Via Inkanyiso – Zanele Muholi “Of Love and Loss” An exhibition
Via Inkanyiso – Zanele Muholi “Of Love and Loss” An exhibition
In 2012 there were 10 murders of black lesbians, gays and transgender people in South Africa. In Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which includes the death penalty and makes LGBTI people and anyone or organisation that supports or helps them, into illegal citizens, has once again been tabled in Parliament and once again delayed – all in the space of a month. There is no guarantee that it will not resurface in 2013. In Nigeria, the “Prohibition of Same Sex Marriage Bill” has been passed unchallenged by both Houses and is awaiting a final reading in the House Chamber.
In South Africa, Queercide, like other social phenomena is being driven by a set of social conditions in this case, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, government inaction and community silence. In Uganda and Nigeria, religious fundamentalism and a weak and disinterested civil society are the driving and enabling forces respectfully. These expressions of the logic of domination are the punishment for daring to digress from arbitrary norms.
It is in this context that Zanele Muholi’s Faces and Phases exhibition opened at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg on 27th November, 2012. Faces and Phases is an ongoing body of work which began in 2007 with the intention of creating an archive of Black lesbian lives and ensuring black queer visibilities. Faces expresses the person and Phases signifies the stages of those expressions. It is a personal experience and journey for Muholi as a visual activist and the people she photographs.
What I love about Zanele’s work is the strength of performance, the way the faces breathe. The portraits are in different poses. One can hear the voices of those who look directly into the camera. But still, there remains an untold story behind each portrait. Visible yet partially invisible. Invisible yet partially visible. I like that. Photographs capture a moment in history. W.J.T. Mitchell wrote a book “What Do Pictures Want?” I think we should ask this question when we look at the photos in Faces and Phases. People and places are layered and I would prefer it, if we could take the time to unpack the layers instead of diving in and ripping everything apart. Read my story and create your own through your imagination. The same goes for Zanele’s photographs.
From the beginning the impetus for Muholi’s work has been on the one hand, to disrupt sexual and gender norms whilst also highlighting the intersectionality of gender, sexual orientation, race and class both in homophobic acts of violence and the response to these acts of violence. Faces and Phases III consists of 60 black and white portraits and as Muholi points out there is a reason ‘there are no smiling faces here’ – their visibility has become a dangerous one. One that has lead to rape, torture and murder including some of Muholi’s collaborators. The constitutional right to be who you are and choose visibility over the closet, becomes a symptom of vulnerability. Homophobia, hate and inertia become the destructive powers that ridicule the protection of the constitution.
In her exhibition Isilumo Siyaluma* Zanele uses her own menstrual blood as a way to begin to articulate and bridge the pain and lost felt as a witness to the pain of ‘curative rapes’ suffered by many young black lesbians in Zanele’s own community. The first piece is a thumb print thereby establishing her truth and her presence as part of her community. Other photo montages are a ‘mothers cry’, ‘the judge’, and the ‘defendants in the dock’. We are all witnesses and we must make our own judgements on how to respond
Zanele’s work has been exhibited outside South Africa and the continent and this too has implications of meaning in terms of black bodies and bodies which may have been violated being exposed in white colonial spaces. Queer black bodies under the gaze of closeted racism loaded with notions of black sexuality and desire -always we return to Zanele’s question “What do you see when you look at me? ……?????????
Campaign against violence against women highlighted by Zanele in this video
In this modern world of instant information, have we become inured to horror? Every day we are exposed to pictures and films of extreme violence, they flicker through our consciousness, moving on to the newest examples of human propensity for violence. And we forget each previous example as the newest hits the media.
However, one example of this propensity for violence, common to every country in the world, is with us every day, has been going on every day throughout recorded history, and seems hardly to evoke the same concern as war in Syria, Mali, South Sudan, or Somalia. But it is prevalent in every country in the world — WITHOUT EXCEPTION.
Indeed as UN Women has pointed out violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions with up to 70 percent of women experiencing physical or sexual violence in their lifetime – perpetrated by husbands, intimate partners or someone the victims know.
Consider the following:
So, when it is claimed that 1 000 000 000 women are victims of violence, let us be clear that this is an underestimate. None of us should be thrilled knowing that 70% of half the population suffers abuse. No wonder one billion are rising! But wouldn’t it be wonderful if all seven billion human beings under the sun were rising, and these statistics became a thing of the past.
Maybe we need to see all these violent and discriminatory practices as crimes against humanity, fully one half of humanity. Not merely ordinary crimes, but evidence of deep rooted cultural prejudices, which we should get rid of. Some would ask; how do we get rid of these prejudices? I say; perhaps when patriarchy is seen as a crime against humanity.
This article first appeared on MaDube’s Reflections
As the year turns yet again, reflections are the order of the days as the compliments flow and plans for the future move ahead, still remnant of the past follow like bee to honey. Never mind that the remnants are not always sweet but sour in some cases. The year ended with events that sparked world attention. It was the gang raping of a young woman in Delhi, India. The world was brought to their knees as the festivities of the holidays turned to panic for some and then prior to that the shootings in the US, whilst just healing from Sandy’s wrath left many feeling helpless. These horrors of dominance, victimization and control left the world crumbling for safety.
