POWER FAILURE: LIGHTS ARE ON BUT NOBODY’S HOME

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Take a trip to Nairobi, Kenya and you will find a country at war with itself where political contest continues to be a zero-sum game. Next to them in Kampala Uganda even the right to protest is under threat so, citizens and politicians wear red headbands instead.Or you can go across to Togo over Benin in the west and find multitudes of people protesting 50 years of autocratic rule or fly a take a short flight to Nigeria to find a country divided with a people still seeking cessation – Biafra calls. Next door to them in Cameroon hundreds have died in protest against a controlling government. If you like, drift placidly down to Zimbabwe where citizens have resigned themselves to their fate – President Robert Mugabe for life. Or glance up to South Sudan where millions cross the border daily seeking refuge from a hailstorm of bullets flooding their homes. Let your eyes settle for a moment in the Democratic Republic of Congo which has been in the grip of a low-level civil war since King Leopold the second of Belgium declared it his personal property. The landscape is littered with people who are in pain displaced in their own countries because even though the lights are on – there is no one home. There’s no one to listen. There is no compassion or empathy. No sense of duty except, the duty to explicitly self-enrich at the expense of all others. Greed is killing people.

Everything seems set in stone until…

Someone comes along who does something remarkable. His name. Jose Pepe Mujica. Ironically described by the media as the poorest president in the world. In an interview with Al-Jazeera’s’ Lucia Newman in 2013, the 82-year-old former president who served  Uruguay between from 2010 and 2015 …. sips bitter tea, in a small living room barely large enough to fit a TV crew and decorated with shelves full of books which he shares with his wife and a three-legged dog. He speaks like somebody we know

“No. I’m not a poor president,” he said. “Poor are those who describe me as poor. My definition of poor is those who need too much because those who need too much are never satisfied. I am frugal, not poor”

Which means he’s economical about how he spends his money, giving  90 percent of his salary back into public service.

“Frugal with a light suitcase. I live with little, just what’s necessary. Not too tied down to material things. Why? so that I can have free time. For what? to do what I like.Freedom is having time to live. Living Frugally is a philosophy of life but I’m not poor. I have a way of life that doesn’t change because I’m president.

I earn more than I need even if it’s not enough for others. My wife is a senator and she has to contribute a lot to her party. But her salary is enough for us to live. And we still have a bit left over which we put in the bank just in case. I contribute to my political group and projects like housing for unmarried mothers. For me, it’s not a sacrifice it’s a duty.”

He explains

“I don’t oppose consumption. I am against waste.  We have to produce food for the hungry, roofs for those who need a home. Build schools for those who don’t have schools. We have to solve the water problem now. If every powerful person has three, four, five cars and needs 400sq meters to live and a house on the beach and an aeroplane to get here and there… then there isn’t enough for everyone. What does modern science tell us? It tells us indisputable facts. If the current world population aspired to consume like the average American. We would need three planet earth(s). Which means that if we continue tossing out things. Naturally, a great part of humanity will never have anything. They are doomed.”

Mujica only has one car, a 1980s beetle golf. When asked why he hasn’t tried to change the status quo or how his fellow countrymen live,  he doesn’t beat about the bush.

“Because if I tried to impose my way of living on the rest they’d kill me. They’d kill me I know it. But allow me the freedom to express myself. Because we complain about global warming while we assault nature by producing so much waste. We are mortgaging the future of the next generations. I can’t fix this as a government, I am a prisoner of this myself. What I’m pointing out is where we are heading. True there is extraordinary waste here. There are houses only used 20 days a year in Punta del Est. Luxurious houses while other’s don’t even have a shack to sleep at night. It’s crazy unjust. I oppose that world, but I am a prisoner of that world.”

The former Marxist guerrilla fighter is against re-election. For him, a president in a republic is a high-level official who is elected to carry out a function. He is neither a King nor a God. He is especially not – a witch doctor of a tribe who knows everything. He is a civil servant and as such he must leave and be replaced. Mujica believes the ideal way for a president to live is like the vast majority of the people whom he is attempting to serve and represent.

