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The Traditional Courts Bill is a Bantustan Bill

(Originally published as “Respect our rights”, in City Press as a column, 6 May 2012)

 

The Traditional Courts Bill is meant to replace the Black Administration Act of 1927 with a law that is constitutional.

Instead, if passed, it will in effect strip between 17 million and 21 million people living in rural South Africa of many of the rights we enjoy in the rest of the country.

About 59% of these people are women, who, along with other members of their communities, will cease to be citizens and exist only as subjects.

As is stands, the bill creates a separate legal system for rural folk, geographically recreating the old Bantustans with no irony on the eve of the centenary of the 1913 Land Act.

Let me first dispense with the two main problems with the consultation process. The bill results from consultations between the state and traditional leader structures.

It patently ignores input by the Rural Women’s Movement based on consultation with hundreds of rural women pointing to the multitude of ways in which existing tribal hearings deliberately disenfranchise them.

Most rural folk were deliberately kept in the dark about the drafting process.

In the past few weeks, many rural communities expressed outrage when confronted with the bill for the first time.

Once again, the culturalist argument is being made for resisting this bill.

Those who oppose it are hostile to cultural African legal and dispute mechanisms, and we are reprimanded.
Yes, this bill partly recognises what is already operational in many of these spaces.

This includes royal patriarchs who explicitly endorse the kidnapping of girls into marriage – ukuthwala – as Chief Mandla Mandela does, to those who silently endorse it, such as Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana.

Many rural communities organise against repressive patriarchal practices, resisting forced unpaid labour, refusing to pay tribal levies, and in countless ways refusing to be docile subjects of chiefs who are given absolute power by this bill.

Legal researcher Dr Simiso Mnisi reminds us that ordinary rural Africans shape and reshape custom, culture and practice all the time. She calls this living custom.

Living custom enables culture and custom to continue to work in the interest of those who own it.

Academic Mamphela Ramphele has also challenged the false opposition often held up in conservative culturalist arguments between “foreign” legal systems at work in the rest of the country and “indigenous” legal systems that will be protected in the proposed bill.

She points out that our specific legal framework is home-grown.

We created our Constitution and legal framework. We did not import it from anywhere else. This is why it is the most progressive Constitution in the world and is globally recognised as such.

The creation of this document was achieved with the full knowledge of the brutality that laws can enable.

If there is any competition or doubt, it arises from various systems emerging from the same space that laws are meant to regulate.

The bill will bestow the final say on the chief presiding over a dispute.

It is a backlash against innovative applications and manifestations of culture by the majority of communities that are refusing to be held hostage.

Progressive chiefs do not need the bill in its current form to enshrine the chieftaincy of state-recognised royalty, elected leaders or other leaders who may contest the legitimacy of the ruling indunas and chiefs.

It takes power away from most rural folk and enshrines a feudal order that has no support.

I grew up in a part of the country that suddenly became a homeland at the end of one school year. Homelands benefit only those in power and their cronies.

In a democracy, all of us should have the same rights. Those who are rushing this homeland bill through require our complicity, our averted gaze.

But we can stop this bill from going through by ending the secrecy, publicly challenging it and holding our government accountable. We need to remember that the state works for all of us, not just the urban folk.

 

Simphiwe Dana’s Sunday Times piece on not taking African languages seriously

Although I have written about this topic in the papers before, several years ago in the Mail and Guardian, this post is motivated by Simphiwe Dana’s courageous opinion editorial in this past weekend’s Sunday Times. There are a few aspects of Ms Dana’s argument that I disagree quite strongly with, but I do share many of the concerns that she articulates. The gist of her argument (in case something happens to the link above, as sometimes happens), as I understand it, is as follows:

a) In much of urban South Africa, outside of townships, looking for schools that teach Xhosa/Zulu/Sotho/Tswana/Swati/Tsonga/Venda/Pedi/Ndebele is a lesson in pain. She refers to experiencing this earlier when trying to get a school for her children in Cape Town. I am pretty sure she had similar hardship in Johannesburg.

