Category Archives: Black radio

Filmmakers Against Racism (FAR)

It has been said more than once that we’re a nation that loves to sweep our drama under the carpet once we’ve gone through the fanfare and discussed it on as many media platforms as we have at our disposal. Previously, scholars like Mahmood Mamdani noted this in relation to the TRC. And so too, it has been with the xenophobic attacks we witnessed earlier this year. Like many people, I was horrified, saddened and angry in different turns. I recognised that it was important for South African residents of all kinds to scream that the violators did not speak for us, so we marched, opined, petitioned and volunteered. And now we have moved on.

But the camps remain in our midst and re-integrating displaced African migrants remains a challenge. Pretending that we can just move on to other matters does not guarantee us that there will be no further outbursts of negrophobic xenophobic violence because we don’t even have an explanation for how we got here.

Although I have read copious amounts, listened to various pronouncements, and attempted to make sense of this myself, I remain considerably underwhelmed by the ‘poverty and lack of service delivery’ argument. This remains so even as I agree with Elinor Sisulu that impoverishment is a denial of human rights and an affront to human dignity.

What strikes me is the large scale failure of the imagination when we use insufficient service delivery and poverty as ready explanations for everything that plagues us, from HIV/AIDS, to gender based violence and crime. It is not simply that we are making poor and marginal people the problem. The degradation of impoverishment amidst excess is only part of the explanation. I don’t know what the other part is, but pretending that class analysis is the be all and end all is not going to help us avoid further instances of violence. And so I remain a firm believer in asking exploring thorny questions, which is why watching the eight films by Filmmakers Against Racism (FAR) currently being shown at the Tri Continental Film Festival was so refreshing and difficult at the same time.

Together these films, put together by some of the country’s leading independent filmmakers, offered the most insightful perspective and critique on xenophobia we have seen since May. These filmmakers rallied around after a Mozambican film-maker cut all collegial and friendship ties with South Africans through an email. One of the recipients of this email, Xoliswa Sithole, replied by calling on fellow South Africa-based filmmakers, many of whom were included in the original email, to act in more ways than they had already, using their own resources and networks. One of the results of this rallying together can be seen in the films currently on show at the Film Festival.

In very different films, I watched how the victims of xenophobic attacks are humanised so that we see their lives affected by many of the same things we face daily as people all over the planet. They cease to be ‘faceless foreign nationals’. The brutalisation from the violence seeped into all the spaces in their lives: affecting how they love, go to school, form and lose friendships, think about safety, assert themselves as business people, animal lovers and musicians. But we also see the ugly ways in which South African are implicated in their violations as we witness government officials, politicians and ordinary citizens justify the xenophobia, refuse to offer assistance and treating ‘foreign nationals’ as difficult children who will not step in line. Watching civil servants whose salaries we pay for through our taxes, and politicians that we voted into power repeat their refusal to listen to what people in refugee camps say about what they need was sobering. They do this in our name, with or without our permission often in full view of cameras. It also makes us questions what happens to make neighbour turn against neighbour and partner against his beloved? What makes the familiar safe to violate in this way?

Watching these films made me wish that the public broadcaster would act in our interest and play these films into our homes in the same way that the repeat and recycle US American nonsense several times a week. These films should be part of the national conversation. They provoke us to think about other systems that enable xenophobia in our country everyday. Because they are works of the imagination, they are suggestive and not preachy. Stories have moved human beings to reflection, action and inspiration since time immemorial. Watching them, I thought about various ugly racist and xenophobic activities we are implicated in, even if we are not poor. The cellular phone adverts that recycle colonial stereotype to cast dark skinned Africans as brutal idiots were approved by various executives and aired on national television, and only pulled off when some clients would not keep quiet about the insult. The investment bank companies that make fun of African city names rely on a similar logic as the adverts. Then there are the middle class professionals who joke about ‘the Zim dollar’, code for Zimbabwean domestic workers as cunning criminals, and the many in academia who speak of ‘continental thought’, ‘continental philosophy’ meaning that which comes from the European continent, while boasting of their ignorance of African scholarship. Without an ounce of irony, these were among the people who volunteered, marched, opined and blamed the poor. As Nomboniso Gasa noted in May, not everybody needs to throw a match at a ‘foreigner’; some can effect similar harm from their air conditioned offices.

