#ZumaMustFall: the awkward position of a problematic movement

This past week has been an interesting one in South Africa’s history. We have had a grand total of three finance ministers in one week. Nhlanhla Nene was fired last Thursday and was replaced by David van Rooyen. When the rand plummeted to record lows in the wake of Zuma’s latest reshuffling, people across South Africa expressed their outrage and a #ZumaMustFall march was quickly arranged for later on this week. Just when we were beginning to feel as though Zuma had done enough this week, he goes and reappoints Pravin Gordhan as Minister of Finance. Suffice to say, South Africans have now learned that if you go to bed too early, you might wake up to find that Cabinet has been reshuffled again.

Before I continue, I would like to make it clear that I believe that Jacob Zuma is a terrible president who has made terrible decisions and will run this country to the ground if left unchecked. Despite all that has happened, I do still have some (perhaps optimistic) faith in the ANC. I still think that the ANC’s ideologies are the most nuanced, especially when compared to the ideologies of opposition parties such as the DA and the EFF. But that being said, I cannot ignore that there are dangerous levels of corruption and incompetence within the party. The ANC has rot that runs deep and the longer they remain in power, the deeper that rot gets.

Jacob Zuma’s decision to remove Nene and replace him with the admittedly ill qualified David van Rooyen was just another example of how for Zuma, he, the ANC, and even Dudu Myeni come before the country. And for many South Africans, while this wasn’t the most offensive thing that Zuma or the ANC has ever done it was the final straw. And on that count, I fully agree that Zuma needs to go. If social media is anything to go by, so do the majority of South Africans.

That being said, there are a number of issues I’ve found within the #ZumaMustFall campaign. The issues are perhaps best encapsulated by this petition which has already gained over 26 000 signatures. The petition calls for Zuma to step down and, besides the fact that it is poorly written and reasoned, it gives a number of racist and xenophobic arguments which include stating that foreign nationals are “stealing all our jobs”, that Zuma “allowed the immigrants in so they could vote for him”, and that South Africa is worse now than it ever was under Apartheid. Because apparently, a government that oppresses the majority of your population, purposefully keeps them poor and unskilled so they can be exploited as cheap labour, and commits human rights abuses on a daily basis against them, which included torture, is perfectly alright as long as it makes sure that white people are living comfortable lives.

The reason I point to this petition in particular is that it is one of the clearest examples of the strong racist and classist undercurrent running in the #ZumaMustFall campaign. Now, these undercurrents haven’t popped up out of nowhere. For years now, I have heard people speaking of ANC voters and working class black people using overtly classist and racist rhetoric. A popular one is this idea that everyone who votes for the ANC is doing so because they are stupid/uneducated and it is therefore the task of Good Liberal Whites everywhere to venture into the deepest darkest townships of South Africa so they can teach the poor black people there how to think, because Lord knows they can’t do it for themselves. Or, if they’re more honest about their racism and classism they can simply either state or strongly imply that “certain people” shouldn’t be allowed to vote at all.

And let’s make it clear: the #ZumaMustFall campaign and Pravin Gordhan’s reappointment is strongly guided by middle class, white, interests. Zuma and the ANC have been messing things up for a long time but until now, their incompetence has primarily affected poor black people. Now, with the rand plummeting to record lows on Thursday night, foreign investments and white capital was directly effected. Many of the people I have seen preparing to march for Zuma’s resignation this week were the very same people who a few weeks ago were calling student protesters”hooligans” during the #FeesMustFall protests. They were the same people criminalising the miners for being lazy and violent during the Marikana Massacre. They are the same people who have rolled their eyes and spoken about how this country is going to the dogs every time poor black people have protested for basic service delivery or a liveable wage.

 

And so, I’m stuck in an awkward position. I must now argue both with ANC enthusiast’s who believe that the government and the president is beyond reproach and I must argue with people who are using the #ZumaMustFall campaign as a vehicle to express their politically correct racism. Once again I must ask myself whether I should disassociate myself completely from this movement or swallow my discomfort and anger and march along for Zuma’s resignation knowing that yes, #ZumaMustFall is problematic as hell, but we need to deal with Zuma NOW. It’s a difficult position, and I feel that it is an unfair one at that. Because as a born-free black woman I should not still be having to sit down and explain to the very same people I’m supposed to be marching side by side with, that all black people, not just the ones who act and sound like them, are human beings deserving of respect too.

Yet this is the position we find ourselves in in 2015.

Honestly, I still haven’t figured out what I’m going to do.

“Our Perfect Wedding” and the normalisation of predatory relationships

Last night, Mzansi Magic decided to air, for the second week in a row, a predatory relationship between an older man and a younger woman on the hit reality show Our Perfect Wedding. It’s probably worth noting that the first time I watched the show, they were airing an episode with an older man who had met and begun dating his fiancee when she was 13 and he was 21. In the duration of their relationship, he had had three children with three different women, but the bride had felt lucky that a light skinned man like him wanted to be with a dark skinned woman like her, and felt that the fact that they hadn’t had any children together was a personal failure on her part. So suffice to say, OPW has been guilty of airing these kinds of episodes for quite some time.