b) The above is true because only Afrikaans and English, out of the official languages of the country, are taught in ways that take the languages seriously and in manners that encourage their use at first language level.

c) The status of a people’s language says a lot about the status of that people’s culture – to them, when they are in power – as well as to their (previous) oppressors.

d) Parents should not have to move or take their children to township schools in order to have language -which is their right legally – taken and taught seriously.

e) African languages carry more than the meanings in the words used to communicate. They carry a worldview and a series of abstract and concrete reference points that are present in various African languages. This is why Ms Dana cares less about which African language her children learn well than she does about them learning one (and the world it carries) well. This is an urgent task that we must take up or deal with the consequences of language neglect.

f) She suggests that Zulu be the official language that is taught at first language level in schools since it is widely spoken and relatively easy on the tongue.

g) We need to hold our current government responsible and accountable for the language mess in our schools even as we keep an eye to the historical context that brought us here.

h) Afrikaans is not an African language. It carries the arrogance of the Dutch colonisers and the apartheid establishment. Although the language was shaped through African location, its Afrikaner nationalist use ensured that it remained a language of wounding.

I am really glad that Dana wrote and submitted this article for publication because it raises several issues that I think need to be raised again and again until something changes. I know that the bulk of the responses will be defensive and vile because any questioning of Black marginalisation in this country elicits this kind of silencing. Mark my words, people will write back to her piece and claim that she has a chip on her shoulder, that she is playing the race card, that she doesn’t know what she is talking about. They’ll also write in and say she is out of touch with what is important in the world and the country, that most Black parents don’t mind the condescending third languages taught at Model C schools because they know their children need to speak English to make it in the world. How do I know? Because these are the stock responses that follow us everywhere. So, I applaud Dana because I think that we need to change the sorry state of education in SA, private schooling included. But I’d like to engage with the layers of her argument in more detail – agreeing and disagreeing with her, as I go along.

to a) I don’t think anybody can deny that what Dana describes is the state of language education in many SA schools post-apartheid. This is an insult of the highest order for the children who go through such schooling, regardless of which race they are. South African children should be able to speak various languages in their country – more than their parents can, even when their parents are polyglots. The school system should play a leading role in this. But it does not. This is a topic that has come up in various conversations with other parents in my own life. I was aghast, when my partner and I started looking at possible schools for our child, to learn that most schools we would have preferred – many with ‘progressive credentials’ – teach English and Afrikaans at first language level, and all other official languages at third language level until the end of primary school. I have various friends who did Xhosa third language at school. Many of them did so for twelve years. None of them can speak Xhosa beyond tentative understanding and elementary small talk. Learning a language at third year level does not teach you how to speak it no matter what your grades say. The fact that languages are taught at third language level at all is an insult.

to b) nothing more to add to this argument. This policy keeps all other SA languages marginal. It makes a joke of the eleven official languages policy/legislation since that is only true on paper. It also points to the inefficiency of our government on this point as well as – perhaps much more so – the irresponsibility of the parents who continue to leave this unchanged in the schools they pay fees to.

to c) yes. see my response to b) above. This current situation means that while these schools are located in a democracy, effectively, they operate as though they are in an apartheid state with two official languages.

to d) No, they should not. We should litigate, and in this respect follow Ntombenhle Nkosi’s example of taking a Durban High School to court, and who is quoted after her victory as having said “Parents must just not take it for granted that schools are going to do it for them, they won’t. Every parent must ensure that their language – be it isiXhosa, be it isiSwati, Zetswane, Sesotho Saleboa, Tshivenda, Tsonga – must be offered as the first language because the National Curriculum Statement states that every learner must choose the home language, not the home language of the school.” I will say nothing of the typos in the transcribed quotation, even though they, too, tell an interesting story about the disrespect of African languages.

