GET OUT: YOU ARE NOT A ROCK

You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love is no longer being served”— Nina Simone.

A Facebook update from a friend of a friend posted on  National Women’s Day in South Africa got me thinking, deeply. She said;

Don’t call me a strong woman. I’m not your Mbokodo (Rock/Boulder) me. This thing of likening women to indestructible boulders is getting us killed”

At first glance, this statement seems to spit in the face of thousands of women who bravely marched to the Union Buildings  61 years ago in protest against the brutal and imperialistic  Apartheid government. The reason we celebrate Womans’ Day on the 9th August every year. It was an auspicious March, arguably the largest gathering of activists from around the country since the signing of the Freedom Charter in 1955.  The women covered every inch of the of the historic lawns united by one song, an anthem: Wathinta’abafazi Wathinti’mbokodo. You strike a woman, you strike a rock, you have dislodged a boulder which will roll down and crush you. This anthem galvanized the women. It gave them the strength to challenge the iron fisted Right Wing Hans Strydom, Verwoerd and co. It was a necessary coping/defiance mechanism against an arrogant racist, violent, and repressive government.

But between you and me, I agree with my friends’ friend.  I think this anthem, this slogan has served its purpose. This coping mechanism, this metaphor which once symbolised courage has now become a weapon used against women in South Africa. As if at the march, the women exchanged the dom-pas for a male fist. It has expired, it is outdated. It no longer works. In a country where one in three men admit that they have forced themselves (raped) on women at some point in their lives,  in a country with one of the highest rates of femicide in the world; it is abundantly clear that women are not rocks, we are not indestructible boulders. We hurt, we bleed, we feel pain, and we are ultimately mortal. We won’t rise like the Phoenix. It’s a myth.

A friend of mine who works as a domestic worker in the suburbs of Johannesburg once put this into sharp perspective for me. She said, you know Jedi I’m tired. Every day as I clean and rub the floor, it’s not the concrete that disappears, it’s me. The rock stays the same, but you don’t, it wears you down after a while.

So, knowing that you are not a rock, that you do bruise and you will die if you stay with a man or woman who treats your body like a rock will save you. It will help you to get out.  Today you must be soft and walk away, don’t look back. I know that the other women paved the way for your freedom, but they didn’t  bravely march to the Union Buildings to confront imperialists so that you can die at the hands of your comrades in the revolution. They marched so you can be free to leave, free to move, free to love and be loved by someone who would not even consider laying a hand on your beautiful face to solve a problem. They did not march so you can be beaten, raped or murdered in the name of a political party or the liberation movement.

Listen even the ANC’s women’s league president Bathabile Dlamini made this clear in an interview given to the Sunday papers.  She said that the Deputy Director of  Higher Education Mduduzi Mananas’ recent assault of a young woman was negligible compared to what other senior political figures in government have done or are currently doing to women. Implying that Manana is not the only nor the worst sexual offender in government.  In fact,  gender based violence has become just a political game for Dlamini. “I don’t want to be part of those games…. Even in other parties, there is sexual harassment and it’s not treated the way it’s treated in the ANC. And I refuse that this issue is made a political tool. It’s not a political tool”

Between you and me. We know that sex and violence are political tools often used between the sheets or between the pages shuffled in government so Dlamini’s statement is vacuous. It is empty, there’s nothing to it.  Nada. Dololo. Don’t stay. Get out.

The ruling political party’s  ideals are limited by an attachment to a status quo that keeps them the dominant class. Even well-intentioned individuals within the liberation movement can’t resist the rewards of an unequal society that favours them. Their true and primary allegiance is to their class and the privileges they are Happy to enjoy.

One of my more erudite friends on Facebook commenting on a controversial American film said something which I think  can be applied to our current situation: “There can be a fine line between the portrayal of racial violence as a critical and necessary record of the long history of white supremacy and the portrayal of racial violence such that it repeats white supremacy’s very terms. Katheryn Bigelow’s “Detroit” about the 1967 riots and a particularly vicious night of police brutality at the Algiers Hotel, in my opinion, doesn’t fall clearly on the right side of that line.”

