Category Archives: Apartheid

Mandela’s Queer Legacy

From the Mail & Guardian, Phumi Mtetwa discusses Nelson Mandela’s role in facilitating LGBTI rights in South Africa through encouraging dialogue. However his contribution fell short as failed upset the social and economic structures at the  core of inequality.

“Oliver Tambo thetha noBotha akhulul’ Mandela / u Mandela azobusa… [Oliver Tambo speak to Botha to release Mandela to rule!"]

Many anti-apartheid activists of my generation sang this song, along with others. I can still feel the yearning for freedom, which we believed Nelson Mandela’s ascent to the presidency would bring.

And so, on the eve of his release, we marched and danced in the streets of KwaThema; the next day we watched on big screens as he walked out of prison, raising his fist. For many of us that was the first taste of how freedom felt — and our struggles seemed closer to an end.

On April 27 1994 we voted for the ANC and for Mandela as South Africa’s first democratically elected president. In May that year, on the occasion of the opening of Parliament, Mandela said: “We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political liberties and the human rights of all our citizens.”

Encouraged by many calls to build a new South Africa, about 70 lesbian, gay and human rights organisations launched the South African National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (NCGLE) in Johannesburg in December 1994. This new formation had the objective of guaranteeing equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation, in the country’s new Constitution and legislation. The coalition’s strategy was informed by the diversity of its constituency and in recognition of all forms of oppression. It thus campaigned for equality for all.

This significant moment in the history of gay and lesbian organising in South Africa had its roots in the anti-apartheid struggles, in which many openly gay and lesbian people were active. It was also a moment for the majority in South Africa collectively to define the nature of the way  we relate to each other as a people, informed by a past filled with exclusion, oppression, discrimination and violence.

Discriminatory conditions
The wider ANC movement, at home and abroad, had been challenged to discuss homosexuality openly and explicitly, and to adopt policies that protected lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

The 1993 interim constitution had the equality clause, which recognised a range of discriminatory conditions and identities by means of which South Africans were excluded. Sexual orientation was one of them.

The coalition saw the significance of the ANC’s commitments to human rights, and of what Mandela implied in his presidential address in 1994: that the Bill of Rights, as endorsed by the ANC in 1990, encodes principles that “speak of a [an] … order in which, regardless of colour, gender, religion, political opinion or sexual orientation, the law will provide for the equal protection of all citizens.”

A coalition delegation (Simon Nkoli, British actor Sir Ian McKellen and myself) met President Mandela in February 1995, at the ANC’s then headquarters, to acknowledge the organisation’s commitment to equality, and to reiterate the importance of ensuring that it lived up to that commitment and presented the aspirations of many lesbian and gay people, organised as the NCGLE.

Mandela’s presidency was one of constitutional and legal reform. In 1996, when the final Constitution was adopted, we could continue to celebrate the equality clause and the Bill of Rights.

The NCGLE, until it was disbanded in 1999, then the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, and then the LGBTI Joint Working Group and their member organisations, worked on legal reforms such as the recognition of same-sex partnerships and marriage. This latter campaign was successful in 2006, when Parliament passed the Civil Union Bill. That is one instance of widely celebrated processes and results attributable to Mandela’s vision of South Africa as the “rainbow nation”.

Basis of sexual orientation
At the ANC’s 50th congress, in 1997, the party adopted a resolution opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This resolution drew on the party’s 1993 “Ready to Govern” document, which had included support for equality for LGBTI South Africans, committing the ANC to public representation of LGBTI people, and calling for ­programmes to counter anti-gay prejudice and to promote equality in the organisation.

The importance of these victories was huge. Many people came out. The oldest Pride march in Africa (Johannesburg’s) no longer included faces hooded with brown paper bags!

The legal gains helped to reverse discriminatory practices. Mandela became an important icon of the movement, in contrast to homophobic leaders such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Namibia’s Sam Nujoma and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.

Mandela came from a political tradition that encouraged debate, and provided leadership of a kind seldom seen now in Africa. He lived up to his name, Dalibhunga — “convenor of the dialogue”. He courageously listened and positioned his views according to the principles he stood for, even if they were unpopular.

He knew there were threats to freedom and equality. He knew legislative changes would not eliminate social and economic oppression and exclusion. He did not, however, upset the political and economic structure at the core of inequality and, in turn, of rising homophobic and other violence, misogyny and other forms of scapegoating of the impoverished by the impoverished.

These are issues the ANC should address urgently to rectify the contradiction of advancing a sociopolitical vision such as Mandela’s without reconstructing the political-economic structure.

As a queer activist I will remember uTatu Dalibhunga for the dreams of freedom he symbolised. This, for me, offers renewed inspiration to continue to challenge neocolonialism and capitalism. I will defend South Africa’s Bill of Rights and struggle to make the government deliver on its promises. I will struggle against the hate waged against LGBTI people and nationals from other African countries who are living here. I will struggle against inequality, patriarchy, misogyny and racism. I will struggle against tribalism, nationalism and fundamentalism.

Many LGBTI people across the world celebrate Pride on the last weekend of June. In several South African cities and townships, Pride happens throughout the year! I hope that at all such events, with rainbow flags flying high, we celebrate one of the freedom movement’s greatest icons, and that we reflect and build on Mandela’s insight: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Phumi Mtetwa is a co-founder of the NCGLE and former executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project

“The truth is, ‘Ngiyesaba’ – I’m shit scared” – Rape and Traumatic Recall


Homophobic Injustice and Corrective Rape in Post-Apartheid South Africaby Kylie Thomas – a joint report by the University of Western Cape and the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

The report offers a critique of the terms ‘corrective rape’ and ‘curative rape’ and examines the concept of ‘hate crimes’ which is increasingly being used to describe a specific form of violence directed at LGBTI people in South Africa.