However, this week’s episode pushed the boundaries beyond the limit. It featured a couple in which the woman had been 14 and the man 28 when they began dating. The groom was a taxi driver at the time and confessed to deliberately targeting young school girls for sex. He would have sex with three or four of them in one day. Yes, during the #16DaysofActivism against gender based violence and child abuse, Mzansi Magic decided to air an episode in which a man confessed to multiple counts of statutory rape on an entertainment show which attracts more than 1 million viewers.

The episode has sparked legitimate outrage ranging from discussions around how the episode contributes to rape culture by presenting such relationships as legitimate, to petitions calling for the removal of Our Perfect Wedding. But most importantly, the episode has led to a serious discussion on how normalised statutory rape and predatory relationships are in South Africa.

For the producers of Our Perfect Wedding, statutory rape is seen as just another way to generate views and as far as they’re concerned, if a predatory relationship ends in marriage, then it’s perfectly acceptable. Or perhaps, this is not just the viewpoint of the producers of OPW but is rather symptomatic of the attitudes towards predatory relationships as a whole in our country.

A big part of the problem here is in the fact that for many of us, we were sexualised from an unacceptably young age by much older men. I received my first sexual advance, from an adult man who appeared to be into his thirties, when I was nine years old and began receiving advances from older men regularly from when I was about 12 or 13. This early sexualisation is indicative of the fact that for many men, teenage girls are not seen as the children they are and are denied their innocence from the moment they hit puberty.

It’s also seen as normal. As girls we began to alter the way we dressed in order to avoid unwanted attention. From about 14, whenever I arrived at a mall early to meet my friends I would hide in Exclusive Books to avoid creepy older men who hit on me. Time and time again, girls who dressed in a certain way or acted a certain way were condemned and any attention that they got from older men was blamed solely on them.

To make matters worse, I’ve often found that conversations around sugar daddies don’t focus on how predatory it is for older men, often well into their thirties and beyond, to target young school girls who usually come from poor backgrounds by paying for their expenses in exchange for sex. Instead, they focus on teaching the young, vulnerable girls to stay away from these men. The onus to prevent these relationships is placed on the girls, rather than the men who exploit and abuse them.

The discussions that are now being generated from this particular OPW episode are important ones, because they are ones that are strongly condemning the motives of men like the groom, and are seriously questioning the kind of society we live in that airs a confessed rapist as entertainment without ever holding him accountable. People are openly coming out, saying that what happened on OPW last night was not okay, and making sure the producers face consequences for it. And I firmly believe that one of the first and most important steps to take in fighting gender based violence and child abuse is to seriously challenge anything that presents such practices as normal

Oppression as an “experience” for the privileged

Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe caused considerable outrage this week when she claimed that she sometimes skips meals so she can be in solidarity with those who are starving in her country. Her comment was particularly shocking given that her husband is partly responsible for the high levels of poverty in her country and that she has become so notorious for her costly shopping trips in Europe that she has been dubbed “Gucci Grace”.

To be honest, I don’t find Mugabe’s comments surprising at all. While Mugabe may be the most blatant example of someone condescendingly flaunting their privilege by treating oppression like an experience, she is far from the first. The mentality that Mugabe displayed is unnervingly common and is the very same mentality behind concepts like the CEO Sleepout, where CEOs of multimillion rand corporations spent a night in the streets of Sandton to “experience what it’s like to be homeless”. It’s the same mentality behind social experiments as seemingly harmless as the Fat Girl Tinder Date experiment, where a thin, conventionally attractive women used her thin pictures to get dates with men on Tinder, donned a fatsuit for the actual date, and then recorded their mostly negative reactions towards her. Because apparently, this is somehow an accurate reflection of how actual fat women try to get dates.

I can see how the intentions may seem noble at a surface glance. The participant recognises that they are in a position of privilege and that those who are not in the same position as them are suffering as a result of their marginalised position. This recognition is an important and necessary one that must be taken in order to address inequality in our society.

However, the second a privileged person wants to “try on” the oppression that a marginalised group faces problems arise. Certainly, an argument can be made that such an “experience” can be a humbling experience that many privileged people need. But at the same time, such an argument ignores that it is completely insensitive to the lived experiences of those whose oppression is being tried on.

As one fat girl said in response to the fat girl Tinder date video, at the end of the day the girl in the video can take off the fat suit and the makeup and go on being thin in a world that caters to thinness and treats thinness as the standard of beauty. Fat girls don’t have that option; they are fat 24/7. The same can be said for homeless people with regards to the CEO Sleepout and starving poverty stricken people with regards to Grace Mugabe’s comments. To pretend that one gains an understanding of oppression after experiencing it for a few hours is a short sighted one as such an experience is extremely limited.

