Monthly Archives: June 2007

Reflecting on 16 June 1976

The day after the thirty-first anniversary of the Soweto uprisings, along with many other people living in South Africa, I am struck by the contradictions on language and education that continue to haunt us even today.

In the midst of a large civil service strike, where many students are complaining that they will be irretrivably disadvantaged by the work boycott by the teachers, I am irritated that teachers need to go on strike to be heard. Teacher salaries are so low that over the years I have had university students tell me they have made choices away from teaching as a profession because salaries are a joke. I have written elsewhere about the sad factors that push great teachers out of the profession. Many schools are not equipped with the resources that learners and educators need to make sure that the best learning takes place. Most irritating is the fact that while NATIONAL government allocates certain amounts for a range of uses to the benefit of citizens and other residents, PROVINCIAL governments continue to grossly underspend the allocations and often return large sums of the allocated budget unused. In the poorer provinces, this seems more rife.

Rather than dealing with this problem we are faced with the constant argument that teachers are underqualified to do the job adequately. The simplistic assumption that the solution to this problem is the re-skilling of teachers will benefit nobody except some university Education departments and faculties that enrol higher numbers of students as a result of designing courses to upgrade teacher qualifications.

It is quite sad that although education is a right protected in the Constitution today, other factors are still undermining the successful schooling of so many Black South African children in rural areas and townships.

Language also continues to be fraught terrain for most of us due largely to economic reasons. I would love to be able to do all my banking in isiXhosa, or get served in seSotho, or hear an airline announcement — not just the tokenistic greeting — in isiZulu. Again, the glorious framework provided by national legislation notwithstanding, the only information and documentation that is routinely and regularly available in the eleven official languages is government information.

I am thinking of ways of actively withholding support and money from companies that continue to use only English and Afrikaans in their interfacing with all clients. Sometimes the only language that works for corporate is money.

What a shoddy legacy for the class of 76. What bizzare inaction for those of them alive and working in provincial government, in charge of teacher salaries and with clout in corporate!


Sex and popular culture

Rereading “A Postcolonial Scene: on Girl’s sexuality”, an essay by Sanya Osha, the celebrated philosopher and scholar of African sexualities recently made me reflect once again on the many ways in which sexuality works as a powerful language in contemporary South Africa. Osha diagnoses that sexuality has become the dominant religion of the world, working as a powerful tool for communicating and categorising who matters and who does not. He also states that its influence over our world is now complete.

In the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the difficulties that surround access to proper and comprehensive treatment, it is not difficult to see how the projection of sexualities of certain kinds lead to treatment of some bodies and the people they belong to, as disposable.

Dominant responses to lesbians and gay men which contradict the rights-based and equitable society of the constitution also clarify how sexualised readings categorise people into those who exhibit ‘proper’ traits and those who need to be brought in line.

There is also the easily recognisable over-sexualisation of advertising where manufactured sexual desire is brought into the service of commodities such as cars, cosmetics and beverages.

However, it is to the use of sexuality and the sexualised young woman’s body that my thought flew on this re-reading of Osha. I refer now specifically to the dominant trends within musical popular culture. No doubt, this phenomenon is particularly striking to me because I am an occasional consumer of kwaito, hip-hop and house, even if my preferences lie at the gender-progressive end of the continuum. There is much fanfare about the abundance of scantily clad women in music videos, whether we mean some rap or kwaito or even house, we seem helpless in the face of this as a global phenomenon.

However, we seldom clarify why such imagery is troubling. Consequently, the likes of Kelly Khumalo easily defends herself against allegations that she is complicit in dangerous women’s objectification by claiming that Zulu maidens traditionally expose as much flesh as women in the contemporary music video. In other words, we have no language or basis to critique such imagery as exploitative because if we do so, we are European-defined.

But is it only the nudity that offends? Are feminist critiques on the same level as rightwing religious objections to the mere exposure of flesh as shameless?

Watching such videos, I am increasingly struck by the specific ways in which heterosexuality and patriarchal values are reinforced. It is true that while the male singer, rapper or DJ usually occupies centre-stage and exhibits lyrical prowess, the women function at the level of accessory. It is the way in which the women’s bodies are cast as well as their hypersexualisation that troubles this feminist.