The news of the young women in India who was gang-raped, in bus in the presence of several other people is not only shocking. It is disgusting that such a crime can be so watched- without stopping the perpetrators. The young woman died from injuries she sustained after being thrown off the bus. And then to add insult to injury the victim has since been called a culprit too the incident, who should have fought the five or six men according to Asaram Bapu. Bapu is a spiritual guru who is said to have remarked that the victim is as guilty as the perpetrators who gang-raped her. His remarks are sick, sexist, misogynistic and perverted. Bapu claims that the victim should have begged her ‘ brothers’ to stop-yes she could have used one hand to slap the men away. My guess is as good as yours! How do you slap or clap to rid a group of men who are threatening your life and convince them that they are your brothers and they need to stop gang raping her.
So as the end of the year drew close, rape across the world brought much talk of the safety of women, children- boys and girls alike. These heinous sexual violent crimes, and killing of women and children are becoming part of our ‘lives’ and to some extent a problem that is allowed and supported by many systems, political and socially to some extend. Most urgent and pivotal is to analyze why there is a growing “rape culture” in our midst.
Dehumanization and insertive role of rape
Whether rape is used as an instrument of male dominance and a method of bonding for those who violently penetrate, tear and rip the vagina and anus of victims, there is certainly dehumanization to both. This pervasive and ultra dehumanization of women and children through rape needs attention and so much so in distinguishing one type of rape from another -the point remains that it is a violent crime that aims to hold its victims in fear. Like the fear that gripped and terrorized the minds of people on the bus in Delhi- watched in some frozen state and for a moment that fear remains to silence victims and those in the moment- a real personal experience for me.
The perpetrators are men in our societies who desire to cause pain without reason on a body like that of a child or woman. The penetrative role of rape is to dehumanize women and children victimized. It is a way of making one remember how their body is terrorized over and over and violated to the brink of numbness to pain and that brings fear too. The purpose of rape is a way of bringing order to those who do not conform. In considering the ‘acceptance’ of rape towards women, children and LGBTI is the level of outrage that is expressed by the community. The outrage is often silenced by threats made towards those who speak out and condemn the perpetrators. The brutality of crimes of rape towards LGBTI persons is most severe and inhumane in nature- a guaranteed message. Rapists perverse the system that is encouraged though this kinship, a way of political alliance between men who bond through victimization of women. The patriarchal social order facilitates aggressive, heterosexual and dominant behavior with men on top as the winner for the prize and women, the prize.
The feminization of violence on women’s bodies is not a new phenomenon – and it should stopped- with hundred of years’ of activism and calling for an end to gender based violence- it has to stop. Starting with the DRC, the atrocious sexual violence that women and girls have to endure on a daily basis. The biggest scandals are the mechanisms that are not working for us nationally, regionally and internationally. What are we doing? With so many resources it is disgusting that they are not being used to stop this violence. There is much contradiction particularly from the west who claim they are emancipated yet continue looting of natural and human resources.
The realities are more horrendous than the highlighted incidents herein and a clear argument that there is a silence around violence against women and these atrocious crimes. The silence of the victims or survivors who fear reporting such crimes is problematic and deeply rooted and supported nationally within political alliances and patriarchy. Because of being abused, traumatized and in some cases raped by police, victims are afraid to speak out. This is not just here in South Africa but everywhere – Rape and sexual violence remain stigmatized for the victim.
The “deliberate” failure to capture criminals who have committed such crimes makes me think there is a need to analyze the role rape plays in the methods of male bonding and dominance. The “deliberate” sabotage towards justice by police in responding to crimes, collecting evidence with gross negligence, losing rape kits enables the accused to walk free. This is a growing trend that destabilizes the justice progress and process. It is necessary to understand why there is an increase these crimes in our communities in order to get to the root cause of ‘rape culture’ and its connectedness to male bonding- from a macro level as- can be witnessed globally.
The realities and sentiments coming out of India on the issue are not that far away to the realities in South Africa. The so called ‘rape culture’ has had devastating effects on citizens with more than seven reported incidents one following the other in the months of June to September 2012. Young black lesbians, one gay man, and transgender person were either raped, killed, raped, mutilated or all the forms of violent acts performed. The incidents called for a national outcry but none was forthcoming.
Toxic masculinity and bonding
In South Africa it is necessary to consider “hegemonic masculinities”, a concept that probably can explain practices of men in our society according to positioning. “Hegemonic masculinity” in simple terms is the static behavior that a group of people in a society have, which entails making a pact, written or unwritten between those involved. The kind of actions expected in order to join these groups are acts of violence towards stranger in a the streets, cursing and using foul language and trashing or vandalizing property similar to gangs that might terrorize a neighborhood. It is this connectedness that this method of male bonding and homosocialization-can share women through gang raping. It is this act that allows them to carry out such acts and claim these as part of the ‘bonding’ process. This extends further to raping and gang-raping women and children to confirm and show solidarity. The power system is like the food chain, to work towards the top one has to show what they can do to be included in the circle. The more one shows prowess towards acts of violence the better they can reach the top and be trusted. As such the domination of women through rape continues and then children too become victims of this “culture”.