e) I agree that this is always true of language. This is why even those of us who are polyglots often cannot translate a concept across unrelated language families. This is also why I have said over and over again that I would prefer to send my child to a school that teaches all SA languages on its books at first language. I am not overly concerned about whether the language is Tsonga or Zulu or Sotho. I am mortified that the only schools that do this in my area are schools whose other values are at odds with mine (mainly on consumerism). But I’d rather send my child to a bizzare school that takes his language and his right to language seriously (and deal with the consequences of helping him unlearn the capitalist values) than to one with “ostensibly” socialist, feminist and anti-racist politics but that tells him his language, ancestry and continent are expendable.

f) Here, I disagree on various technical points. First of all, I don’t see why our children should have to learn only one language when we speak several languages in this country and continent. Many of these Model C schools are capable of teaching SA children how to speak German and French alongside English and Afrikaans. I am sure with motivation, they can do the same with various official languages. The second technicality on which I disagree is on whether isiZulu is any easier than some other indigenous languages. I don’t think that there is such a thing as an easy language, where ease is similar for everybody. I think that what is easy for you is based on what you already know. So, no, I am not convinced that Zulu is easier than Tsonga. My third technicality is about adopting a language spoken by a larger group due to issues of possible future dominance – we will be saying something about Venda when we make Zulu more appropriately official. We do not matter because there are many of us. We matter because we are human beings.

g) Yes, let us do this as a matter of urgency. And not just our government either. Corporate SA needs to get with the programme too. In 2010, I am sick and tired of medicine inserts and packaging that comes in English and Afrikaans exclusively, as though it is 1990. This is where the power of coalitions and campaigns might be harnessed. A movement that says we matter and our languages matter is long overdue.

h) Afrikaans is an African language. Afrikaans comes from a range of languages and was formed as a creole in the mouths of slaves. The first texts written in Afrikaans were not written by people who were “Dutch” – the first Afrikaans texts were written in Arabic script because that was the script used by the first Muslims in the Cape, many of whom came as slaves from East African hinterland, East African islands, South Asia and South East Asia. This makes Afrikaans not Dutch any more than Caribbean creole languages are English or Swahili Arabic. At the same time, this once creole, once defiled by the Dutch, then became appropriated for Afrikaner nationalism in a manner that ensured that it could be used against the very people whose ancestors formed it and were punished for speaking it. Yes, someone who speaks Nederlands may understand parts of Afrikaans, and parts of Aukan (a Surinamese creole also formed by slaves using partly Dutch). However, Aukan is not Afrikaans is not Dutch, even if we do not dispute that they are related. At the same time, to say Afrikaans is African does not undo the fact that Afrikaans is also the language of wounding, misrecognition, displacement, oppression, apartheid. To honour part of our African ancestry we must remember the former because it was their mouths that crafted the creole and were punished for speaking it. To honour another part of our African ancestry, we must highlight the latter. For most Black South Africans growing up under apartheid, Afrikaans was the latter. For many Black South Africans (esp. some classified coloured), it was both. This is our thorny inheritance, and it all matters.

I hope we continue this conversation across all platforms. And, while I could have picked up the phone and had this conversation with Simphiwe in person, I chose not to. I think it is important to respond to what artists say in the public publicly – to honour the difficult task of making the important less privately. I am often very annoyed when people send me endless sms and emails disagreeing with me on something I deliberately wrote publicly, so that I have to engage them privately at the same time as engaging other responses publicly. It’s exhausting.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai united in gaybashing? (1)

Kubatana.net an online community for Zimbabwean activists have responded to the reports in The Herald that Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, President and Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, respectively, made anti-gay statements at a Women’s Day Rally with the theme Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All in Chitungwiza, near Harare. Below is Kubatana’s open letter to the MDC:

Web: www.kubatana.net
Blog: www.kubatanablogs.net/kubatana
Email: admin@kubatana.net

Open letter to the MDC

RE: Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s comments in The Herald, March 26, 2010

The Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe is very concerned with what we have read in the article entitled “President, PM speak on gays” in The Herald of March 26, 2010.