[image of the CEO Sleepout which took place in Sandton in June]

Grace Mugabe may feel the hunger pangs for a few hours but she does not experience the desperation that comes with not knowing where your next meal will come from. The CEOs may have felt some of the discomfort that comes with sleeping outside but they were provided with warm sleeping bags, jackets, beanies, and security, as well as fires for warmth and billboards surrounding them to block off the cold wind. These are luxuries that homeless people do not have. “Trying on” oppression for a few hours does not give one a fraction of an idea of what it’s like to actually be oppressed, and to pretend that it does is the height of privilege.

In an age of social media, where information is highly accessible and marginalised people are speaking out about their experiences, reading the testimonies of those who face oppression on a daily basis is more insightful and far more informative than trying on oppression could ever be. Even in the case of the homeless who the organisers of the CEO sleepout wanted to help, I believe that it would have been far more empowering for the homeless to have been given an opportunity to share their stories.

I feel that efforts like the CEO Sleepout and Grace Mugabe’s comments take the focus away from where it should be and put it firmly on the privileged people who are “selflessly sacrificing” to experience oppression. The marginalised are once again being sidelined while the privileged steal the spotlight.

While I believe that the privileged absolutely should be more proactive in the fight for equality, I believe that we need to be critical of the approaches we take. Rather than taking seemingly noble gestures at face value, we need to be questioning whether or not these gestures are empowering to those they claim to empower or are done from a shallow, extremely privileged perspective.

 

We need to talk about Burundi

As a result of the underwhelming media coverage, we are often kept in the dark when it comes to tragedies that happen on our own continent, leaving us shockingly ignorant to the desperate situations that many African countries are now in. One such country is Burundi. Since the Paris attack on Friday night, which left at least 120 dead, I have seen many on social media ask but what about Burundi? It’s a fair question, given that the country is now facing dangerous levels of violence and political instability. If we are hoping to take seriously the amount of innocent lives that are lost to senseless violence, we need to have a serious conversation about what is happening in Burundi.

The small, hilly, landlocked country is in the midst of some of the worst violence it has faced since its civil war ended in 2005. Since April, at least 240 people have been killed with bodies being dumped in the street on a nightly basis. Over 210 000 people have fled to neighbouring countries such as Rwanda and Tanzania. There are also fears that the escalating violence could be the tipping point that leads to a genocide between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority, similar to the 1993 genocide in Rwanda.

The violence was triggered in April when the CNDD-FDD (National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy) announced that President  Nkurunziza would be running for a third term. Such a move went against the 2000 peace agreement that was used to help end the civil war, the Arusha Accords, which stipulates that presidents may only be in power for two terms. The announcement was seen as a power grab by many and led to the capital, Bujumbura, being rocked by protests which resulted in 19 deaths. Shortly afterwards, there was a military coup led by General Godefroid Niyombare who was the chief of intelligence. Although the coup failed, it managed to instill paranoia among Nkurunziza and his advisors.

[Protests in Bujumbura against President Nkurunziza running for a third term]

Nkurunziza won the presidential election in July but the controversial win was seen as illegitimate by many. Since his win, killings, tortures, detentions, and other government sanctioned human rights violations have increased as the government attempts to crack down on its opposition. To make matters worse, government officials have been quoted making statements that echo those made during the Rwandan genocide. Most notably, the senate president Reverien Ndikuriyo, said about the regime opponents, “Today, the police shoot in the legs … but when the day comes that we tell them to go to ‘work,’ do not come crying to us,”. The word “work” was used during the Rwandan genocide to describe the killings of 800 000 Tutsis at the hands of the militant Hutu extremists.

Such comments cannot be taken lightly. Burundi has had a 40 year long history of armed conflict which has included genocide against the Tutsi minority. It was once joined with Rwanda under the name Ruanda-Urundi and was first controlled by the Germans and then by the Belgiums. Under colonial rule, ethnic divisions which favoured the Tutsis over the Hutus were institutionalised in order to control the Hutu majority and reinforce existing power structures. This entrenched tensions between the two groups. From 1972 onward Burundi was wracked by genocide and civil war until 2005. An estimated 300 000 people died as a result of the violence. A number of peace talks and agreements were needed in order to ensure peace, and one of the most notable ones was the Arusha Accords.

The situation in Burundi is becoming more desperate by the day. Although the UN is currently threatening to impose sanctions on the country, it has admitted that it is ill-equipped and poorly positioned to deal with a possible genocide. A number of international organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have warned that Burundi is at serious risk of sliding back into conflict. The Belgian government has also slashed aid to Burundi and told its citizens who are living there to return.

[Protesters gathered at the funeral of Emmanuel Ndere Yimana, an opposition supporter who was assasinated]

Although the AU has created the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) to deal with the exact kind of crisis that Burundi is facing now, and South Africa has previously pledged to contribute at least 1800 military personnel to it, President Jacob Zuma has now been strangely quiet on the matter. This is particularly concerning given that a senior SANDF official has stated that South Africa has the military capacity to deal with the crisis.

Now, we could certainly have a long conversation about whether or not military interventions are always the best way to go about things, especially considering the effect that US military interventions have had on Middle Eastern and Asian countries. However, what is frightening is the fact that conversations surrounding Burundi are not happening as frequently and as publicly as they should be.