Rape whether it be during the war, marriage, raping to conform one’s sexuality or under the influence of date rape drugs —it is all rape. Yet, the growing “rape culture” cannot be presented as a blanket statement rather it is necessary to deconstruct the realities behind this “culture” that is raging war against women and their bodies. In South Africa, President Zuma is yet to say rape must be condemned for obvious reasons. So for those males who flock together in this “culture” there is a kind of understanding of solidarity and coercion to how things are in regards to rape.
South Africa is an example of how hegemonic masculinities reign over females and that even the law is silent in the crimes committed by men and bringing them to justice. The reality is that even when cases reach the courts the trials are sheer spectacle in our country. The dockets are ‘misplaced’, the convicted rapist(s) escape without a chase, and the prosecutor is not present on the date of hearing in court. Most if not all cases the victims are women and the perpetrators men. Many rape victims report being taunted by men in their communities. Perpetrators are released on ridiculous bail conditions not befitting the crimes committed.
The whole system is slap in the face towards justice and equality for women who continue to suffer injustices under the rule of patriarchy and heterosexism. In South Africa there is clear structural support that encourages dominance of females and this need not be written on walls. South Africa has seen what prominence does to perpetrators and how the victims become exiled from their own homes for speaking out. There is a chain which links to high profile people in the system that are able to make things happen or disappear. These unlabeled men who partake in these acts of violence answer to the big guy, who is top dog in that society. There is no need not explore events of the 2005 trial to understand what this entails. “Rape culture” remains in our midst with much fear to speak over deaths and raping of women and girls in South Africa. Women in townships live their lives under lock and key for fear of being raped whilst the state turns a blind eye for justice to prevail.
Sinister justice, takes the opposite
Some time in the year 2012, women in Zimbabwe made headlines with accusations of rape. Women who were the supposed rapists were arrested for having harvested semen from men whom they had purposely given a ride in their car. The men claimed to have been surprised at the women taking advantage of them and then continuing to rape them. The women were arrested and flogged in public with pictures taken and shared with local tabloids in Zimbabwe. The time it took to pick these women up and the evidence found was a clear case of guilt- at least from readings and speculation. At the same time other cases of rape of women as victims take a long time to reach the courts. I am not condemning the swiftness. I am merely wondering what delays the process if a man is not the victim. Or if the victim breaks the silence by reporting a prominent man she risks becoming destitute and loses citizenship rights of protection and freedom. The fact that “hegemonic masculinity” or homosocialization is reflected in cases that affect the male prowess is a critical point that needs to be analyzed too.
The media plays a critical role in constructing the very expectations of hetero-patriarchy society in how they write. The remarks of Bapu towards the victim in India are full of hetero-patriarchy ideals that again claim women ‘asked for it.’ Why she could not have fought with the other hand, perhaps she could have prayed for the rapists too. Bapu, a (not so) respected spiritual leader plays right into the toxic masculine behavior and he clearly has lost the plot of humanity. And the many dangers of leaders like him saying such crap is that there are people who actually believe him. The reality is that world over —there are high incidents of sexual violence and rape and low conviction. Some of our leaders continue to take a blind eye and do not realize the damage done and being done to initiative such as ZERO.
Zero AIDS related, Zero Rape!
Young men, women and children need to know that they are protected and safe from RAPE! As we zoom in to reach the Zero towards new infections, Zero AIDS related deaths and Zero discrimination of all isms, we need Zero Rape. We are faced with complications of a war brewing on the female body..
As regional and international bodies are talking about post MDG, UN’s CSW 57th Session is focusing on Violence Against Women (VAW) and children. It is with hopes that we are also planning ahead and hitting a home run rather than talking about VAW as though it has just happened. But there needs to be an expansion of the conversation directly to men and boys. I remain deeply bothered by “rape culture” and this impunity in our communities. Is this to say that, we have become too complacent towards violence? It is becoming the norm and there is a sense that even those who abuse, rape, violate, and break the law are masters unto themselves- nothing happens to them-they are untouchable! From crimes of child abuse, sexual violence, child marriage and moral panics over youth sexuality and homophobia, increasingly to lesbian killings go unpunished in most regions.
When I last wrote an article of reflection on sexual violence- it was under the guise of respect and dignity for women and girls in my own country receiving sanitary pads. I questioned the ideals and agenda away from the small gestures that would enable young girls to attend school instead of staying at home to bleed during their days of menstruation. I was glad of the initiative and yet I still hoped to hear, and see action in my own country on how leadership takes the issues of sexual violence and rape-seriously for those who seek justice in addition to the sanitary pad. So what has happened to all that glitter with the sanitary pad? Have more girls been enrolled, attended classes and passed successfully sans textbooks?
Unbelievably, the woman body is a battleground and when war is declared on our bodies how are we going prevent the possibility of completely losing the battle on sexual violence stinking and spreading around the globe. What about our children’ pleasure to life?
