23rd Oct2017

#IBelieveYou and #MeToo Hashtags

by admin

#IBelieveYou

This month was met with the emergence of allegations against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, concerning sexual misconduct and incidents of sexual assault. This spawned a worldwide call for solidarity amongst women on social media who had never before admitted to experiencing sexual harassment and assault. Before long, I was confronted with this reality on my own Facebook feed.

These posts, although they detailed harrowing events, were no surprise to me, for as womxn, we do understand just how rampant sexual violence against women is in our society, particularly as South Africans. However, what I found to be most interesting is just how desensitised I had become before these hashtags, #MeToo and #IBelieveYou, to every day instances of gendered harassment.

This is, in part, the reason why I refrained from sharing anything as there was a part of my brain that would not conflate every day instances of harassment which I have experienced with traumatic events like rape and other forms of sexual assault. I realise now that my hesitance is the result of a subliminal conditioning which works to normalise everyday harassment. I have found that it is often a woman’s burden to ensure that she does not inconvenience others with her own discomfort and I find myself challenged with having to unlearn this way of thinking . Being harassed in public spaces, through jeers from leering men and relentless propositioning despite overt and visible discomfort, has started to feel invalid and this is a product of a rape culture which seeks to further embed fear in women’s minds. This is not a fear of the harassment itself (which is why the act is invalidated), but rather, it is a fear of what it could lead to. Thus, if we are spared any physical violence, sexual assault, or death, we sigh in relief and invalidate the fear that is associated with the initial act of harassment. So, it becomes hard to say #MeToo, although we understand that for all its worth, our #MeToo matters just as much as anyone else’s because catcalling, jeering and intimidation should not be a daily part of women’s interactions with men.

Consequently, I have not posted anything on social media, despite liking and reacting to countless posts by my friends and womxn around the world. This piece is my longwinded #MeToo, and my #IBelieveYou to all the womxn who have shared their experiences of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment. It is also an affirmation for myself, and a request for us all – even those of us who have chosen to not share, or those who feel that their experiences are not valid – to say #IBelieveMe.

23rd Oct2017

Lupita Nyong’o, Harvey Weinstein and the Perils of Toxic Masculinity

by admin

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 13:  Actress and presenter Lupita Nyong'o, wearing Max Mara, speaks onstage at Women In Film 2017 Crystal + Lucy Awards presented By Max Mara and BMW at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on June 13, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images )

A few days ago, Lupita Nyong’o joined the chorus of womxn sharing their experiences of being sexually harassed/violated by the once-invincible Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein. Her recollections have deeply affected me as you get a since of how her interactions with Weinstein troubled her but how she tried to negotiate her experience of being sexually harassed whilst also making sure not to destroy her once-fledgeling career. The fact that Nyong’o kept quiet about her experience for so long because she believed that she was the only one who was being sexually harassed by Weinstein, speaks to the power of rape culture as it silences its victims whilst emboldening its perpetrators.

Weinstein has denied Nyong’o’s claims, saying that he has a different recollection of his interactions with her. Considering that approximately 40 other white womxn have come forward about their experiences of being sexually harassed/assaulted by Weinstein, the fact that he is disputing the claims of the only black womxn who has accused him of sexual violence/assault has a pungent stench of racism to it. Although I will not get into it in full detail, reminds us of how black womxn have and continue to suffer at the hands of white men- particularly white men in positions of power. Weinstein’s response to Nyongo’s claims remind us that black womxn continue to be fetishized and brutalized. Black womxn’s features are desired whilst black womxn themselves are continuously disrespected. But I digress here.