This form of violation is perpetrated with the explicit intention of ‘curing’ the lesbian of her
love for other women. Although many heterosexual survivors of rape attest to the stated intentions of their assailants as punitive (they have done something wrong, and thus ‘deserve’ rape), survivors of ‘curative rape’ make it clear that their attackers were interested in humiliating and punishing them for their choice of sexual identity and lifestyle and in ‘transforming’ them — by coercion — into heterosexual women. (2010:26)

Section one “Rape: Corrective, curative, hate crime” provides background into rape as a form of punishment and the naming of a specific kind of rape of lesbians as ‘curative rape and corrective rape’ and the push towards adopting the concept of ‘hate crimes’. Section two “Traumatic Recall” Rape and recovery” is drawn from an interview with ‘Sibongile‘, a woman who was raped by a man who lived close to her home. Her story is complicated because not only did she know the rapist but he was someone she considered a friend. Sibongile’s experience of rape and the social setting in which the rape took place, his constant presence and continued threat of violence from him as well as the failure of the justice system, are evidence of the ever present violence through which she and many other lesbians are forced to live.

The crimes committed against Sibongile, like that of Thapelo Makhutle, murdered in Kuraman in June 2012, and other survivors and victims of homophobic and transphobic crimes, are ‘communal crimes’. Arbitrary notions on citizenship and who is fully human or deserves to be seen as human, are demonstrated through the repeated failures in the criminal justice system as well as failures of community which speak to a dangerous judicial and communal complicity in crimes of hate.

It seems to me that these murders have their own particular meaning in relation to other crimes in that they are communal crimes — in most cases the murderers and rapists are known to the victims and survivors and possibly others in the neighbourhood. This is an important point when thinking about how to speak of these things. In order to kill so intimately surely one must find a way to disconnect. One possible way to do this is to disassociate yourself with the victim, to render them as other — we know enough about killing to know it ‘s always easier to kill ‘them’ rather than kill ‘ourselves’. If this is the case, then there are neighbourhoods of people who are disconnected from each other. Places where people look at others but do not see themselves…….

The full report can be read here.

Rape: Corrective, curative, hate crime

There are no precise figures for the number of women who have been raped because they identify themselves as lesbians. Rape, like other forms of sexual violence, is perhaps the most under‐reported form of crime. There are clearer figures for the number of women who have been raped and murdered because their attackers sought to punish them for being openly lesbian.3 What is clear, however, is that lesbians in South Africa, and black lesbians in particular, experience public space as a space of violence.

Since the release of Harris’ report, the term ‘hate crime’ has been increasingly used to describe forms of violence directed against gay, lesbian, bi‐sexual and trans‐gendered South Africans. The terms ‘curative rape’ and ‘corrective rape’ have also been used to describe sexual violence directed against lesbians and to mark the distinction between rape experienced by homosexual women and the rape of heterosexual women or men or the rape of children. In their study, The country we want to live in: Hate crimes and homophobia in the lives of black lesbian South Africans, Nonhlanhla Mkhize, Jane Bennett, Vasu Reddy and Relebohile Moletsane draw attention to how these terms began to circulate as a result of the activism of “radical feminist and
black lesbian‐led organisations”. These activists “attested to a very specific form of sexual attack “curative rape’” (2010:26). Drawing on the work of scholars and activists Zanele Muholi, Helen Moffett and Vasu Reddy, the authors write,

This form of violation is perpetrated with the explicit intention of ‘curing’ the lesbian of her love for other women. Although many heterosexual survivors of rape attest to the stated intentions of their assailants as punitive (they have done something wrong, and thus ‘deserve’ rape), survivors of ‘curative rape’ make it clear that their attackers were interested in humiliating and punishing them for their choice of sexual identity and lifestyle and in ‘transforming’ them — by coercion — into heterosexual women. (2010:26)

South Africa has extremely high rates of sexual violence, and rape has been used in the country as a way to “punish” women who do not conform to normative ideals of femininity in different ways over time.5 In her study on what she terms ‘group rape’ in South Africa, Katherine Wood cites Steve Mokwena’s Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) paper on ‘jackrolling’, a practice defined as “a form of group abduction and rape of young women in Soweto in the eighties originally associated with a gang called The Jackrollers”, which “was designed to put out‐of‐reach or snobbish women in their place” (2005:306). In the post‐apartheid present, lesbian women have been made subject to what has been termed ‘corrective rape’ or ‘curative rape’, which, like jackrolling, can be understood as a violent form of policing of the social order. In an article about hate crimes, activist Wendy Isaack defines ‘curative rape’ as “a term used to describe the sexual violence perpetrated for the purpose of supposedly ‘curing’ a person of their real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity” (2007:2).

Such forms of naming provide useful short‐hand terms for forms of violence, and sexual violence in particular, directed against lesbians in South Africa. But the terms also carry with them a series of assumptions that may not hold in all cases. The use of the terms by feminist scholars can work inadvertently to reinforce essentialist conceptions of gender and sexuality. Perhaps the clearest way to understand what is at stake in the ways in which we name forms of violence would be to defamiliarise the terms used to describe violence directed towards lesbians through applying the descriptor ‘corrective’ or ‘curative’ to a different category of hate crime — racism. A racist ‘curative beating’ or ‘corrective racially motivated shooting’ makes no sense precisely because of the widely held view that a person’s race cannot be altered — it is taken as a given. A similar, and similarly mistaken, biologism is at work in the notion of ‘corrective rape’, which ‘makes sense’ because of widely held ideas about essential womanhood and femininity. By this logic, a black or white person cannot be ‘cured’ of being black or white because blackness or whiteness is taken to be a biological given and a lesbian can be ‘cured’ of being lesbian because her underlying essential femininity is taken to be a biological given. ‘Curative’ racially motivated violence would be genocide or the Nazi ‘final solution’, just as the inner logic of ‘curative rape’ of lesbian women contains the desire not for some form of social restoration but for elimination. In other words, if the ‘corrective rape of lesbians is intended to ‘turn’ them into heterosexual women, it is intended to negate, symbolically and often physically, what constitutes their identities and their being.

