Monthly Archives: May 2007

Sindiwe Magona on HIV/AIDS & sexual pleasure

An evening with Sindiwe Magona was an intimate gathering at Wits, where she read from her forthcoming novel, The green freedom of a cockatoo, took questions from the two hosts and then had an exchange with the audience.

It was remarkable to see people’s responses to both the reading and to her earlier novels. A young woman from the floor, who identified herself as Puseletso, talked about how inspired she was by Magona’s decision to broach unfashionable but important topics. She wanted to know about how to maintain the kind of courage that would allow her to speak her own truth no matter what the response was that is elicited.

She spoke about HIV/AIDS at great length because it is at the core of her new novel, which is about Blackwomen in SA and HIV/AIDS, stressing that open discussions of pleasure and entitlement for/by Blackwomen were the only way out of the HIV/AIDS quagmire.

Provocatively, and to great applause, she suggested two approached to curbing the spread:

a) that when a long time partner suddenly suggests the use of a condom for sex, after years without, the least appropriate response would be “why?”. Asking why was the route to trouble, since the answer would be unpleasant no matter what is was. If the condom was necessary because of previous infidelity on the offering partner’s part, or suspected infidelity of the offered partner, issues of trust would surface. However, what such a person may be offering is a chance to remain uninfected, or as Magona put it, “your life on a platter”;

b) when your daughter turns 18, buy her a vibrator as part of the birthday present pack, which also contains a book or two. In this way, you would be further opening up the dialogue on sexuality and pleasure with her, as well as showing her an example that although she is entitled to sexual pleasure, she is not supposed to die from it.

The conversation concentrated on women’s entitlement to sexual pleasure, and later, how valuing conquest in the socialisation of men often excuses promiscuity. The novel sees a faithfully married woman die from AIDS, something Magona pointed out as not rare. If men only had sex with, and made children with their wives, all of this could be abetted, she insisted. In the meantime, don’t ask why when a condom is offered and use that vibrator that every woman should have.

The evening was enjoyed by all in attendance, and all the Magona books on sale from the Xarra books stall were sold out.

Books by Sindiwe Magona

To my children’s children (1990) — autobiography
Living, loving and lying awake at night (1991) — short stories
Forced to grow (1992) — autobiography
Push-push and other stories (1996) — short stories
Mother to Mother (1998) — novel
Imida (2007) — essays
The best meal ever ( 2006) — children’s book
(also available as
Ukukhala kwezilwane (2006) with Gcina Mhlophe — children’s book
Le nna, ke tseba go bala dipalo (2006) with Gcina Mhlophe — children’s book
Lumkela ingozi (2006) with Gcina Mhlophe — children’s book
Mollo (2006) with Gcina Mhlophe — children’s book
Indoda nengwenya (2006) with Gcina Mhlophe — children’s book
Ngabe ithini iminwe? (2006) with Gcina Mhlophe — children’s book
Umvuyeleli uBonke (2005) with Gcina Mhlophe — children’s book


Sindiwe Magona @ Wits – 29/05/2007

Sindiwe Magona is coming to Wits! She will be reading from her latest novel, and have a conversation with Dr Siphokazi Koyana and A/Prof Pumla Dineo Gqola, followed by a question and answer session with the audience. I am quite excited because I have been following her career for longer than I have been writing (academically/critically) on her work. I have also thoroughly enjoyed teaching her novel, short stories and autobiographies to different levels of university students in the last decade.

Rather than writing a full entry for today, I have incorporated the poster for the event, in case some people see it here who did not receive other notification. Entrace is free, and there is no need to rsvp in advance. Click below to view the poster:

Sindiwe Magona public reading at Wits

Siphokazi and I are hoping that this will be the first in a long line of readings and public conversations with Southern African writers.

Women take a byte

This morning I attended a discussion on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and women as part of an all day programme co-hosted by Women’s Net and Agenda to launch the latest issue of the Feminist journal, a special issue titled ICTs: Women Take a Byte, guest-edited by Janine Moolman, Natasha Primo and Sally-Jean Shackleton. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but look forward to digging in.

As one of the panelists at the opening discussion, I pointed to some of the misconceptions about ICTs and ICT use, and I used one of my favourite anecdotes from Nnenna Nwakanma, the Chair of the Free and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) about the washing machine and the river. She tells the story of development aid workers who cross an iconic village en route elsewhere, and, in an attempt to help the women “advance” since the former currently carry their household laundry to the river, the latter introduce several washing machines to make laundry duties easier. These washing machines are received by the village community with much pomp, celebration and ceremony. The well-meaning development aid workers see this as a fantastic thing and feel sufficiently thanked for their philanthropy.

Imagine the grave disappointment of the same workers who chance upon the same village a few years later only to realise that the women have moved the washing machines to the river and are using them in the exact same way as they used boulders before. The washing machine make the laundry motion easier on the waists, the women remark, upon questioning.