I find it deeply concerning that it took the Paris attacks for many to even mention Burundi at all. If we are going to take seriously the value of human lives in Africa, it should not take a tragedy in the west to make people start paying attention to tragedies on our home continent. With any hope, the conversations that have been sparked surrounding Burundi will allow us to take seriously the need to prevent the situation there from spiraling into another civil war, and as South Africans, we can begin to seriously question why our own government has been so silent on the matter.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Information about specific government sanctioned human right’s abuses in Burundi
Broad history about Rwanda and Burundi
More detailed overview about the history of conflict in Burundi
More detailed overview of current crises

How the ANC Women’s League is Failing Women

An edited version of this post was published by “Africa is a Country” under the title “The ANC Women’s League is dead”. This version can be accessed here

Last Friday, Twitter was in a frenzy about the ANCWL’s march against the now infamous Mabulu painting of President Jacob Zuma, which the Women’s League held to “protect the president’s dignity“. Contrary to some, I do not have an issue with the idea of marching against this painting. The painting is disgustingly misogynistic and I have written before on how violence against black women is normalised in South African satirical art. If they were protesting against the disgusting depiction of the black woman in the painting and how we as black women are tired of seeing ourselves beaten, raped, and brutalised in the name of male artists’ social commentary I would have been okay with it. The degrading way in which Jacob Zuma was depicted could have even featured as a secondary issue. What I was not okay with was the fact that Jacob Zuma’s degradation was the only issue the march was focused on. I was not okay with the fact that once again, black women, whose pain and suffering is treated so carelessly by male artists such as Ayanda Mabulu, did not feature, even in a conversation started by other black women.

It was not terribly surprising. These days, the organisation’s silence is often more powerful than their actions. The ANCWL has been noticeably absent when brazen misogyny has reared its ugly head within the ANC party, ranging from serious incidences, such as the Jacob Zuma rape trial of 2006, to the misogynistic comments often made by leaders of the ANC. When male ANC leaders feel comfortable calling women dirty panties, attacking the weight and clothing choices of female parliamentary speakers, and referring to single women as deformities unchecked, it is an indication of a serious lack of dialogue surrounding patriarchy within the ANC.

Most disturbingly, even when the ANCWL does tackle gender issues, many of their efforts still seem to miss the mark. The most recent example would have to be their stance on virginity testing and ukuthwala. While they rightfully condemned ukuthwala, the bastardized Xhosa practice of kidnapping young girls in order to force them into marriages with older men often for her family’s profit, they retracted their earlier condemnation of virginity testing by stating that it is a valid method of preventing HIV infection and teenage pregnancy, and that as a “pro-choice” organisation, they believe that if a girl wants to participate in virginity testing then she should be supported in her decision.

This stance is problematic for a number of reasons. It seems to completely ignore the fact that the areas with the lowest rates of HIV infections and teen pregnancy are areas where comprehensive sex education and reliable birth control are readily available. It places the onus of preventing HIV infections and teenage pregnancy on the girl’s ability to keep her legs closed and not also on the boy who shares half the responsibility. It also fails to problematize virginity testing as a whole as well as the mechanisms at play surrounding a girl’s consent. For example, if I am not comfortable with virginity testing but I know I will be branded isifebe and ostracised if I don’t participate in it, one must question how much of a choice I really have. If one can safely say that this sort of slut shaming does not happen in communities where virginity testing is common in reaction to those who do not to participate in it, then, and only then, can one really speak of a woman’s choice in the matter.

While the ANC has some of the most progressive gender policies, there is a serious disconnect between what the party’s stance on gender is on paper and what its leaders are saying in public. Considering that more people are likely to listen to leaders than they are to read a 33 page document, this disconnect is a dangerous one, and one that the ANCWL should be doing more to address.

It is disappointing to say that the ANCWL in 2015 is a far cry from the anti-Apartheid organisation that earned its place in history under the leadership of women such as Lilian Ngoyi, Albertina Sisulu, and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The organisation of late has failed time and time again to check misogyny within the ANC and has made shallow attempts at best to check misogyny outside of it. Therefore, if the ANCWL wants to take seriously its role as an official voice for women, some serious introspection is needed.

Reclaiming “Political correctness”

One of the most annoyingly overused terms in modern times is without a doubt “political correctness”. The term has come to be used as a pejorative meaning speech that avoids language that might cause offense, particularly to already marginalised groups. Popular examples include changing B.C, meaning “Before Christ” to B.C.E, meaning “Before Common Era” as well as changing anything with the prefix “man” to more gender neutral terms.

There are obvious problems with this usage of “political correctness”. For starters, it ignores the very real ways that language has been used to oppress marginalised groups and seems to suggest that critiquing and altering harmful language is somehow oppressive towards the people who want to continue using said language. It also disguises existing oppressive viewpoints as “the truth” and paints those who critique them as shrill, irrational, and too easily offended. It is no surprise that those who speak out the loudest against political correctness are often the most privileged who are unaffected by certain systems of oppression and will obviously not be offended by a form of violence that has never targeted them.

