18 August 2013. I observed with keen interest discussions at the Johannesburg’s People’s Pride Organizers meeting, held at the woman’s goal at the Constitution Hill this weekend. The meeting comprised of mostly black, lesbian activists who were planning an alternative Pride March to the Existing annual JHB Pride in October, due in large part to the fact that JHB pride turns a blind eye to the tide of “corrective” rape incidents against black-lesbians living in black townships. The split comes after staged protests by members of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Project, FEW and One in Nine and others during JHB PRIDE 2012. See article here, which resulted in verbal and physical altercations between JHB pride Organizers and the mostly black lesbian and queer activists.
At the meeting many of the activists wore T-shirts with the statement “I march because…” and on reading them I found I could not fill in the gap. Why? Because the meeting left me, with more questions than answers. Here we are, young abled black women sitting in the Historic Women’s goal, used to imprison women including those who were anti-apartheid activists during the oppressive Apartheid government, organizing a march to demand legal rights which are already guaranteed in the country’s Bill of Rights and the Country’s Constitution. WE HAVE THEM.
The organizers kept highlighting that the JHB People’s March was not only about black lesbians but also about women. This is true. Lesbians are women. Women are raped in South Africa on a daily basis, but they are not all gay, and they are not all, black. Rape, violence, domestic abuse are not social ills suffered only by black lesbians in the township, they are faced by almost all women, regardless of their sexual orientation or race for that matter. The horrific story of Olympic Sprinter Oscar Prestorious killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp is just a drop in a sea of similar stories across South Africa. All races black, white, Indian, coloured, Chinese, other – all women are at risk of rape, domestic violence and abuse, even murder. Black women are in the majority, and that’s the only difference. So how does the Johannesburg People’s Pride March, which is largely comprised of black Lesbians –reach out to all these other groups of women who are suffering just like them?
Why aren’t all women taking to the streets and marching for their rights? The answer to that is quite simple. We are marching for something we already have – as far as I know the laws of the country have not changed: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex ( LGBTQI) people are guaranteed the same equal rights, as all (heterosexual ) women in the country, in fact all South Africans – by law have equal rights. So why should the LGBTIQ community receive extra special treatment? When today, Heterosexual women suffer just the same amount of abuse, rape etc. as black lesbians. Femicides are not limited to women in the LGBTQI community. Rape is Rape. Straight or Gay. Male or Female.
How can we hope to have our struggles heard if we only campaign for narrow interests on an an issue affecting the majority of women in the country, when according to current rape statistics, 144 women are raped a day?
Why I won’t join…
I also read with Interest Andile Mngxitamas article in the city press today “Why I didn’t Join Agang SA” after two invitations from party leader Mamphele Ramphele early last year. He lists seven reasons – all stitched together by a common thread of race politics, saying Agang SA does not serve black interests. According to him there is nothing new on offer from AgangSA, and the party is based on an “ill defined “South African consciousness”. But whose interests does the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) under the leadership of Julius Malema prioritize or serve? If AgangSA offers nothing new for South Africa today then no other party does, except perhaps for the Democratic Alliance, which so far has one good thing going for it – Immediate Actions that bring about change. Whether those changes serve the narrow interest s of the white Minority and or Private Business interest, one thing is for sure, if the DA complains, change happens, actions are taken. That is the Party’s greatest asset. The DA is seen to be doing something, seen to be efficient. That’s why its white constituency, and increasingly black, Coloured, Indian, Chinese and including young people continue to vote for i. That’s why the DA is the official opposition. Everybody, including Andile Mngxitama himself, wants to live in a country that works, with a functioning public SERVICE sector, which actually SERVES the people and why would anyone say No to that?
Just Do It…
To bring about social change we must DO something, act in ways that actually change the situation.
What is the EFF actually doing to bring about change? How many times will Black people, women, queers, the marginalized majorities and minorities have to march before their needs are met?
