Trevor Noah’s Vanilla Politics Were There From The Start

This article was originally published on Huffington Post SA

I must admit, the first time I saw Trevor Noah’s revisionism of South African history, in which he claimed that one of the main reasons that Apartheid ended was because of shame, I was dumbfounded. I felt incredibly confused that a man who spent most of his life in South Africa, was there to witness the democratic transition, and had an awareness of our country’s history and current context, could still honestly buy into the misguided idea that it was white shame that ended Apartheid. Based on this comment alone, it was consequently slightly less surprising when he later penned an article for the New YorkTimes in which he used South Africa’s transition to democracy in order to encourage Americans to resolve the wave of police brutality and racial profiling through “compromise and moderation”.

Firstly, it is bizarre that in 2016, Noah would use South Africa as a how-to guide for resolving racial conflict when the recent wave of activism across university campuses, calls for land redistribution, increasing criticism of former president Nelson Mandela, and exposure of racists such as Penny Sparrow among others on social media have shattered the Rainbow Nation fallacy. Noah’s Op-Ed would have been understandable 10 or 15 years ago when optimism about South Africa’s transition to democracy still ran high. Today, it reads more like it was written by a severely out-of-touch white liberal American who watched Miracle Rising once than by a biracial man who was born and raised in South Africa.

Then again, the more I thought about Noah’s Op-Ed piece, the more I began to question exactly how out of character it really is that he would hold such views. I have been a fan of Noah’s since he first began his career. My friends and I used to sit at our computer screens and laugh at Daywalker until we knew the jokes by heart. Every time he had a new stand-up show, we would eagerly wait for it to be made available on DVD and laugh until we cried while watching it. When the announcement was made that he would move to America, we were happy for him. When he became the new host for the Daily Show,we swelled with the pride that comes with seeing one of our own make it overseas.

However, the more one examines Noah’s comedy, the more one realises that while his jokes have been funny, he has never once offered the kind of sharp criticism and political insight one has seen from the Jon Stewart’s of the world. The warning signs were there from the beginning. Noah’s entire brand of comedy was built off of perpetuating racial stereotypes and being allowed to get away with it because he occupied the in-between space of being both black and white. While Noah did mock politicians relentlessly, his criticism was relegated to shallow jokes about Zuma’s inappropriate use of pauses and imitations of a drunken Mandela at his 90th birthday party rather than insightful or sharp political commentary.

The immediate response to this would be that Noah is a comedian, not a political analyst, and that at the end of the day his job is to make jokes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this but it does become a problem when one considers the kind of space Noah is now operating in. The Daily Show has never just been a comedy show. It has operated as both comedy and sharp political commentary. The successful marriage of the two by its predecessor, which was so successful it turned him into a news source, is what made the show as popular and relevant as it became. While Noah is a comedian, Stewart was a political satirist, and the difference is evident on the show.

To be fair to Noah, he has made it clear that he is not like Stewart and that he does not wish to be compared to him. He has also flexed his political muscles on the show by criticising politicians such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson, among others, as well as strongly speaking in support of gun control. However, Noah’s vanilla politics have translated into jokes that lack a punch. This was most evident during his interview with the controversial conservative firebrand Tomi Lahren. While he did offer criticisms, he failed to adequately address some of her most outrageous statements. The few jokes he did make, such as asking her what she did at stop lights in response to her saying that she “doesn’t see colour”, largely fell flat. The interview came across less as the biting critique of Lahren’s views that so many have been quick to brand it as, and more like a polite discussion in which he skipped around the worst of Lahren’s views as opposed to critically engaging with them.

As South Africans, I feel that we ignored the early warning signs. His suggestion in one of his earlier shows that we normalize the k-word and turn it into a term of endearment in order to address racial tensions should have been the first sign that his analysis of racial dynamics in South Africa, least of all the US, is relatively shallow. From the beginning strong and nuanced political insight has never been Noah’s strong suit and while there were signs of it in South Africa it has become blatantly clear on the Daily Show.

One can only hope that Noah will take the latest criticisms his interview and Op-Ed piece have received as well as the mediocre reviews the Daily Show continues to receive, will prompt him to revisit his political views and his comedic approach. Given the tanking ratings of the Daily Show, the future of his career may depend on it.

#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.

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.

#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.