’m wondering if this is by design or perhaps there was just never a need for “informal traders” because everyone has a shop? Hmmm.

I don’t have an opinion on “gentrification”, I think I see both sides on this one. I get people who argue against it and I find their arguments valid but I also get people who are in favour of it and think that it brings positive change but for who is the question? I don’t have the answers, I’m just a girl with a blog, thinking out aloud.

 

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

We definitely need new names

I have now written a few stories and filmed footage around the current spate of Xenophobic violence in South Africa. I have had debates about whether its xenophobia or afrophobia, about the good King and the reluctance from our government to shame him and about self-hate/unemployment/ignorance being catalysts for the violence.

I have thought about and consumed information on this topic for the past three weeks but I still feel like there’s nothing I can say. The shame coupled with the guilt and anger and sheer despondency have rendered me speechless.

I have nothing intelligent to add to the “stop xenophobia” calls and campaigns – particularly because I feel that a lot of the talking is happening at a level that doesn’t speak directly to the guys wielding pangas and knives on the streets. The guys who are drunk at 7a.m. with the whole day ahead of them to burn and loot and terrorise. The guys who we rarely think about outside of their sins.

A lot of the rhetoric from the top said: no matter what your frustrations are, you have no right to mete that out with violence against others. Another reminded us of the moral debt we owe to those who sheltered us in our time of need. But within those same ranks we had people in positions of power saying the amount of “foreign nationals” in South Africa was reaching a problematic level.

On the ground the guys I talked to said they don’t want “foreigners” in this country because they steal their jobs, sell drugs and steal “their” women. I didn’t know I was a thing that could be stolen. The same guys who told me that are also the same guys who felt it appropriate to try to kiss me, despite my continuous and unwavering “No’s”.

All of that aside, they were the first people I thought of when I heard this quote last night: “You lose your soul when you feel like the world has forgotten about you.”

I just don’t understand how another person from this continent can be called a foreigner. To me anyone who calls them that has no proper scope of history – they obviously know nothing about the false colonial borders, efforts by those same colonisers to have us identify and discriminate on “tribal lines” and obviously even less about the Bantu migration, we’re from Congo yo (but that is a story for another day).

I don’t understand how we let everyone and their mother walk all over us for hundreds of years then have the audacity to touch another African just because we know we can hit them and nothing will happen. It’s like men who beat their wives when they get home after biting their tongues for several hours saying “yes baas”. He bottles is anger and frustration, knowing that saying or doing something to “baas” will have real consequences, consequences a coward like him couldn’t possibly deal with. So he waits, stores that anger, until he can reach a target he can attack with the conviction that no one will be there to back his victim.

For me the reasons of anger and frustration at broken promises decades after democracy are secondary – this is about our level(s) of self hate. It runs deeps and cuts wide.

I say we need new names because we can no longer claim to be true sons and daughters of the soil, when we treat our own like this – I don’t know which words they might be but any that speak to a deep betrayal and self-hate will suffice.

PS

**Photo: Tracy Lee Stark/The Citizen

Literary Postmortem: Americanah

I will start by saying “long live Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, long live”. What a woman, what a storyteller.

There is nothing I didn’t love about this novel. Well at first I looked at the tiny bible-like print with a bit of a side eye but it grew on my eyes.

In the past two to three years, I have made a conscious effort to read more African authors because frankly even though I was an English Literature student, I was starved for stories told by my people, about my people for my people. This novel lived up to this preference through and through.

From the very first paragraph to the last one on page four hundred and something – she had me. Not to compare, but Americanah filled the historic/political/social gap I found in NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names.

In Americanah there is an effort made to make the reader truly see and understand Nigeria, its people and its politics. In no way forced or didactic, but rather she chose to edify us by way of conversation. The whole book felt like a collection of stories told by that very interesting person at the party who has everyone in the room enthralled. It almost felt like a very long, well-written, witty blog post – which I loved.

In a nutshell the story follows Ifemelu – a woman you will come to love and hate – from her childhood and teenage years in Nigeria, to her years spent in “exile” in America-land. I say exile like that because she really only went there because life in her home country was not conducive to her growth at the time, which is what going to exile is partly about. People leave because they have to not because they want to – it’s about fleeing from restriction really (well to my mind).

The bulk of the book speaks to two of my favourite topics, love and race. It’s a great love story, one that had me falling in love with Obinze (the love of her life) chapter by chapter. He is perfect because of his imperfections and somewhat simple nature. He loves her in an all encompassing way but never smothering. Their story is weaved into every corner of the book, much like her longing for him when they are apart. Without quite knowing it until the very end, he is everything.

I found it fascinating that race only became an issue for Ifemulu when she stepped off this continent full of people who look like her without question. I like that she tackles race head-on in her personal life and goes as far as to start a blog dedicated to confronting the race problem in America. She puts excerpts of the blog in the book, which was another highlight while reading.

Her characters are complicated, irritating even frustrating and that made for a more authentic read. I liked that i didn’t like everyone all the time because that is our reality. People are disappointing, fearful, childish, racist, arrogant and and and.

If my opinion counts for anything I would say in fifty years this will be one of those books we call classic, hell I’ll call it that now. Read it. Re-read it. Make people you love read it.

Debate Club: Gender agenda

Gender not sex. Womanism not feminism. Patriarchy not masculinity.  These were some of the things brought up at the last debate club meeting of the year on November 25, 2014. The panel steering the direction of the conversation was made up by Panashe Chigumadzi, Lee Molefi and Lebohang Nova Masango.