“My goal is to achieve a little less injustice in Uruguay to help the most vulnerable and leave behind a political way of thinking a way of looking at a future that will be passed on and used to move forward. There’s nothing short-term, no victory around the corner. I will not achieve paradise or anything like that. What I want is to fight a common good for progress. Life slips by, the way to continue it is for others to continue your work.”

 

Once in a while, something so surprisingly beautiful happens.Just when you think you are going to fall into an endless tunnel of nothingness suspended in space and time, you blink and there it is. A, way.

The question is, will you choose it?

 

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THE EFF: AND ITS LANGUAGE GAME

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It is rather unfortunate that the newest political party in South Africa chose to name itself the Economic Freedom Fighters because instead of it articulating that it is a political party which stands for economic freedom for the majority of the country’s citizens it sounds as if they are a political party fighting (against) economic freedom.

The difference here is analogous to a recent incident involving a tweet by US President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. After a long day of making speeches and meeting with heads of state at the United Nations’ General assembly, Ivanka Tweeted: “Cuddling with my little nephew Luke…the best part after an otherwise incredible day”. Media personality and celebrity Chrissy Teigen didn’t waste time correcting Ivanka’s grammar and syntax. “otherwise makes it sound like you didn’t like hangin’ with this baby” she reacted to the tweet, later adding that “overall, is the word.” Twitter fell in love with Chrissy Tiegens’ comments who has been outspoken about her hatred for Trump, promptly crowning her Twitter’s Grammar Police in Chief.

The sentence construction is wrong because ‘otherwise’ in this context is an adverb that means in other respects or apart from that’. Even though most people would agree that Ivanka wrote the exact opposite of what she actually meant, she would not be forgiven for it because she represents Donald Trump – a man a section of American people and parts of the world love to hate.

Obviously, this is the kind of mistake that would be understated had Ivanka been president Obama’s daughter – and in the larger scheme of things it does nothing to change the status quo in the United States government. Donald Trump remains president. Tiegen interestingly is also an admirer of Ivanka Trump. She said as much in a Glamour magazine interview last year saying she thinks Ivanka should run for office.’I think Ivanka seems like an incredibly wonderful businesswoman and mother. She has enviable poise and grace in a very difficult situation”

While the party’s inclusion of the word “fighter” is unfortunate – it was no mistake, it was a strategic and deliberate choice for them. The word holds symbolic meaning both for the party’s commander-in-chief Julius Malema who is fighting back against the man and political party which made him and a growing number of black South Africans disillusioned with the ANC who are seeking a new political home. It hearkens to an epoch which animated and motivated thousands of African black people across the country’s townships to take to the streets in an effort to overthrow the Apartheid government only to discover that the system still stands in post-Apartheid South Africa. It calls on ghosts who lie restless in a cemetery of a stunted revolution.

In this context, Julius Malema behaves much like the one eyed-character of Raletloana in the popular 1980’s South African drama series Lesilo Rula, who blew on a horn calling on the ghost of Lesilo to arise from its’ grave and attack his opponents whenever his words failed him. Fighter triggers the widely repressed belief in the psyche of black South Africans that the war was not won in 1994 and that it somehow continues on albeit in a different form. The word fighter, like otherwise, diminishes the objectives of the political party to achieve Economic Freedom overall.

Much like the overall uniforms, the party’s MPs wore in parliament when they were sworn in for the first time – did nothing to advocate for improved working conditions or the enforcement of a minimum wage for thousands of the country’s domestic and mine workers. All we’ve heard since the EFF was elected to parliament is Zuma, Zuma, Zuma.

Julius Malema rose to the top by using fear; the fear of violence and death as a weapon against his competition. He shouted from podiums that he will kill for Zuma and sang struggle songs saying “Kill the boer “or “Dubula’bhunu” which captured the imagination of all South Africans black and white for different and opposing reasons including the media which loved to hate him.

Now recently he and his fellow fighters who have become media darlings, caused a stir in parliament for calling President Jacob Zuma, Duduzane’s Father, claiming that Zuma is not their president. When reproached for using Duduzane’s Father as a pejorative he countered that in his culture calling a man by his son’s name is, in fact, a sign of respect. Which is true when you are visiting him in his domestic abode and not so much when addressing a head of state at the national assembly.