Following the initial press coverage of Weinstein’s continuous pattern of sexually predatory behavior towards actresses, Weinstein released a statement claiming that his predatory behavior is the result of his growing up during 60s and 70s. Furthermore, his publicist claimed that he is an old dinosaur learning new ways. Obviously, these attempts at justifying his actions are highly problematic as he seems to not recognize that being a sexual predator is wrong irrespective of when an individual perpetrates acts of sexual harassment/violence. His (and his team’s) attempts at justifying his behavior brings to mind Tyler Ford’s critique of how men’s predatory behavior is often blamed on male hormones. Ford, who is a transgender agender activist, discusses his experiences of being both the subject and the object of the male gaze. The expression “boys will be boys” exempts men from taking responsibility for their actions. We often excuse men’s misdeeds by blaming their misdeeds on nature or the wily actions of their (often female) victims. We need to understand that Weinstein is an extreme example of the toxicity of male privilege. In order to truly address this problem, we need to problematize the patriarchal systems that create men such as Weinstein and the other men who casually sexually harass womxn as womxn occupy the spaces that “were not made for them”. As womxn, we need to understand that our experiences of being sexually harassed/assaulted are not our responsibility. Our society needs to do more to address this permanent plague of toxic masculinity for all of our sakes.

16th Oct2017

Being Black and Not Belonging in Academia

by admin

Mamokgethi Phakeng

Last weekend, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) for Research and Internationalisation at the University of Cape Town (UCT), revealed  on Facebook that there was a malicious email campaign launched against her that sought to cast doubt on her qualifications. The emails were sent to a list of about 40 people that included a former Vice Chancellor, members of the university’s council, senior professors and alumni.

According to Phakeng, the email distribution list looked well established and there were emails that did not refer to her and her qualifications. One alumni made reference to a DVC on Twitter who “is self-absorbed and narcissistic and can only be compared to [Donald] Trump”. A second responded stated in their response that they do not believe that she is mathematically qualified at all.

Phakeng, who became the first black womxn to obtain a PhD in mathematics education in 2002, has received messages of support from students, UCT staff members and academics in the wake of these allegations. UCT Vice Chancellor, Max Price, released a statement in support of Phakeng. In his statement, he refers to the emails as being mischievous and that he is saddened by the “attack on [Phakeng’s] integrity, professionalism and academic standing”. Others on social media came out in support of Phakeng with the hashtag #HandsOffPhakeng trending on Twitter.

Phakeng has stated that she chose to reveal the incident on social media because of her large network on social media and also because she wanted to highlighted the prevalence of these kinds of attacks on black academics. Holding a powerful position in academia, Phakeng believes that she can use her stature to draw attention to the racism that a lot of black academics experience on a daily basis. The experience has taught Phakeng that South Africa’s higher education spaces are not as transformed as she once thought and that racism continues unfettered within academia.

What Phakeng has brought to our attention is that racism is rampant within South Africa’s major institutions. Black academics and professionals are often questioned on their qualifications and are placed under a level of scrutiny that their white colleagues do not experience. There are many instances of  micro-aggression that black professionals often experience and cannot talk about. Whenever, we hear the word “racism”, we often think of emboldened white supremacists holding rallies in Charlottesville under the banner of Unite the Right. However, the subtle racial micro-aggressions that manifest themselves within many workplaces, and other spaces, are just as harmful as the more “obvious” manifestations of racism. Despite the proclamations of many liberals, racism still exists and it doesn’t only rare its ugly head when the “rotten apples” use the k-word or when school teachers make pupils the object of racist remarks. The most important thing we can learn from what Phakeng experienced last week is that the racism we experience may not be as overt as a brick thrown at your window but its impact is just as malignant.

25th Sep2017

Kathy Griffin

by admin

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The very mention of the messy nature of American politics has become an unbelievable cliché. One can only muster so many expletives to describe Donald Trump and his supporters. I believe the use of the term deplorables pertaining to the American right-wing might as well be trademarked by uBabes WePant Suit, Hillary Clinton. American politics are too tired to feature at any point of dinnertime conversation, and are too tiring to think about – at least until Donnie Trump puts his foot in his mouth again.

However, one of the most noteworthy things I noticed during the year was the way Kathy Griffin was treated for the way in which she chose to share her sentiments on he-who-shall-not-be-named (because even the mention of the current US President’s name is enough to leave a sour taste in your mouth).