What interests me the most about political correctness is the way that the term has been bastardised over the years. One of the earliest usages of the term as we know it today came from black feminist Toni Cadre in her 1970 book The Black Woman where she stated “a man cannot be politically correct and a chauvinist too”.

What did Cadre mean by this statement? From my understanding she meant that one cannot claim to be against oppressive systems and say all the correct, socially acceptable things that allude to that while simultaneously buying into and perpetrating those systems. Another interpretation of Cadre’s usage states that when she spoke of “political correctness” she was really referring to codified language that sounds socially acceptable but is really just a smoke screen for an oppressive bias. In other words, “political correctness” is when someone says “thug” when what they really mean is “n*****”.

There are a number of politically correct terms that we use in our everyday life. One of the clearest examples is “thug” which is a racially coded term almost exclusively used to describe black people whether they are protesting or getting killed by a racist vigilante while walking home after they’ve purchased an iced tea and Skittles. Another example is the use of the term “ghetto” that is almost only ever used in association with black people or black culture.

But I believe that political correctness extends beyond this. It’s not just about using words that are convenient, coded replacements for more offensive words. It’s about carefully constructing language as well as picking and choosing facts that portray an oppressive ideal in a way that will ensure the general public does not understand what’s going on but a member of the targeted group often will. It’s a newspaper knowing that they can’t call Nicki Minaj an angry black woman for speaking out against racial bias in the music industry so they opt for an unflattering picture that conveys that stereotype instead. It’s a news outlet knowing that they can’t call a rape victim an irresponsible slut who was asking for it outright so they instead opt to mention what she was wearing, how much she drank, and possibly her sexual history so that the reader draws that conclusion themselves.

This definition of political correctness is one that is far more relevant and far more harmful than the idea that it is somehow inconvenient and ridiculous to have to not to use certain language at the risk of offending someone. This definition of political correctness is one that we see in action in our media and our language everyday while the other is a silencing tactic employed by those who are too privileged to understand the nuances of oppression and how these nuances play out in our language. While both definitions see political correctness as a social concept that must be problematized, the one excuses oppressive ideas and blames marginalised people for being offended by their own oppression while the other recognises the subtle ways that the oppression of marginalised people continues to play itself out in our everyday lives. In an ironic twist, the bastardised definition of political correctness is, in and of itself, politically correct.

Therefore, the term “political correctness” is one which should be reclaimed by social justice circles as it aptly describes a particular type of microaggression that marginalised people encounter. In a world where overt bigotry, particularly in relation to race, gender, and sexuality, is often rendered unacceptable in public, political correctness ensures that marginalised people remain so in subtle, and insidious ways. Reclaiming “political correctness” for ourselves gives us both a means of identifying this type of microaggression and allows us to beat bigots at their own game. We know what they really mean when they tell us we’re being “ratchet”. And we’re not going to tolerate it anymore.

“We shall overcome…some day”: Aluta Continua. E continua

This week has been one of the most physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting weeks of my life.

On Monday 19 October 2015 just passed midnight, Rhodes university students joined thousands of students across the South Africa to protest against fee increases in higher education. To give an idea of what we were dealing with, at Rhodes we do not have a registration fee. We have Minimum Initial Payment (MIP) which is half of our tuition for the year and is usually paid by the second week of January. In 2015, MIP was just over R41 000 if you are staying in residence. Because Rhodes is located in a small town in the middle of nowhere, the vast majority of students come from out of town, meaning that we have to pay for accommodation and residence is the most convenient option . The projected fee increase for 2016 would have set MIP at R45 000, and the total cost of fees at around R100 000. To make matters worse, the university was only planning on releasing the final fees on 8 December, giving families a little over a month to find tens of thousands of rands or risk their children losing their places in residences and not being able to register for 2016. Other universities such as Wits were dealing with over 10% increase while Stellenbosch was dealing with an increase of 11.5%.

The majority of students who would be affected by high fee increases are of course, poor and working class students who are mostly black. Then of course, there is the so-called “invisible middle class” consisting of the children of civil servants whose earn too much for them to qualify for the government funded NSFAS program but earn too little for them to be able to afford school fees. This means that, although poor and working class white students exist, the majority of people who would be shut out of higher education would be black. This is already problematic considering that we are living in a country where we are dealing with worsening youth unemployment rates and an awful economy, making a higher education more and more necessary in order to get a job.

So as students we went on strike for a 0% fee increase and a commitment to free higher education. We shut down our universities across the country by barricading entrances and ensuring that departments and other various buildings remained closed. We mobilized, every day and protested. And the results were horrific.