When Nnenna Nwakanma tells this tale, she usually uses it to point to how technology is often erroneously presented as the simple, solve-all problem without any attention to the needs and resources of the people it is being “given” to as a solution. The village had neither electricity, nor water, so the women made use of the washing machineslogically given their setting.

It has always struck me, however, that the women’s choices can be reconciled with the development aid workers’ larger intentions at the ideological level. The gift is provided to make the women’s lives slightly easier, but without fundamentally alterning the power dynamics of the society in question. Even if electrified and provided with running water, the village would still expect the women to embark on a whole range of other domestic chores sanctioned by patriarchy. So their time might be freed up to take up some other chore, rather than being freed up and therefore available for the women’s own leisure.

Some of us are much more interested in technology that does feminist work, and therefore not the introduction of more technology into our lives only to modernise the unfree ways in which most women live our lives. New technologies work politically, which is to say ideologically, the same way as other older technologies and social phenomena. ICTs are never neutral, and never gender neutral at that.

Therefore, ICTs can be used equally easily for violent pornographic use as they can for interesting dynamic work. Experiences of discussions of women’s closed sites, or feminist listservs show how safe and exciting virtual spaces can do the work of building community and political activism. At the same time the pornographic spam that occasionally makes it through our email filters, or the growing industry that trafficks in women’s bodies and body parts online, point to how the same enabling tools can be used to oppressive, violent ends.

For example, research on women in (even) some of the IT quarters with the most egalitarian-speak, has shown that the IT world is incredibly masculinist. A cursory glance at the iconography of many of the key sites of the Free/Libre and Open Source (FLOSS) Movement, which is the ICT sector I am most biased in favour of, shows it to be a male-centric culture that is often alienating to women, and oft times directly hostile. Here’s a how-not-to drive women away from FLOSS and other IT communities manual, which illuminates many of the reasons women IT professionals and geeks have given for feeling alienated from IT spaces. And if that still doesn’t make you think, then take a look at the icons here and here, for example.

At the same time, there are some incredible uses of the ICTs in the interest of transformation towards a more equitable world. Among these are the NGO, Women’sNet, and Girl’sNet whose many programmes spread the benefits of new technologies widely by combining them with older technologies for dispersal. I am particularly fond of them because they take content generation very seriously across languages, media and spaces, and also because they are unapologetically feminist techies. Another favourite, which is also an enormous resource especially for academics is the Gender and Women’s Studies for Africa’s Transformation portal, and LinuxChix, especially LinuxChixAfrica, although I prefer the old template to their new one.

I like these sites, and many blogs, especially Blacklooks, who I am sad to say is not blogging anymore, for a while anyway. I hope it is temporary.

Brenda, young Zimbabwean woman & the cold Jozi streets

I am still sick to my stomach over the documentary by Johann Abrahams – whom I presume is South African – and the identified Zimbabwean filmmaker, Godknows Nare, called N1 South: Story of a Zimbabwean Migrant. It was screened as part of SABC’s Special Assignment last Wednesday night.

I read the papers, listen to radio news and watch more television news than the average person, so Zimbabwe is often foremost in my mind, and I admit to growing anxiety over the deepening crisis. My own anxiety has little to do with borders that can barely contain the large number of migrants to South Africa from neighbouring Zimbabwe. Rather, it comes from a deep sadness that Zimbabwe of all places is in the state that we find it in today. It is difficult not to think about the state of Zimbabwe’s education system and economy until not so long ago when cofronted by the fact that many people now earn less than is necessary to buy the most basic necessities, fuel shortages, and as reported this past weekend power outages for up to 20 hours. It pften seems too drastic an undoing.

While I know many people who are divided on Zimbabwe, and that the fate of contemporary Zimbabwe is often reduced to whether land redistribution is justified or not, I remain convinced that this is oversimplistic. As with any situation, what ails Zimbabwe today is much more complex, and the overwhelming focus on one area — land redistribution — is not going to lead us out of the quandary that we are in. We need to continue to ask uncomfortable questions. In
the just need to redistribute land, is any life expendable? Are any and all consequences justifiable? What of the ongoing brutalisation of many Zimbabwans who are not against the redistribution of land so that Zimbabwe really is owned by those dispossesed by colonisation? What self-serving power moves are being dishonestly justified through the language of land distribution? How does the displacement of people in informal housing further the cause of land distribution? In what ways do attacks on the judiciary, including beatings on legal professionals’ exercising their right to take to the streets in protest, further the liberation cause of land distribution? Who are the Zimbabwean state’s throw-away people, and how few are its valued?

