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Welcoming batterer Chris Brown condones GBV

Between the 15th and the 20th of December 2012, many South African music lovers will flock to see Chris Brown, the R&B star and the man who assaulted pop superstar Rihanna in 2009. Rihanna was also his girlfriend at the time. Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few years, you know a few vivid details about that assault. You may have seen pictures of Rihanna’s bruised face, read about blood in her mouth as he continued to beat, strangle and threaten her while driving. Both pictures and details of the charge sheet made their rounds through mainstream media outlets and went viral on social media. For a quick summary, you can read this. Or you can just google the whole ugly saga.

Since then, we have also been subjected to constant suggestions that Rihanna may have taken Chris Brown back as boyfriend/lover/friend after forgiving him. She has recently been on Oprah and there was widely circulated news that even her father feels warmth and sympathy for Brown. We have even been told of how Brown grew up in a violent home himself and, therefore, that his own violence is explained by this past. After all, violated children also sometimes turn into violent people, right?

This means that Brown’s South African fans are supporting him with full knowledge of his record. Indeed, many who are quite vocal about their support of the call to end gender based violence in South Africa will buy tickets to his concerts as part of the general partying that characterises the “festive season”. It will not matter that they have previously expressed concern that the international annual campaign of 16 Days of No Violence Against Women and Children should really be 365 days. South Africans are not renowned for a healthy sense of irony. Nor do we hold violent men accountable. We simply like to march against violence against women, but we are generally loathe to intervene and condemn it when it actually happens. We don’t really like to denounce men who beat and/or rape women. We do often judge and badmouth abused women. So much commentary has focused on what Rihanna and her family feel or do not feel. If I had a rand for every time I heard “but women are their worst enemies in such cases”, I would be a rich woman.

Feminists, gender activists and people opposed to violence elsewhere in the world have not found this such a complicated issue. In Guyana, several women’s rights activists made it very clear that Brown was not welcome in Georgetown to perform on the 26th of December 2012. The Code Red for Gender Justice website outlined that although there was disagreement over the Guyanese government’s decision to welcome Brown to Guyana in order to boost tourism to the Caribbean country, those critical of Brown’s tour and the Guyanese government’s insensitivity did not mince their words. It quoted Guyanese feminist columnist, Stella Ramsaroop saying that the “decision to bring Chris Brown to entertain Guyana is a slap in the face to every single victim of domestic violence in the country”. Sukree Boodram of the Caribbean American Domestic Violence Awareness (CADVA) said “as the grim situation on domestic violence has become a staple part of Guyana’s everyday life and landscape, I believe that having a known abuser perform, gives credit to him and sends an unspoken message that it is okay to beat up on your wife or girlfriend and still stay popular and famous”.

Vidyaratha Kisson wrote a much publicised letter in which he suggested what what he saw as more useful options to the Brown tour. His solution is similar to that proposed by Nicole Cole from the Guyanese Women and Gender Equality Commission here.

I am not convinced that there is a good way in which a woman beater can be supported. We simply cannot have it both ways: claim we want to end violence against women at the same time that we swoon over men who violate women. We should make Chris Brown unwelcome in South Africa if we are serious about ending the siege under which women live. I share Sukree Boodram’s stance, where she says “The fact that we are allowing a publicly known abuser to enter our country is blatant disregard and disrespect to our people and the cause we claim to want to eradicate. That cause is domestic violence. What kind of signal does this send? It says that ‘bringing wealth into Guyana’ is more important than the safety of the nation’s women. It says that talking out of both sides of your mouth concerning violence against women is justified so long as everyone can dance.” (emphasis added)

And, although there have been suggestions that Brown and his team did not cancel the Guyanese concert because of the outrage from women’s rights activists, there is no convincing alternative explanation. South African feminists would do well to emulate our Caribbean feminist counterparts in telling Chris Brown that he is not welcome here. If we succeed in keeping him from performing, or even cut his trip short, it does not matter who gets the credit.

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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!

Taxi driver strike over BRT

Joburg freeways experienced bottlenecks yesterday because of striking taxi drivers. This was the mildest inconvenience caused by the strike. Commuters who usually rely on minibus taxis were left stranded, terrified or both. Why terrified? See the post “Taxi Drivers terrorise commuters” later this week.