So as many gather again just in time for to plan for the next 16 days of agony not activism because everyday a woman is raped. Until we can come in our numbers to demand justice and push the system for justice- we can start right now- we count bodies- mine, yours your daughters’, sisters’ mothers’ and brothers’ too. I can hear that little voice of anger growing and I hope you are angry too. Voices will be heard. Our vaginas are ours and zero in on that! We are being attacked and at this rate we need to be innovative and find successful means to bring awareness and justice against all violence against women, girls and boys. We must work with men, boys, girls and women to succeed.
Glenda is a gender justice and development researcher. She is still writing after her 15 month sabbatical with much reflection and returns to write and seek her own voice through many platforms like this one. She is determined to work with for income and livelihood; therefore, she writes to earn and for change.
“Violence against women causes trauma. It takes away women’s ability to make progress in their lives. It destroys families, breaks up marriages and increases the spread of HIV/AIDS.”
Listening to her striking words, I felt the conviction that drives her vision in life; to assist victims of organised violence and torture (OVT) to find healing from their trauma. Born 47 years ago, one of five siblings, in Guruve, Zimbabwe, Abigail Kadaira is a force to be reckoned with. She recalled growing up in a broken home as her parents divorced when she was only nine years old. She now lives with her mother and two nephews in the small farming town of Chinhoyi in Mashonaland-West Province.
Sisi Abby, as she is fondly known in many circles, has been a human rights activist for many years. She is a member of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). She served as Vice Chairperson in her Province in 1999. She also joined the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), an organisation fighting for a people-driven constitution in Zimbabwe, at its inception in 1998 and served as Chairperson in her province from 1999 to 2003.
“At that time, I was one of only 2 women who served as Provincial Chairpersons in the NCA, “she explained.
When I first heard this piece of news I was shocked, then I became angry and then I turned defiant and decided that I would chart my own destiny. The piece of news is that out of the 192 member states of the United Nations, Zimbabwe has decided to declare itself so special, setting itself apart by changing the theme on the Commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence to suit its own ‘context.’
The official United Nations and global theme for this year’s commemorations is supposed to be:
“From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!”
The new (Indigenous) Zimbabwean theme now reads:
To back-step a little bit let me start from the beginning…
We are 4 days into the 16 Days of Activist Against Violence Against Women which dates back to 1999. Fourteen years of days and weeks where the world supposedly focuses on violence against women will end on Human Rights Day, the 10th December. In Durban the 17th UN Climate Change conference begins today and continues until 9th December. So much activity!
The campaign to end violence against women hardly mentions [here I think I am being generous] the violence unleashed by changes in climate and environmental degradation; land grab by investment bankers in New York and London; the purchase of large tracks of land by governments such as Saudi Arabia Kuwait; gentrification or rather ethnic and class cleansing of urban spaces. Is it really that difficult to make the connections by providing a broader more realistic interpretation of violence against women? Abahlali baseMjondolo go some way to doing this
One of three 2011 Noble Peace Prize winners, Leymah Gbowee interviewed by Megan Smith. What makes this interview particularly interesting is through Leymah own personal history we begin to understand her journey from childhood to the strong powerful woman she is today – through domestic violence, being ostracized by her father and raising four children and the struggle for peace against the warlords of Liberia. She also puts the Liberian war into historical context, something which is often missing from news reports.
“Where do we start talking about the atrocities? We need to go back to 1822 and start that conversation because thats where everything started”
I have to say that I am proud to have met Leymah in Accra in 2010 at a workshop on militarisation in which the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell was screened. She is one hell of a special woman, none of the forked tongues of politicians and opportunitists. Leymah is real – a strong and powerful African woman. If you havent seen the film it will be showing on PBS on 18th October.
Leymah Gbowee is a “militant pacifist”, a “peace activist”, and a real mover and shaker. She is a woman who recognized that women had to organize, across all barriers and across all divisions, that women had to transform themselves and one another if they wanted to change the world. They had to learn to participate in peace negotiations, for example, by refusing the symbolic chairs and other morsels offered them, by confronting the materiel of war and violence with the human force of peace, compassion, and love. When the Big Men of Liberia met in Accra to negotiate “peace”, Gbowee and her sisters in white t-shirts raised a ruckus outside, and just about held the delegates hostage.
From the outset, Leymah Gbowee identified humanity as the site of her struggles and organizing. That means organizing structures, such as the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, followed by the Women In Peacebuilding Network, or WIPNET. From there, she has gone on to organize the Women Peace and Security Network Africa, based in Ghana. Gbowee’s vision of women is African, from Cape to Cairo, and from coast to coast.
Peace and justice, child by child, person by person, space by space, and beyond. That’s what Leymah Gbowee has been organizing. That’s what is so difficult, if not impossible, to represent. That’s what The New York Times missed. But you don’t have to. On Tuesday, October 18, in the United States, PBS will broadcast the documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, about the work of Leymah Gbowee. Don’t miss it. It’s inspiring, as is its subject.
A new report has found that Shell fuelled human rights abuses in Nigeria by paying huge contracts to armed militants. The report, called Counting the Cost, is published by Platform and a coalition of NGOs and featured in todays UK Guardian.