I still don’t have the answers, but for once, we need to stop making poor people the problem, even as we hold our government accountable for failing to improve people’s lives more consistently.


Feminists on MetroFM’s Melting pot

On Tuesday evening, a rare thing happened on South African radio, especially considering that it is woman’s month (August) in SA. I tuned into Metro FM, a nationwide Black radio station, and the studio guests were three feminists, and what dazzling feminsts they were: City Pulse magazine editor, recovering academic, writer, Gail Smith; Commision on Gender Equality chairperson, activist, photographer, writer, Nomboniso Gasa; and StreetNet International co-ordinator, unionist, widely published socialist, Pat Horn.

The show was hosted by Sakina Kamwendo, who did not always ask the most insightful questions and did giggle here and there. Overall, though, she was not too bad on this topic if you consider that she used words like “lesbianism” and asked “is feminism still relevant” or something to that effect.

Horn reminded the audience that there were various feminisms. She stressed that feminism enables us to deal with issues and systems which are hard to contest as individuals; as a feminist collective, we are able to make inroads. I don’t really think the value of this was completely explored in the discussion, but radio always has time limits. Kamwendo wanted to know the uses of feminism, and I suppose if we have to think in such instrumentalist ways, this was one of them.

Smith and Gasa were their usual brilliant selves. Gasa spoke about how women’s labour and contributions to society are taken for granted, and dealt with the ways in which ‘culture’ is often used as a way to silence women. It is interesting, Gasa, reminded us, that although self-appointed cultural custodians are very eager to use ‘culture’ against us, especially on the African continent, there are as many liberatory practices as there are oppressive one. This is important both for those misgogynist cultural custodians and for the anti-African critics who often argue that African culture is more oppressive, more backward, etc than other cultures. Yes, mostly such discussion speaks of culture as though it is singular, static and fully-knowable. Gasa used the conflicting examples relevant to the presence of wife abuse. One relates to the pressure for women to persevere in marriage (kuyanyamezelwa emendweni). The other relates to the ability of a married woman’s family to claim her back when she is abused or unhappy in marriage (ukutheleka). Now these two appear at odds, but they are from the same cultural sphere. The former is often evoked as though the second does not exit, and conveniently too. Gasa has this incredibly ability to cite very knowingly from very diverse worlds. I value her work, mind and presence for this and deeply envy her that head on her shoulders.

Smith spoke about the intersections between sexuality, feminist expression, and violence in SA. She argued that feminism is demonised in the media and other sites of ideas. Sometimes this is done through the ascription of lesbian status to all feminists as a way to scare young women, who may be complicit with homophobic institutions. The lesson here is that women who prioritise women, care for women politically, erotically, psychically, etc are threatening. In this schema, it is important for women to be repeatedly taught not to prioritise other women, but to compete with them for men, who are seen as the ultimate reward. At the same time, men need not rethink how they give expression to violent masculinity.

Smith insists that as feminists we have much to be angry about as response to dismissive comments by two callers, Alfie and Eddie who ranted and raved about angry women isolating men with talk of feminism and did not quite get what the show was about. Their attempts to put this particular feminst in her place backfired considerably as both Smith and Gasa reasserted the need for vigilance. Smith asked, “Why is an angry woman so deligitimated in this society? I have good reason to be angry. What is wrong with anger?”, having just spoken about the need to embrace and support creative, subversive masculinities. Subversive to patriarchy and enforced heterosexuality, that is. An anonymous gay man had asked a question about solidarity with feminists. Smith had underscored the need to constantly refashion masculinity and embrace masculinities that are not “life threatening to women” forcing us to be “hypervigilant to violence … which has material effects on our lives”. I am sure looking forward to her column in this Sunday’s City Press main body.

There were other questions and comments from callers. Percy, Lindiwe and Lucas were quite interesting, rasing various ways in which it is in our interest to question dominant masculinities and docile femininities always. They talked about specific sites of oppresion, ways to counter these, and the importance of coalitions among progressive (‘the anti-establishment’ types to use Percy’s formulation).

This was a highlight for me because August is so exhausting for those of us who are feminists in South Africa. Not only are we in ‘fashion’ suddenly, and therefore expected to agree to speak at all manner of stupid glitzy functions, but we are also bombarded as women, generally, with invitations to the most patriarchal nonsense throughout. I wish for more intelligent feminist voices on television, newspaper pages, radio and everywhere this August and every month of the year.