Monthly Archives: August 2007

Buy Pregs Govender’s Love and Courage

I generally don’t like to do reviews on this site or anywhere else. There are various reasons for this. First, they take too long and then you get asked to do more and more of these. Secondly, they put pressure on you to think a certain way while you read the book. So, I steer clear of them most of the time and only agree to write one if it applies to a book that I would want to read anyway — or one by a writer whose work I simply love. Third, I have so many writing commitments at any given time that it seems as though cutting down on reviews is a guaranteed time-saver.

At the same time, as a writer I know that it’s wonderful to know that you are read, but even more affirming to see what people say about your work — even when they don’t particularly like what you have to say.

Nonetheless, this is not a real review, just excited blogging about a book I love written by a brilliant and daring woman.

I went to Pregs Govender’s book launch straight after opening “Face Her”, the exhibition in Newtown for this year’s South African women’s month. Needless to say I missed the bulk of the speeches and proceedings for the evening. But I did get a book and managed to have the author sign it.

I then proceeded to spend the ENTIRE day on Women’s Day — save for the SABCAfrica appearance — in bed with Govender’s fantastic book. I literally could not put it down. Each time I needed to get up for food or drink, I had to tear myself away.

I have to admit that I am a long-time fan and avid reader of the work of the fiya feminist Pregs Govender. Her memoir does not disappoint, even though I opened it with very high expectations that she would deliver in her usual style.

Govender writes her memoir, love and courage: a story of insubordination, in six parts (Life, Politics, Power, Choices, The Arms Deal, No HIV/AIDS) in attempt to frame episodes in a life that cannot be compartmentalised. It is a touching narrative of a principled life lived as an activist through different eras in our country’s past: apartheid, transition, post-apartheid, etc. Govender’s elegant prose seems to hug her reader to the page, so that she may not turn away even when the material under discussion is as difficult as Govender staring death in the face.

That phrase about staring death in the face takes on a variety of meanings in love and courage since it encompasses the dangers activists faced under apartheid from a hostile and brutal state, going into hostile territory as a unionist, facing hostile principals and other officials of the apartheid education state as a progressive teacher, escaping attempts to have her killed by others she considered comrades, and taking principled stands on HIV/AIDS and the infamous SA arms deal. Through all of these triumphs, she emerges scathed but affirmed by her ability to stand up for what she believes in no matter who she has to stand up to and against.

This book is an amazing example of what it means for the personal and political to be lived as the same thing in both private life and public activism. I know that it is a book I will return to, to read again and again.


Reflections on South African women’s month (1)

It’s August again, and as I often co-joke with feminist friends and comrades, we’re all over-run and in high demand at speaking venues this month. This is often by the same people and/or organisations that suddenly develop a progressive gender consciousness in August in this country at the bottom tip of the African continent.

This year has not been so bad for me — mainly because I have said NO to a lot more than I have taken on. Still, it is once again one of the busiest months of the year. This year I wanted to have a bit of fun on the speaking engagements that I did agree to, so no early morning and late night media appointments, etc.

I agreed to open an exhibition,`Face Her’, as part of the annual Newtown Women’s Festival. It helped that the photographic exhibition featured the work of young women photographers in the majority and I thought the theme was quite compelling. But what really got me was the fact that the show is being co-curated by the fantastically talented photographer, Ingrid Masondo, who is also a fierce intellectual and feminist activist. She also asked me to write some text for the accompanying catalogue, which I also gladly agreed to.

That same weekend I was on a programme on Umhlobo Wenene with Nomboniso Gasa and Nontyatyambo Petros on woman’s month and the status of women in SA society today. The questions and conversation were wideranging; the callers seemed as though they were drawn from the ranks of gender progressives. It was a worthwhile programme since the host and my co-panelists were particularly outspoken on the range of challenges and gains by the feminist movement in SA. It also made me wish that my Xhosa was more immaculate, especially when listening to the impeccable tongue spoken by the host and Commissioner Gasa.

Then I agreed to be on an SABC Africa’s programme African Views hosted by Udi ya-Nakamhela, on a panel with Elinor Sisulu and Madipoane Masenya. It was good to be on a show that did not race over various issues on gender and women’s month and/or force the invited guests to cram all their throughts into a few minutes of soundbytes. So we spoke of women and the SA public sphere; women on the continent — gains, challenges, women’s and feminist movements; gender based violence; spaces of hope and so on. I wish there were more programmes like this on SABCTV, and I also wish that local SABC would make SABCAfrica an additional channel on the public broadcaster, rather than retain it in its current status as channel 53 on the DStv package. This status quo effectively means that only the affluent (in SA atleast) can watch it, whereas I have found that some of the most informative and exciting programmes are aired on this channel. I suppose that would mean fewer repetitions of programmes from other channels on the public broadcaster and that has financial considerations. At the same time, South Africans could have a chance to view much more content from the rest of our continent, which can only be a good thing. But enough of that.

Appearance number 4 was as the guest of Redi Direko on Radio 702. I must admit that this was, by far, THE most fun I have EVER had on a public appearance. And people say that being a public intellectual is no fun! 🙂 Direko, who is a courageous woman and trailblazer did not surprise me by asking the kinds of questions she did. She made me think and was very engaging. We talked about
women and the SA public sphere (media, parliament, business, politics, sexuality discourses), emerging femininities, GBV, how gender intersects with race and class, etc. I am not sure why this particular show was so enjoyable because the larger topic is one I live and work with daily. I suppose it must have been Redi’s style and energy that added the fun aspect. Most of the callers were really insightful as well — save for two who seem to be in complete denial about the existence of patriarchy in SA. Maybe I liked this show particularly because it was about what *I* think, based on what I have written and said, since she had invited me because of my work in particular. Therefore, I felt less pressured to say sensible things on behalf of (South) African feminists in general since I was there directly representing only me.

It’s not that I have reservations about speaking as a feminist generally (or specifically as a SA feminist/African feminist/academic feminist/feminist activist intellectual), just that there often comes with public invitations the assumption that you are there as someone who speaks/works/writes in the field of X, rather than as yourself specifically. I think that because I am a writer, I am most comfortable writing than speaking off the cuff (when not teaching/reading from something I have already written).

That wraps up the first half of the month of appearances for me.