I would like you to replace white supremacy with patriarchy and racial violence with misogyny. And see that there can be a fine line between standing up for women’s rights (you strike a woman, you strike a rock) as a critical and necessary resistance against patriarchy and standing up for women’s rights in such a way that it repeats and perpetuates violence against women.

In this context, the slogan, Wathinti’Abafazi, You strike a Rock,  no longer falls on the right side of that line. In my 14 years as a journalist observing and speaking to female politicians, I noticed a disturbing trend with women politicians admitting that they will consciously tow the party line at the expense of women’s rights.  Progressive, intelligent, nice, sweet, stylish beautiful and friendly women and men with bright smiles will vote in favour of your abuser in order to stay in power and keep their positions. It’s the nature of politics. Why? Because they have been rocks, they have been sexually harassed, abused and assaulted as a result they expect you to do the same. They expect you to be strong. Be a Rock. Take one for the team. Take it. For the liberation movement. They have become numb to pain. Don’t be like the ANC Women’s league or a Rock. they are the veteran survivors or even current victims of abuse.

Do not exchange toxic masculinity for toxic femininity. Both are bad for you.

Don’t feel bad for leaving. You are saving your own life and his or hers mind you.  If you need scientific evidence, a recent study by psychologists at the University of UC Berkeley found that feeling bad about feeling bad only serves to make things worse. Don’t attempt to feel upbeat about a bad situation. Don’t feel bad about leaving.  It’s bad enough that you’re in an abusive relationship or that you have been violated in some way – accept that it’s bad and that as much as you love the revolution, you can’t change anyone or that man. Your man needs help. But you are not his saviour. You can’t change him, heal him or save him. The only way to help him is to show him that you are not a rock. You are soft. Let him see and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what he is doing is killing you, walk away. Get the restraining order. Call POWA. Even the police. Make a detailed record of events. File a case. Move out.  Call a friend.

Not all men cheat, not all men rape or abuse women. Not all men are trash I promise you. You’ll meet someone who knows that love does not equal violence or pain. Dare to leave.

Being a rock may have worked in 1956 but it’s not working today. So, exchange that fist for a piece of paper and walk out.  I know it’s been said before that “Mosadi o tshwara thipa ka mo bogaleng” A Sesotho idiom which means a woman holds the sharp end of the knife. Yes, she does but only if she has to, only if her children are under siege. Don’t let it get there. Walk out.

While you still can. You’re not a rock, you’re woman. Soft and human. Apartheid is over, and while this freedom may exist only on paper for most women, this paper is still a valid ticket for you to get out of there. Apply it. Use that App. Make it speak for you.  You have a right to live a full and happy life. This is how you honour the women who marched in 1956.

Take your freedom and Leave. Run if you have to.  Let them know that you strike a woman, she leaves. Period.

“Our revolution is not a public-speaking tournament. Our revolution is not a battle of fine phrases. Our revolution is not simply for spouting slogans that are no more than signals used by manipulators trying to use them as catchwords, as codewords, as a foil for their own display. Our revolution is, and should continue to be, the collective effort of revolutionaries to transform reality, to improve the concrete situation of the masses of our country.” ― Thomas Sankara

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Nelisiwe Xaba: A Dancer With Balls

X-homes 2010.

I first met critically acclaimed dancer and choreographer, Nelisiwe Xaba, in 2008. We made T-shirts together for the anti-Xenophobia protest march Johannesburg in June. She never said a word the entire evening, (if she did I didn’t hear it ) while I and our other mutual friends chattered or argued and debated about which  slogans worked, how many we should make, the fonts, the style etc. She just got on with the work at hand.

