Monthly Archives: November 2009

Still sad about The Weekender (2)

I meant to write this blog two weeks ago, but between life, work and feeling sorry for myself at the loss of The Weekender (which no longer even has a web presence, so I can’t link to the archive, so read Peter Bruce’s last piece on it), it has taken me this long to get down to it.

It has been three weeks since The Weekender appeared on a Saturday. I had looked forward to this paper every weekend. I am a great fan of weeklies, even though I know I should be more thorough in my reading of the dailies. The truth is that I scan a few dailies, depending on which ones are available in the province I find myself in on any given day. Most of the time I am in Gauteng, so no prize for guessing which rags I read more regularly than most.

Each weekend, I pour over my newspapers and read the most interesting bits. I read only the odd item in the Sports and Business sections, and I flip through the magazine supplements where these exist, although I used to read City Pulse cover to cover when Gail Smith was at its helm.

But back to The Weekender, then. This paper had become my firm favourite in its coverage of politics and the creative arts in intelligent and engaging ways. The writing was so good, I read 98% of the paper most weekends.

Its closing has led to quite a bit of talk, some of which I have absolutely no time for. But here are some interesting bits:

Issa Sikiti da Silva had this to say about why the paper really had to close, with a few smart experts also throwing in their two cents’ worth.

Justice Malala had an additional thing or two to say about why the paper’s closing is sad for more than its staff and regular readers.

And finally, this is what some readers shared about the demise of the paper:

Jenny Crys-Williams

Paul O’Riordan

Sizwe Majola

Geoff Cohen

… and many, many more.

I will miss it, and Rehana Rossouw deserves the warmest congratulations for running an outstanding paper as well as for penning a weekly column that I could not wait to read every Saturday. I will miss Ms Rossouw’s wit, humour and wordsmith magic and am hoping that there is a book coming out of her very soon, to temporarily soothe the ache of not having her as a regular voice.


Still sad about The Weekender (1)

The full email I sent the Monday after the horrible news of The Weekender closing. Business Day published an edited version without my thoughts on Rehana Rossouw’s column here

Dear Rehana [Rossouw],

I am sure that this is one of hundreds of emails you have to read, so I am going to make it brief.

My family and I are extremely sad that our favourite weekly read – and the only one we read religiously even on weekends with family drama, funerals, out of GP travel, illness, weddings, burst geysers, leaking pools, load shedding, undergraduate marking, children’s parties – is closing shop.

Thank you for putting together a paper that was always informative, beautifully written, provocative and politically complex. The Weekender made me laugh, wonder, think and change my mind about various issues after reading it. Its reviews made me buy books I would not otherwise have, even though too much of my income already goes to bookshops. Every weekend, my partner and I shared our copy, re-read sections to each other, and rescued bits from our toddler son who always wanted some part to write on and then stuff into a toy-box, bath tub or bin.

I always read your column first – before even my own opinion when you published me – and I will miss that column sorely. (Please tell me that there is a book coming out of you very soon. I probably should not tell you this, but I am not really much of a Business Day reader, although I might need to become one now.)

Thank you for publishing longer versions of my own and other people’s work than the space usually allocated to opinion in newspapers.

I have been a bit lax about the paper recycling drop off, (plastic is really my obsession) so we have a few back issues still which I am not loathe to throw away. Eish! Please tell me that BDFM will now finally have a proper The Weekender, so that its readers can nostalgically know the online archive is there.

All the best to you, Rehana, and thanks again for The Weekender.

PS. All my facebook buddies are miserable about The Weekender disappearing – even people who usually just lurk have status updates:(

“Shoot to kill” utterance irresponsible

This is a slightly longer version of a column published under the slightly odd title of “Protect us please”, in City Press on Sunday, 22 November 2009. It is a response to the death of a toddler at the hands of two policemen who shot the boy, who was sitting in a car with his paternal uncle, outside an aunt’s house because “he was carrying a pipe” which the police officers then “mistook for a gun”. This is one of a range of civilian deaths at the end of police officers since attempts by the Police Ministry to tighten legislation which governs when police officers may use deadly force. Ostensibly, this is to equip the police force to deal decisively with violent criminals, but it is open to abuse. Deputy Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, is the figure most closely associated with instuctions to “shoot to kill”.

I was not then, nor am I now, convinced that civilian deaths are unavoidable as Mbalula claims. I think the response from police heads has been completely unacceptable.

So here is the long version:

I cried when I saw the picture of a toddler killed by the police this week. I don’t know him or his parents, but I wondered what difference it makes to them whether their child was killed by criminals or police officers. This was a little boy who brought laughter to his parents’ faces even when they did not necessary want to laugh at his antics. Atlegang Aphane was a little boy whose father wanted to play many more games with in the future. His mother cradled him protectively as he kept her up at night. This is part of the experience of love; we had this effect on our parents and the children we love have it on us. As I pondered all of this, I wondered how long the police heads had taken to think about how it would feel if their little children were unsafe from the very people that were supposed to protect them.

No matter what he did, no three year old can look that menacing. There are conflicting stories about a parked car, a child sitting inside it with an uncle, the pipe that little Atlegang may or may not have had in his hand. But no matter what the little boy held in his hand, he must have looked like a little boy to the same eyes that were so attentive as to notice that he was holding something.

Is a three year old the face of violent crime?

I am sure that some police officers, like many other ordinary people, buy guns as toys for their children to play with. Little boys and girls all over the country should throw those toy guns away lest they may be mistaken for violent criminals. Being gun free will not render them safe. Atlegang did not have a gun when he was killed. Even if s/he has a real bomb in his hand, a three year old should not die at the hands of the police. There is no justification for what happened this week.