The article quotes Tsvangirai in these two paragraphs:

PM Tsvangirai concurred saying: “President mataura nyaya yemagay rights, yevamwe varume vanofemera munzeve dzevamwe varume. [“President you talked about gay rights, of men who breathe in the ears of other men.”]

“Bodo, apowo handibvumirane nazvo. Unogodirei kutsvaga mumwe murume yet vakadzi make up 52 percent (of the population)? Varume titori vashoma,” [“No, I do not agree with that. Why would you look for a man when women make up 52% of the population? We men are actually fewer,”] he said.

It is even more worrying that these remarks were made as part of International Women’s Day celebrations in Chitungwiza, where the theme was “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All.” The comments made by the Prime Minister speak more to “Equal Rights for Some” – not All.

Is The Herald article an accurate quotation of the remarks made by the Prime Minister’s in Chitungwiza?

If it is an accurate reflection of the Prime Minister’s response, and his personal views, what is the position of the MDC about homosexuality, gay rights and the protection of gay rights in the Constitution?

The Parliament of Uganda is currently debating the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, an extremely worrying and homophobic piece of legislation. This Bill draws strength from its assertion that homosexuality is “unafrican”. However, this assertion goes against the truth of history and culture, which finds instances of same-sex sexual relations between men and women across Africa, throughout time.

You can read the opinion of respected Ugandan human rights lawyer Sylvia Tamale, denouncing this bill, here:

• A Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill – http://www.faruganda.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=16%3Adrtamale-hits-the-hammer&catid=1%3Anews&Itemid=3
• Why anti-gay Bill should worry us – http://www.faruganda.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10%3Aopnion&catid=1%3Anews&Itemid=3

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe has been at the foreground of campaigning for gay rights, and have a wealth of literature available explaining the history of homosexuality in Africa. This history makes it clear that homosexuality is not a “Western import,” nor is it a response to demographic pressures in which one gender outnumbers the other.

The remarks attributed to the Prime Minister in The Herald suggest a simplistic, populist view of homosexuality. Is the Prime Minister seriously making an argument that because women out number men in Zimbabwe, men should not be in relationships with other men? If so, he is making an insulting, demeaning argument, which belittles the thousands of Zimbabwean men for whom homosexuality is their personal identity.

One’s sexuality is as integral a part of someone’s humanity as their race, gender, and religion. A Constitution that protects Zimbabweans against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is thus as essential as one that prevents discrimination on grounds such as race, gender, ethnicity, or religion.

When political leaders discriminate against one segment of the population in order to gain popularity with another, it encourages prejudice. This prejudice can easily fuel violence, hatred, and intolerance, which can divide the country. It is imperative that politicians use their public profile and status to promote tolerance, encourage diversity, and embrace all sectors of the population. To do otherwise is an egregious, offensive violation of the spirit of democracy, peace, human rights and ubuntu on which the Movement for Democratic Change is founded.

The Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe

Privacy, Zuma Presidency and Polygamy

I will admit right of the bat that I wish that when the president of the republic makes front page news almost weekly, it would be for more politically refreshing reasons. I have wished this about all presidents of a democratic South Africa, and while interesting news can also be infuriating news, I’d rather read about something Zuma did that involves more than his love and sex life. I am not so delusional that I expect a feminist president when none was really in the running (although I did vote nationally for the one person I do interpret as Pan-Africanist, feminist, humane, unbought, Patricia de Lille).

I do expect the President to demonstrate some modicum of respect for the ideals that the highest office (in the country I pay taxes in) stands for. I expect not to have my intelligence insulted every week by the president and his praise singers in the ANC Youth League. I expect to wake up to months of newspaper reading without powerful men in the SACP-ANC-COSATU alliance badgering us with opportunistic talk of ‘culture’ to do their dirty, dirty gender work. When the ANC was re-elected into power, all of us did not suddenly hand over the mantle of being African cultural spokespersons to these men. If most Africans of any ethnicity are women, why do these men deign to consider themselves sole custodians of a culture they plunder for personal gain? This is truly filthy business, even for politicians of the sort we are mostly saddled with.