The report, uncovers how Shell’s routine payments to armed militants exacerbated conflicts, in one case leading to the destruction of Rumuekpe town. There are four oil companies operating in Rumuekpe including Shell. In July this year I visited Rumuekpe and spoke with a large group of women activists from the town. The women explained how the towns people were terrorised by competing militants which led to the estimated deaths of 60 people. Eventually the whole population had to run from the town leaving behind their homes, properties and farms. What is left is a ghost town and on the day we visited, the women and ourselves were fearful that we were being watched and it was too dangerous for us to stay for any length of time or walk through the town center.
Shell also continues to rely on Nigerian government forces who have perpetrated systematic human rights abuses against local residents, including unlawful killings, torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. This has been further exacerbated in recent years by war lordism across the region which has particularly led to violence against women, rape and forced prostitution. The women of Rumuekpe and Okrika Town pointed out that those towns where there were no oil companies were free of militarised and environmental violence and people were able to live in peace.
What writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa dubbed the “slick alliance” between oil multinationals and the Nigerian military is alive and harmful as ever. Shell’s operations remain inextricably linked to human rights violations committed by government forces. The Nigerian government, driven to keep oil revenues flowing and working in close partnership with oil multinationals, has heavily militarised the Delta. Shell alone has hired over 1,300 government forces as armed guards. For communities, the impacts have been devastating and are in addition to ongoing environmental damage from oil spills and gas flaring.
On Saturday 17th Nigerian blogger Linda Ikeji reported the “gang rape of a young woman of Abia State University” which had been videoed, circulated and broadcast over the internet and is apparently on multiple sites together with an audio version. Linda Ikeji states that she has a one hour video on her laptop plus a 10 minute version on her phone. She also states that uploading it on the internet is not an option.
In the one week since the announcement of the gang rape, under the guise of outrage and desires for justice, the case has become a spectacle played out on Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
In a recent blog post critiquing the 419 Reasons to Like Nigeria, I made the point that what is often most important in revealing who we are as a nation and people, is how we respond to our realities. How do we respond to the gang rape of a young woman and one which is subsequently broadcast on various online sites? Linda Ikeji gave enough graphic detail for all of us to know how the rape scene played out. Yet some people continue watching and or listening to the video and reporting details of what was said and done? To do this they would need to search online or ask someone privately for a copy to be sent by email or through their phone or for a link online. These are not small acts – they are calculated decisions to seek out a video of a gang rape. Unless you are in a position to possibly identify the rapists and take that information to someone who can act on it then what is your purpose in watching the video other than for self-gratification? Each time the video is watched or listened to or the text read it is a repeat of the rape, which is exactly the purpose of the video – to continue the humiliation, the subjugation and to relive the rape over and over.
It is not normal for women to be treated in this way. The way the video is being circulated is a way of normalising watching violence and playing it out as if it’s some kind of reality show whereby everyone can participate by absorbing and gorging on detail without any sense of social or ethical responsibility. I am not saying people are not genuinely outraged by the gang rape, they most certainly are but its a pretense to equate outrage with a justification for watching the video. This pornographic video has been downloaded 7000+ times from a Nigerian online site and was available until this morning. How about some outrage against this and the money that is being made from it? The site has be taken down but those downloads remain.
Calls through various social media and politicians for the young victim of this heinous act, to come forward and present herself are equally alarming and lack any understanding of the depth of trauma experienced by rape victims as made clear by Modupe Debbie Aryio of Africans United Against Child Abuse [AFRUCA]
AS A MENTAL HEALTH PRACTITIONER, PSYCHOTHERAPIST/COUNSELLOR WHO HAS WORK FOR OVER 20YRS WITH TRAUMA VICTIMS, VICTIMS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE, DV AND RAPE VICTIMS, I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT NOT TO PUT UNDUE PRESSURE ON THIS YOUNG LADY SO SHE DOES FEEL ADDITIONALLY ‘RAPED’ AGAIN BY ALL THE FURORE THAT SURROUNDS HER. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING AT THIS TIME FOR HER IS TO BE ABLE TO GET THE PSYCHOLOGICAL,EMOTIONAL AND ANY OTHER MEDICAL SUPPORT SHE MAY NEED AS A RESULT OF THIS HORRENDOUS ACT PERPETRATED ON HER. WHILE THE ANGER AND INSTINCTUAL CRY FOR JUSTICE ON HER BEHALF IS
Ghanaian writer “True Murder” and filmmaker “The Witches of Gambaga“, Yaba Badoe is interviewed by Beti Ellison [African Women in Cinema Blog]. Yaba discusses how she first visited the village of Gambaga and the long journey to gain the trust of the women and their “protector” and ultimately complete the film.