Kathy Griffin is an American comedian, famed for her frankness, and getting slapped across the face by the late Joan Rivers at her Comedy Central Roast. Earlier this year, Kathy Griffin took to social media, and posted a photo of herself holding the American President’s blood-soaked severed head. This can be interpreted in a number of ways, but I think the explanation most people are comfortable with is that this was her unique way of protesting against the joke-without-a-punchline US President’s electoral victories and subsequent blunders. It might have been bold and edgy; it might have been distasteful. It did, however, gain tons of attention, and a lot of it was negative. What is even more noteworthy is that there was a degree of consensus between the right and the left about how poor a display this was on the part of Kathy Griffin.

Kathy Griffin’s actions were so divisive that for some time, she saw herself losing comedy gigs because of all the attention she had been attracting. Many Conservatives might have disapproved because they are Conservatives, and to some degree it might have been because any opposition to Donald Trump warrants relentless attack. However, Kathy Griffin also saw disapproval on the left because she seemingly chose to deviate from Lady Michelle Obama’s decree that if they go low, we go high. I’m not sure if Kathy Griffin has ever been known to go high.

Donald Trump has basically been doing to the American people what Kathy Griffin wanted to symbolise through her holding Donald Trump’s bloody face. As if completely forgetting what this man has shown himself to be capable of, the public were quick to crucify Kathy Griffin. Interestingly enough, comedians such as Jimmy Fallon and programmes such as Saturday Night Live seemed to forget about what kind of man Trump is for long enough to each have him feature on their 45 minute to an hour long shows. Thereafter, they took to insulting him in almost every episode. In fact, Saturday Night Live has featured him in almost every cold open, portrayed by actor Alec Baldwin, with plans to continue this new tradition in the coming season.

I think it is important to ask ourselves how long we are willing to make noise about how we are disgusted by certain people and their politics before forgiving and forgetting because, at that particular moment, forgetting is the more convenient thing to do. This is similar to how certain members of the South African constituency will tout the Rainbow Nation mythology, and denounce the use of the ‘race card’, before giving in and using the k-word.

04th Sep2017

Sibongile Money

by admin

This article critically responds to the NSFAS saga that involved Sibongile Mani who accidentally had R 14 million deposited into her account. That amounts to $1 million. If we put ourselves into her shoes, it is possible to claim that we could have made a rational decision and actually send back the money. But really, would we have done that?

Listening to Wasanga Mehana on 702- he mentioned that he would have gone to several exotic and secluded places jumping from one place to another to make it difficult for government to trace him, and finally would have taken the money to Switzerland to hide it there. Although his idea sounds far fetched, he could have been successful and gotten away with it. The money was deposited 5 months ago and the matter was only brought up recently only because Mani shared slips of her expenditure and bank balance on social media.

She went on expensive shopping sprees, bought expensive phones and threw parties for her friends. In a period of five months, she spent close to R900 000. At that time she didn’t even spend the money on things that could be considered as assets, like a car or a house. She comes from a relatively disadvantaged background, and the way in which she spent her money reinforces the quote that says, “Rich people will remain rich because they act broke and poor people will remain poor because they act rich.” Now she is in a situation of real poverty. Despite the fact that the funds have been taken away from her account and that she is given 20 years to pay the money back, she now faces charges of fraud, theft and misappropriation of funds which could result in 15 years of imprisonment.

When looking at this story, one cannot look at the girl in isolation. One needs to account for the entire system. Knowing the nature of South Africans, or rather humans in general, no person would make a mistake with their money- ever. This incident could be a blessing in disguise as it could raise public awareness around the fact that this kind of activity does take place in the education funding programmes. NSFAS loans are meant to aid disadvantaged students which would increase their chances of graduating, getting a degree and contributing to the growth of South Africa’s economy. The fact that huge amount of money was deposited five months ago and there were no investigations conducted indicates that there are systemic problems around the regulation of student funds. If they had conducted a search it would have brought attention to potential corruption around the distribution of NSFAS funds- but instead they kept quiet. An assumption we could make is that the persons in charge of distributing funds made a mistake in the account number, hence the money was deposited in Sibongile’s account and not the person is was intended for.

