Sunday, December 8, 2013

There Is No Day Today

I wrote this the morning after Madiba died Dec 6 on my facebook wall. I am reposting it here because I don't want to  forget this moment. Memory is a weird thing.... 

Sad sad day indeed... i don't have radio or tv and a very fickle internet. I was in the car early this morning when I heard the news.... and I turned around...I went and bought flowers and brought them up to Naval Hill (the city's highest point; a Nelson Mandela statute is there)....that was all I knew to do... others did the same....we simple minds also tend to think alike.... great human beings ...and morally sound souls who give their health, their youth, their lives for their convictions such as Nelson Mandela do not come along that often e.g. Gandhi and Dr. King (and Rosa Luxemburg I may add); therefore, I think, these days in history and human memory when they leave us need to be recognized as such….markers of humility - and gratefulness and a realization…that we probably 'did not deserve them,' but that they stayed on anyway .. it’s ok to be sad, to be still, not to work; it’s also ok to continue to be optimistic – and to continue to hope that we (as the global collective community) can become a better people. because we must.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"You get?" or "Let me explain why….."

When I arrived here in early May, I remember vividly during the first weeks someone asking me 1st) for which department I would work here and then 2) – after I had mentioned Reconciliation Studies, why I had decided “to leave my field” (International Relations/Political Science).

I answered: I did not.

But he insisted I did since I was working on sexual violence, but my background was Political Science.

 And I said: And that is exactly the point. Let me explain why.”

And the following is a more elaborated and polished version of “the why:”

For me the rape and politics nexus is critical: South Africa is suffering from a rape epidemic. According to most recent data, in South Africa, a woman is raped every 7 seconds or one of three South African women can expect to be raped in her lifetime. The Human Rights Watch group called South Africa already years ago “the World’s Rape Capital.” Nurses in local clinics suggest for young teenage adults to “receive contraceptive injections as soon as they began menstruating – given the extremely high likelihood that they would be repeatedly raped during their teenage years.”
Rape most recently in 21st century South Africa has taken on an increasingly socially destructive and disturbing character, starting with the endemic baby rapes and corrective lesbian rapes in the early/mid 2000s and in 2012 and 2013 with the emergence of grandmother rapes. These new patterns are only furthering and expanding the normative parameters of rape in South Africa. And they become test-cases, reflecting “anxieties about the ‘moral fitness’ of the new democracy.”

My concern and overarching objective are to examine rape beyond “a social matter,” a private issue; beyond “a domestic” notion. I am concerned about very fundamental questions: What “sits at the heart” of the rape crisis in this country? What “does it do” – to the country – its people, women, the country’s political viability? What does the persistent insecurity surrounding women in their domestic and public spaces mean? What are the consequences? What are the “cost” attached to this constant insecurity? For the country and society as a whole? Why does it matter? – And: Does it?

I do not focus on the socio-economic or cultural vector concerning rape  – but suggest a repositioning; a political lens.

This project understands the oppressive political institutions during Apartheid (utilizing rape as an extension of political oppression) as creating a substructure for the normative conceptualization of rape. In the past 20 years, however, in current post-Apartheid South Africa a political narrative of rape has increasingly surfaced and expanded (advanced) this normative concept (rape as a norm).  A new gendered and political ‘othering’ ( the feminine – the ‘other’) has emerged – constructed by various actors and agents/agencies within the state.

The political narrative of rape then is how the “story” of rape has been and is being “told/” politically “engineered “and/or shaped by various actors and agents/agencies within the state; how within the past and current political discourses and political spaces (Apartheid and post-Apartheid) it has been constructed, and/or manipulated and utilized as a mechanism of oppression – and a new political ‘othering.’ 

 “You get?” as my friend Jennifer would say ….;-)

For Many Reasons

Most recently I wonder a lot about the many layers of life. And about this constant dilemma of who is 'qualified' to write about it. About whom. And about what. And how..... ? Whose misfortune legitimizes one more in the hierarchies of pain.  what licenses a human being to be human. And who or what sets the rules for all of it - and thus constructs a warped/false/imposed legitimacy? .... How to  strike ‘the right’ - balance between words and silence; between doing and letting go. in this space in my head where everything has always found itself set in parentheses, quotation marks - hyphenated [diffused by smiley faces …. ;-) ] because everything is grey; flawed; inconsistent; contested; insufficient; in a fog so inescapably thick.  And maybe it’s just because I have lately come down with a mysterious case of “the homesickness.”---- ;-) ---- The absence of the familiar. The daily evidence of fragile layers of life all around me.