On Monday, we decided to join the students at the smaller Eastern Midlands College, another tertiary institution protesting against high fees after we had heard that the police fired rubber bullets at them on Friday. We joined them because we wanted to give them numbers and we knew that going to a respected, formerly white university gave us a certain level of privilege and exposure the EMC students did not have so we wanted to lend that to their cause. When we arrived the police were already there. They were armed and wearing bullet proof vests. Students had been locked out of the institution and were singing outside, demanding to be let in so they could talk to management. After being there for perhaps 30 mins if not slightly longer, I was conversing with a friend of mine when we heard two loud bangs. I turned to see a crowd of people running towards me, and I immediately turned and began running as well. They had thrown stun grenades at us. Later that day, they would return with big police trucks known as “hippos” and blast protesters with chemical water that caused itching and burning.

The police’s treatment of us was not unusual. We at Rhodes remained relatively lucky for the rest of the week as our Vice Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, told the police in no uncertain terms that they were not welcome on campus. As long as us protesters remained on university grounds we were safe from the police. But from other universities, stories of rubber bullets, stun grenades, and teargas, all used against peaceful protesters, began streaming in. We heard stories of our fellow protesters being arrested and charged with treason simply for protesting peacefully outside of parliament.

The situation finally hit me when I saw a post on our university’s SRC Facebook page. A male student had uploaded a screenshot of a conversation he’s had with his mother in which she had advised him on what to do if he was tear gassed. Her message included the sentence I never thought I would have to teach my children this. And that’s when it occurred to me, that our parents had gone through years of tear gassing, rubber bullets, stun grenades, and arrests so that we would never have to. Desmond Tutu’s Rainbow Nation dream had envisioned a future where all South Africans, regardless of race, would have their rights recognized and opportunities open to them. Yet here, in 2015, we must fight for the majority working class black population to have the same access to education as the middle and upper middle class. In 2015, we as peaceful protesters, are still subjected to a government that refused to take us seriously and that ultimately did the to us what was done to them when they fought against the Apartheid government.

It’s depressing that as a born-free South African I can now swap police brutality stories with my parents. It’s depressing that as born-frees we have had to put our bodies on the line to fight for what was promised to us years ago. And it is especially depressing that the very same government who claims to be our liberators turned their guns on us.

While achieving the 0% fee increase will remain one of the proudest moments of my life, I cannot help but think about the methods required to get to this point. This week we have told ourselves that we are fighting for future generations of South Africans, but I wonder if our protests will not be enough. If one day, my own children will tell me about how they too ran away from stun grenades while peacefully protesting for something as fundamental as an education.

As the saying goes, A luta continua, vitória é certa – the struggle continues but victory is certain. The struggle has certainly continued and will continue for many more years. But when the once oppressed turn into the oppressors, one needs to start questioning whether victory is indeed certain.

Zapiro, Mabulu, and the normalisation of violence against Black Women

[This article was republished on the website The Journalist]

Today has been a bad day on Twitter.

There has been a higher than usual amount of misogynoir and acceptance of violence against black women on my time line. It started this afternoon when Pearl Pillay reported that her ex boyfriend Siya Nyezi had abused her.  Within minutes, Black Twitter flew into a frenzy tracking down Nyezi and informing his place of work, Investec, that he was an abuser. His ex girlfriends one by one came out to talk of how he had emotionally abused them as well.

At the same time, there were many who defended Nyezi, saying that it was wrong to expect a man to be fired because of what he did in his personal life. There were even those who suggested that Pearl may have cheated on him, because as we all know, in a misogynist’s world, cheating makes it okay to beat your partner half to death. Then there were those who blamed her for staying as long as she did and even joked that within a few days she would go straight back to him. In other words, the same tiring rhetoric we have to deal with every time the issue of domestic violence comes up.

But I don’t want to focus too much on Pillay and Nyezi. It is far too tiring.

Instead, I want to focus on the other misogynistic nightmare to appear on my time line earlier this evening. Controversial  artist Ayanda Mabulu released a painting that is far too upsetting for me to put here. Basically, the painting depicts Jacob Zuma naked, because in the world of satirical art, Zuma must apparently always either be naked or at least have his penis exposed. Black men must be degraded like this constantly while even the worst white men like Hitler and Stalin get to keep their clothes on. Curiously enough, this is exactly what happened in Mabulu’s painting; the figure made to represent white capital was fully clothed. But this is a conversation for another day.

As unnecessary as it was, Zuma’s nudity was the least offensive part of this painting. The worst is what is in the center where a dark skinned black woman is on all fours.  Zuma’s extremely large penis is forced down her throat while the white figure penetrates her from behind. Her breasts are also being milked against her will. The woman is frightened, in pain, and is depicted in such a cartoonishly racist manner it seems as though Mabulu tore her directly out of a page of an old colonial guide to Natives.

The painting reminds me of this Zapiro classic:

And this one:

And even this one:

All three of these cartoons use women who are clearly codified as black by their hair and lips as symbols for the justice system and in the last cartoon’s case, free speech. Similarly, the painting uses a black woman as a symbol for the ordinary South African taxpayer who is (literally, in this case) screwed over and sucked dry by both the government and corrupt white multimillionaire business owners in the private sector. In all of the above depictions black women’s bodies are graphically brutalised, but this brutalisation is made to come secondary to the grand symbolic message that Zapiro and Mabulu seek to convey in their works.