The term ‘corrective rape’ also implies that if lesbians performed their sexuality ‘correctly’, within the appropriate bounds defined by patriarchy, they would not be subject to sexual violence. This, as the argument made by Mkhize et al. about the way in which black lesbians are ‘doubly vulnerable to gender‐based violence’ makes clear, is not the case:

As women, they [black lesbians] inhabit a South African reality in which all women are vulnerable to diverse forms of sexual attack, and black women who are poor are surrounded by more opportunities for men to attack them than women who are better resourced (and thus, often, white). As lesbians in homophobic contexts and cultures in which sexual violence is a popular weapon, they are at the knife‐edge of community rejection and vulnerable to local ‘policing’ through physical and sexual assault. (2010:26)

Hate crimes against lesbians have also been read as ‘message crimes’ and as corrective not of the individual but of the social order. While men who rape lesbians in South Africa may intend to convey a message through the act of rape, this is not necessarily directed as a ‘warning’ to other lesbian women. The message may be to other men, asserting patriarchal power over women and affirming aggressive masculinity. Interpreting hate crimes against lesbians as ‘message crimes’ requires a careful interrogation of motive, intent and effect without which we may think we understand more than we do about histories and forms of violence post‐apartheid. Reading the ‘messages’ conveyed by violence too literally may mean that we fail to analyse what appears self evident and unchanging but is in fact complex and contingent. Focusing on the ‘message’ may also divert attention from an analysis of the conditions under which the transmission of violent messages is made possible.

In a section of her report on hate crimes in South Africa headed “Hate crimes are ‘message crimes’”, Harris draws on the definition of hate crimes provided by the American Psychological Association to argue that

hate crimes impact not only on the individual victim, but on the whole ‘hated group’. … They are different from other crimes in that the offender is sending a message to members of a certain group that they are unwelcome in a particular neighbourhood, community, school or workplace. (2004:22).

Reading hate crimes as messages works on Reading hate crimes as messages works on the assumption that the person/people to whom the message is directed does not already know and understand the message. Hate crimes, in this frame, work to remind those who have transgressed social norms of their place. The effect of this is to render hate crimes into exceptional events. In the context of South Africa, these forms of sexual violence operate less as message and more as normative practice. These acts do not take place in a wider social and political context of safety, tolerance and freedom, in which rape occasionally occurs as a form of punishment. These conditions necessitate a more careful reading of the ‘message’ of what has been termed ‘curative rape’. Why would such violent messages be necessary in a context where the unequal relations of power between men and women are perfectly and painfully clear?

I do not dispute the need to describe and define the ways in which South African lesbians are subject to particular, and sometimes intensified, forms of violence. However, given the prevalence of extremely conservative ideas about gender and sexuality in the country, I would argue that the terms ‘corrective’ and ‘curative’ rape should always be carefully qualified, if they are to be used at all.6 .. Continue reading

Palestinians of African Descent

From Souciant, Black, Palestinian and Proud

This story was taken for Arthur Neslen’s book In Your Eyes a Sandstorm: Ways of Being Palestinian a collection of interviews about Palestinian identity. Sadly, for space reasons, it could not be published there. But Souciant is happy to give it a home. In Your Eyes a Sandstorm will be released next week.

Inside a circle

Minorities can easily be overlooked in the heat of national struggle. No-one knows exactly how many Palestinians of African descent exist in Palestine. But they have lived on the land since the days of the slave trade, at least. They may not be singled out for particularly discriminatory treatment by Israel. However, within their own society, the picture is sometimes less clear. Reem Mohamed Amer was a founding member of perhaps the only support group for Palestinians of African descent in Israel/Palestine. She exuded a warm and unguarded bonhomie, often beaming with a sunny smile or cracking up with a rich infectious laugh. Reem sat in an office tea room, chewing gum and swiveling her chair slowly from left to right, changing direction every time her toes touched the floor.

Reem’s day job was behind the counter at a post office in Kfar Qassem, where her family had lived since her grandfather moved there from Ramle after the First World War. His wife — Reem’s grandmother — was shot dead by Israeli troops in the 1956 massacre, which claimed the lives of 49 other Palestinian civilians, for nominally breaking an unpublicised village curfew.

‘My father and uncle were survivors,’ Reem said shyly. ‘I don’t know the exact story because my father never wanted to talk about it but my uncle was in the group that cycled to the village. When they arrived, he saw shooting and hid behind a cactus. My father got in to Kfar Kassem in the last car that was let through. He saw his mother killed there. Later he developed alcohol problems. October was always a difficult time for him. ‘ The massacre took place on 31 October, 1956….. Continue Reading 

Saartjie Baartman & other herstories of South African women*

Women in South African History by Nomboniso Gasa (Ed) published by HSRC Press, 2007.

Women in South African History traces the lives of South African women from the pre-colonial, pre-union period (mid 18th century) through to the post-apartheid beginnings and present day South Africa. It is written in four thematic parts: Women in the pre-colonial and pre-union periods; Women in early to mid-twentieth century South Africa; War: armed and mass struggle as gendered experiences; The 1990s and beyond: new identities, new victories, new struggles.