The transactions that Mani made were frequent and the fact that they couldn’t pick it up reveals the inefficiencies in the scheme. Students have been rejected by NSFAS, some cannot go to school because either they owe too much, or they cannot afford university entrance. NSFAS has been asked to explain why many students have been rejected without any reason given and they haven’t been able to provide sound reasons. One could argue that the system is really failing SA citizens; the government is not representing us anymore but rather representing their own stomachs. What is the point then of having a democracy? This is why students end up protesting, and it is not a pleasant experience, but government leaves the student body no choice but to protest in order to get them to listen to their demands.

If we are to adhere to the principle of  rational decision making, she should have gracefully returned the money and even posted on social media that she had accidentally received the money. If she had contacted the bank, InteliMali and made them aware of the error, she would have received positive attention. NSFAS would have probably have made the decision to pay her tuition without expecting her to pay-back the money after completion of her degree.  But we know that you cannot separate humans and their money or rather as the stereotype goes, “you cannot come between Xhosa women and their money.” Unfortunately it was not her money so she must PAY BACK THE MONEY.

Sibongile Mani

14th Aug2017

Homo-sensually Speaking: Are You Sure?

by admin

Being gay has never been easy, especially in a society whose understanding of dialogue has nothing to do with spoken words, and everything to do with clenched fists. Personally, I’ve never agreed with the concept of “coming out”. To me, it implies that something wrong has been done, and that one needs a licence to be their authentic self. Ideally, people should love who they want, without fear of judgement. However, this piece would commit a great injustice if it failed to look at both sides of the debate. For those who do choose to come out, the cycle never ends. First, you come out to yourself, then in no particular order, friends, family and society in general, multiple times if needed.

It’s almost like a re-birth, where you have to reintroduce yourself to everyone. Without dividing the experiences of differences of genders, and with the focus being on women this month, I would like to suggest that the black homosexual woman is one of the most disrespected members of society. At it’s worst? When people ask if your being lesbian is because of your being raped or your growing up in a dysfunctional family. It’s like one cannot be gay in peace, and that circumstances led to an individual’s sexual preference. Another insult is when people ask if you are sure. It’s already difficult, telling someone, who happens to like you, that you’re not straight. Now you have to convince them that you’re not joking and you are not using ‘being gay’ as an excuse to reject them.

‘But you don’t look it!”. Yet another misinformed statement that suggests that homosexuality has a dress and behavioral code. Unfortunately, a lot of this is done involuntarily, by members of both the homosexual and heterosexual community. Yes, it’s wrong, but everyone has some sort of stereotype regarding other groups of people. Then comes the aspect of religion.  It’s hypocritical how people use the Holy Book as an excuse to rationalize judgement. The Good Book was created to move people closer to the Lord and not as a weapon to make others feel inferior.

Key message, members of the LGBTQIA+ community are here to stay. ‘Gays will make it’

15th May2017

Trash Talk

by admin

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Men are trash. This is a maxim adopted by self-proclaimed radical feminists who wish to express their disdain for the status quo. A status quo in which not only do men accrue benefits such as higher pay, more career opportunities, and positions of power in society, but also are able to live their lives without fear of experiencing violence of a verbal, physical, sexual nature because of their being considered the ‘weaker sex’.  Additionally, men might be called trash because they aren’t necessarily willing to work towards changing things and enabling a more equal society (because how do you begin working against a system which benefits you?)

Moreover, arguably the trashiest of the lot might be the crowd that floods the internet, discourse, social media and really any public space to defensively declare that “not all men are trash. You are generalising, and cannot attribute the behaviour of a select few to everyone”, as if they haven’t made contributions towards the objectification of women and/or consume media that maintains that very same mandate. But it’s fine. This might qualify them as trash because instead of engaging with the actual discussion at hand, the conversation is taken and made about men and how they’ve begun to experience discrimination themselves. I might even consider myself trash. I stand to gain from the benefits of patriarchy, and while I understand and attempt to empathise with the plight of women everywhere and appreciate the need for change and serious discussions, I am unlikely to actually use my agency to change anything or even forfeit my societal privileges because I am quite removed from the situations that women find themselves in.

However, I identify with a different kind of struggle.