And that is the problem. In the world of South African satire, when it comes to criticising mainly black male politicians, black women, our bodies, and our pain are seen as collateral damage. Many of those who are criticising the painting are focusing solely on Zuma’s right to dignity, which is a valid concern, but even more concerning is the amount of people who are neither black women nor feminists who are not even mentioning the woman in the painting and what her depiction says of Mabulu’s attitudes towards black women as a whole. Then, of course, liberal Twitter is heaping praises on Mabulu’s work, calling it, “revolutionary”, and “daring” because in South African satirical art, the more brutal the violence against the black woman, the more poignant the social commentary. Black women’s bodies are mere vehicles to be dehumanised and used at will so that male artists can call that dehumanization “social commentary” and profit off of it.

It’s actually hardly surprising. Given that South Africa has shockingly high rates of rape and gender based violence, widespread misogynistic ideals and norms, and prevalent racism, cartoons like Zapiro’s and paintings like Mabulu’s are one manifestation of our violently racist and patriarchal society. In Pillay’s case, the fact that the number of people who would put a man’s employment status over the life of the woman he abused is not at all insignificant is another manifestation of that. The heated argument I got into with someone who attacked a rape victim for not reporting her rapist and instead of attempting to sympathise with her, strongly suggested that she would be responsible if he raped again, is yet another manifestation of that.

And the fact that so much of the commentary surrounding the painting is focused on whether the painting is disrespectful to Zuma, or whether the artist is exposing the truth in a brave, daring way is yet another.

Because in a society where patriarchy and racism exist not just side by side but always connecting and intertwining with one another, the lives of black women don’t matter.

Maybe I should stay off Twitter for a while.

The Raven Complex: Understanding New Black Mentality

Since the end of last year, the term “New Black” has become used more and more frequently. The term was coined after Pharrell Williams stated “the New Black doesn’t blame other races for our issues. [He/she] dreams and realizes that it’s not a pigmentation; it’s a mentality.” Since then, a number of black celebrities followed suit with similar remarks. Raven Symone most notably stated that she no longer wanted to be identified as African American in an Oprah interview and even Common making questionable statements on how black people loving white people is the cure to racism.

I particularly pick on Raven in this article because although Pharrell coined the term, she has become the New Black poster child by defending racist statement after racist statement, defending Bill Cosby after the rape allegations came out, and even bizarrely declaring that she’s from every continent in Africa except one.

Certainly, there has been a lot of backlash in the form of tweets and thinkpieces written by other black people in response to this mentality. While I myself have been very critical of New Blacks, the truth is that thinking about them also makes me feel slightly embarrassed, because I myself was once one and can therefore understand the mentality

But first, what is the New Black mentality?

The New Black Mentality is essentially what happens when black people buy into colourblindness and believe that institutional racism is a thing of the past. They think that continuing to believe that racism exists is holding the black community back and that upward mobility is a quick fix solution to the residual effects of white supremacist systems such as Apartheid or the Jim Crow Era.

This is a mentality that completely ignores the lived realities of many black people. It ignores the existence of power dynamics, white privilege, and even class privilege to a degree as, in my experiences, those who embody the New Black mentality are often middle class or higher. Most disturbingly, the New Black mentality blames black people for feeling offended by, or for even having experiences of racism. It portrays black people who speak about racism as reactionaries who are blaming personal failures on an outside force. In reality, racism is still prevalent in South African society, and the New Black mentality is one that simply ignores current racial disparities for a kumbaya approach that blames black people for still being economically and socially disadvantaged by claiming that racial disadvantage no longer exists.

The New Black mentality is one that is infuriating to deal with. And while I could never condone it, I cannot pretend that I don’t understand why it is an easy trap to fall into. I grew up in a position of immense class privilege. I attended one of the most expensive private schools in the country and this was the period where my New Black attitude truly set in. I acknowledged the fact that the majority of black people in the country were economically disadvantaged and that the common narrative was that this was due to the inequalities set in place by the Apartheid regime.

However, in my mind, Apartheid was over. To keep blaming black people’s societal disadvantage on a regime that technically ended in 1994 didn’t make sense to me. The fact that my father had achieved phenomenal success despite growing up as a black man under the Apartheid regime himself solidified for the 14 year old me that Apartheid was no longer a valid excuse, and that black people who were holding on to it did so because they needed to blame their own shortcomings on something other than themselves.

In my mind, racism was violent. It was white people shouting racial slurs at me. It was enforced segregation. It was laws preventing me from having the same rights as white people. I never personally experienced any of those things. I had white friends, my white teachers never treated me differently as far as I could tell, and I did not yet understand that the microaggressions I experienced on a daily basis, the forced assimilation into English culture, and the respectability politics pervasive at my school were acts of racism in and of themselves. Whenever I did hear of or see acts of racism I believed that they were isolated incidences and that those who held those beliefs would soon die out. I believed that racism was over, or at least dying with the older generation, and that if you simply worked hard and behaved in a “civilised” manner then you would transcend whatever residual effects of our past remained.