The next time we met, it was in 2009 for an interview on the  short run of her solo-performance pieces,  “They look at me and that’s all they think” and Sakhozi says ‘non’ to the Venus,  which she self-funded at the Market Theater in Jozi .  Both works were based and  inspired by the story of Sara Baartman (1789-1815) a Khoi-khoi woman famously exhibited as a sideshow attraction in 19th Century Europe, under the name “Hottentot Venus”.   I watched both her pieces with awe, I had never seen her perform  before – she is often travelling and working abroad and on the continent.  I wondered why I didn’t know about her before (being a lover of dance and all) or why there were not many people, black women like me,  going out to see what other sisters are doing. Her performances are powerful and challenging, and thought-provoking.  I have never been left unchallenged by her work.   Her  meticulousness is evident in how her work is structured:  from the  costumes she chooses, the props she uses, body movement, facial expressions, no action or movement is wasted. All tie in methodically together into  smooth and powerfully vibrant performances only Nelisiwe Xaba  can deliver.  I have loved all of the shows she’s produced  including  that of X-Homes in Kliptown ( one of the oldest townships in Soweto and the venue where the 1955 freedom charter was signed)   in which I barely escaped her urine which she splashed angrily at her  audience as part of the piece.    If there’s a critique from a novice, it would be, she is very much more than just  “intense” .  The day of the interview was over-cast,  just  like this one today.  We sat in a cove at Gramadoelas restraurant at the Market Theater, and indulged  in what was to be the most enjoyable interview I have ever had. We both laughed, and giggled like two school girls while sipping tea.  I was surprised when I stumbled on a short transcript of the interview  the other day and re-reading now  I see it was probably the most seriously, real, interview I have ever done.  Xaba is also, as it turns out one of the funniest people I’ve met yet, with a balanced mix of irony and witt I smile just thinking of that day.  I didn’t want the Interview to end I remember… I was already in Love.

The Interview:

SWA: How did you navigate your way through the dance industry  almost two decades  down the line?

XABA: ”  I had to fight. Nothing was given to me, all I had (have)  I had to do it myself. I know that for  my male counterparts  things were just given to them and they didn’t know how to handle it, because it was given to them.  No one gave me anything. I had to build my name, build everything myself.  So, no one can say I gave her something, including all these Dance Institutions for all I care. The dancing industry is full of men, and no they’re not better.

SWA: Is there  a need then to build support structures for young (female) dancers? Would you consider perhaps setting up a something to train aspirant dancers?

XABA:  Sometimes I dream of having my own studio, my own Non-Governmental – Organization (NGO). But at the same time I don’t believe in NGO’s…. to keep giving something to people, maybe they don’t need it. They don’t need it so they don’t know what to do with it. So I would like to create something where young girls or boys, if they want to be dancers, would have to make an effort.  I don’t want to open another school where I have to rely on funders to give me money for the underprivileged, I don’t believe in that. It’s a great gift from NGO’s or from Europeans, but it doesn’t help.  How many NGO’s do we have in Africa? What do they do? If NGO’s were helping Africa, Africa would be at the same level with  first world countries today.

SWA: In Sakhozi says “non” to the Venus, you tackle Immigration Issues amongst other pressing issues, tell us more.

XABA: It boils down to the relationship that Europe has with Africa. It’s  the superiority complex that they have with us. Also it’s not only Europe that should be blamed. We’ve been blaming Europe forever. I think our Governments will blame Europe until I’m dead.  Africa needs to start having balls. Africa needs to stop having her legs wide open and cross them probably, and start having some dignity. Europeans are closing their gates to Africans, and we’re opening them wide, I don’t understand that.   I don’t know what we gain from them. Europeans gain money from doing business in Africa. I don’t know what we gain.

SWA: Who are you  Challenging?

 XABA: Unfortunately cabinet ministers or parliamentarians  won’t attend the show. They are too important (laughs).  I grew up in Apartheid – South Africa, then there was a movement of consciousness,  ( Black Consciousness Movement/ BCM) especially with the youth.  We made  each other conscious, but that’s all gone and I don’t understand why it’s gone when it should be starting,  beginning actually. So I look at my work as a form of creating a consciousness.

SWA:  You’ll also be performing your 2006 piece, they look at me and that’s all they think, what does this piece relate to.

