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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.

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So what if Julius Malema’s flash about his cash?

Maybe I am just not as smart as I used to be, but there is something that does not quite sit right with me about the whole media saga on Julius Malema and how he makes his money. The newspapers have been awash with speculation that the president of the ANC Youth League, who is overly fond of refering to himself in the first person plural (we), may or may not be benefitting from unethical practices by one or more of his businesses. The argument, roughly, is that he is a director/owner of various businesses which have benefitted from tenders from government. This is then used to make the additional point that these untoward business deals support his apparently lavish lifestyle.

Let us first get the disclaimers, or as Sibongile Ndashe would say ‘the passwords’, out of the way. I am no fan of the ANCYL president by any stretch of the imagination, but I do not think he is stupid. Far from it, I think he is incredibly canny, witty and deliberately funny. You don’t get to be as powerful and incredibly popular as Julius is by accident. And make no mistake about it, he is incredibly – and somewhat frighteningly – popular with a whole range of people. I find the ongoing jokes about his real or fabricated matric results distasteful.  At the same time, I think that Malema can be a bit of a loose canon – which is not always a bad thing in life, mind you. I was enraged by his very thinly veiled threats as he announced that he’d kill for Zuma. I was outraged and offended when he made the hateful misognynist comments about Khwezi. And I would not vote for him because I do not knowingly vote for misogynists. In other words, most of the time he annoys me endlessly. That is a very nice way of saying I find him unbearable most of the time.

But.

Yes, but.

I do not understand the specific tenor of the media obsession href=”http://www.mg.co.za/article/2010-02-21-malemas-lifestyle-sponsored-by-govt-tenders”>with how he makes his money. Firstly, I am not entirely sure that this is news, apart from the general way in which the culture of conspicuous consumption, flash living, and  corruption are newsworthy – sort of.  At best, if all that is claimed about Malema’s finances is true, what does it tell us about our society or political elite that we did not already know? The media has never shied away from illustrating the connections between political power and business connections in the awarding of tenders and other irregularities. Corruption does always need to be exposed – but what does ongoing exposure of what we (think we) already know achieve?

It confirms our suspicions over and over again, makes us angrier and then maybe prods us to act differently in response to the shoddy work of those we elect to power.

1. If Malema is guilty of doing something illegal – whatever corruption or other guise it takes – he needs to be brought to book. He needs to be investigated, arrested and convicted (in an ideal world, all three together).  But I am fascinated by how most media reports are less interested in establishing and/or claiming that there is criminality than in focusing on his body and questioning his gumption in being flash about his cash. In South Africa, are you kidding me? In the world in 2010?

2. If Malema is lying about having resigned from the various Directorships, then I would really like to know what he is hiding. It does not make sense for what he is hiding to be what we already know. That would not be very effective hiding, now, would it? And remember, I don’t think he is stupid. On the one hand, there may be something much more sinister here than ‘just’ corruption in usual guise. On the other hand, he did not technically need to lie to cover up the generalised corruption the papers claim they have found. Given that he is not a public state official – but an elected party official. Technically, he can own as many businesses as he likes and do as much business with government, receive as much cash funded by our tax rands as he likes and not owe us an explanation, unless there is something untoward and illegal happening. Unless ‘we’ elected him to the ANCYL presidency, which I did not. The fact that he seems to have lied about these resignations worries me a lot more than the possibility that he is getting tenders and money through political connections. Newspaper reports and arguments by Redi Direko who interviewed Malema on her show on 702 this morning point out that Malema is still listed as Director of several businesses he claims no connection with. She also pointed to some other illegality since he arrived for the interview with her in the same license-plate free white Range Rover he arrived at Wits in last week. As Direko pointed to the irresponsibility and illegality of driving/riding in the car, Malema remarked that he had not noticed and would talk to the driver about rectifying this. Does he really expect anyone to believe this? Then, there is the bizzare gameplaying or scapegoating that he engaged in rather than answering another journalist’s questions.

This all makes me wonder much more about what is really going on here. I wish the media were doing a better job of actually providing some news on this front, rather than telling us how he flashes his cash at the same time that even respectable media outlets celebrate others who flash their cash. Part of this hypocrisy on bling culture and celebrity culture is that old fashioned business is founded on the same unethical and unscrupulous acquisition of money through barely legal ways.

As for Malema, I wait with bated breath for the REAL story to break, and will continue to scan the repetitive ‘news’ for something new.

Global feminist conference launches ‘Call for participation’

MEDIA ADVISORY

Global feminist conference launches ‘Call for participation’

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
18 January 2010, Ottawa

A ‘Call for Participation’ was launched today for Women’s Worlds 2011, a global feminist conference being held in Ottawa-Gatineau in July of 2011.

Acknowledging that important insights come from academia, community, and everywhere in between, organizers have deliberately dubbed this a ‘Call for Participation’. Proposals from individuals, groups, coalitions, networks, and teams will be accepted until September 15, 2010. Potential presenters are being invited to submit proposals under the main congress theme, “Inclusions, exclusions, and seclusions: Living in a globalized world”.