I remember Everjoice Win’s letter to Nkosazana Zuma and other South African women in Cabinet a while ago painstakingly pointing out that there is cowardice in pretending not to see what is happening in Zimbabwe as linked to our lives as South Africans. Elinor Sisulu offers regular, insightful and complex commentary of the situation in Zimbabwe.

As I watched the documentary last Wednesday night, then, I was expecting to feel a familiar sense of distress. But nothing prepared me for what I felt as I watched the story of seventeen year old Brenda Ncube from Bulawayo, wandering the streets of Johannesburg. Her search for accommodation, food and employment was frustrated as most people offered little more than “sorry, no jobs”. She could only access temporary accommodation — with friends of the filmmaker, and later at a church shelter. Brenda is a young woman, but she is also a child, really. Joburg is a city of contrasts and it is not the gentlest city to young women — even when they have accommodation, money and some food.

The kinds of exploitations that Brenda is open to on a day to day basis, and her disilussionment by the end of documentary, are an indictment of our inaction and paralysis. I don’t have complete answers for how the South African state should act towards Zimbwabwe, but clearly current forms of engagement are ineffective and ineffectual. The Zimbabwean state continues to mette out violence to children/young women like Brenda. While the South African state cannot be too self-righteous in its stance against state permitted violence against women and other vulnerable groups given the former’s own contradictions, it is time for a more nuanced engagement with Zimbabwe than has been adopted thus far. If anything, such a move should be motivated by the exact same loyalty we feel towards Zimbwabweans for having supported us through the struggle against apartheid. How can we stand by and do so little when it is time for us to return the neighbourliness?

A year since the Zuma rape case judgement

A feminist lawyer friend who works in the gender based violence NGO sector has just reminded me that tomorrow will mark a year since the delivery of the judgement on the Jacob Zuma rape case. She said she was reflecting on how much has changed, or not changed in the context of GBV in South Africa. I don’t know that a whole lot has changed, or that we have fewer questions now than we did a year ago. It seems as though we have much more to think about than we did before the case.

I do know that the rape case of the former national vice president turned the volume up on gender based violence, not just in relation to the case itself, but also generally why we live in the siege we do as women. I have been called melodramatic when I’ve used “siege” to describe the state in which women live within the borders of the South African nation state. I stand by my words. Anybody with a cursory appreciation of how likely each woman is to be subjected to different forms of gender based violence (sexual harrassment, physical abuse, psychological battery, financial abuse, forced subjection to the witness of degradation and violence metted out to others, etc) knows that I am being far from melodramatic.

The case brought us face to face to the widespread nature of South African hypocrisy on the subject of gender anything. On the one hand, it is about as hard to find someone who supports violence against women in SA as it is to find a white person who voted for apartheid. Yet, we did not imagine apartheid and we are not imagining the rampant abuse of women today. Just as systems of institutionalised violence like apartheid need complicit Blacks to assist with the deepening of with white supremacist work, patriarchy needs violent women. And we saw many of them outside the court a year ago: burning pictures of the complainant and acting out similar intimidation of her supporters. Many more were apologists for a whole range of other linked forms of misogyny.

What has changed is only that beyong the GBV NGOs and researchers, as a society, we have a clearer picture of who supports gender based violence in South Africa: not just the men who (threaten) rape and other violence, but also the women who say “if you raped me, I would not wash for a week”, the ones who say don’t tell anybody else, the men and women who speak with forked tongue — arguing for breaking silences in public, but who give abusers sanctuary in private.

There were no surprises on the level of the courts and the legal justice system. Even a week in feminism 101 will tell you that the police and courts are a huge part of the problem.

A few weeks ago, as I sat at the very well-attended launch of bestselling feminist writer, Matshilo Motsei’s book

    The Kanga and the Kangaroo: Reflections of the Jacob Zuma Rape Trial

, I was pleased to see that the first in a series of books that offer feminist analysis of the trial was out. Motsei’s speech at the launch was raw and hard hitting as she can be. It was necessary and courageous, and made me want to delve into the book immediately.

One of the positive things about the public response to the trial was the manner in which as feminists we took to public space in the face of great onslaught and serious harrassment. Many of us used the media we had at our disposal: newspapers, television, radio, www to voice our anger. As we look back, I hope the books we produce will offer us lessons we need in order to turn the tide once and for all.

In the midst of it all, I am deeply saddened still that a woman who spoke her violation and her pain has been exiled from her country. I was sad, as I commented publicly a year ago, and I am still sad that the woman we know publicly as Khwezi is still exiled for such a necessary act of courage. I imagine she does not feel very courageous forced to be in a foreign country because she spoke up in a country where legally she can, but somehow that is far enough.

So, it is Khwezi, wherever she is, who is in my thoughts today and tomorrow. I hope she is well, and, like Matshilo, I look forward to a country that she can return to and feel safe in, a country where we no longer need to live in siege. We need to continue to be part of imagining and making that future and country a reality. Soon.