The book is a radical departure from the traditional history texts in that it uses a feminist analysis rather than the “more acceptable gender analysis” in it’s approach by examining “the ways in which gender intersects with race, culture, class and other forms of identity and location in South African history“. By including the present as part of history the book shows how the past and present are inextricably linked and thus better examines women’s experiences over the past 300 years. The experiences of women’s struggle and their continuing hazardous journeys towards liberation are expressed through the dual metaphors of “they move boulders” — challenges; and “they cross rivers” — dangers.

Women in South African History goes far beyond the many well known events and periods by feminizing those events and periods where women’s participation has never been acknowledged. In the chapter “Like three tongues in one mouth”: Tracing the elusive lives of slave women in (slavocratic) South Africa, Pumla Dineo Gqola, brings to life the slave women brought to South Africa from South East Asia, East Africa and Southern Africa. Despite the scarcity of historical and biographical narratives, Pumla is still able to document the lives of some slave women and more importantly the ways in which they resisted and revolted against their enslavement and their central role “to the historical constitution of Afrikaner society“. Other examples are women’s mass protests against carrying of passes in Bloemfontein and Potchefstroom in 1913; women’s involvement in the trade union movement during the 1930s; the participation of women in the ANC underground and military wing in the 1950s; township uprisings in the Eastern Cape in the 1970s and 1980s; naked women protests against lack of housing in Soweto in 1990; migrant women in Johannesburg and women learning to live with HIV/AIDS in present day South Africa.

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History of Black South African Literature

A history of Black South African literature – but only two women writers mentioned?  Bessie Head and Miriam Tlali.  I am sure there are more?

The origins of Black South African literature in English lie in the Eastern Cape. The Glasgow Missionary Society founded the school of Lovedale at Alice in the Tyume valley in 1824 and here, and at similar mission schools subsequently established at places like Healdtown, Grahamstown and Umtata, English became the primary medium of instruction. The Society imported a printing press and began to produce their first publications, initially in Xhosa, such as an elementary spelling book, some hymns, and a small catechism. Their main literary task was the translation of the Bible into Xhosa – an event that had an important influence on subsequent writers whether they wrote in English or Xhosa.

Increasingly, because of the necessary literacy skills, the focus of literary activity moved to the cities – city issues handled by city-bred writers. The first western-style drama developed in the 1930s, most notably with the plays of Herbert Dhlomo. Most literary activity still centred at newspapers, such as Bantu World (founded in 1932). R R R Dhlomo published a short novel, An African Tragedy, in 1928, and Plaatje’s Mhudi was finally published in 1930. The novel form, however, was taken up after World War II, mainly by Peter Abrahams, whose book Mine Boy was published in 1946. Abrahams was also one of the first into a growing field of writing – that of the autobiography. While the diaries of Soga and Plaatje were pioneering predecessors in this area, Abrahams’s Tell Freedom (1954) was the first full-length published work of this kind. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was followed by several other autobiographies such as Todd Matshikiza’s Chocolates for my Wife (1961), Ezekiel Mphahlele’s Down Second Avenue (1959) and William ‘Bloke’ Modisane’s Blame Me on History (1963). Abrahams drew for his inspiration in his early poetry and prose on a combination of socialism and the ideas of the Black American writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
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Telling Uneasy Stories: El Negro of Banyoles #3


We start this weekend with a continuation of our discussion about El Negro.

Since El Negro’s display was of a dead body I will at this juncture expand the notion of hybridity we spoke about last week. I think we can expand the notion from binary form to include another element. That is to say, El Negro was consumed as part man, part animal and part inanimate object. The depersonalized consumption of El Negro’s nameless and lifeless body right away presented him as an inanimate artefact. A stiff lifeless cadaver in a glass case easily takes on the quality of a freestanding sculpture that can be viewed from all angles. The placement of El Negro’s body in a glass box preserves him like a collected souvenir. Like any other souvenir his body can only be consumed with an accompanying narrative (already discussed in previous post) or it is not entertainment.

At the same time that the inhumanity of El Negro is emphasized when we consider this three-way hybridity, we also find a tense paradox in the way that Banyoles thought of him: they dehumanized him but “loved” him. This “love” however never sparked the thought that he might be fit for a decent burial like a human being. Georgina Gratacos, curator of the Banyoles museum inquestion still opines “that the body should have stayed where it was [in Banyoles]…It was not racist, it was simply an exhibition that testified to the mentality of Europeans at the beginning of the century when this kind of [violent] thing was quite common.”

I am confused and perhaps readers of BlackLooks can help me unpack this “love.”

Moving on, if  history is what we collectively – actively or tacitly – agree did happen then omission ensures that at some pointcertain events will never have happened. Since narratives last for centuries, it is unsurprising that in the 21st century
the President of one of the most powerful European countries still negates the African’s humanity for it has been omitted for too long in the stories that Europe tells itself about its colonial history in Africa: that humanity has been erased in political Europe’s eyes. It is equally unsurprising that Georgina Gratacos laments the burial of her museum’s most entertaining human prop because the violence with which African men were forcibly sodomized and their freshly buried kings eviscerated for exhibition has been omitted for so long in such exhibitions as this one of El Negro and other spaces like literature.  This is my take and I would like to hear your views on this omission-and-therefore-attempted-erasure-of-humanity I speak of. No wonder influential people say, in 2012, that this was not a racist exhibition.

Have a lovely week, and we will continue our conversation next week.


Shady politics of GayMiddleEast

Last March, Pink Watching Israel published an article in which they exposed the website Gay Middle East as having “shady politics” with close Zionist connections and “who has never carried any of the anti-apartheid statements by LGBT groups in the region.

