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 It has expired, it is outdated.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

BORN A… WHAT?

I’ve been itching to write a review of Trevor Noah’s book of childhood stories Born A Crime (2016, Spiegel and Grau) after picking it up one night reading it and finishing before daybreak. A great fan of African(fiction) literature which tends to be heavy, it was refreshing to read a non-fiction book which was so funny I cried so hard from laughter.  What cracked me up the most was his experiences with his hyper-religious mother; the long travels to the different churches, the prayer meetings, the exorcising of demons including the debates about how one determines the will of God in solving everyday problems. His stories resonated with me and at times it felt as if Noah and I grew up together while having parallel life experiences with different parents, in different parts of the country and now world. I have often wished to have a conversation with someone about the psychological impacts of dogma; what sort of human does an upbringing like that produce?

I wanted to write a whole blog post about how funny I thought he was and how much I loved his writing style in time for his South African three-day Comedy show (There’s a Gupta on my Stoep)  from Wednesday to Friday at the Dome this week. But his first show coincides with Women’s day here in South Africa on the 9th of August which commemorates the 1956 March of an estimated 20 thousand women to the Union Buildings, the official seat of the South African government in Pretoria.  The women marched in protest against pass laws or the 1952 Native Law Amendment Act. The Law aimed to tighten the influx into the country’s urban areas making it illegal for any African (black men including women) to be in any urban area for more than 72 hours or three days unless in possession of the necessary documentation; pass books or dom-passes.

I wanted to reflect on what this historic day means for all South African women today, and writing about Trevor Noah’s book felt a little bit off. I also wondered if my reflections or sharing a story with you about the plight of women in South Africa today, wouldn’t be eclipsed by the results of the secret ballot or vote of no confidence against current President Jacob Zuma, which would either have parliamentary speaker and presidential hopeful Baleka Mbete elected as a (token woman) acting President of South Africa for the next 30 days or maintain the status quo with President Jacob Zuma holding on to his seat.  You see, there’s so much material I had to work with…

Before you start accusing me of using Trevor Noah, his book and comedy show as click-bait to force you to read another unrelated story, let me do a two-paragraph review of the book. It was a wonderfully refreshing read which had me congratulating Trevor Noah out-loud for having the ability to turn his life story and experiences into a thriving multimillion dollar empire. Well done T! I bought the book as a birthday present for my youngest brother hoping that he would be acquainted with a bit of South African history which Noah does a great job of summarizing in this book. I thought he’d also end up saying hello fellow anomaly. But, Alas.

In short, I loved the book, thoroughly enjoyed all of it. I even told my younger sister about it who promptly borrowed it from my brother and is now reading it as we speak. She wants to start a support group for people who were raised by Jimmy Swaggart and radio pulpit.  Even so, I was still torn about writing a review of Trevor Noah’s book on women’s day; even though Born A Crime is essentially about Trevor’s mother, even though Trevor gave his mother the last word in it. Even though Trevor has confessed in interviews and during his comedy shows that he’s a feminist. I was still hesitant because Trevor is still a man.  He is a man who rightfully wrote a book about himself in honour of his mother. He can’t be faulted; the book speaks for itself so why do I even want to write about it? On women’s day too?

My dilemma provides a great segue way to this story: the one I actually want to tell you about. It concerns women in rural KwaZulu Natal who are made to pay a spot fine for speaking up and protesting decisions that their chiefs, Induna’s and iNkosi make on their behalf without their consent. They are charged because they are women challenging a man’s authority. Their story is a very long one which begins in the early 1970’s when they were being forcibly removed by the Apartheid Government from one community to the next, but today they are being silenced by culture and tradition under a democratic dispensation.  Each time they have tried to voice their concerns over mining activities in their communities which have killed their crops, livestock and polluted their drinking water they are told that they are women, they don’t have a right to speak up. The king does not listen to women, he listens to men. And yet many of these women are widows, others have absentee husbands who work in urban areas and cities, others are too ill to do anything.  Under the laws governing Traditional Authority, they have no right to complain, because to question a man is to question traditional authorities which are protected by our constitution over and above women’s rights to self-determination. So many of them die in silence and even if they speak out their voices are often drowned out by the more urban, trendy voices of those in power or those with influence.

And perhaps this is the difference between me and Trevor Noah. He’s a nice guy. He may have been born a crime but he was not born a woman which is still considered a crime in South Africa, today. So you will listen when he says something.

Maybe he can make you laugh about it too. I haven’t found the humour in it, yet.

 

 

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

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.