 And maybe it’s not a matter of giving up, but a constant self-corrective measure - long overdue; the acknowledgment of the only consistency: my consisted interim position; not the final giving-in, but the constant process of reshuffling the many layers of hell: about the accident of my birth - to a factory-worker in a small Bavarian village instead of to a mine worker in an informal squatter camp outside of Johannesburg; The tragedy of my skin colour. The unfortunate wealth associated – real or imaginary – with the origin of my various 'citizenships.'

 What licenses a writer to write, to speak, to bear witness to the tragic microcosms of our many failures. To the moral bleeding. To call out the right not to be raped. Or as Alison Des Forges put it, human rights as the "right not to be murdered." A plea so incomprehensibly simple for some, so tragically real for others. The right not to be seduced by the selective complicity of the truth; not to be manipulated by the orgies of power; not to be bullied into complacency. When to remain in the queue with the sandbags – and when to step aside, to lower the eyes, to fall silent, to let the river rage. The answer will come.

P.S. Along those lines, this is an interesting blog entry:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Trailing the Illusion of Luck

I forgot about the concept of rain. Precipitation. Fog. Early morning dew that invades and persists like a conscience. The moisture on the window, the segregation, the distortion it creates and comfortable shield and relief it provides - between me inside, looking out, into the cold, into a rapidly fleeting early morning darkness, vanishing city lights, wandering human silhouettes. I wipe dry, draw faces, words – to see. As if it would matter. But it returns, tiny water specks, micro clusters, moist indecipherable streaks, a soothing glaze. Relentless. Persistent. Stubborn. Like a revolution.
A fluster of voices cuts through the 4 a.m. laziness of an early Friday morning journey. We broke down, a woman shrieks downstairs. Then a stalled engine re-throttles, a seemingly last effort to pump a vigorous new life into this colossal body of metal and aging mechanics. The hulk schleps forward just to collapse at once, to stop again with one lingering last gasp.
Plans, schedules, destinations - people’s tiny worlds halted in their tracks, yet the colourful sea of blankets too paralyzed and numb from sleep and the cold to mind. Then:  Madiba can’t die, my neighbour says.  
Nothing you can do about it, said the taxi driver who picked me up 1:15 a.m. earlier outside the gate. Huh! You know we are the minority. And they are so many. Who knows. Nobody knows.   
Nelson Mandela is dying. And I am afraid of the cold.
The monstrous hulk of a bus reconsiders with new gasps of strength. It rattles north along N 1 like a reminder of human fragility yet resilience, to go on, no matter what. Trailing the illusion of luck. Passing abandoned sand stone buildings, herds of cows, leafless trees, the bare earth, deserted windmills. Waterholes and the early political wrangling over its ownership - early battles over tribal political power. Remnants from a haunting past.  Where it all began. Or: It’s all just in my head.  
The morning darkness fades. The sun glints and teases. Then in the distance the shadows of skyscrapers and factory smokestacks. Johannesburg. Egoli. The Place of Gold. The mines. Where it all went wrong. Where young black men fled to – solicited, forced -  human suffering institutionalized or a well-engineered (land-rich, labor-poor) economic machinery-of-no-escape. The male abandonment of the South African villages. Black migrant workers, cheap labour, utilized to fuel white South African wealth – to prolong  the political survival of an un-survivable political ideology. A social impossibility. A political experiment. A human tragedy. An elaborated migrant labour system, which fragmented African family structure, the absence of fathers and brothers, and husbands returning to the villages with steel helmets full of bills - to leave again for the faraway cities of gold and diamonds. We always voted ANC, but now we have lost all hope, my neighbor says.  My daughter studies in England. I don’t think she should come back.
A new, elaborate global migrant labor system. Or: It’s all just in my head.
On the horizon, charcoaled fields in flames, a yellow haze in the air, controlled burning, sulfur-wrapped clouds, aggravating the blue. The merciless uniformity of cinder block homes and metal shacks, proud with satellite dishes as if they would make everything good again. Men congregating around burning oil barrels, rubbing their bare hands to create warmth, shifting their body weights in the cold, waiting for a lift, for work, for someone to take them somewhere. To continue the pattern  of the unlucky and the betrayed. Products of a political legacy. Then a political continuation. Poverty masked, re-instituted. Hope squandered.
I am not a beggar or thief, says a young slender boy at the bustling railway station in Pretoria, black, straight, stubborn hair, a teenager’s body stiff from a night’s cold, from life on the streets. “We do not do things as you do them,” said Ngqika, the Xhosa chief to the British governor Lord Charles of the Cape colony in 1817. I still wipe dry, draw faces, words – to see. Because it must matter. I step into the sun. Nelson Mandela is dying. And I am afraid of the cold.