XABA: This goes back to exoticism. When you’re performing in Europe, people are mainly interested in seeing your body. Sometimes they don’t actually care about what you’re saying. The black body is still so exotic. When your  body is your tool to make or create art, then it becomes a challenge.  How do you get your message across when someone is actually not listening and they’re just looking at your body? How do you get them to listen? That’s the challenge. They look at me , was also a challenge to Europeans that the black body is just a body “actually”. So you can listen to what I’m saying, or see what I’m talking about, to open a dialogue”

SWA: How do you deal with your own personal narrative? The irony your work evokes?

XABA: This time it is a choice. It’s not like Sara Baartman who had no choice, a contract or costume. Of course it is an art-form that gets abused. My challenge is how do I use my body in a way that exhibiting it does not degrade it, and how do I do that with pride.

SWA: Why do you think, many women, like Sara Baartman are still “caged” today?

XABA: The problem for me starts with the basics.  If we women don’t teach girls to be powerful  girls,  they will never be powerful women. You can’t expect a 21-year-old to be a powerful woman, when you’ve  never taught her when she was  five how to be a powerful girl. The state of women in Africa is still ridiculous. Men are still men. Men haven’t changed despite the fact that we marched in the 60’s . It’s like the struggle of being black, you have to fight everyday of your life. Same with being a woman, you fight everyday of your life. We live in a man’s world.  We live in a White world. Until we change that world, nothing can change for us.

ends.

Biography:

Sakhozi says non to the Venus

Nelisiwe Xaba was born and raised in Soweto (South Africa), and received a scholarship to study at the Johannesburg Dance Foundation. After studying dance in London (with a 1996 Ballet Rambert Scholarship) she returned home to join Pact Dance Company, where she was company member for several years, and with whom she toured to Europe and the Mideast. She worked with a variety of choreographers, visual and theater artists, particularly Robyn Orlin, with whom she created works such as Keep the Home Fires BurningDown Scaling downLife after the credits roll, and Daddy I’ve seen this piece six times before and I still don’t know why they’re hurting each other, which toured for several years in Europe and Asia, winning the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance. In 2001, Ms. Xaba began to focus on her own choreographic voice, creating solo and group dance works that have been performed in Africa and Europe, includingb Dazed and confusedNo Strings Attached 1No Strings Attached 2Be My Wife(BMW)(commissioned by the Soweto Dance Project), and Black!.. White and Plasticization. Ms. Xaba has also collaborated as choreographer and dancer with fashion designers, opera productions, music videos, television productions, and multimedia performance projects.

My Pride Now and Then

This year’s   Johannesburg – Jo’burg Pride Parade was very much controversial: something  actually happened. But I missed the commotion. Choosing instead to forego the parade and attend the festivities at the Rosebank – Zoo lake – park grounds, where the pride-party would take place  much later in the afternoon.

It was a very different Pride Indeed.

Then….

The first Pride March I ever attended was mandatory. I was the new journalist in the newsroom  and was on duty the weekend of that year’s  Pride.  I was assigned to cover it.  This is a decade ago. It was to be treated as a colour piece: journalism speak for a fun and entertaining story, nothing serious sans les Politik. This suited me fine because I was, so to speak so very green,  in matters  concerning or affecting the LGBTQi community be they  political or otherwise.

This time I went early and started walking with the happy Kings and Queens.  I was mesmerized.  The March  was Lilly white and 80 percent male.   I felt very conspicuous among the roaring crowds. A  very rare species being  – black and female – like an exotic African curiosity on the concrete runway. But I was on duty so I discounted my presence there.

As the march proceeded, I conducted  vox-pops with revelers – gingerly – I was (and still am) slightly (it’s getting better now) intimidated by gay people, gay men especially.  One is often too much  to deal with for me (I have a very low self-esteem) much less a whole group of  them happy together at Pride.  Before I forget: I lived with a roaring queen as a child and loved to listen with interest as she described just how useless women were at taking of themselves,  while putting on make up and grooming herself (oiling her very long legs) in the mornings in  the room I shared with my two sisters.  According to her;  women put their good looks to waste by not taking care of themselves, and she was so much better at it – More than a Woman.  Even I  at 11 years old did not meet her very high standards of what constitutes a well-groomed woman, I did not meet my mothers’ standards either.  I still don’t.