I first heard about the Witches’ camp at Gambaga in January 1995 when I was covering a story in Tamale for the BBC World Service. I was working as a stringer for the BBC’s Network Africa back then. I returned to Tamale in March of the same year, hoping to make a day trip to Gambaga to interview some of the women living at the camp. It took me a lot longer to gain access to them than I’d anticipated. When I eventually got to interview three of the women’s representatives, I was shocked to discover that two of them actually believed they were ‘witches’. Tia, who told me she’d been wrongly accused of witchcraft, was quickly forced to retract her statement. I was horrified to find that women accused of witchcraft were forced to undergo a trial by ordeal. Depending on how a chicken died — with its wings facing the sky or the ground — you were either a witch or not. I had to spend the night in Gambaga. I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking what would happen to me if I was accused of witchcraft and the chicken test went against me. How would I let my family down south know? It was then, I suspect, that alleged witches became more than objects of my curiosity. Instead they became women I identified with, because I could see that but for an accident of birth, I could easily be one of them…...Continue here
A Walk to Beautiful tells the stories of five Ethiopian women who suffer from devastating childbirth injuries and embark on a journey to reclaim their lost dignity. Rejected by their husbands and ostracized by their communities, these women are left to spend the rest of their lives in loneliness and shame. They make the choice to take the long and arduous journey to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in search of a cure and a new life.
Obstetric Fistula is it’s demeaning, it’s painful and wholly preventable and in many cases there is the additional pain of loosing ones child. FGM and forced child marriages contribute to obstetric fistula in women and girls for example in Northern Nigeria where it is estimated some 800,000 women are suffering. MSF produced the video below on the work of a hospital in Jahun, Nigeria which provides free surgery and treatment for women.
The Witches of Gambaga is a disturbing documentary about a community of women condemned and exiled as witches to the village of Gambaga in northern Ghana. The film was produced by Nigerian feminist academic Amina Mama and Ghanian filmmaker / writer, Yaba Badoe who also directs and narrates the film. During repeated visits over a period of 5 years, Ms Badoe interviewed the women, traditional rulers and community activists in the region.
The village of Gambaga has traditionally been a sanctuary for women accused of witchcraft where they are protected by the village Chief. Many of the women are elderly and arrive after been driven into exile by their families. Guilt is established by the arbitrary way a chicken dies following an accusation by a male or even a young child. The birds throat is cut and if it dies with it’s wings down, then the woman is a witch. In trying to understand what it means to be a witch, the film’s producer and narrator, Yaba Badoe, asks the question which goes to the heart of the film, ” [what] If witchcraft traditions are so deeply entrenched, that to be born a woman is to be born under a shadow of suspicion.?” This is contrasted with men who can also be witches but for them the practice is used in a positive way such as to protect his house or family.
The belief that some women and men have supernatural powers has existed throughout history and across the world as a way of maintaining social control and upholding patriarchal structures. But invariably it is women who have been singled out for persecution at different points in history usually when communities are facing a crisis or series of events which are unexplainable or unpredictable. To understand the naming of women as witches requires close scrutiny of the factors behind, on the one hand, the powers of Pentecostal churches and Muslim marabouts in Ghana and other parts of the continent, and on the other, the use of traditional and spiritual practices for explanations around the failure of nation states to address poverty and lack of socio-economic responsibility by governments. It is similar to cultural and religious fundamentalism that is the driving force behind homophobic laws on the continent which are also being used as political decoys. Both the charismatic churches and some local Imams feed on witchcraft as explanations of social and economic problems. The power of male authority, patriarchal traditions and the low status of women are central to this. It is pertinent to point out that although accusations of witchcraft cut across class and age, it is those women who are seen as strong and independent who are most at risk.
Fadwa Laroui, a 25-year-old Moroccan mother with two children set herself on fire after she was refused social housing because she was a single mother. Another self-immolation in Tunisia became a catalyst for revolution. Tunisians who took to the streets, felt an empathy with Mohammed Bouazizi. They too suffered the same humiliations and daily struggles. In a way he died for them.
Will Moroccans have empathy for Fadwa and other single mothers or will they just pity her single motherhood and decision to destroy herself ? This got me thinking about the revolutions across North Africa – Will the freedoms being fought for include sexual minorities and single mothers like Fadwa? Will the freedoms include rights for migrants from south of the Sahara? Will countries like Egypt, Libya, Morocco begin to address racism? Some say the midst of a revolution is not the time to talk of these things and make excuses and talk in denial. I say, exactly the opposite. This is the best time to talk of these things because it is in the height of revolutionary struggle that one should have the most empathy, the most love for others. It’s also a time when stripped bare, new ways of thinking and doing can be born.
I want to share a write up by Koluki on London’s “Black History Month” which featured my friend, Chinwe Azubuike – one of the few people I seriously miss now I am away from London. Chinwe is also an occasional contributor to Black Looks in the past. Koluki’s blog is also one of those I haven’t read for a while so I am glad she left a comment which reminded me to visit.
- A presentation by Chinwe Azubuike, a female contemporary voice from Africa, born in Lagos, Nigeria, who describes herself as a spokeswoman for Nigeria’s deprived class.
This last one was that which touched me the most, not least because it was protagonised by a woman. Throughout the presentation of her campaign denouncing violence against women, specifically against widows in Nigeria, and the performance of some of her poems, I was moved almost to tears at times.