Quo Vadis: Where Are You Going?

Quo Vadis is an ancient Latin question attributed to St Peter who, while fleeing persecution in Rome met Christ on the Appian Way and asked him, Domine quo Vadis? Which means Lord, where are you going? I am going to Rome to be persecuted again, Christ replied.  Quo Vadis,  this is the question which stared back at me while I stood on top of the Voortrekker Monument surveying its magnificent panoramic views. As I stood in reverential silence I began to think that perhaps I should have asked myself this question before getting into a car and onto a  the lift which placed me on the top floor of the monument giving me a view of Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa, which I had never seen before. It took me 35 years to get here. On this monument built  in honour and praise to God who delivered the enemy (African-Bantu people) into the Voortrekker’s hands. In this context I am a descendent of the enemy.

Quo Vadis?

There have been so many times over the last decade when I have asked myself this question – and I have been asking this question more and more recently in an effort to integrate the past with the present. There were many tourists populating the Voortrekker monument when I arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. The most enthusiastic of them where from China. Something which I didn’t understand at first while reading the banner at the main entrance of the hall which announced that the Monument was a winner of the Gold Award in the top category “Overall performance” at the China outbound Travel and Tourism Market in Beijing, 2013. Perhaps it had something to do with how it’s built, walking up its’ top floor with cathedral-like pillars felt familiar as if I had been there before in some other timeline.

Die Rooi Gevaar.
It is only once I had gone up to the top of the monument that I understood the connection for me and perhaps for the multitudes of Chinese visitors to the Voortrekker monument. It had similar features, and fortitude to the Great Wall of China. The irony of this situation, of the fact that the Voortrekker Monument was being celebrated by China, a former communist country which the Calvinistic, fascist-capitalist Afrikaner government was once vehemently against was lost to me as I tried to find meaning in my being there. A more grounding reason than mere curiosity.
The Vow.
How was it possible that we could all be praying to the same God? The God whom the Voortrekker men prayed to under command of Andries Pretorius before the battle of Blood River? On the 16th of December 1838. The same God contained in the Bible that the English gave to the Voortrekkers after killing their women and children in concentration camps? The same God of the bible that multitudes of black South Africans worship in the bible every Sunday? All of this killing was done in the name of the God of heaven and earth. The one in the Bible.
Reasonable Conscience.
If I were a rational human being I would say that based on the evidence of events in the Bible and those performed because of it, all of it must have been the will of God. It was all in Gods’ plan and it was his will for it to happen. He is on the side of both oppressor and the oppressed. He is both life and death. But as we know I’m irrational and Unreasonable at the best of times. So, I have to ask where are you going. Do you know?

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. Proverbs 29:18.

Don’t forget, your ancestor fought for the losing side. There is no sacred ground for the conquered– Xander Feng (House of Cards)

