(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.
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.
Every Friday Jozi explodes in yellow and green. I have it on good authority that the whole country is in the grip of deep FIFA World Cup fever – not just Jozi. A friend updated her facebook status from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape by pointing out that she could not get away from the national flags and soccer jerseys.
Some schools have started asking parents to please ensure that the children are dropped off wearing Bafana Bafana soccer jerseys on Friday mornings. My baby wore his yesterday, and will wear another one next Friday. Another friend’s son was fined R10 at his school because his green and yellow is a Brazilian shirt, not Bafana Bafana. All of this excitement is to show a country well behind our national squad as the soccer tournament grows nearer and nearer.
My family loves soccer, so I have no qualms about the soccer and Bafana are closer to my heart than I’d like to admit. Otherwise, how do I explain the anxiety I feel for days before each match they play whether they are on a winning or losing streak?
I have never seen so many flags in the streets in my entire life. There are SA flags on people’s cars, rear view mirrors, outside people’s houses, on people’s hats and caps. The only flag on my car is a rainbow sticker, and I am not likely to have the national flag waving from my car windows anytime soon. It’s not that I am immune to the fever that has gripped the country I call home.
Far from it.
I am as likely to get swept up in the feeling of the moment as the next person. I was a nut during the Africa Cup. But I am just a little frightened of nationalism so the flags overwhelm me somewhat. At the same time, I remember being less bothered by nationalism and being unapologetically patriotic at other times: when I lived in Germany for a short while, I was extremely South African. In 1994 and 2004, I did not apologise for loving SA and being Southern African. Before 1994, I called myself a patriot sans fear of contradiction.
I know that I will probably buy one of those Bafana Bafana flags for my car before I take my seat at the opening match and my resistance to the shirts is lowering all the time. Everytime I enter a Woolies or Pick and Pay, the green and yellow beckon louder and louder. All I need now, I imagine, is the assurance that the soccer flags and shirts are not made in China but locally, and I’ll exchange more of my cash for the goods. Eish.
Of course, there are larger problems with the FIFA World Cup, and whether all the hyped up benefits will stand the test of time. But I honestly am not thinking about that as I marvel at how popular the national flag is, and how for the most part people actually have the red part on top.
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:
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
This is the original copy sent for my City Press column for Sunday, 07 March 2010. It is longer than the published version and is my formulation (not the edited, slightly altered version published on p__ of the paper, and available for perusal *here*)
I have a vested interest in the controversy over Minister Lulu Xingwana and the Innovative Women exhibition curated by Bongi Bengu last August. I have written on Zanele Muholi’s photographs before, and find Nandipha Mntambo’s work so thought-provoking that as I wrote the catalogue essay for the exhibition, I vowed to spend more time writing on her. I have also written on Bongi Bengu, the curator and an artist in the show. I have no intention of stopping.
These artists present us with a vision that does not allow us to sit comfortably with our prejudices. Even those of us who admire their work are provoked, challenged, amused, and forced to grow. The issues of conflict, death, erasure that they explore are not easy to digest. Their work also is about love, joy, discovery and breathtaking beauty. Creative artists, whether they use film, photographs, visual strategies, or writing, do not exist merely for our entertainment, although this is often the condescending view that artists exist for our distraction.
But when did South Africans forget that art is political? That the apartheid state persecuted, exiled and killed artists precisely because it recognised how powerful creative mediums are in shifting thinking? Muholi, Mntambo and the other Black women artists at Constitution Hill last August presented us with courageous invitations to look at the textures of gender in contemporary Southern Africa. Muholi and Mntambo are two of the most exciting and talented artists working today anywhere in the world. You don’t have to take my word for this. Google them and see what others, who know more about art than I do, have said as they bestowed prestigious awards to these women for their staggering talent.
One of the wisest women in recent history, the Afro-Caribbean poet, Audre Lorde once said “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive”. Black women are told every day in this country about which ways are appropriate for us to love, dress, speak, think and generally live our lives. Many times the self-appointed custodians of African culture pretend it is a static entity that they have exclusive copyright over. African women may be the majority group in this country, but, yes, the word culture is used against us every day by patriarchal men and women who know how effective it is as a tool. Nandipha Mntambo’s work shows some of the ways in which different societies use extensive symbolism – cows, hide, mythology – to do this complicated work of reminding women of our place. These are other people’s fantasies about women, not mine, not Mntambo’s as her visual language shows. Here, she agrees with Lorde and decides to move far beyond responding and resisting to create another vision of Black women’s imagination and lives.
Black lesbians are told every single day that they may not exist in South Africa. They are killed, raped, mocked, expelled and otherwise violated. We all know this because Black lesbians would not let us continue in our ignorance. At the same time, pictures of Black lesbians are very popular for pornographic reasons – for the gratification of men and straight women who refuse to see and live with real lesbians in the world. Zanele Muholi’s work is the answer to this ugly world of useful Black lesbians in fantasy. She asks us questions like “what do you see when you look at me?” and “what do you choose not to”? In her images, the loving Black women are there for themselves – visible, daring, complicated – and not for our gratification or distraction.
Muholi, Mntambo and the other artists in this exhibition are a gift we should treasure: genius, pained and beautiful. To call it pornography and immoral is an act of violent disregard for their talent, their imagination and their humanity.
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.
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For more information:
Communications, Women’s Worlds 2011
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:
Communications, Mondes des Femmes 2011
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.
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Para obtener más información:
Comunicación, Mundos de Mujeres 2011
Women’s Worlds 2011