Then, in matric, I began reading up on racial theory, educated myself more on my country’s current social, economic, and political situation, woke the hell up, and began envisioning ways to teleport myself into the past so I could give the 14 year old me a good slap.

When I thought about my past self and the beliefs I held, I began to realise why I thought the way I did. Acknowledging the existence of racism is a painful experience. It is painful to acknowledge that you and others like you will be treated differently because of the colour of your skin. It is painful to acknowledge that once you enter the working world, it is likely you’ll have to work harder than your white peers just to be taken seriously, or that you are more likely to be seen as a criminal by both the police and shop owners, or even to acknowledge that, except in severe cases, racist actions against you are likely to go unpunished. It is far easier to believe that these are battles that were already fought and won by your parents and not battles that you will likely have to face in your own life.

It is far too easy to look at your white friends and your class privilege and think that racism is over, and merely the act of recognizing that there is still more work to be done to eradicate racism is exhausting. But it is necessary. Perhaps that is why we get so frustrated at people like Raven who insist on remaining ignorant. The one thing that I’ve learned when it comes to New Blacks is that you cannot force them to wake up, it’s something they need to do on their own.

So maybe one day, Raven and every other New Black will wake up. Maybe they won’t. But while it is important to continue critiquing the New Black mentality, we cannot allow criticising that to take up too much important space and energy.

#FakeDeep: Hotep Politics disguised as Black Consciousness

I recently joined a Black Consciousness Facebook group hoping to see interesting discussions where people posted links to cool Black scholarship or integrated the ideas of thinkers like Steve Biko into the modern day Post-Apartheid context. I could not have been more wrong. Perhaps I did have high, and admittedly pretentious, hopes for this group. But what I was not expecting was for it to be overrun with Hotep Politics and have a couple of decontextualised Steve Biko or Angela Davis quotes thrown in for good measure.

So what are Hotep Politics?

Hotep Politics refer to a very specific form of “pro-black” beliefs and politics. I put pro-black in inverted commas because those who embody Hotep Politics claim to support the empowerment of all black people yet their politics are riddled with misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and massive inaccuracies regarding African history. Hoteps are typically the type to claim that all black people descend from African kings and queens. They fetishize Ancient Egypt to the point where you begin to wonder if they realize that there were numerous other advanced African civilizations before colonialism. They are adamant that all Ancient Egyptians fit modern colonial definitions of “black” and erase modern day Egyptians from their own history by copy-pasting America’s history regarding the genocide of Native Americans onto Ancient Egypt with Arabs playing the role of the genocidal settler colonists. This narrative is completely inaccurate given that Egypt’s history is entirely different from the U.S’s and studies have shown that the genetic makeup of Egyptians has not changed significantly over the centuries. There’s a post, which was written by an Egyptian, that goes into great detail explaining why the Hotep conception of Egypt is completely wrong*.

But Hotep inaccuracies of pre-colonial Africa don’t end at Egypt. They also tend to state that homosexuality did not exist in pre-colonial Africa and that it was brought over by European colonisers. That claim is not just inaccurate, it is completely and utterly wrong. In fact, here is a source showing 21 different kinds of non binary gender and same sex practices that existed in pre-colonial Africa. But do Hoteps care? Of course not. Many of them firmly believe that homosexuality was introduced in Africa to depopulate black communities and that it is therefore an unAfrican tool of white supremacy in the subjugation of black people.

Hotep politics are not just annoying to see in action, they’re actively harmful. They replicate the very same narratives that have been used to oppress black LGBT+ people and black women for centuries. For example, Hoteps tend to overstate the necessity for a black woman to be in the home and often times reduce her purely to her ability to bear children. Hotep art tends to oversexualise black women by typically drawing them naked or scantily clad like this:

While at the same time, condemning black women for choosing to be sexual, like this:

[The top text is written “Queens sit and watch”. The bottom text is written “While peasants entertain”]

The most concerning aspect of Hotep politics is just how prevalent they are. One finds traces of them within nearly every pro black circle and in this particular Facebook group, I happened to find full blown Hoteps who were completely unwilling to consider that their viewpoints might be wrong. Hotep politics are yet another example of how within marginalised groups those who are oppressed on multiple axes tend to be oppressed within wider social justice movements as well. Hotep politics at best prioritize and at worse over glorify the straight, able bodied black male. The further one deviates from this model, the more one is erased and even excluded from the movement as a whole.

Hotep Politics are not pro black simply because one cannot claim to be for the empowerment of black people yet actively perpetrate ideas and values that have been used to oppress certain groups of black people for centuries. One cannot claim to be pro black yet be selective of the kinds of black people you wish to support. Intersectionality is important.

So you’ll have to forgive me for being wary of black people who spell Africa with a “k” and who insist on referring to all of us as “kings and queens”.

In closing, this poem “Fake Deep” by Cecile Emeke articulates the problems with Hotep Politics, particularly the misogynoir inherent in them, far better than I ever could:

* The original blog post seems to have been deleted so here is the reblogged version of it. It still contains the exact same information as was in the original post.