It seems to me that the only way to change is to do something. Instead of planning yet another protest march, instead of forming YET another political party – Let us DO something DIFFERENT – Let’s organize and roll out a Massive volunteer “program” to each and every community across the country, using the unemployed youth, job seekers, retired professionals, everyone who is able, to make South Africa work, not only for the moneyed minority, but especially for the majority of all South Africans.
Let’s use all the knowledge and experience, the same strategies, tactics, massive organizing, guerrilla warfare tactics, all the mechanisms used to topple Apartheid to to unleash and implement an army of volunteers and deploy them in their own communities – at all police stations, all clinics , all public hospitals, all courts, schools and universities, NGOS, all sections of the public sector, to help those people already committed to public service, to make all of those institutions meant to serve the people to do just that? And by volunteers I don’t mean “observers” I mean people who will do the WORK, the manual labour required to ensure that public hospitals and clinics are clean at all times, ensure that all patients regardless of race, age, gender and class are treated with care, and are assisted in getting the help they need. Simple things like pushing patients in hospital waiting areas to their wards, to get oxygen, to do all the basic running around. Have all unemployed youth working at the same places where public service officials desperately need help or face a lack of capacity, where they are underfunded. At all public schools, doing what’s needed be it, cleaning, helping teachers, with extra classes. Have matriculates, graduates without work, teach, write statements at police stations, explain the law, or just explain how things work, inform and communicate the people’s rights to the public. We need people to literally fill in the gaps and I mean physically with our own HANDS and FEET. A network of volunteers, helping children cross the street, do their home-work etc. That is what is needed. For resources, clearly we have more than enough money – politicians don’t even know what to do with it, we can give some direction. Use OUR money also known as public funds, all the money spent on parties, expensive shoes and other trivial things in government for skills, training and compensation for “actual work done” by those volunteers.
This in my opinion will solve multiple problems at once. In the case of the LGBTQI community ( I don’t believe that their sexual orientation or preferences will matter if they are seen making a positive contribution, not only just to serve their own interests – but for the larger broader community in which they occupy) The volunteer program will also serve as a foundation for skills training, that will eventually result in gainful employment – then we won’t have people who are “unemployed” while allowing trained public servants the time and space to focus on doing the work that they were trained to do, this will result in a seamless skills transfer program. The public service will then become – physically accountable – to the public and whatever laws which don’t serve the people can be challenged in court based on the rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. We did that with the FIFA WORLD CUP in 2010 and many other major international commercial events in the country. Surely, surely, we can do the same for ourselves? Any party that will DO that – is guaranteed a vote from me.
You don’t need Permission…
And guess what? Surprise, surprise! We don’t even need anyone’s permission to do this. We don’t need anybody’s permission to volunteer, to make a positive change, we just need to decide to do it and do it. Go and ask for the broom at you local police station and start sweeping, and make it your daily employment, your job. You don’t need to apply.
Also very importantly you don’t need to be a card carrying member of any political party to volunteer, you don’t need to join one or form one. Wherever you are, if you see the need – be the change – that’s needed. Step in and offer to help. Not just for one day, but everyday. All the time. It’s a way of life.
We don’t need any more marches or protests or side-shows. We don’t need any more Political Organizations. The ones we have are more than enough. We are the PARTY. We have the power in our hands, to vote and support only what we want. We just need to be concerned always with being an active solution right where we are, to the change that’s needed, the answer to the problem. To act. We the public can ensure that we have access to proper health care, education, justice. We can do it where we are now. We can make the bill of rights and our country’s constitution and make it a living document, no one else can do that for us. The next 20 years starting from now, today should be all ABOUT that. We are LINDIWE! We are the ones we have been waiting for. We can all do it together simultaneously. We have strength in numbers. Our hands can make the change. The law is on our side. Let’s make it work for us. We are the solutions to our own problems. Not the West or nor our former colonizers, or China not the system or its politicians, or the government officials we EMPLOY. Truth be told, honestly? It’s in our hands. The only way to change – is to do something different and not more of the same. Start where you are.