Newspapers say he did not have a pipe in his hand. But he is dead nonetheless. Somebody needs to take responsibility for this, and not just the two police officers on whose hands his blood is. It will not bring Atlegang back or heal his family’s pain, but it will be a world apart from the insensitivity of justifying a child’s death with talk of innocents caught in the cross-fire.
This child was not hit by a stray bullet between shooting grown men.

What kind of people are we that can accept such a thing as the trivialisation of human life as normal?

A friend of mine remarked this week that she was no longer sure whom to fear more: criminals or the police. She and I have had countless conversations about crime over the years. We have not always agreed on its causes and whether the government is doing enough to address is. She was frequently infuriated by what she called Mbeki’s side-stepping of the issue, as was I. Now the media reports that Zuma speaks about how ‘our’ crime is different from that experienced in other countries, and I honestly don’t know what this means. I suppose that if our crime is more violent, then our police officers should also be more violent and less cautious. But how are we as ordinary people supposed to know the difference in the absence of consideration for the fact that all lives matter, especially those of us who are not shooting at the police?

Yes, I know that there are many outstanding men and women in the police force, many of whom have lost their lives to violent criminals. I doubt that they feel recognised in the glossing over the unnecessary death of unarmed children and adults.

The yearning for more reliable and visible policing is one of the few calls that unite South Africans across the political landscape. When we hope for safety we imagine that we can tell those we can trust apart from those we dare not.

A few weeks ago, in this paper, Mathata Tsedu wrote movingly to Shadi Rapitso’s parents about the horror of losing a child and to a senseless violent act. We cannot accept that the unnecessary loss of life is unavoidable. Giving hope to people who live in this country cannot mean that we have to first fear the police when we think about our own and our families’ safety.

Jansen legitimises trivialisation of poor Black people

This is the longer version of my column in this past weekend (01 November 2009) in the City Press:

I have been as intrigued by Jonathan Jansen’s inaugural lecture as the thirteenth Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS) as I have been by some of the responses. Time may have shifted somewhat, but the Jansen saga is a reminder of various things we would do well to reflect on. Jansen lyrical references to the conflicted pasts of both the Free State province and the University itself did little to mask the real meat at the heart of Jansen’s talk: his decision on “the Reitz matter”. Although he claimed his interest in “closing the book on Reitz” and “reconciliation, forgiveness and social justice”, the University of the Free State’s first black rector legitimated the ongoing trivialization of working class black people’s lives. The ANCYL is wrong to expect us to claim him just because he is black and pretend no insult has been uttered. The workers who were victimized by the students the new UFS rector wishes to protect are also black. Who claims them?

Unlike Jansen, I am not surprised that the Reitz “atrocity could have been committed on the grounds of an institution of higher learning”. This is the easiest part of the entire Reitz video saga, unless we deliberately choose to ignore both history and the ongoing state of South African academia. It is the academy that first popularised notions of racial and other supremacy through scientific racism. Higher education continues to be shaped by this legacy in ways too numerous to list here, but on which much academic literature exists. Jansen knows this well. His claimed ignorance is a mere rhetorical strategy and not a very convincing one at that.

Having recognised that the racist performance captured on tape was enabled by institutional power, rather than individual deviant peculiarities, Jansen proceeds to re-enact it. First he treats the entire matter as though it is about sets of two arbitrary individuals set up against each other: errant young white men versus violated black workers who can be quickly compensated so that they may forgive. It is noteworthy that Jansen spends barely any ink on these workers. The bulk of his narrative is dedicated to those who matter: the young men whose futures are at risk, who need to be re-intergrated into the university community in order to acquire further institutional power. In order to mask this evaluation, Jansen is silent on the place of justice, responsibility and recognition. Not for these young UFS hooligans, the expulsion metted out to many other students who act in ways universities do not like, even if the latter’s transgressions are victimless. In Jansen’s book, the futures of the expelled UFS students are much more important than the lives of the students financially excluded from his and many other institutions of higher learning.

Jansen evokes that terrible convenient Christian narrative we had to all deal with during the fraught TRC to invite us to share his complicity. But Jansen takes it a step further, and unlike the TRC the violated are not even required to forgive, or speak at all. The workers who were publicly humiliated will be compensated in unnamed ways; they are not even important enough to consult. Legality stands between Jansen and the acknowledgement of their humanity. The workers are simply required to forgive these young men for their behaviour, and stop being difficult, like the rest of us. They need to just pretend that their humiliation is over and stop being a nuisance. This is one of the inheritances of the TRC: this terrible obligation of black forgiveness. Along with it, we are invited to turn a blind eye to the very many ways in which violence against poor black people is endemic at UFS and the country. Like many others with institutional power, the new UFS rector has chosen the side of power.

Jansen has felt himself pressed to frequent Reitz, but there is no mention of how hard he tried to connect to the man and women who suffered such indignities. After all, along with the burden of obligatory forgiveness, black people are ever-ready to take the money and run. Biko was wrong when he said that all black people’s feelings matter. According to Jansen, white supremacists need not take responsibility for their action, no matter how obviously rightwing. In Jansen they have a brilliant ally.

As for the proposed “Reitz Institute for Studies in Race, Reconcilliation and Social Justice”, I think it calls for a rare moment of action by South African academia: its complete boycott. I know that you could not pay this particular Black woman academic enough money to go anywhere near it.