Since its first congress in 1981, Women’s Worlds has grown from a modest academic gathering to a distinguished international and interdisciplinary event. The 30th anniversary of Women’s Worlds in 2011 will potentially be the largest gathering of its kind in Canadian history.

Bringing together academics, advocates, researchers, policy-makers, workers, activists, and artists of all ages from around the world, the 2011 congress will be an occasion for equality advocates from around the globe to discuss globalization as it relates to women. Organizers also consider it an opportunity to strengthen connections while collaborating on approaches to advancing women’s rights, women’s empowerment, and gender equality.

Proposals are invited in French, Spanish, or English via the online form at the Women’s Worlds 2011 website.

– 30 –

For more information:
Pam Kapoor
Communications, Women’s Worlds 2011
(001) 613.853.8089
media@womensworlds.ca

*************

AVIS AUX MÉDIAS

Lancement de l’Appel à participation d’un congrès féministe international

POUR DIFFUSION IMMÉDIATE
Le 18 janvier 2010, Ottawa

Mondes des Femmes 2011, un congrès féministe d’envergure internationale qui se tiendra à Ottawa-Gatineau en juillet 2011, lance aujourd’hui son Appel à participation.

Les organisatrices de Mondes des Femmes ont délibérément choisi de généraliser leur ” Appel à participation ” parce que, de l’université aux groupes communautaires, tous les milieux ont des perspectives importantes à proposer. Individues, groupes, coalitions, réseaux et équipes de travail peuvent soumettre leurs propositions d’ici au 15 septembre 2010. Les présentatrices sont invitées à s’inspirer du grand thème du congrès, ” Inclusions, exclusions et réclusions: Vivre dans un monde globalisé “.

De modeste rencontre universitaire lors de son premier congrès en 1981, Mondes des Femmes est devenu un prestigieux événement interdisciplinaire. Son 30e anniversaire en 2011 pourrait s’avérer le plus grand rassemblement du genre de l’histoire du Canada.

Rassemblant universitaires, militantes, chercheures, décisionnaires politiques, travailleuses, activistes et artistes de tous âges et de partout sur la planète, MF 2011 fournira aux militantes pour l’égalité du monde entier l’occasion d’explorer les enjeux femmes et mondialisation. Les organisatrices y voient également un lieu de renforcement des liens et de collaboration sur des approches visant l’avancement des droits des femmes, leur autonomisation et l’égalité entre les sexes.

Les présentatrices sont invitées à soumettre leurs propositions en français, en espagnol ou en anglais au moyen du formulaire Web qui se trouve sur le site de Mondes des Femmes 2011.

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Pour plus d’information:
Pam Kapoor
Communications, Mondes des Femmes 2011
(001) 613.853.8089
media@womensworlds.ca

*************

AVISO A LOS MEDIOS DE COMUNICACIÓN

Conferencia feminista global publica ‘Convocatoria abierta’

PARA PUBLICACIÓN INMEDIATA
18 de enero de 2010, Ottawa

Hoy se publicó la ‘Convocatoria abierta’ para participar en Mundos de Mujeres 2011, una conferencia feminista global que se llevará a cabo en Ottawa, Gatineau en julio de 2011.

Al reconocer que las contribuciones de la academia, de las comunidades y de cualquier forma de acción intermedia son igualmente importantes, l@s organizador@s han decidido dirigir esta “Convocatoria abierta”, a ponentes individuales, grupos, coaliciones, redes y equipos para que envíen sus propuestas de participación antes del 15 de septiembre de 2010. Se espera que l@s interesad@s en participar propongan presentaciones en torno al tema del congreso: “Inclusiones, exclusiones, y reclusiones: vivir en un mundo globalizado”.

Mundos de Mujeres, cuyo primer encuentro tuvo lugar en 1981, ha pasado de ser un pequeño encuentro académico, a ser un prestigioso acontecimiento interdisciplinario e internacional. En 2011, el 30o aniversario de Mundos de Mujeres será, con toda seguridad, el encuentro más importante en su tipo en la historia de Canadá.

Como punto de encuentro de académic@s, activistas, investigador@s, legislador@s, trabajador@s y artistas de todas las edades y de alrededor del mundo, el congreso de 2011 será la ocasión ideal para que defensor@s de la equidad de todo el mundo discutan las maneras en que la globalización afecta a las mujeres. L@s organizador@s también lo consideran una oportunidad para fortalecer contactos y colaborar en la construcción de enfoques que contribuyan a la equidad de género, al empoderamiento y al
progreso de los derechos de las mujeres.

Se invita a l@s ponentes potenciales a enviar sus propuestas de participación en español, francés, o en inglés, a través del formulario disponible en línea en el sitio web de Mundos de Mujeres.

– 30 –

Para obtener más información:
Pam Kapoor
Comunicación, Mundos de Mujeres 2011
(001) 613.853.8089
media@womensworlds.ca


Natalie McMullen
Research Assistant
Women’s Worlds 2011

http://www.womensworlds.ca

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.

“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.