The EFFs haggling in parliament has been canonized in a house song called “ UbabakaDuduzane” featuring a variety of South African dance moves including that of President Jacob Zuma dancing outside the ANC’s headquarters in 2009 – following a victory at the polls, which Julius Malema and co. helped him win.

All of this makes the EFF look like a party which is employed to dramatically over-react in a play they did not write. While Malema and his supporters seem to challenge traditional or orthodox political thought, on one hand, they do so by deliberately manipulating language using context transcending narratives where it suits them and employing genealogical contexts when it is expedient for them, on the other. They are shape-shifting composites of multiple ideas becoming other while producing something which is continuously metamorphosing: pandering to power structures while simultaneously throwing them off.They pose in red and black academic gowns celebrating their academic achievements – while simultaneously attacking the very foundations of the education they want to make “fashionable.” Unlike Burkinabe President Thomas Sankara whose ideology they used as a red carpet on their way to claim their seats in parliament, they are not upright.

Julius Malema and his fighters are in parliament not to empower but to get their own back much like the Sicarios; zealots of Jerusalem who hunted the Romans for invading their homeland. They are agents provocateurs captured by a power unknown to us which is using them as bait or as a distraction in the real takeover taking place in the country. Their motives and overall objectives so far seem to advocate for the opposite of economic freedom, for all.

SO MUCH MATERIAL: TOO LITTLE TIME

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations” George Orwell.

Last weekend’s publication of a scandalous story which revealed that South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is alleged to have been nicknamed cupcake by one of his mistresses – has left the country’s journalists and editors accusing each other of taking sides in the current power struggles ravaging the ruling party ANC ahead of its  54th National elective conference in December.

“I must admit that I am terribly disappointed in Ramaphosa, just one affair? What kind of presidential contender has one affair? “Cyril Ramaphosa the story that couldn’t.”

“South Africans don’t care about their leader sexual lives” “No lethal blow to Ramaphosa’ Campaign Over sex scandal, yet” “Cyril’s sex ‘scandal’ a damp squib.” “Nobody Cares About The Ramaphosa Sex Scandal” Some accused the editor of being a drama queen lacking in journalistic ethics after he complained of receiving death threats following the stories’ publication.

With twitter having cooled off from posting cupcake memes the editor in question published an opinion piece midweek explaining his actions while also accusing his colleagues in the media of pressuring him to reveal his sources vowing to stand for truth. The Mail and Guardian which published his position warned journalists to manage their biases.

“Power is being contested here. And whenever power is being contested, it is ugly. It is therefore imperative that all of us who work in the media to remember what happened in the run-up to Polokwane. Journalists and publications chose sides, they were proxies for factional battles and they were betrayed.” The editorial concluded that “We are journalists. But we are not freedom fighters. Noble though our work is, we must abandon our self-righteous zeal. Truth, justice, puppies and rainbows are sure to follow if we’re able to report the news as we ought.”

In theory ethical journalism is supposed to be about constrained expression, not free expression. It is supposed to be about professionals who impose self-restraint based upon the respect for others and an attachment to ethical principles. But this can only be done in an environment free from pressure and intimidation – which is why journalists should have a vested interest in defending and promoting high standards of human rights, which includes, in this case, the right for the editor in question to publish the story instead of attacking him.

Make no mistake.

The current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is a very powerful man. He not only has deep roots within the ANC and government, but he has amassed an immense amount of wealth and influence in the business sector since the advent of democracy.  He is a man well versed in almost all sectors of South African society.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of his character lies not in his alleged extra-marital affairs which he dismissed as “dirty-war-tricks” employed to damage his campaign for the presidency but his role leading up to the 2012 Marikana massacre in which 34 Lonmin mine workers were killed by South African police.  Ramaphosa who was the director of Lonmin at the time used his influence to order the police minister to deploy close to 800 policemen to the Koppie in Marikana and later persuaded them to end these “dastardly acts.”  He was calling striking mine workers cowards who lacked courage.