There I was in front of this short, slim, yet strong young lady who, with her short-cut hair – which reminded me of exactly how I used to wear mine (… for that I would either go to a barber’s shop or cut it myself, and sometimes my late partner, who also liked it very much that way, would cut it for me…) when I was about her age and had also just published my humble first, and so far only, book of poems – holding all my attention and emotions, between the gravity and tension of the subjects she is dealing with and the distension and pleasure of a frank smile conveying to her audience the idea that suffering and healing are facts of life: the first being inflicted upon us by others (and sometimes by ourselves), the second being brought about by our conscious decision to stop both the causes and the consequences of that suffering.
Fears Of A Celibate Woman
The selfish lust of man
earned him my doubt and distrust.
With this vast body of desires,
Who is fit to uncross my twisted legs
And throw them
For my core is burning
Oh! You knight in shining Armour,
Come and prove me wrong.
She followed the paused, pulsating, reflexive (and reflective) reading of each poem (just as I would read my own) by a short explanation – something that I never did with mine, either verbally or in writing (except of late with some I’ve published on this blog), because it is my belief that poetry either succeeds at being self-explanatory or is innefective. She also somehow concurred to this assertion by saying after the first reading that it “probably wasn’t fair to do that as the author should just leave it to the audience to make sense of the poem.” However, in doing so, she was also implicitly acknowledging something that I have experienced myself: the risk of our poems’ intended message being lost in “the senses” (translation … transliteration… prejudgements… prejudices… meaning… projection … association… appropriation…) the audience, or the reader (not to mention the, often reckless, critics…), may discretionarily attach to them – but then, that’s the gamble inherent to poetry writing, especially that of the symbolic kind, isn’t it?
The disclosure in the UK Independent that the Nigerian military framed Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Eight is something the Ogoni people have always known. The relationship with Shell and the Nigerian military and particularly Lt-Col Paul Okuntimo is also known to the Ogoni and other Niger Deltans and was disclosed in “Where Vultures Feast: Shell Human Rights and Oil in the Niger Delta” by Ike Okonta and Oronto Douglas. The evidence of the witnesses named in the Independent are corroborated by the Ogoni women I spoke with back in March 2000 and can be seen in their individual testimonies on rape, beatings and harassment by Okuntimo’s soldiers.
Compelling new evidence suggests the Nigerian military killed four Ogoni elders whose murders led to the execution of the playwright and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995.
The evidence also reveals that the notorious military commander Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Okuntimo, whose troops were implicated in murder and rape, was in the pay of Shell at the time of the killings and was driven around in a Shell vehicle.
Three weeks after Ncumisa Mzamelo was found dead her story was published on page 16 of the South African newspaper, The Star. This is a story of a brutal murder of a Black lesbian from Bhambayi in KwaZula Natal, whose remains were found in a deserted toilet. Ncumisa was a 21 year old activist who worked on an HIV/AIDS project, Project Empower. A police case has been opened but her friends are determined that she not only gets justice but the crime is tried as a hate crime.
Ncumisa, murder needs to be seen in the context of the two recent decisions by human rights instittuions. First the African Commission for People and Human Rights which refused observer status to the Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] and secondly the decision by the UN General Assembly Human Rights Committee who voted to delete specific reference to killings due to sexual orientation from a resolution condemning unjustified executions. The two decisions not only directly prevent justice for LGBTI people like Ncumisa but create an environment where such violent hate crimes can take place with impunity.
Heat under the tarps is brutal, we can’t take it any more.
We have fever, we can’t take it any more.
We’re being raped, we can’t take it any more.
We have no water, we can’t take it any more.
We have infections, we can’t take it any more.”
Ten months after the earthquake in Haiti, more than a million people continue to live in a state of crisis and chaos and still the help and the money do not arrive. Refugee International reports an increase in “sexual, domestic and gang violence” in the more than 1300 camps. Internally displaced people [IDP] are being forced to live in horrendous sanitary conditions, many going a full day without food and those who complain are intimidated by camp managers and or face eviction by landowners. When evicted people have to go to other camps and try to form some kind of “home” yet again each time becoming more and more distressed. The estimates are that already some 15,000 people have been evicted and 95,000 more IDP are under constant threat of eviction.
Living in squalid, overcrowded and spontaneous camps for a prolonged period has led to aggravated levels of violence and appalling standards of living. As time goes on, landowners are increasingly threatening camp residents with eviction. Many evictions have already occurred, and with nowhere to go, these repeatedly displaced people are absorbed into existing camps or form new ones with no humanitarian assistance.
The report is highly critical of the UN and those responsible for the coordination of “humanitarian response and aid delivery” but more so of the fact that the person responsible is the same person in charge of MINUSTAH (the UN peacekeeping force.]
Despite these alarming conditions, the UN coordination system in Haiti is not prioritizing activities to protect people’s rights. The current Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) — the person who should be increasing the effectiveness of the humanitarian response and aid delivery — also plays the role of ). Given the competing demands of these various roles, the coordination of humanitarian activities has suffered. There is still no effective protection and assistance delivery system in place.