Society’s perceived hatred of women can be linked to the fragility of masculinity, and masculinity’s need to maintain its hegemony because that’s just the way things are. Anything that is seen to deviate from masculinity is considered abhorrent and inherently less. These attitudes play out in a number of different ways. Homophobia, could be related to the need to maintain heteronormativity, which essentially empowers masculinity because in a “traditional” heterosexual relationship, men are seen as being dominant. The Bible (and John Milton’s Paradise Lost) even say so.

We must concede that it is possible for women to benefit from heteronormativity, should they identify as heterosexual, in a way that men and women who don’t, would not. Heteronormativity occupies hegemony in society, which seems to be arguably why we wouldn’t generally hear of such a thing as homonormativity. When you do hear of homonormativity, it is in relation to how homosexuality aligns itself to the ideals and constructs of heterosexuality, such as marriage, monogamy and procreation. This alignment implies that that there is a normal, but it isn’t homosexuality, and there are women who can find themselves within heteronormativity and find privileges that their queer counterparts would not. This is not to suggest that women’s issues are not as pressing and imperative as queer issues, however, intersectionality dictates that we be inclusive and genuine in relation to identity politics.

To have this authentic, genuine debate, a few concessions must be made:

It is possible that women can occupy certain hegemonic roles that are exclusive towards certain other lived experiences. White women, for instance, have certain privileges. As do heterosexual women, when compared to queer bodies, perhaps on the basis of religion. Interestingly, religion tends to relegate women to certain unfavourable roles in society. We must also discuss the amount of cultural appropriation that might occur on the part of women with regards to queer culture and language; concepts such as shade, reading, “yasss” and “hunny”. The erasure of the lived experiences of queer bodies that can be seen in television shows for instance when they are made the “sassy gay best friend” or “pet”. The contribution they make to the cisheteropatriarchy’s violence against the queer body and lived experience when the church makes admonishments against queer people for simply being. The failure to say anything when their pastors, fathers, brothers and lovers decide that the only good queer person is a dead one, or at least one that knows that they ought to be dead. Perhaps, even when mothers kick their sons out because they gave birth to boys and not girls or sissies. Women.

It is also necessary to point out that there is a phenomenon of gay misogyny. Gay men might be gay, but they are also men. However, we cannot regard any struggles in isolation. Because while women are being harmed and killed by the men they trust to protect them; Chechnya has set up a concentration camp where gay men are kept and tortured and killed. In 2017. I don’t know. Men truly are trash. Even making the above arguments probably makes me trash. But I too buckle under the pressures and the abuses of heteronormativity and the cisheteropatriarchy.

To the women who face violence on a number of levels during every single second of every single day, you are Goddesses.

To our queer brothers and sisters: slay and werk, you are Queens.
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15th May2017

What a Time to be Alive

by admin

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Racism is still alive and well doing what it does best. It is most certainly not a thing of the past (unlike what we were taught in many history classes) as it is the very thing that caused the death of Matlhomola Jonas Mosweu. The little black boy was allegedly killed by two white farmers Pieter Doorewoord and Phillip Schutte in Coligny in the North West. The reason behind his death is apparently because these two farmers had caught the boy “stealing” a sunflower, the very creation of God, on their farm. I argue that this is mere racism because this reason cannot be justified for his death matter-of-factly.  There can be no justification for the killing of a black child by white men especially in post-colonial, post-apartheid, constitutionally democratic South Africa. It is astonishing that in this day and age such brutality can be performed in broad daylight.

It is shocking that men who are supposedly sane can inflict such grotesque acts in the name of hate.  It is absolutely scary that black people should still live in fear of possible racial attacks. I would not be surprised if the accused denied the relation of racism against this charge. I would understand that, as brave as they were when killing this boy, they may be afraid of igniting the wrath of anti-racists if ever they admitted their act to have been solely based on racism. It is still hard for me to imagine what this little boy could have possibly done in order for them to have not merely verbally disciplined him, reported him to the police if he had broken the law, taken him to his parents to reprimand him themselves or even simply told him that what he did was wrong and shouldn’t be repeated in the future. The society at large should move towards a united South Africa that belongs to all. We need to steadfastly isolate racist elements within our communities and not infringe the rights our constitution has intrinsically granted us.