I was happy I was there in my professional capacity because the mic always put a distance between me and whoever I am  interviewing.  So I was shielded from their laser eyes, of what’s wrong with your skin honey? hair,  make-up,  not to mention…” Darling what are you wearing?!.  I was, however, taken aback by  the events’ aura of  exclusivity and falseness, not  in the costumes they wore but just in their “collective” attitudes :  how they responded to me as I asked my  questions.   That day reminded me of an unrelated  experience I had when I was in High School in Newcastle – in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal Province. There I attended an overnight prayer session organized by a Christian group from  High School,  an Afrikaans-English medium school which was still highly conservative in circa 1997.   They said sure you should come, “Dit sal lekker wees”  It’ll be nice said Kobie the blonde one ( she was a straight A student by the way ) with a smile and a pat  on my shoulder.  I was Christian and very new at the school and town.

I went and was coldly ignored by my two friends who smiled at me all the time. I wondered the hills on my own the whole night until it was morning and I could go home without having uttered a word to a soul on a mountain full of people.  Or another unrelated event when I was much younger – circa 1995 when I got lost during a christian march in Pretoria with an Afrikaans family my parents had befriended.  I was assigned to one of the older girls for the walk, but soon wondered and got lost in the crowd. I heard someone screaming, ” Waar is die swart meisie! swart meisie! swart meisie! (where is the black girl). When I heard her repeat my nom du plume  over and over again,  I ignored her for a bit hoping that, that  call was not meant for me. But it was and as she grabbed me by the hand I said to her stubbornly in her language – “swart meisie is nie my naam nie” black girl is not my name, her response in English to me was what else was I supposed to say?

So after my pride colour piece was done and dusted I forgot about it immediately. There was nothing about that Pride that made me ever want to go back. But I did.

Now Recently…..

In 2009 I went to Soweto Pride and Marched. I  woke up really early in the morning, a feat unusual for me and  it was a  bright and beautiful day.  I had a bubbly happiness lingering in the base of my stomach.  I didn’t know where it came from, maybe it was my nerves.  Maybe it was because I was going to a Pride March in my home township, in Meadowlands, at a park where my sisters and I used to play as kids, all kinds of games.  Or maybe it was because the community (we/re ) was still reeling from the cruel murders of  two women – Sizakele Sigasa and Saloome Masooa in 2007 –  killed because they were lesbian, lovers, living together.  I was assigned to that story too,  to “cover” the memorial service on the 12th of July 2007.   I wanted to bathe myself afterwards to rid myself of the palpable grief that clung on to my skin like a rash, and I was just an observer – a witness.  I met an old friend of mine that day she was at the memorial service.  Tracy  – we studied journalism together – and I  often enjoyed her latest heartache stories of the new, new-girl-in town she was in love with. I had never seen that look in her eyes. I had never seen her crying. She was always the tough one.

At Soweto Pride  I wore my girlfriend (lover’s ) very short white tennis shorts, a wild cat black and white  t-shirt I bought for her as a present  and a grey short  waist coat and a straw hat. I was slightly late for the convoy and my black and white friends were not amused by my tardiness, but nothing could take away my inner joy. I was going to March in My Home Town and stand up for mine  and everyone’s right to Life. Though I was among friends I walked that short strip of road on my own, thinking about my mother and grandmother and cousins and sisters and wondered what they would say If they saw me then. I also met someone that day. She changed my life.  The march was mostly black and mostly female and mostly poor. There were no floats.

Now….

This time I didn’t want to go to no  Pride Parade. I wanted to go to the OR Tambo Liberation Walk, which was taking place on the same day.  OR Tambo was  South African’s anti-apartheid politician/activist/scholar/teacher/lawyer/musician and central figure in  the African National Congress – ANC .

But after I heard the organizer say on the radio they were not sure which  school, in the Eastern Cape where OR Tambo is from,  the  proceeds from the walk would go to I changed my mind. Another friend wanted to go to Pride. I had a beautiful dress I wanted to wear and had no occasion for it so I thought Pride here I come.