Feminism, what it is and who it speaks to made up a substantial part of the debate on the night. Some described it as movement that seeks justice and equality. As women wanting to live in a world where they don’t have constantly “check” themselves to stay out of harms way. As vaginas and boobs not being the things that dictate where we belong and what we get to do. The most poignant description for me was:

The way patriarchy shapes what men should and can expect from women was another hot topic. I recall one guy in the audience saying he is all for woman empowerment and equality for “other women” just not his woman. He admitted that he had learnt to expect subservience and as a result that is what he now yearned for.

If I recall correctly he said he’s all for his sister becoming and engineer but his wife should have a more “humble job” as to not bruise his ego and mess with his role as the head of the house. The room, filled predominantly with women, was up in arms at that. This is the kind of thinking that reminds women that they are alone in this struggle, black men aren’t really here for us. Agreed with these comments on gender roles made on the night:

My biggest take away from the night was the fact that so few men were willing to understand what feminism is, some suggested that they can never identify because they aren’t women, that they need to be schooled and feel included to get on the train. In response, the panel said acknowledging patriarchy and how as a man you benefit from it, is similar to white people having to acknowledge white privilege. Something that was necessary to start trying to make things better.

There is a lot more that could have been discussed but time rules us all. This is a very short video of the night made by the good people at LiveMag:

 

Debate Club – Chats about the truth keep me sane

There are few things as freeing, as validating, as anchoring, as sitting in a room filled with young people talking about our lived realities.

Last month some friends and I joined Debate Club, an initiative by the good people at Live Mag. There have only been two “meetings” but so far so great. It happens once a month at on the last Tuesday of that month at the Bannister Hotel in Braamfontein.


The first time we went, we discussed being African – what it means or what it should mean. We had a robust discussion about we can and should be doing to uphold certain traditions, how others should move on with the times and what kind of things “led us astray” if you will. Some of my favourite quotes from the floor that night:

  • “Townships are dormitories for cheap labour” – a comment on the ill notion of glorifying living in townships.
  • “We just don’t know ourselves.”
  • “We’re not living in a context that is made for Africanism.”

Last week at the second meeting, the proverbial heat in the kitchen got turned up a few notches as we embarked on a topic that was bound to be explosive – race. In particular race in South Africa in relation to the so called “rainbow nation”.

To try to sum up what people said would be reductive, luckily I was tweeting like a mad woman. Will embed a few favourites to give a brief peek into what went down:

It was a night for the “angry black” – a night to speak our minds with reckless abandon that brimmed with obvious frustration. It was a night to say we are here, this is what we see and we don’t like it.

It was so necessary, so enlightening and equally depressing. I’m glad that I’ve found this space – I look forward to many more nights like the ones we’ve already had.

2Cents: The #Generation16 and cultural activism

The past two weeks have been the stage on which a wage dispute has turned into a full on cause to change the entertainment industry as it pertains to artists working in broadcast television.

Sixteen gatvol Generations actors decided to withhold their services (not strike they say) until their production company and the national broadcaster, SABC entered into wage negotiations with them.

They were given an ultimatum to return to work or get fired – the latter was chosen for them or by them depending on which “side” you’re on.

Since headlines have been abuzz with stories of inflated salaries, new talent, forlorn stars etc. This past Tuesday, for the first time in two weeks everyone got a big ol’ dose of perspective.

Initially when Mfundi Vundla spoke last week dropping the R55 000 bomb – I was like, well that is some good money, why are these guys kicking their toys about. But I immediately chided myself – the 21 year old soapie probably makes more money than any production of its kind in the country. Yesterday I learnt they make R500 million a year now.

That they cannot sit down to negotiate a way to cut the actors a piece of that pie seems unreasonable, to me at least. Apparently they have only received R3000 in royalty fees for the past 11 years.

Some of the dismissed cast members highlighted what was wrong, what they wanted and broke down in tears when doing so – illustrating to me that I actually have no idea how the “industry works”. Then Dr Johan Kani explained for us all.

“We carry the residue of the apartheid era master/servant relationship,” he said. Kani expanded on this saying that actors are not employed by their production companies, they are in a contractual relationship with them. Adding that actors should not be treated in the disposable manner that the dismissed 16 were treated.

He spoke at length about he had used his art to help bring down an oppressive system, yet here sat 16 people, 21 years later who were being treated in a way that resembled that past regime. He said that as an academic entity in society, artists should be valued and now was the time for them to stand up to say they are worthy of more.

He called on them to make the Generations set unworkable, much like the miners in Rustenburg had done to Lonmin for five months. Block the doors, barring clening staff, writers and the like from going to work until their demands are met.

His speech was the ultimate ah-uh moment. His son, Atandwa Kani then took to the podium. He was fired along with the 16 after only being a part of the team for three weeks, he had not even been on screen yet.

He admitted that he came on board wanting to “ascend his status as an actor”, acting alongside some of the country’s best.  However, “this was a battle I could not turn my back on,” he said.

“I come from a family where I was raised by a father who spent most of his life, and dedicated his life to the emancipation of this country – as a political activist through the arts. Now, I cannot having his blood running through my veins sit back and be silent.”

What they had to say, what everyone had to say on Tuesday afternoon made me realize the dire need for cultural activism of this kind in South Africa.It also made me realise that this is no longer just about the 16, but about something much bigger.

I really do hope their cause catches on and that they do stand as firm as they have promised to. Pay back the royalties maan.