30th Apr2017

Colourism Country

by admin

 

Colourism is not something that is unique to South Africa. It is prevalent amongst people of colour across the globe. In our country, discrimination based on skin colour or preference for light skin affects a large number of dark skinned women. In short, being light skinned in the black community, is social capital, and being dark is equivalent to a curse. We live in a society that ridicules dark skin and praises light skin, which is why I find trouble understanding the uproar about on social media regarding South African media personality Khanyi Mbau’s skin lightening process. Mbau has had 10 sessions of IV infusions   for the treatment of skin pigmentation, which have left her noticeably lighter since her debut in the entertainment industry. The change in her skin colour, which has people asking, can the real Khanyi Mbau please stand up, is a reflection of a how hypocritical colourism is. Not only does it shame women for being dark and then for bleaching, but it doesn’t shame dark skinned men for their complexion.

Mbau recently posted a picture on twitter and internet trolls took every opportunity to exclaim at how pink her skin is. My frustration is not with Khanyi lightening her skin, but with South Africans who continually shame dark skinned women then proceed to get angry at them for choosing to lighten their skin. Colourism is normalised in the black community, but those who have never been on the receiving end of negative comments their skin colour will never understand what it feels like to have your complexion affect your social life, dating life and even the chances of getting hired. This makes it easy for me to empathise with Mshoza, Lil Kim and other black women who have resorted to skin lighthing for social acceptance or other personal reasons.

On the other end of the conversation about colourism is the alleged suffering light skinned women face as well. Actress and TV presenter Pearl Thusi took to Instagram to voice the struggle she faced as a young light skin girl. According to Pearl, she was bullied because of her complexion as a young girl, which left her wishing she was born darker. There is nothing wrong with Pearl voicing her lived experience. The problem with her Instagram post was that by painting half of her face and neck darker she resorted to performing black face to express her pain. Another light skinned South African actress, Enhle Mbali also posted a picture of herself in blackface , which according to her was a way of showing people that beauty is only skin deep. This is not an attempt to take away from either Pearl’s trauma or Enhle’s agency, but dark skin is not a costume that can be put on and off to perform pain. It is something dark skinned people have to live with and it affects every aspect of their lives. If South Africans want women to stop bleaching or for dark skinned women to stop complaining about how difficult it is to be a dark skinned women, then they should consider treating them better.

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24th Apr2017

Banning Divorce

by admin

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“In our culture, once you marry someone, there’s no turning back”, King Mswati III was quoted by the Times of Swaziland, as he seemed to be endorsing banning divorce in his country. As the King of Swaziland and a proud man of his culture, he seeks only to preserve his cultural beliefs and norm. One of these beliefs is evidently that it is not advisable to marry then later divorce. As a husband and a father himself; he understands the importance of unity within a family. Thus, he would wish that all other families could stay together as cases of divorce have shown to have the most dreadful effects on families, particularly children.

With his suggestion of banning divorce he has turned a blind eye on the reasons people divorce in the first place. This is completely unfair in the case that he eventually implements this law. Divorce statistics in South Africa show that the rates are 0, 5 divorces per 1000 estimated population; and there has been a constant decline on the number of marriages occurring annually.

There are several reasons why people get divorce. To mention a few, the most common reason is that of infidelity; in my opinion, once a partner has decided to allow himself or herself to cheat the latter could be in a position to want out and with good reason. Abuse- psychological, physical, mental or emotional is another reason for many divorces. Substance abuse can cause financial strain, emotional detachment and sometimes violence which is reason enough for anyone to want out of a marriage if they feel they have reached a point of no return with the person they used to know and love. Not only that, but being in a position of inferiority and helplessness can affect people psychologically and emotionally and they would want to help themselves by seeking a divorce.

With that being said, it would be highly considerate for King Mswati III to further explore the reasons as to why people divorce before implementing this law. Not doing so would be of no help if people are stuck in positions where they feel endangered or unloved and are held down by this law (given all the human rights we have) just for the sake of preservation of culture. Although I am personally in favour of preserving the family, I can only support fighting for saving a marriage provided that it is not oppressive or unfair for either party in the marriage.

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