Before this march and in my dealings,  professional or otherwise I have found the gay rights movement in South Africa to be more segregated, polarized and cliquey than any other group I have ever  been a “part” of.  I felt even more alien within its smothering arms.  I was a generally  insecure person  before, and all my insecurities were highlighted within in the Gay/Lesbian “community”.  I didn’t look gay enough; from the way I dressed, to my physical body image, behaviour, the way I sound, my hair cut, mannerisms, my friends, the things I like etc none of it was “gay enough”.  The gay rights movement is segregated, there is a separation  between educated lesbians with Phds and Masters,  Activists /Comrades with former struggle credentials/Separation between lesbians who wear  lipstick, skirts, dresses, high heels and tight tops  to those who wear gang-star pants, florsheim shoes. Separation between old, young, Gold star lesbians ( who never had sexual relations with males), No-star lesbians  former straight – now – gay lesbians, lesbians with children and lesbians without, lesbian with adopted children,  trans-lesbians, lesbian wives and lesbian husbands, boifriends and gayfriends ,black rich educated lesbians, black poor, uneducated lesbians…  white progressive lesbians, white right-wing lesbians, closeted lesbians , sometimes out sometimes in-house lesbians etc etc, including the ever subtle but ever-present separation  between black and white, poor and rich.

Within the organizations fighting for the rights of these  already marginalized groups there was (is) more separation.  POWA ( people against women abuse – mostly stand up for raped women) One in 9 ( rights for  raped women) the chosen FEW ( women playing soccer/ raped women) and GEnderLinks, ( also includes rights of raped women) Feminist Agenda and many more representing the niche  interests ranging from women living with HIV and AIDs, women playing Soccer, to organization representing the interests of women in transitions from one sexuality to another.

Not to mention the ongoing-discussions,  debates or disagreements around even the term LGBTQi and what each letter means, who is (mis)- represented or is not. I understand the need for all these letters and how they can and do affirm a persons individual Identity. However I remember speaking to my mother who thinks it’s wrong to be gay,  about women being raped because they are  gay. Her response was this: Yes it’s sad that, that  is happening, cruel for people kill , but what makes the rape of a lesbian/gay person different from another woman/man (straight, heterosexual, only has sexual intercourse with men/women)  she asks? And the truth is – nothing.

Yes LGBTQI people are an easy target for hate crimes be they racist, religious, cultural or otherwise and we must Never Be Silent About That. But in South Africa MOST black women- PEOPLE-  are a target of violence.

Much has been written about this subject from the United Nations Human Rights Commission to articles in newspapers, South Africa is yet to ratify the laws.  ratifying yet another conventions on hate crimes, is not going to make the HATE go  away. Women in South Africa regardless of who they go to sleep with at night are victims of the most horrible, violent  crimes. Lesbian women have gone through some indescribable inhumane atrocities, but all of them are based on Hate.

In crime and lawhate crimes (also known as bias-motivated crimes) occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certainsocial group, usually defined by racial groupreligionsexual orientationdisability,classethnicitynationalityagesex, or gender identity.[1]

Whether the person being hurt, murdered, or assaulted  wears pants designed for men or is a helpless pensioner or a six month old child – all are raped to correct, to cure AIDs, to punish, whatever the motivation,  all of it is equally evil.  All of it must stop.  Separating these crimes into compartments I think is counterproductive, in a country where the justice system is barely functioning.    We already have existing compartments we are struggling to  deal with  even.  As Human Rights Activists,  if We ARE – human rights activists I believe  we should all find a way of working together to make this kind of cruel reality for thousands of women and men  in South Africa  , maybe your daughter or  myself tomorrow;  whether they are a part of the LGBTQi community or not to STOP. My mother would support that initiative.

What happened at the weekend is disgusting, (you can google it). But more than anything it is a  sign (loud alarm)  of discord within the he gay rights movement, which is, I believe completely out of tune with the very people whose interest  it seeks to serve.

I wore my  Rainbow Dress Proudly on that very Shameful Pride weekend.  I walked with my head held high, with none of my usual shyness or apologetic behavior.  Alone – I stood tall and Proud and let all the letters L, G, B , T, Q,  fall to the ground with each tear until I was left with I, because I am and that’s more than  enough.