Neither MINUSTAH nor the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) nor any other organisation responsible for people’s well being and safety, are giving priority to human rights issues particularly Gender Based Violence and Child Protection in the camps. Girls some as young as tens are being raped and medical units have been reporting an increase in failed street abortions and since food has become even more scarce women and girls are being forced into prostitution in exchange for food. To make matters worse those who are working on GBV in the camps and trying to protect women and girls have now also come under threat which heightens the threat of violence for everyone.
Ansel Herz speaking on Flashpoints Radio reported that one camp in CarrFour was being run by Americans and was actually charging residents a “camp tax” for permission to stay there. This report was particularly disturbing as it painted a picture of a group of people from America tyrannising the lives of some 10,000 Haitians with rules and regulations which insisted that they conduct their lives according to the organizers of the camp.
There have been some recent advances in policing of the camps, but so far they only benefit a small fraction of camps’ inhabitants, and they should be extended to community policing beyond the camps. Since July UNPOL has set up an IDP unit which currently has around 200 officers who are now providing a 24-hour security presence in six of the largest camps. They also have three mobile units that are providing random patrols in the most problematic camps. This increased level of UNPOL policing is welcome, but there is still very limited presence by HNP and the UNPOL officers cannot make arrests without them. UNPOL currently has no translators, so they cannot communicate with the camp residents, and it needs more vehicles and other equipment to increase its presence. A positive recent development is that MINUSTAH military, UNPOL and HNP are now receiving training on prevention and response to GBV. Recruiting and training new HNP officers and reconstructing the HNP women’s unit is still vital.
GBV programming lacks resources, particularly for building the capacity of local camp-based women’s groups working on GBV, who, unsupported, managed to develop self-defense trainings, security patrols, and GBV awareness-raising sessions. This work has made some of these women a target for death threats. RI was told that local agencies working on GBV in the camps had received three times the number of reports of sexual violence than pre-quake, but there has not in fact been a methodical tracking by any agency of incidents pre-or-post quake. UNFPA leads the GBV sub-cluster with only one staff member. Increased staffing for the GBV sub-cluster would enable cooperation with Haitian women’s organizations.
I always find that when it comes to romanticising African traditions, it is generally men who are at the forefront of calls to return to the “old ways” whilst women and young girls are the ones who suffer the brutality of some practices such as forced marriage, child marriage and female circumcision. South African writer and cultural analyst, Nomboniso Gasa calls for a national and honest discussion which engages with culture and tradition and how we set about achieving a cultural balance. Although speaking in a South African context, we all need to have this discussion within our own national spaces.
AS WE grapple with the critical issues of who we are as individuals and as part of a collective nationhood, defined and impacted upon as we are by the history of this country and inequalities, I believe we must come to the conversation about the meaning of freedom with an open mind.
This conversation requires commitment to engage and question even those areas we hold dear. As we search for deeper understanding our exchanges, difficult as these may be, must strengthen each of us as we continue to reject injustices against any South African. In these exchanges there can be no holy cows, and we must avoid defining some areas as no go areas, because this not only stifles debate, it destroys the foundation upon which our society is built — protection of human dignity.
It is against this background that I want to locate the recent deliberations in Parliament during the public hearings on the Black Authorities Act.
On July 21, presentations were held in Parliament where various stakeholders, including the Rural Women’s Movement, community- based organisations, associations of small farmers (mainly women whose livelihood depends on subsistence farming), traditional leaders and other members of the public. This has been a highly contested subject, which can easily become one of those issues we do not touch. In talking publicly about what we want to see in our communities, we also have to name that which we do not want.
There has also been a growing romanticising of African cultures, especially by those who purport to know culture and consider themselves to be holders of African wisdoms. Regrettably, this romanticising comes at a great cost for many people who still live in the communities that have not kept pace or refuse to engage with societal development and change.
Masibuyel’embo (let us go back to the ways of our people) is the call — as if we have a common embo (way) or know what those ways are, in the first place. This romanticising is dangerous. To illustrate this danger, let me take an extract from the exchange that took place in Parliament on July 21.
Responding to the presentation made by Sizani Ngubane of the KwaZulu Natal Rural Women’s Movement, the ANC MP, Mandla Mandela, (who insists on being called Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandlesizwe Dalibhunga Mandela in recognition of his place among abaThembu Royal House), started by asking “Wazalwa nini mama“ (when were you born) and Ngubane responded, in 1946. He proceeded to state that he was born in 1974, he is almost a great grandchild to her but he has the privilege of being guided by the wise grey haired men and women AbaThembu of his village. Most shocking, from one so steeped in the culture of his people, was his disrespect for her and the dismissal of the experiences she presented.
ONE IN NINE campaign Showing solidarity with Khwezi – The campaign, established in 2006 at the start of the Zuma rape trial, organised a picket outside the high court on Tuesday as a sign of solidarity with Khwezi, and other women who have reported rape.
Dressed in purple T-shirts, with the words “Stop the war on women’s bodies” and “Gender testing reveals: lady justice is a man” printed at the back, the approximately 30 members who gathered condemned the high court building, singing protest songs and placing red tape around its fence.
After song and dance, the female protesters marched on to Kruis Street, where they hung a banner from the Colman Chamber building, reading: “Four years later, Zuma is president, Khwezi is in exile, where is the justice?”………..Continue Reading