That the largest Middle East LGBT (well, G mostly)”grassroots news” website is run by British Israeli Zionist Dan Littauer is already cause for concern. The fact that GME regularly collaborates with neo-colonialist Islamophobes such as Peter Tatchell [See Out of Place, Out of Print] (the guy with a penchant for threatening lawsuits against those who don’t think he is god’s gift to oppressed gay people) doesn’t help his credentials much. Bizarrely, he is also the human rights and press officer for the Association of British Muslims. Barring the logic of such a position, Littauer is also quite friendly with Islamophobic pornographer Michael Lucas, whose recent campaign against Siegebusters, a NY-based anti-apartheid group, successfully got them banned from meeting at the NY LGBT center. Lucas, by the way, is making a name for himself uttering such gems as “Muslims have not contributed to civilization in any way”. He is also famous for making gay porn film “Men of Israel”, which had its setting on the ruins of homes of Palestinians displaced in 1948.

There is a degree of deceptiveness about Gay Middle East which Mideast Youth in a post “Que(e)rying the Israel-linked a statement by Arab queers” compares to Tom MacMaster’s “Amina”.

MacMaster’s deception brought many issues to the fore, and the least interesting are the stories has been plugging about how, contrary to what MacMaster has portrayed, gays are actually really oppressed. Perhaps more relevant in this context is an honest discussion about how to do solidarity work in a way that is respectful of people’s lived realities. That includes knowing what the limits of solidarity are, especially when you are outside the community you claim to care about, and when you occupy a position of privilege.

Both MacMaster and Littauer have chosen the wrong path; they have both put themselves front and center, the former by actually deceptively adopting the persona of a queer Arab woman, and the latter by acting as a spokesperson and gatekeeper for queer Arab voices with a direct line to the Western media.

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Happy birthday, Nelson Mandela!

NB: The following is only part of what Nelson Mandela said in his defense in 1964, when he was being tried for treason in South-Africa, and going to be, as everyone had thought, sentenced to death. It is only the last bit of that speech. Read all of it at this site. The rest is history (I couldn’t help saying that).

“The Government often answers its critics by saying that Africans in South Africa are economically better off than the inhabitants of the other countries in Africa. I do not know whether this statement is true and doubt whether any comparison can be made without having regard to the cost-of-living index in such countries. But even if it is true, as far as the African people are concerned it is irrelevant. Our complaint is not that we are poor by comparison with people in other countries, but that we are poor by comparison with the white people in our own country, and that we are prevented by legislation from altering this imbalance.

The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion. Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans. When anything has to be carried or cleaned the white man will look around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not. Because of this sort of attitude, whites tend to regard Africans as a separate breed. They do not look upon them as people with families of their own; they do not realize that they have emotions – that they fall in love like white people do; that they want to be with their wives and children like white people want to be with theirs; that they want to earn enough money to support their families properly, to feed and clothe them and send them to school. And what ‘house-boy’ or ‘garden-boy’ or laborer can ever hope to do this?

Pass laws, which to the Africans are among the most hated bits of legislation in South Africa, render any African liable to police surveillance at any time. I doubt whether there is a single African male in South Africa who has not at some stage had a brush with the police over his pass. Hundreds and thousands of Africans are thrown into jail each year under pass laws. Even worse than this is the fact that pass laws keep husband and wife apart and lead to the breakdown of family life.

Poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects. Children wander about the streets of the townships because they have no schools to go to, or no money to enable them to go to school, or no parents at home to see that they go to school, because both parents (if there be two) have to work to keep the family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, and to growing violence which erupts not only politically, but everywhere. Life in the townships is dangerous. There is not a day that goes by without somebody being stabbed or assaulted. And violence is carried out of the townships in the white living areas. People are afraid to walk alone in the streets after dark. Housebreakings and robberies are increasing, despite the fact that the death sentence can now be imposed for such offences. Death sentences cannot cure the festering sore.

Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing, and not work which the Government declares them to be capable of. Africans want to be allowed to live where they obtain work, and not be endorsed out of an area because they were not born there. Africans want to be allowed to own land in places where they work, and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which they can never call their own. Africans want to be part of the general population, and not confined to living in their own ghettoes. African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. African women want to be with their menfolk and not be left permanently widowed in the Reserves. Africans want to be allowed out after eleven o’clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the Labor Bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.

Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.

But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on color, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one color group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
~Nelson Mandela – April 20, 1964

Post-note: On June 11, 1964, at the conclusion of the trial, Mandela was found guilty on four charges of sabotage and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He began his sentence in the notorious Robben Island Prison, a maximum security prison on a small island off the coast near Cape Town. A worldwide campaign to free Mandela began in the 1980s and resulted in his release on February 11, 1990, at age 71, after 27 years in prison. In 1993, Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize with South Africa’s President F.W. de Klerk for their peaceful efforts to bring a non-racial democracy to South Africa. Black South Africans voted for the first time in the 1994 election that brought Mandela the presidency of South Africa.


“If needs be, it is an ideal
for which I am prepared to die.”
~ ntate Mandela

Before the naming rites,
even before we were free to be free
from terror in our ranks,
before prison and death
became our constitutional rights,
a cry echoed among the elements
to shake the tenements
inside heaven and inside hell;
flesh came into my shell,
resided in me, heavy and light
according to the moment–
god, and politics, entered me,
possessed my heart; and so
I say to you, destroy me
because there’s a part of me
that belongs, and will not
acquiesce; for your benefit
and that of your progeny,
slay, before it’s too late,
the part in me that is hers
and will not succumb. Or
come to me after the night
where light finds its day.
I will wait for you.

Bashing the poor

Raj Patel on Democracy Now “How South Africa has cracked down on the poor and shackdweller movement.”