DATING: WITH MY FAMILY

My younger sister and I have often toyed with the idea of me re-entering the dating scene through South Africa’s leading reality dating show: Date My Family, just for fun. Date my family is a show where a bachelor or bachelorette dates three potential mates’ families before they could date them. We love the show because it is full of real life drama, intrigue and humour from embarrassing family members, possessive parents, awkward questions and lots of laughs. The shows’ successes hinges on the fact that a potential partner is judged solely on the relatives, close family members and or friends they choose to represent them. The bachelor or bachelorette bases his or her decision on how the family members cook, behave and treat him/her not to mention what they say about the potential date in question who watches/monitors the date from a  separate location. It opens the door to South African society, while highlighting the dating habits of men and women in the country which are the foundation of how families are created and what values and principles most South Africans families hold.
I considered sending in a letter to date my family but decided against it. Thinking that if the show had existed 20 years earlier I would have been more willing to throw caution to the wind and ask to participate in this grand experiment especially since I’ve tried everything including online-dating, speed-dating, slow-dating , long-distance dating and no-dating at all to find a partner. None of it has worked.
When I told my mother that I was considering writing in to date-my family to participate she asked why was I  hesitant. Are you afraid of the competition? I had to suppress the urge to take on her challenge and accept that some things are best enjoyed on Television, I don’t have to be in them. Besides, it would make me look desperate and I’m not right? Right.
So I threw the idea in the rubbish bin and continued to watch the show via YouTube whenever I felt like having a bit of a laugh. But seeing as the word was out, even though it was a non-committal one, a moment came when I accidentally went on an untelevised, off camera, unproduced or edited date with my family – literally.  It was organic. I have never laughed so much! It was an unexpected – out of nowhere situation on my last night in Johannesburg. My brother in-law and his friend were having a boy’s night out together at HoggsHead restaurant where my journey began. They later invited my sister and I to join them so we could celebrate together. I liked him the first time I laid eyes on him; he had a wide smile, beautifully sculpted body, easy on the eye, and he literally swept me off my feet. He picked me up and spun me around a few times over an invisible threshold, you know, like they do in the movies after a couple gets married and I thought to myself, wow! I could get used to this. I felt safe and comfortable in his arms. No stranger has ever been this happy to see me!
Then he put me down, showed me his dance moves which left me immobile and breathless against my sister’s car. Bringing to mind a 90’s naughty song we danced to as children in primary school by Another level, called – Freak Me. All this while my sister and brother in-law looked on cheering, jeering, teasing and commenting on our every move. At another establishment we gravitated to each other. Even though he and I both worked the room from separate corners we had eyes on each other. He was surrounded by legions of female fans and I danced courageously with my sister to dodgy white (sic) music. Later as we left the establishment my brother in-law’s friend and I started coding. He told me he was into (prefers) vanilla but he works well with chocolate. I told him I love all the colours of the rainbow. So you’re a politician? He asked, Somewhat, I responded. Can you count? I asked him. What if I told you a story? He asked. As longs as it’s numerical poetry, I responded. That is so nice, so nice I’m in, he said. I smiled.
All four of us took an uber back home. He and I tried not to kiss while my brother in-law sat next to me and my sister conducted running commentary of my dating habits from the front seat of the car: My sister is into full PDA (Public Display of Affection). Then later on she reprimanded me: no! sisi you promised me you’ll never do that to me. I can hear the sound of your kissing, she said. The Uber driver nodded in agreement. I had forgotten they were there. I was only aware of him and my mission to find out if he could actually kiss. Despite the fact that he made me extremely shy. We had to stop. We parted just as things were about to get interesting. Then my sister asked about the kiss: How was it? It had a rocky start, I told her. He tried to shove his tongue into my mouth like a lizard from the get go. No I did not, he protested leaning into me with laughter. In fact you’re the one who initiated the whole thing! he retorted. #toosoon my sister laughed! But the kiss got better after I demonstrated how I wished he could do it, I told her wishing she was not there to chaperone the whole encounter. I wished we could be alone and it was impossible. We discussed the kiss at length until my sister decided to make the statement of the year, in his direction later that evening:
“we (women) are like ovens not microwaves”
That’s a good one, he said smiling. He is such a joy to be with, I thought.
We’re going to the shop,  what can I bring for you? He asked sweetly wrapping his arms around my shoulders. Death by Chocolate, I responded. When he came back he hadn’t bought it. Why? I asked perplexed. I thought it was a metaphor for me! He said laughing, I didn’t think you actually wanted Death by Chocolate. #duh. He laughed, I laughed too, so did my sister and her husband.

The next day as my sister and I made breakfast I breathed an old tune; rolling with my homies while swaying my hands like a  wave. That’s from Clueless right? My sister guessed. Yes, I said. I was happy and at ease, a rare combination for me. Once it was ready he and my brother joined us at the table, my brother was already protective of me. “Who is this guy? Where was he when she was in Senegal?” He questioned my sister. #Silence. We rummaged through the previous evenings events and retold the highlights. I wore the most unattractive outfit I could find to make things easier for myself. Then we were both roasted and teased about liking each other while we blushed together openly trying not to stare into each other’s eyes or talk about the future, follow-ups and if we wanted to have children. I felt like a teenager dressed in a woman’s clothes. “It’s too good to be true” he said to me. We threw pillows, glances and massages at each other, we were both relaxed in an uncomfortable situation.
He couldn’t believe I was flying out in less than an hour. I was happy to go home until I met you, I told him. We all took a sip of our drinks at the same time around the table. My brother, brother in law, his friend, my sister and I. #Deep. We gulped.
We hugged, he said goodbye Homie. I said I can’t believe you have friend zoned me already. My brother in-law said you just met yesterday, my brother said being a homie is a good sign, he’s the most attractive and  likeable guy you’ve ever introduced to me. I was beginning to worry about your taste in men he said laughing, I thought you like die skobo! #phew. My sister said she’s sorry it didn’t work out. I said I wish him well. He really is amazing.
We didn’t exchange numbers or social media contacts. #nothing. The experience was fun, exciting, passionate, embarrassing, it made me blush so much I needed a fan. It was open, honest, direct and refreshing. But I was glad that only my family was able to see me like that; all giddy, happy and vulnerable. What I loved most about him was how well he fit in with me and my family.
I was even happier to learn that my happiness matters to them so much. It was good to see how everyone wanted to see me smile again. I learnt that even when things I  try out or do,  don’t work out. I can still have fun (enjoy)  with the process and my family as a unit is a great wing man, they are my strength.