I am exhausted by Zuma and his antics. I am embarassed by him even though I did not vote for him again (I voted for him when I put my X next to the ANC in my previous national ballot papers, but that was before the rape trial), held no high hopes for this presidency given all that had gone before, and even though I am no nationalist (I will choose ‘loyalty’/’allegiance’ to the continent’s people everytime over loyalty to the nation state). I am most exhabusted by news of Zuma’s sex life – I wish I could say leave the details out of the news because I’ve heard more than I would want to. It is stunning that he really seems to think that power comes with no responsibility. Let him get married to as many women as he likes – as long as they consent. Let him even have multiple sexual partners in and out of wedlock.

However, he is the President of the country and what he does in his private life can have relevance for all of us, for HIV/AIDS policy, for gender relations, for the rise of misogyny in varied guise. The personal is political, and privacy is a function of privilege, and Zuma has both some institutional and significant class priviedge as the man at the helm.

What the president does is a matter of national importance. The talk of his privacy is nonsense – he is not a private citizen. And if he wants to carry on like he is, so that we are all constantly invitated to think about his sex life, then he must deal with the consequences of seeming to embrace living recklessly while in the Presidency. He cannot have it both ways – speak about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, about gender equity (even if some of us know better than to trust him) and then choose a life that suggests the opposite.

We do have a right to require consistency in the President, whether we voted for him or not. We also do have a right to ask him to step down, again, whether we voted for him or not.

Media witch hunt on Semenya will lead to hate crimes

-Media Statement Gender DynamiX and the Saartjie Baartman Centre-
20 August 2009

This week South African media, in particular radio DJ’s and print media have been having a shameless orgy with the gender dispute of our gold medalist heroine competing in Berlin.

Last year we lost a South African sport star to a hate crime because she transgressed gender boundaries. Banyana soccer star Eudy Simelane was murdered in a township because she challenged expected gender stereotypes.

Is our media putting a South African hero’s life in danger on her return, gold medal in hand?

Instead of being proud of our champion the South African media and public is on a witch-hunt trying to define Semenya’s sex. DJ’s on radio are dissecting Semenya’s person to a point of reducing her accomplishments to her genitals.

Says Gender DynamiX Director:” In our work we are reminded of how (wo)men’s bodies are so easily ridiculed and made into a spectacle because of gender notions”. Gender DynamiX focuses its work in the field of transgender, transsexual and gender non-conforming people.

Civil society organisations, are fighting battles against homophobia and transphobia in South Africa. With their work the killing of black lesbians in acts called “curative rape” has come to light. Gender DynamiX maintains that these hate crimes are not only rooted in sexual orientation but also in gender identity.

Ilse Ahrends, Partnership coordinator at the Saartjie Baartman Centre in Cape Town asks ‘. Alas where was the media when National Banyana-Banyana soccer player, Eudy Simelane was murdered because of her sexual orientation?’

Gender non-conformity does not always equal gay or lesbian. It merely refers to a person physical appearance that does not conform to society’s expectations. In general people are outraged and confused by gender ambiguity.

As in the case of Caster Semenya, when confronted by people who challenge our perceptions of masculinity or femininity, we react with anger and fear. This is the daily reality for many South Africans.

Gender DynamiX board member Simone Heradien says: “We are appalled by public and media mechanisms that spur hate speech of this nature. We should not forget the part of radio in the genocide in Rwanda.”
-ends-

Contact: Robert Hamblin 083 226 4683. http://www.genderdynamix.org.za

2009 Elections: COPE banners rock

In a previous post, I was particularly tough on COPE for the absent posters so close to the elections. I have also been irritated with the change in the face of COPE, again, so close to the elections. But those posts are there for you to read (and re-read?) another time.