Tribute to Fatima Meer by Pumla Gqola

Feminist and Anti-Apartheid activist Fatima Meer passed away on the 12th March. Although I posted on Twitter, Fatima Meer deserved more than a fleeting 140 characters as an obituary. Others were not so careless with someone who stands out in South African history and the Anti-Apartheid movement. There is much to say about Fatima Meer but sometimes one still doesnt know what to say. So I am publishing this post by Pumla Gqola which includes one of the most powerful poems I have read in a long time.

Born 12 August 1928, in Durban, the courageous, inspiring and energetic activist-academic-icon, Fatima Meer passed away on 12 March 2010. She has been a staunch feminist, having co-founded both the Durban Disticts Women’s League (1949) and The Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) anti-apartheid activist who was banned repeatedly in the 1950s, 1970s, detained without trial, and otherwise tormented by the apartheid state. Fatima Meer was also a prolific writer in various capacities — biography, academic research, history with various books.
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Rest in Peace Fatima Meer

Rest in Peace, Fatima Meer « Loudrastress


Born 12 August 1928, in Durban, the courageous, inspiring and  energetic activist-academic-icon, <a>Fatima  Meer</a> passed away on 12 March 2010. She has been a staunch feminist,  having co-founded both the Durban Disticts Women’s League (1949) and The  Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) anti-apartheid activist who  was banned repeatedly in the 1950s, 1970s, detained without trial, and  otherwise tormented by the apartheid state. Fatima Meer was also a  prolific writer in various capacities — biography, academic research,  history with various <a>books</a>.I met her only a few times, in gatherings where I spoke to her as one  among various other women. The last time was at a South African Women’s  Press Inititative (SAWPI) workshop in the Western Cape many years ago.  But her words, her work, her life have been as important for me as they  have been for a generation of Southern Africans. I am sad, and short of  words, somewhat. Thankfully, I can turn around and borrow a sistah’s  words, instead. Below, the insanely gifted poet, Bernedette Muthien’s  ‘necessary grief’:since dying is a wedding with the divine why am i not deaf to the sounds of grief wrenched from the very hearts of those left behind blind to their vacant salted eyes souls wrinkled brittle in suffering &amp; losswe are the stained tattered floor rags wrung dry by life’s exigencies like made-up wallflowers without dance partners dried up wombs &amp; hollow testicles trees without fruit not even worthy of harvests whipping boys on treadmills without red emergency buttons cowed seldom bowled over often fucked over the ugly sister dimwit uncle unwanted left behind at divine weddingsis my sorrow sacred too?!!take then the remnants of this carcass and eat that tooas i rip the skin from my flesh i remember that some jews still tear the clothes from their own bodies in simple griefand thus i live

Outrageous Sara Baartman ornaments on sale

Nearly 200 years has passed and 16 years after the end of Apartheid South Africa and still the exploitation of Sara Baartman continues. And where is this taking place? In a shop in Johannesburg were china ornaments of Sara Baartman’s body are on sale amongst household wares and “colonial throw-back domestic workers uniforms. This vile and outrageous act must be stopped. The creators, producers and shops selling these products must be challenged and stopped.

I dont have the name of the shop nor the link at present but as soon as I do I will post them and ask people to contact the shop to stop them from being sold.

Sokari Ekine
If anyone wishes to pursue this I believe the shop in question is”

The Space
Rosebank Mall, Rosebank Mall… See More
Oxford Road
011 327 3640


Thanks Gabrielle Le Roux for bringing this to our attention.

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A poet’s call to action

Dennis Brutus
Image by matthewbradley via Flickr

We are in serious difficulty all over the planet. We are going to say to the world: There’s too much of profit, too much of greed, too much of suffering by the poor… The people of the planet must be in action.” …Dennis Brutus

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RIP Dennis Vincent Brutus, 1924-2009

One of Africa’s most celebrated poets and political activists, Dennis Brutus, died early this morning in Cape Town. Throughout his life Dennis spoke against injustice in South Africa and beyond.

Below Dennis speaks on reparations from corporations that benefited from Apartheid. In very typical Brutus fashion, he makes the links between reparations in South Africa with reparations for slavery in the US.

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They feared you

Dear Stephen
You said, “We do not want to be reminded that it is we, the indigenous people, who are poor and exploited in the land of our birth. These are concepts which the Black Consciousness approach wishes to eradicate from the black man’s mind before our society is driven to chaos by irresponsible people from Coca-cola and hamburger cultural backgrounds.”

They feared you, hence they killed you. The new ideas you were working out jangled their nerves, and you became a problem without a solution, just like we all were. But they couldn’t get the whole black nation to slip on a bar of soap. No. that was reserved for top problems like you.

Why didn’t they just send you to Robben Island, like the other top problems of the day? Perhaps you could have had your own political party, perhaps you could have become president of your land one day. Or vice-president. Or foreign minister. Youth minister would have suited you so!

We miss you, man.

I remember one day thinking how things would have been, had you been around to blog. Biko’s Blog. Biko’s big, bad, black blog. A big, black-green-red weblog emblazoned against our consciousness. Whose nerves would that have jangled then? I wonder what brand of soap they conjured up in their imagination as they declared your death. Sunlight? Lifebuoy? Palmolive? What does it matter? I wonder who made the decision to seal your lips with blows, what in your thinking pushed them over the edge, how many of the top brass watched the fatal beating, what they said to their spouses when they got home (”My God, I killed a man today,” or, “Hi honey – killed another kaffir today.”). They needed your consciousness movement, Steve, in order for them to have a consciousness of their own.

Bantu Steven Biko
Bantu Stephen Biko

BTW, they released ntate Mandela and other prisoners a while ago. He became president, then stepped down to let a younger Thabo take the reins. You remember Thabo, don’t you? Well, you probably know his dad, Govan Mbeki, also on the island prison. Man, so much things to say. South Africa is a real nation, now, with tons of problems like any other real nation. There’s unemployment and joblessness and urban violence. But nobody is being beaten to death and announced accidentally dead in detention, or having committed suicide.

