In the deep end

Last week I had all this unconstrained excitement for our in-depth project to begin. All the preparatory and introductory speakers and an outing made me super keen to dive in, to get in there.

Then Friday came along and took at least 50% of the built up excitement away. We had pitch meeting’s in our groups and then went on to pitch our story idea’s to the rest of the class. I was really excited about the two idea’s I had come up with until I heard them being pitched by other groups. Shit. That word became the opening for my pitch, the pitch I had imagined would be all fresh and original. I suppose that’s what happens when there are other geniuses in the room 😉

Anyway after some discussion I then settled for a new story altogether. Development or under development of Chinese spaces/infrastructure in the city, a look into the future of Chinese spaces in the city.

I woke up with no plan and no direction. Yes I had a topic but what I’d do with it was my worry and the biggest challenge of the day. At first I figured it might be a good idea to work backwards by going down to Old Chinatown, to get a little historical context and all. But that idea didn’t really tickle me.

FIRST STOP: Rivonia Oriental City Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
FIRST STOP: Rivonia Oriental City Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

So I read up a little bit in the morning and found some great research done by Dr Yoon Jung Park, a senior research associate at Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg. Her research focuses on Chinese migrants in South Africa. Her work looks into perceptions, ethnicity, identity, class/power dynamics and more.  Upon reading she highlighted “new” spaces that Chinese people are occupying to branch out (in lack of a better phrase). This then made me do a little noodle dance that saw me heading out to Rivonia.

Rivonia Oriental City opened up just over a year ago. It’s not a ‘typical’ Chinese mall as there is a lot of integration and diversity. There are a hybrid of different stores including commercial South African staples like Pick n Pay and Truworths, we also saw a Kenyan coffee shop, well to say Kenyan is a stretch, they had pap and vleis as the meal of the day, but I digress. There was also a black hair salon next to a discount variety store.

However, there was not much difference in the Chinese stores present in the mall. There were clothing stores and gift and variety stores that sold the same merchandise. Interestingly there was a corridor next to the Pick n Pay that lead to the kind of oriental stores we have become accustomed to. Something about the low lighting and lack of activity making it not so ‘typical’.

GET CLEAN: Miracle soaps being sold at a stall on wheels. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
GET CLEAN: Miracle soaps being sold at a stall on wheels. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Speaking to people at the mall proved challenging, a strong language barrier being the catalyst. The people we did manage to speak to had been in the country for some time and as a result could speak English. It was interesting to hear one guy Nathan Cai say he had “too little” Chinese friends and only wanted more, while someone else, Rose Zheng said she had “too many” and wanted to diversify her friend group.

Rose also said that she liked that this mall was different to China Mall: Dragon City, where she had worked previously. She liked the diversity of shops and people she was surrounded by, pointing out that all the businesses are not all Chinese owned and run. “It’s nice because we are in South Africa,” she added.

Being at the mall and getting insight from some of the people there did not make my angle any clearer but it did give me direction, I was heading North and now in a more North Easterly direction. Ooh suspense.

Silent Protest at Wits

Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

I offered to be the photographer for this event as soon as I saw the posters on campus a few weeks ago. I knew I wanted to be involved with this event, as I had seen a friend’s pictures from last year’s Silent Protest at Rhodes University.

By the time I arrived on the Library Lawns for the handing out of t-shirts on Friday, April 16, it was already drizzling. This didn’t make people run off, they all just whipped out their umbrella’s and continued to queue for their shirts. There were three different shirts being handed out: shirts specifically for rape survivors (those brave enough to wear them); for supporters of the protest (who had to go a step further and have tape over their mouths) and lastly shirts for supporters who for health reasons could not join in being gagged the whole day.  

Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

From what I understand the reason for taping supporters was that they had to endure the burden of being silenced, in their case for a day. Symbolic of the silent struggle that many rape survivors go through. Those who were taped could not take that tape off until later that afternoon, when they would be able to “break their silence.”

At 12.45 all the R U Silent Wits supporters met at Amic Deck for a silent march through the university. 

The march was powerful in its silence. People are too used to loud protests/marches, which makes them somewhat indifferent to them. In this case the silence of the protesters caused more of a stir for onlookers. There were audible murmurs of people asking one another what was going on, wanting to know how they could join etc. The flip side of that were nasty jeers from people who wanted to belittle the protesters. I heard a group of young men laughing as one amongst them shouted “you have sexy ambitions with this thing you are trying to do,” to which I saw a few faces scrunch up in abhorrence.

The final destination was Senate House Concourse, where a few speakers were expected. Rosie Motene spoke on behalf of POWA, a rape survivor from the crowd Tumi shared her experience and Kelly Gillespie, Wits academic, also addressed the crowd. They all managed to resonate with and inspire the gathered protesters. In between the speakers shocking rape stats were read out to the crowd. Things like 100 year old woman rape, 4 year old raped and mutilated… It made the rape statistics we hear about so much more real.

After this was what they called the “die in,” when all in attendance lay on the floor in remembrance of those who had died from rape related violence. It was at this point I began to see reddened eyes and tears streaming down people’s faces. I saw friends tightly holding one another’s hands and boyfriends mustering up courage to lend strong enough shoulders, or just wiping away tears. It was at this point that I stopped taking pictures, lay next to my friend, to hold her hand.

Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

 

The silence of the “die in” was broken by wails from two actresses who began their skit in the middle of the crowd. A moving piece which illustrated the torment rape victims go through and their struggle to speak out.  After the performance those whose mouths had been taped all day could finally “break their silence” by taking the masking tape off of their mouths. This came at the right time as, the debrief thereafter would be the space in which people could reflect on the day and share their experience

Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

.

No media was allowed in the debrief, so I simply went in my personal capacity. It was a very emotional experience. Brave young women and men took heed to the messages to break the silence and shared their stories. I heard stories I will never forget for as long as I live. I heard things that made the stats resonate, that made them real. The sheer numbers in that lecture venue of survivors made me shudder. One must keep in mind there were probably more who were too afraid to speak out to that large body of people.

I was thoroughly depressed when I left that venue. Drained. But I realised that I needed that experience. I needed to know the reality of the situation. I can only hope that the day helped others in the way that it helped me and that the movement continues to gain momentum.

PS**