These are known public facts.  In May this year, the Deputy President apologised for his role in the Marikana Massacre saying it was an unfortunate use of language. Unfortunate words from someone who is a lawyer, a skilled negotiator, drafter of the country’s constitution, a businessman, a labour union specialist who at some point in his illustrious career represented the rights and aspirations of mine workers in South Africa. It’s his about turn from negotiating a peaceful settlement to putting pressure on government officials to do something which caused a huge blood stain on the very democracy he helped to build – which worries me.

He lacked restraint.

This image of Deputy President is more troubling to me.  I wonder about his motivations and whose’s interests he is serving or will serve once he becomes President. This alleged sex-scandal only serves to corroborate what we already know, Ramaphosa is a man, like President Zuma, who lacks restraint.  He just goes about it in a way which is more discreet and acceptable to the majority of South Africans. It is what he is capable of doing behind closed doors as illustrated in the Marikana massacre which makes this sordid story about his alleged sexual-exploits, ultimately relevant.

The attacks against the editor in question who was granted leave this week due to stress and trauma suffered as a result of publishing the story only serves to make us forget about history. To divert attention from what matters.

The failure by most South African journalists and editors to defend the editor in question’s right to publish the story without fear or intimidation is also troubling. This year has not been easy for the journalism fraternity and while journalists came out in full support for Journalists standing up against censorship at the SABC. Their silence on the rights for the editor in question to publish a story revealing the hidden character of a man who is in the running for the highest office in the land,  even after the editor has complained of harassment and death threats – is disturbing.

What is this story about?

As with the recent saga of Bell Pottinger, we know that there are many ways to manipulate the media and or public opinion. One of them is complete censorship and suppressing of information. The other is releasing an avalanche of information some of which is misleading, false, true or useless aimed at keeping said target preoccupied with sifting the sheep from the goats. Perhaps the editor in question and his colleagues may have been the victims of a Phishing attack or suggestio falci – a case of having too much information with little time to make sense of it. Time is currency in Journalism and unfortunately, it may have worked against him this time around.  But he still has the editorial right to publish information without fear or intimidation even if we don’t agree with its contents or deem it to be a “good” story.  None of us are beyond reproach in this business.

If President Jacob Zuma and his supporters are capable of engaging in nefarious activities to hold on to power and influence – what makes us think that the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and his supporters are not when history tells us otherwise?

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” 
― George Orwell

 

TJOVITJO: I’M SORRY, WHAT?

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The recent exchange between ‘the people’s bae’ South African Member of Parliament and Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi (PhD) and a candidate for the SABC board  Rachel Kalidass, got me thinking about the politics of representation, race and class in the country.

During the interview ‘the people’s bae‘ leaned into his mic and asked, ‘what do you think about Tjovitjo?” The respondent Kalidass, a chartered accountant and former SABC board member evidently flustered by his question, batted her eyes lids behind clear thin glasses and then answered the MP with her own question “I’m sorry, what?”

After a few rounds of clarification, Kalidass who is included in the final list of 12 names recommended to serve on the SABC board,  eventually answered that not only does she not know who or what Tjovitjo is she is, in fact, more inclined to watch SABC 3 which is a channel geared towards urban metropolitan South Africans – who are global citizens, well read, well-travelled and earn on average over 17 thousand rands a month (LSM 7-10). Tjovitjo is aired on SABC 1 which targets the often-rural peri urban working class South Africans, with some primary education and earn between one thousand and 6 thousand rand a month (LSM 1-6).

The question and her answer were laughed off by the parliamentary panel. But it got people on twitter tweeting on opposite lines of the fence. Some argued that she is not a board member of the SABC 3 channel only and should rather stay home while others countered that she can’t possibly be expected to know all programming on SABC’s numerous platforms.

Be that as it may. I sight this incident which is possibly innocuous in the context of everything else that’s happening both within government and at the SABC, because it speaks directly to what concerns me the most about the state of our nation.  The jarring,  growing and consistent disconnect between those who are elected to serve or work for the public’s interest and the actual public.