I still think the Dandalas might be a liability to COPE, but would be very happy to be proved wrong. This past weekend one of the papers carried allegations that Hlomla Dandala, the highly talented, popular and gorgeous actor son of the COPE presidential candidate, Mvume Dandala, had been involved in an altercation with some LRC (previously SRC for you oldies) member on a university campus. All I have to say on the matter is that Dandala junior sure does generate a lot of bad press – pre and post COPE associations. So, he is consistent in getting weekend press coverage for alleged dodgy behaviour.

I have completely changed my mind about COPE visibility, at least in Jozi. The Congress of the People may have taken an eternity to appear, and then surfaced with lame Dandala and Lekota posters on street poles. They may also have produced unnecessarily messy confusion with two faces on the COPE election posters.

And I don’t want to even think about why the Manifesto on the website only appears in Xhosa and English, or why a party as slick as COPE does not have a copy-editor so that we don’t have to read a “summerised manifesto” instead of a summarised one on their website. And I won’t say any more about the strange punctuation of dates. (Yes, I am pedantic about these things as well as paranoid about even the appearance ethnic nationalism.)

But now the Congress of the People have taken over entire low flying bridges and metres of space on the freeway (M1) as well as a brilliantly located three-sided advert just before you cross over the Mandela Bridge from Braamfontein into Newtown. This is some coup because the latecomers are suddenly very visible in the city. I don’t know whether this is true outside of Johannesburg since I saw very few eThekwini naseMgungundlovu (in Durban and Pmburg) when I was there a month ago.

Since my last KZN trip predated the huge COPE banners popping up all over Jozi, other cities could also be in the changed environment. Those driven to comment on this posting, please say something about the COPE posters in your city or part of the country, in addition to whatever else you want to say.

In the city of Gold, there is a huge banner along the Parktown (St Andrew’s) exit on the M1 south, which is also visible when you get onto the M1 north from the Empire/Jan Smuts onramp; another equally big one just before the Grayston off-ramp again on the M1 north. But the best one I have seen covers three sides of a building in Braamfontein. It’s just before the Nelson Mandela bridge on the Braamfontein/Wits side of the bridge. From some angle it looks like it is ON the actual bridge.

So, what’s so cool about the specific COPE ad, and the other ones around the city? First, I like that they are on the freeway because, like the UDM ones that were first to grace the M1 freeway in Jozi, you can’t miss them and they say something about the parties advertised as fast paced, on the go parties, like Jozi itself. The UDM billboards are where ads for products usually are, so they are well placed to draw the drivers’ and passengers’ attention without being reckless and driving into the car in front of you.

COPE has that bright yellow that you can’t miss even from the corner of the eye, and even at night, which helps it stand out when placed on a grey concrete slab. The COPE colours grab you, and the minimalist writing is also quite succesful because you can read the message almost instantly. When you start getting bored with the yellow, the bright blue and/or bright red are sure to get you. The simplicity is both striking and very effective. Thankfully, no politicians’ faces on these ones, so they can be used again, if COPE hang around as a party of the SA political scene. This earns COPE a few stars for enviromental savvy.

They get a few extra stars for Lyndall Shope-Mafole as the Gautend premier candidate as well. The former, Director General at the Dept of Communications, was elected onto the ANC NEC early last year, post-Polokwane, so she clearly had the favour of the new leadership of the ANC. Yet, off she went to join the new kid on the block. A mystery?

Next, COPE get five stars for location, intertextuality, and wit. I am re-tempted to vote for them because I am very entertained. Regular readers know I want to be entertained during electioneering. In a good way too. COPE are making me feel a lot more hopeful that they are all they were cracked out to be at the November convention. Then, they offered the possibility of newness, imaginative platforms and politicking.