The Discovery of Common Sense

Simplicity. Real reality. 
Or The Discovery of Common Sense.
My daily navigating involves three key questions:
1    1.  Is it safe (or does this get me raped, killed/or will inflict bodily or mentally irreversible harm)?
2    2.  Does it benefit only a selective few?  
3    3.  Will it embarrass my family? 
If the answers to these questions are: No, Yes and Yes - then “I do not do ‘that’ thing”…. ;-)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Layers of Doubt

There is this stunning beauty. This vastness. Tall, towering proud red mountains, heaving into the blue. Obscure rock formations awash in an early morning glow. Valleys, natural vacuums, a trap in hiding for the unbridled winds. Its stubborn presence unravelling. Walls of orange dust. 

Welcome to QwaQwa, the Reverend said with a raspy voice. I sense suspect: Alcohol. But then: I might just be paranoid. He shows Thobeka her “apartment.” Cracked windows. Grey from years of despair. Two mattresses, stacked, stained, soiled; the smell of fresh paint; a dirty mop in a dirty bathroom sink; dried paint chips sand dust remnants from abandoned efforts. What did you expect, he laughs. Like a knife.  
Qwaqwa, outside of Lesotho, was one of the first homelands, also called Bantu reserves (later short: Bantustans) created by the white Apartheid government to move/forcefully relocate black South Africans from the cities to less desirable land. These homelands – dumping grounds – were created under the notorious 1950s Group Areas Act, which would eventually force about three and a half million people – or more than 10 percent of South Africa’s population – to move. This socially most devastating design of Apartheid turned South African blacks into second-class citizens - foreigners in the country of their birth; commuting for hours and having to carry passports to enter and leave metropolitan areas to work. These homelands were usually very resource-poor and its agricultural economy often rapidly collapsing. Despite of its vastly growing population, the reserves’ actual territorial size remained small – by design. As one key Apartheid politician argued: “The reserves had to be kept small to force enough Africans (black South Africans) to work on the (white) farms and mines.” 
Welcome to QwaQwa, the Reverend said. A black Mercedes Benz parks next to his white Toyota. A broad tall man exits and slips into the Toyota’s passenger seat. I sense suspect: he despises my firm handshake. White men. White women. Black men. Black women. Xhosa. Basotho. A hierarchy from hell. But then: I might just be paranoid. We follow his Toyota. Paved roads. Dirt roads. Women wrapped in blankets; labouring up the red hills; cheap jackets; makeshift layers against the nagging cold; an unforgiving wind; merciless circumstances; the sun, lurking behind darkening clouds. a harbinger; a foreboding of the coming agony.  Thobeka, sitting in the back, says “Yo.”  A lot. Like a shield. Tires ploughing through red earth; manoeuvring across potholes; remnants from abandoned hopes. along soaring mountains. The “Yo” from the back slices through the silence. The apartment. Cabinets stained. And stove. Table floor. cluttered with dirt and paint stains. You can bake a nice cake here, the Reverend laughs. Like a death sentence. I will not sleep here. No security. There is security. No security. A moral plea into a hollow human void. He is doing this to me because I am black. But he is black, too. He is doing this to me because I am a black woman. He would never offer such a pigsty to a white person, she said. I can feel her eyes boiling behind her dark glasses. Her skin tightening, turning grey from years of weariness.
You need to come back with me to Bloemfontein.
The white government initially “rationalized” Apartheid as a framework to “avoid social friction.” In reality it was a tool to provide cheap black labour for the white economy – to extract and exploit, relentlessly. Black South Africans – in particular women - took up illegal residences in the cities like Cape Town, Pretoria or Johannesburg, to economically survive. Apartheid turned people into criminals – for violating the pass laws, awaiting “deportation to the reserves” or punishment in form of fines and/or imprisonment.” The blurring lines between violence and political activism, despair and humanity. In between: layers of doubt.

Welcome to QwaQwa, the Reverend said. He called to make sure we were on our way back. Leaving Thobeka behind. A text read later that night: Sabina, I hope you arrived safely. I am alone in the guest house. I just finished making notes about today. Love. Thobeka.
I sense suspect I know: White men. White women. Black men. Black women. Xhosa. Basotho. A hierarchy from hell. There is this stunning beauty. This vastness. Tall, towering proud red mountains. Walls of orange dust. Haunting.

Conversations with Thobeka

Cream or foam?
Well, Sabina, this is the million dollar question
Well, he should just take a chill pill
What just happened
Did the devil just pass
I cannot believe this
And now it’s the wind that we know
Do you write everything down?