Kalidass and her colleagues are faced with a mammoth of task of restoring the  image, reputation and credibility of the public-state- broadcaster from a long history of scandals, mismanagement, corruption, undue political interference and censorship which led to the firing of its most controversial  Chief Operations Officer (COO) to date, Hlaudi Motsoeneng,  the purging of the SABC board, the firing of SABC8 journalists who blew the whistle against  increased censorship in the broadcaster’s news division. Censorship which later led to the untimely death of SABC8 journalist Suna Venter three months ago.

Viewed in this historical context, Tjovitjo a 26-part drama series about the lives of a group dancers amatjovitjo, who live in peri-urban-poverty-ridden-opportunity-less squatter camps who use dance as way to not only express their frustration with their lives but to overcome them – is the only good news story to have come out of the SABC in recent months. The drama series drew more than 5 million viewers for its first episode breaking the SABC’s own records since Yizo-Yizo, a popular youth drama series which aired in 1999-2004.

While watching episode three of the series it felt so real I cried real ones when one of the protagonists – a young unemployed school dropout and mother who pays for her child’s transportation to school with sexual favours – broke down crying saying, “I’m tired of this life, every day I must hustle, hustle, hustle for everything.” Her mother who sat quietly by responded: “don’t cry my child everyone is living this life.” Everyone must hustle.

Despite the positive reviews which praised the producers and actors for their brilliant artistry. I realized how exhausted I was by this seemingly never-ending story of black poverty. I began to think to myself  –  if I never see another inspirational story of South Africans dancing and singing their way through the dusty streets of some township, ghetto, crime ridden, corrupt, poverty-stricken, hungry smiling, disease laden squatter camp – it will be too soon. Too soon indeed.

Despite the many misgivings I may have about the stereotypes which persist in the series and questions of whether we are not in some ways continuing to monetize the anxieties and suffering of black people. I also know this:

TjoviTjo is about the 30 million South Africans who are currently living in poverty, the majority of whom are black (women) people who watch SABC1 for entertainment. It depicts in real and tangible terms what the government and the ruling party ANC have failed to do and still need to do. This is what Tjovitjo represents. The lived experiences of more than half of the country’s population.

Like Kalidass I myself am inclined towards the upwardly mobile educated lifestyle populated with people who are travelling the world and read books for leisure, who isn’t? Except that I have been there before. I have lived among those people who reside in the forgotten wastelands of our rainbow nation and together we met the glare of hopelessness in the eye and danced sePansula by candle light until midnight to while away the time. We danced, rehearsed every chance we could to stave off hunger or the desire to do something more damaging to our prospects. We danced against despair and we danced for survival.  I know how significant it is to shout or hear screams of tjovitjo!!! Amid whistles and claps of appreciation from friends as we fall into step together. So, I cannot afford not to know. I cannot afford to look away and as a public representative, neither can she. Because the only hope we all have of changing this particular story is to face it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try to understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

― Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living

 

LOVE: FROM PAIN TO POWER

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Beyond the biblical definition of what love is: kind, patient, does not boast, does not think of evil, always hopes, is not self-seeking etc. I have had a serious struggle with love, loving and being loved. At times when thinking of love the words of African-American writer James Baldwin came to mind with his very sobering recognition that ‘love does not begin and end the way we think it does, love is a battle, love is a war, love is a growing up” or when he said, “Love takes off the masks we fear we can’t live without and know we cannot live within.”

Here, Baldwin offers a complex understanding of what love is, which contradicts the dominant popular culture or what depictions of love in mainstream media would have us believe.  This type of love, Baldwins’ love calls one out, holds one accountable, forces one to face reality without rose-tinted glasses without the endorphins that rush to the head when we’re in love, obsessed and infatuated with an idea, something or someone. This love is about taking responsibility in this moment, in the now, for future generations. It is about temperance and balance, it is a sobering love.

Yet often when one thinks of love, one is not met with images of war and battles even if those people waging said wars might say they are motivated by the love of country, spouse, family member etc. The word love often conjures up images of comfort, affection, passivity and care.