My New Homie taught me that there are three things which make love last in any relationship:
One: Empathy – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Two: The ability to control your own stress and emotions.
Three: Having positive illusions about your partner: i.e. the ability to overlook what you don’t like about them and focus on what you do like…consistently.
This way you’re guaranteed to stay in-love for as long as you (both) want. Hopefully my next date will be for a lifetime. Until then…
I’m booked !

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MIRIAM TLALI: OUT OF PRINT?

I hung my head in shame when I heard the news of the passing of South African author, journalist and anti-apartheid activist Miriam Tlali (83) on the 24 of February. I hung head my in shame because despite having been a supporter of the Miriam Tlali Book Club run by Writes Associates’ Raks Seakhoa, I never once read a book of hers. I’ve been meaning to but never quite got around to it. This is a particularly shameful admission because not only was Miram Tlali the first black woman in South African to publish a book under the title Muriel at Metropolitan (1975) – she was also a journalist. I had never come across any of her works, it was never a part of the curriculum when I was studying journalism at Natal Tech now the Durban University of Technology. I hung my head in shame because I wanted to write something moving and meaningful about her but realized that actually, I know nothing. I didn’t know her and I had never had an opportunity to speak to her or to interview her, let alone read her books. This of course, was going to remain a private shame, I was going to keep this shameful fact to myself and try correct it through other means. By reading her books. So I made a request through my book club: The Joburg African Literature Club if we could read her next month.

None of her books are available for purchase. They are out of print. With the exception of used copies on Amazon.

This turned my private shame into a public one. It was so shameful it made me recall the piercing words of Ghanaian writer, Ama ata Aidoo during her tour in South Africa last year when she confessed that she was too shocked to learn that Rhodes University students didn’t know who Lewis Nkosi was. It made me flinch. It’s a sad day for South Africans indeed. It is regrettable that we have not been admirable custodians of our own history as black people – that we are neglecting our ancestors (read answers) even as they live and breathe among us. We no longer see any value in their beings. No only are we failing to acknowledge and honour our living legends – even when they have left something of value – we throw it to the dogs. We don’t take it, treasure it, feed it to our children, so they never forget.

Tlali’s first book published at the height of Apartheid in 1975, gave the world an inside view into what it was like to be Black, Female and oppressed living in South Africa. When she published her second book Amandla! which was banned because it chronicled the 1976 Soweto Riots she wrote with us in mind. In her interview with Steirn from 21 Icons she said she put her hope in  future generations.

“I knew it wouldn’t be accepted I really didn’t mind about that, I knew that coming generations would pick it up and publish it. I was already now infused with the idea that I have to write everything.”

She continued to write – documenting the lived experiences of millions of South Africans – in the hope that we would one day read them, know them and ourselves. I suppose the greatest honour for any writer is not just to receive awards of which ma Tlali was a recipient of many. The greatest honour for any writer is to be read, and read widely by her own people.

Are we going to fail her? How can Miriam Tlali rest in power when we don’t even read her?

The best way we can pay our respects to those who paved the way for so many of us, is to read and teach about who they were, at the very least.

And it’s a real shame that none of her works can be found in our country’s leading bookstores today. As Jodi Picualt said if we don’t change the direction we’re headed we’ll end up where we are going.

Miriam Tladi’s story is one of unmitigated courage, strength and determination against an oppressive regime which not only saught to control the black body but the black mind.

She demonstrated through her dedication and fearlessness that we are greater than our physical circumstances. She epitomised the kind of leadership our country sorely lacks in this moment. Leaders with a vision not only for themselves but for future generations.

How can we become such leaders if we have no models of it. If we don’t know our own herstories?

It is sad to realize that the Apartheid regime succeeded in conquoring us. We have been conquered in the cruelest way possible. We have internalized the oppression so much that we don’t even see how we are still living in subjugation and bondage. The stories we choose to tell about ourselves bear testament to this. We are missing out on a chance to change – a chance to become more than we thought we could be.

This time there’s no one else to blame. It is simply too soon for Miriam Tlali to be out of print. It is way too soon for that. We don’t know nearly enough.

“A good book, if it has the right messages in it, it can change a whole human being into something he never thought he would be” Miriam Tlali