They have my attention now because I work near the Nelson Mandela bridge; my office is in Braamfontein. I drive on the M1 to and from work most days of the week. So, just like I have been seeing Holomisa’s face on that banner for months, now I see COPE everywhere. This can be both a good and bad thing.

On the one hand, such location is an advantage because you begin to read and visually ingest these billboards and banners even when you’re not thinking about them. Advertisers know about this sort of thing, which is exactly why they use billboards. Or atleast part of the decision. So, the visuals become part of your natural thinking and life environment, holding your attention even when you don’t realise it, I imagine. Does this mean people can end up feeling it’s quite ‘natural’ to vote for a party they have started to think about as part of their everyday life? Is that a serious stretch? It might be. But maybe not.

On the other hand, the placing may be a handicap because we could grow so accustonmed to seeing these banners and billboards that they fade into the background of our lives. That may also mean we forget about them if they are up too early. They really become like all the other billboards up on the freeway. I can’t really tell you, off the top of my head, what else is up on my route right now. Except for the Dark and Lovely ad with Sonia Mbele/Sedibe, which is on a building face opposite COPE’s ad. That is quite strange, but maybe there are no other billboards and banners on my way to work anymore. Maybe the Zuma posters on every streetpole and lightpole on the freeway (with the Indian cricket and the Lyric Theatre ads in between) have me so overwhelmed that I can’t see anything else. Or, more likely, the regular billboards have faded into the background.

I don’t know what the research says about this, so this is just speculation off the cuff.

Back to the election visibility of COPE. The above is all well and good, but because I live in my head somewhat – both an occupational hazard and one of the reasons some of us are drawn to certain occupations (it certainly is not the renumeration that attracts you to academia) – I have been thinking about the third, huge COPE advert that I see often as I go about my way. Wit draws attention, that’s for sure.

The Braamfontein/Nelson Mandela COPE ad is the best placed strategically. First, the building is visible from Braamfontein, from the CBD and from various interconnecting freeways into/and out of the city. Location is key in terms of maximising impact. Then there is the fact that it is placed next to (and from some angle it seems as though it is ON) the Nelson Mandela bridge. The bridge connects the academic (Wits)/activist (NGO filled Braamfontein Centre) part of Jozi with Newtown, Jozi’s cultural precinct in more ways than geographical. The COPE ad and bridge also hover above the Jozi CBD, again in more than physical ways. There is a confluence of meanings to be read just from where the metaphoric meets the physical.

But placing it on Nelson Mandela bridge is no accident, I am pretty sure. COPE is premised on its links with the liberation movement: in the name choices attempted, the party name settled on, the oft-cited liberation struggle credentials of the leadership (except Linda Odendaal, but that is another blog posting that may never happen), the fact that the website spells out the full name unlike other parties that rely on acronyms, the rampant patriotism and appropriating the colours of the flag for the logo, endless references to defending democracy and the constitution and so on.

What are the odds that the physical link with Mandela is accidental?

Now, when you speak about the poster you really have to literally link Mandela’s name with COPE, even though Mandela is an ANC member. This happens in your language. But it also happens at the level of association.

Can you get better credentials in the public imagination than saying your name next to Nelson Mandela (Bridge)? Or resting on Mandela (Bridge)? I think not.

There are other unsavory associations to be gleaned from the location of the COPE-claimed building, of course. The building (and therefore the advert) is not really on Nelson Mandela bridge, it’s actually on its right. On Mandela’s right? The Black DA?

These unfortunate readings are only suggested when you look at the bridge from up close, as you approach the bridge. But by then it is already too late because the gigantic letters spelling HOPE have got you. And we sure need hope in this country, even when we disagree on which party to turn to for that.

But,
a) since I am still an undecided voter;
b) COPE is not paying me to electioneer, and my days of canvassing for the ANC are in the past; and,
b) I am not an intellectual for sale,

I will be thinking about another party to vote for tomorrow, and there will be a blog on that too.

What fun electioneering offers!