Instead of love being used as a positive change agent it has become a platitude. Much like, beauty, intensely arresting, fleeting and almost always intangible.

Personally, I have struggled with knowing or identifying what true love is, when love begins, when it ends, when to recommit or when to leave a relationship or situation. I have not always known how to be both loving to myself and to another in such a way that both parties are aware or understand that the act of love is taking place. Often my struggle with love, loving and being loved has been internalized, hidden from view.  At times, my words have fallen on the floor forcing me to retreat further into silence.

Now I understand Baldwins’ assertion of love being a battle and a war, to be one which a person embarks on internally. The journey to love is in effect an interior one, it is an inner conflict – a journey towards an interior conquest and domination of ones’ self, of one’s impulses.  This journey is about developing self-control by voluntarily putting limitations on ones’ desires, urges, anxieties and proclivities.  While the masks love removes can be very personal they also represent the ‘gods”; they are the personification of power structures in any society. Removing the masks in effect removes your dependence on them.

Speaking of race and racism in the 2016 film, I Am Not Your Negro – Baldwin removes race or racism as an objective reason for misbehaviour in our society. “It’s not a racial problem,” he says ” it’s a problem of whether you are able to look at yourself, are willing to look at your life, take responsibility for it and be willing to change it”

Baldwin’s statement which personalises a systemic (structural) problem in diverse global societies might seem misguided at first, but when used to analyse a society like South Africa where Africans and or non-white people hold the seat of power – the truth emerges.  Because within this framework it makes no sense to continue to blame white supremacists’ capitalist patriarchy or Apartheid structures when we are the ones who are in control. The white-supremacy-capitalist-patriarchy complex is no longer an outside enemy personified by white men and women – it is in-fact an idea which resides within- for which we have become willing and active agents.  We have broken through these constructs as fact and understand them to be a  metaphor. We have become representatives of what these metaphors stand for.

So, it makes no sense to continue to focus only on the Guptas or the Zumas, even the ANC as the sole progenitors of our collective malaise. Love would require us to be cognizant of reality; of what is going on, that we are also active agents in our own oppression. We, like them, have fallen victim to these external forces because we lack self-control. We are out of control.  As individuals and as a nation we have voluntarily given our power away. We refuse to take responsibility for our own lives and so for this reason if it’s not Zuma, it’s the Guptas, if it’s not the Guptas it will be white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy if it’s not it will be white monopoly capital, if it’s not then it must be China, if not then it’s the third force, if it’s not the third force, it is the DA, EFF or IFP, if it’s not then it is surely the foreigners, the immigrants, the men, the women, our neighbours and then finally the ever-elusive demons.

This type of thinking allows us to remain perpetual victims; people who are incapacitated – who are always powerless against external interventions.

I think of love today and I know that I cannot claim to truly love anything or anyone if I don’t speak the truth for fear of being abandoned or isolated from it. That’s the risk one must bear as a practitioner of love.  Just like a normal parent.

The Guptas may be on our stoep but we invited them in and served them whiskey or tea on the rocks.

Whether the cause of our pain comes from systemic racism fuelled by white supremacist’s capitalist patriarchy or not, as individual men and women we still need to take responsibility for our roles within the system. We must recognize that we also have something to do with it.   When we do we’ll find out that we have been, for the most part, hiding behind these constructs in order to continue our lives as victims of something or someone because as victims we cannot be held accountable or made responsible for anything that happens to us. Much less what we do or do not do. If we remove white supremacist’s capitalist patriarchy, racism and all its appendices we find that we are ultimately responsible for our lives. We are responsible for our communities, countries and nations. We are responsible for who we are in them, and how we choose to show up.  We are responsible for how we treat each other.

Part of regaining our power will be to embrace radical openness in our public and private lives. To learn or know how to hear information and think critically about it, without eliminating or silencing dissenting voices or every and any opinion that goes against the status quo.  Because the more we suppress and annihilate radical opposing voices the more we will suffer as a result, this is what silencing does, it makes the problem worse. Examples of this are too numerous to list.  Taking control of our personal and public lives, acknowledging our limitations and identifying our strengths; being conscious does not make us victims but equal partners at the seat of power.  Because when we do that, we cease to be slaves to our own appetites, good or bad. We are not victims.