After you died, some looked away, as they had for the very longest time. Most of them now have their guns trained on the ANC government. Paradoxal, huh? But others asked questions: “How did Biko receive the injury that caused his death? Who inflicted it, under what circumstances? Why was he kept naked and chained? Why did the doctors who attended him fail to interpret the undisputed signs of brain injury? Why did the doctors and all the police who were with him from the time he was injured until he died, all fail to notice the wound on his forehead which is so clearly visible in photos taken after his death?”

“And even more: why was the brain-damaged and dying man finally sent off on the long, terrible drive to Pretoria from Port Elizabeth, a big city with adequate hospitals? Why did the police give conflicting evidence, often caught out in contradictory statements or outright lies, none of which could explain the head injury? They had the time and the ability to concoct a story that would, at least superficially, account for the wound on Biko’s head. Why did they not do so? Why was an inquest held, why were details of the way he was treated permitted to be broadcast to the world. Why did the inquest find that no one was responsible for his death?”
No answers. There are never any answers to such things. Unfortunately for us, you were right when you told us that, “These guys – the day they get me – they’ll kill me, because I’ll beat up the guy or make him beat me so that I just die. If my hands are tied, I will spit in his face. I’m not going to answer questions that I don’t want to answer.”

Bantu Stephen Biko was born on 18 December 1946 in Ginsberg, a suburb of King William’s Town.

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Victory for Abahlali against the Slums Act

Congratulations to Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement (AbM) for their perseverance and belief in their rights and non-violence. After being subjected to “political violence and shameless slander” over the last two weeks, there is reason to celebrate. The Constitutional Court (CC) of South Africa have today declared the provincial KwaZulu-Natal Elimination and Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act (Slums Act) unconstitutional.

Specifically, the CC declared section 16 of the Slums Act is unconstitutional and invalid. This section makes it compulsory for municipalities to institute proceedings for eviction of unlawful occupiers where the owner or person in charge of the land fails to do so within the time prescribed by the MEC. The applicants argued that section 16 of the Slums Act is in violation of section 26(2) of the Constitution in three ways: it precludes meaningful engagement between municipalities and unlawful occupiers; it violates the principle that evictions should be a measure of last resort; and it undermines the precarious tenure of unlawful occupiers by allowing the institution of eviction proceedings while ignoring the procedural safeguards inherent in the PIE Act. Without section 16, the Slums Act is rendered ineffective.

The application in Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA and Another v Premier of the Province of KwaZulu-Natal and Others was first brought by AbM and its president, Sibusiso Zikode, in the Durban High Court in February 2008. The case was heard before Tshabalala JP on 6 November 2008. AbM challenged section 16 of the Act specifically, which they contend bypasses the national Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE Act), particularly safeguards in the Act which protect unlawful occupiers from eviction.

The Constitutional Court win affirms AbM’s interpretation of the Act and means that a repressive and constitutionally inconsistent piece of legislation is now inoperable and will not be replicated in other provinces. Continue Reading…….

Abahlali: War against the poor continues in Durban


On Saturday the Kennedy Road settlement was attacked by a group of 40 heavily armed men. They destroyed 15 homes belonging to members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee [KRDC] including that of S’bu Zikode. Some people were killed including two of the attackers. The police were called but never came until Sunday morning when they arrested 8 KRDC members but non of the armed gang. It is a clear and a no brainier that the police by failing to respond to the call for help, are at the very least complicit, in these attacks. Below was the scene on the Sunday morning at Kennedy Road…..

There are now senior ANC leaders in the Kennedy Road Community Hall. In their presence the homes of the elected Kennedy Road leadership continue to be demolished and burnt by the same small group of well armed people who have been carrying out attacks with impunity for 23 straight hours. None of the people that launched the surprise, unprovoked and heavily armed attack on the KRDC last night have been arrested and yet most of the KRDC is locked up in the Sydenham Police station (including those who were publicly performing the imfene dance in Claremont at the time of the attack).

The police are currently on the scene and are doing nothing to stop the destruction. These are the same police who have, over the years, attacked a number of peaceful and legal marches with swift, shocking (and very effective) brutality.

Below is a more detailed explanation of the situation as of today – See Abahlali site for future updates

1. On Saturday night members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee were subject to a surprise attack by a group of about 40 armed men chanting anti Mpondo slogans. The police failed to intervene. People were killed. Later on that night all key AbM leaders were subject to attack. Everyone’s houses (and businesses in two cases where people had shops) were destroyed. This mob (now known as ‘the Zulu mob’ in the settlement) has direct connections to the local ANC who had promised, two weeks ago, to turn the AbM office into an ANC office.

2. The police arrived in the morning and arrested 8 people all (as far as we know – we’ll only be sure who has been arrested when they appear in court this morning) are members of the KRDC – the same people who were attacked. Among the arrested are people who were performing a dance at a public event elsewhere in the city on Saturday night. Attacks and threats continued unimpeded in the presence of the police. Calls for help were ignored.

3. Thousands have fled the settlement and some individuals, all key AbM activists, are in hiding as they have been told that they will be killed. Some Xhosa and Pondo people organised themselves against ‘the Zulu mob’ – this was independent of AbM or the KRDC which are mulit-ethnic organisations.There may well have been counter violence from this quarter. If so it may well be accurate to characerise it as defensive.
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Zuma’s alliance with religious right threatens constitutional rights

Christina Engela discusses the new direction of Jacob Zuma’s South Africa and the ANC’s relationship with right wing church leaders..and a plan to “”assist government” in “cleaning up society”.