No matter where you went yesterday, you could feel the effects of the taxi strike. But that is the whole point of strike action: to force the hand of the targetted/most affected to give in to the demands of the workers. This all makes sense, and things sure were slower yesterday. At my one of my local supermarket, the queues were much longer than usual, with notices all over the shop apologising to customers about the quality of the service on offer (“due to taxi strike action, we are unable to provide our usual excellent service”).

The people for whom this was much more than an inconvenience are those who rely on one or more taxis to get to work every day of the working week. For these people, the limited alternatives (buses, trains, walking) had to do. But if these commuters found these forms of transport satisfactory in the first place, they would not be taking expensinve minibus taxis.

This seems is an argument for the BRT to be fast tracked. The government has a responsibility to provide public transport that is affordable, convenient and reliable to its citizens and residents of the country. This is far from the case currently. As much as the government has done in the last 15 years, efficient public transport (as service delivery)would considerably increase how much money people have in their pockets at the end of the month. The government knows this.

Nobody pays more to get around than people who rely on taxis for travel. The transport used most frequently, and by the largest numbers of poor, working class and newly employed people effectively keeps them poor. Someone who lives in Yeoville/Kensington/Bez Valley but works in Sandton has to first take a taxi to Alex, and then another to Sandton. This costs approximately R25 one way. You do the maths. This young person then cannot buy her or his first car and flat anytime soon. It is a strange spiral that prevents young professionals in debt (students loans also take a huge cut of this group’s salaries).

Now imagine that someone else has to travel farther, in addition to the relatively newly minted graduate workerbee whose image I had in mind in the above scenario. Now imagine the cut from the salaries of another worker: the woman who cleans your office or the man who fixes things in your office building. Given how appallingly these people are already paid, why should they have to use the bulk of their salaries on getting to work? (When you think about the state of our public schools and hospitals you want to cry because these workers then waste money on travel that could afford them better healthcare and schooling for their families).

A middle class person’s petrol costs for a month are less than half of what the travel costs of the people I mention above, even if that middle class person drives a petrol guzzler. So the less money you make, the more you pay for transport. This is injustice, and the government has every right and obligation to turn this around.

As annoying as the digging up of roads and re-routing in the city are, I can’t wait until I don’t have to drive to get around in the first place. I am looking forward to being on that fast bus that is more convenient than the car I drive. All of us riding on the bus also means a smaller carbon footprint for the children some of us insist on having;) and enjoying. It means more time to read the paper, to have that extra cup of coffee, to listen to the voices of other people, to have a conversation while looking at your partner/friend/child’s face.

I can’t wait!

At the same time, I do feel sorry for the taxi drivers. But only for about 5 mins. It’s sad to think that the oldest Black business sector could be decimated sometime soon. It’s also sad to see that government’s approach to the taxi industry leaves much to be desired. What was the point of the disastrous taxi recapitalisation scheme if taxis are now supposed to step up and intergrate themselves – without proper discussion, consultation or co-ordination – into the new BRT and other public transport? Many of the cars forced down the throats of taxi drivers are really crap – the worst Chinese imports available which fall apart at the first opportunity, cannot really be fixed because there aren’t enough affordable, available parts, require different mechanics from the ones the taxi industry has been keeping in employment for decades, etc. I have always thought that the taxi recapitalisation programme was daylight robbery. It did not just take the rickety minibuses off the road. It affected most taxi drivers the same way – even if they had fairly okay taxis still.

Against this backdrop, then, you can’t blame the taxi industry for not taking government at their word. This is especially if the taxi associations have really not been briefed on exactly how they will be intergrated, how this shareholding deal will work, etc, etc. No matter what you think of taxi drivers, when you hear taxi association from different cities saying the same thing on different radio and tv stations, you have to wonder about what is really going on.

And, for those of us who are not entirely convinced about the increasingly pro-free market directions of government policies, the fate of taxi drivers – and all residents in the country – are the responsibility of the government.

As expensive as taxi fares are, taxi drivers would have a lot of support if they did not terrorise the very people they depend on. That’s why my sympathy lasts for five minutes. But more on that on Friday.