African-American cultural critic and writer bell hooks notes that we’ve always thought of our heroes as having to do with death and war. Referencing  Joseph Campbell and the whole idea of a heroic journey (A Hero With a Thousand Faces)  hooks says this journey is rarely a journey that’s about love, it’s about deeds that have to do with conquering and domination she adds. “Living as we do in a culture of domination, to truly choose to love is heroic, to work at love to really let yourself understand the art of loving.”

To choose to be patient, or kind.  To trust, to always hope and to persevere.

That’s power.

 

GET OUT: YOU ARE NOT A ROCK

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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

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

Featured

I’m sharing something I wrote three years ago about censorship at the South African Public Broadcaster (SABCNews) which was initially published on IPS  in 2013 as I am thinking and reflecting on the bravery of SABC8 Journalist Suna Venter who  died from Heart Break Syndrome. I didn’t know then that the state of emergency in our country would escalate to a point where one of own journalists would be harassed, stalked, assaulted, isolated, hounded and victimized to the point of death. I don’t think it’s fair that one person, a single individual has to  die  before we all can realize how pervasive the power structures in all state and or public institutions have become. It’s not fair to sacrifice people at the alter of your lust for power,  money, influence or the vote. Yes,  principles might not pay your bills but not having them will certainly kill the conscience of this country. Can you live with that?

In the Public Interest

In this blog for World Press Freedom Day 2013, journalist Jedi Ramalapa shares the pressures journalists often face from State institutions to censor their work, and the emotional toll this can have on both the journalist and the subject.

In the Public Interest    

by Jedi Ramalapa

The South African Broadcasting Corporation or SABC broadcasts news and current affairs daily to more than 48 million South Africans, through 18 radio stations in all the 11 official languages and has three television channels which can be accessed even in the remotest parts of the country.

 

It is more powerful than any of the local South African broadcasters put together in swaying public opinion and, more importantly, with winning votes.  Having control over the public broadcaster is having control of the country.  Businesses and politicians understand this fact all too well.  If it’s not on SABC, it can’t be completely true.

 

I was busy editing an interview with one of the Marikana widows, whose husband was killed along with 50 or so other mine workers on the 16th of August 2012.  It was the kind of interview I had done a thousand times before, speaking to grieving relatives about their loved ones.  It was in my opinion nothing out of the ordinary or controversial.

 

But this time and for the first time in an eight-and-a-half year public broadcasting career at the SABC   they, the executive producers, asked to listen to the final cut of the interview which we planned to air later that day.

 

They listened as the widow spoke of her grief and her anger. “I blame the government, the police, the unions and Lonmin for what happened,” she said on tape.

 

Play that again, said the executive producers. They listened and said, “Cut out that part.”

 

“Which part,” I asked?  Like a naïve little girl.

 

“That part where she says:  ‘I blame the government, the unions, the police and Lonmin for what happened.’”

 

“Why?”  I asked.

 

“Because there’s no one to blame, we don’t know who is responsible, and we just don’t want to have to deal with questions.”

 

What questions, I asked myself in disbelief thinking that even in her grief the widow had managed to be impartial in apportioning blame to everyone involved in the Marikana massacre; not many people were able to do that.

 

But I couldn’t fight it.  I had woken this woman up at 6am to do the interview, which had taken me at least three days and a string of phone-calls to convince her to speak to me.  We cried together during the interview- in which I tried to convince her that life was still worth living. She had trusted me with her heart.  I was not going to let her down.  So I did as I was told and cut out the offending parts like a surgeon saving a life.

 

The widow had been censored in the most subtle of ways, by omission and not only was I not prepared for it, I became an accomplice.

 

Even today I don’t know who to blame for that moment in my life, myself for doing the interview in the first place? Or for failing to defend her or my work when I was told to cut out certain parts? I don’t know.

 

But I am writing this to honour the Marikana widow who in a moment of great loss and pain managed to do what I and the public broadcaster failed to do, speak truth to power and remain impartial.