Separate but equal”, they are calling this insult in the USA – and if a civil union is truly so great and so equal in their view, then why don’t THEY get “civil unioned” instead of “married”? See? Even the use of the term is clumsy and awkward. It sticks in my throat like the insult to my dignity it is. Why don’t THEY get “civil unioned” if it is so “equal”? Because “marriage” has a nice ring to it, and “civil union” doesn’t. It’s not equal – it’s second best – and if it’s not as good, then it’s not equal.

There is a word which sums up this “separate but equal” mentality – Apartheid. And we all know how separate and how equal that was.

In any case, these same groups who object to abortion usually oppose gay rights in general – in fact, it seems to define them as fundamentalist and radical right wing groups. They also decry the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1994, not being above begrudging other people the chance of having a little happiness in the world. They in effect object to the existence of gay people, let alone their getting married! Since 1994 the religious right-wing groups in SA have been working to reintroduce religion into schools and government – and to dominate the Constitution. They have campaigned ceaselessly to demonize the pink community in the perception of the public – and to remove every law which grants us a smidgen of equality and human rights.

When religious law becomes civil law, does the state not cease being secular, and become theocratic or theocentric?

Where am I heading with all this? Surely the fight for gay rights and marriage equality in South Africa is long over? Ah, whereto indeed?

Just as in the USA it seems, winning the right to marry doesn’t mean we will be able to keep it – fundamentalist gay-haters and other anti-social malcontents seem to overturn these human rights rulings, resulting in a kind of see-saw effect, which we saw recently with Proposition 8 (appropriately named Proposition Hate) and even more recent human rights defeats there. Will this vicious cycle manifest here in South Africa as well?

A month before the elections, when Rhema invited Jacob Zuma to speak, I had already been warning of the dangers of mixing religion and politics for almost a year, that we could expect this from the fundamentalist quarter. People have dismissed me as a crank and a drama queen and even a trouble-maker – and yet, there it is, in black and white, in print in a national newspaper – giving me the unpleasant task and opportunity to say “I told you so!”

Mr Zuma made fine use of the opportunity offered by Ray Mc Cauley to grandstand and vie for the attention of the voting conservative Christian fundamentalists. While all the jealousy and belly-aching of parties such as the ACDP, who afterwards complained bitterly that they were not allowed the same privilege, was all too amusing to me – for the rest of us who have been paying attention to current events in the country, the alarm bells went off.

Why? Because – during his address to the Rhema congregation, Mr Zuma put the hard-won rights of the gay community to marry their partners on the bargaining table to secure more votes from the discerning Christian right. He told them to approach the government about issues which trouble them, such as gay marriage and abortion.

Read the full essay here.

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Becoming the alien: D9

Warning this has spoilers.


I have yet to watch District 9 and have read probably too many reviews to view it objectively. This is one of the better ones I have read.

You have to admit: As a premise for a movie it is pretty unpromising. An alien spaceship comes to rest over Johannesburg.  Instead of conquering the planet, the aliens turn out to be in crisis: malnourished and in need of rescuing.  They end up living in a local slum, crammed together in a rusty shantytown.  When human Joburgers complain, a company is called in to move them — but things get out of hand, and it all escalates into car chases and gun-fights.   Stated like this, who would be blamed for deciding to give it a miss? It is hard to figure out what kind of movie it could be.  Some kind of half-baked take on District 6, set in the wrong city?  An American skop skiet en donder movie, with Parktown Prawns as the baddies?    When I first heard about the movie, I dismissed it without a thought; and indeed, even today, with the movie doing well at the box office, some reviewers and commentators seem reluctant to take it seriously.

Well, I’ve been to see it and I personally think it is the best movie I have yet seen about South Africa — and specifically, one of the most pentetrating, disconcerting and subversive meditations  on the nature of racism and repression in the post-colonial world.  District 9 is fresh and transgressive, hilariously funny and absolutely horrifying:  utterly brutal,  sly,  streetwise  and in your face. It’s not a voice from the ghetto  — it is, completely and incontrovertibly, a white voice — but is a voice from the postcolonial periphery; a voice speaking harshly, grittily and urgently about the surrealism of racism and the confluence of violence and normality here at the edges of the West’s old empire. Continue reading………

I hear many Nigerians are mad about this film’s depiction of them – yea they have a point but I think we need to get over it and look at the positive. As this review points out they are the only humans living and interacting with the aliens albeit on a commercial and exploitative level – but it seems less so than others. From the sound of it every group in the film is as unpleasant as the next in their own way. But hey I havent seen it.

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Remembering June 16th: thoughts on education today

“A pile of bricks, no matter how well crafted, is not a wall. And a group of walls, no matter how sturdy or beautiful, is not a cathedral. If you want to end up with a cathedral, you have to start with that global vision in mind, and “design down” from there.” —Dr. William Spady

The June 16 uprising displayed the power of unity amongst the youth in 1976, not only where their cries heard but the government eventually took action and today we have a better education system. Although the plenty gaps left to fill, there has been a vast improvement in black skilled labour, the level of education provided by institutions and equality.

The march was meant to be a peaceful one lobbying against the quality of education and Afrikaans as the medium for all subjects. My mother was in high school at the time and recalls that most teachers did not even know Afrikaans, so how could they teach a subject like accounting or mathematics in Afrikaans?

After 1994, the newly elected government had to create an educational system that would not discriminate or segregate communities in the quality of education. The ANC developed a document, ‘A policy Framework for Education and Training’ (1994), which was to give direction to a new education system.

Among other goals it was aimed at providing lifelong learning to all South African individuals and creating national reconstruction and development that would result in societal, cultural, economical and empowerment of all South African citizens. The document resulted in Outcomes Based Education, taking effect for the first time in 1998.
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