Reflections on what I do at the CSA&G – Vuyisa Mamanzi

By Vuyisa Mamanzi

My background

Vuyisa MamanziI grew up in Gugulethu, a township located just outside Cape Town. I obtained my undergraduate and postgraduate education at the University of the Western Cape. I completed my honours degree in Anthropology and my research project looked at unemployment and its impact on being a ‘real man’: A study investigating coping strategies utilized by men living in Gugulethu. In 2015, I worked as a research assistant at the School of Public Health/Management Studies at the University of Cape Town, part-time. My work involved transcription, data analysis and conducting in-depth interviews on a project that focused on “Childbearing, family planning and the relationships among women living with HIV in Gugulethu”. I am completing my master’s degree, through UWC; and the research is an ethnographic study on power relations between black employers and black employees in the Nyanga mini-bus taxi industry.

I joined the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G) team in January 2018 as a project manager and researcher. My responsibilities included organising and overseeing the day to day logistics of the Just Leaders project. The project is a CSA&G volunteer and leadership development programme. It endeavours to build a movement of active citizen student leaders that promote social justice, critical consciousness and inclusive practices at the University of Pretoria. Our work on this project is greatly influenced by the ideology of the Brazilian educator and writer Paulo Freire, who states that “for liberation you need education that inspires you to think critically, education that frees the mind instead of numbing it”. One of the achievements that I am most proud of currently, is leading a team of three researchers in developing the Just Leaders curriculum for our 9-week entry-level course. The course looks at a range of topics such as structural violence, stigma, sexual and reproductive health and rights, social justice, access to quality education, activism and social movements, democracy and political citizenship, and leadership for change. The course is aimed at registered UP students and it has been well received. An amazing aspect of the Just Leaders programme is that it provides our student volunteers with skills and an opportunity to be drivers and agents for change. Upon invitation, we also conduct and facilitate race, sexualities and gender awareness talks/workshops on and off campus.

What I enjoy about our awareness raising and prevention work, is our pedagogical approach. Our work takes on a more intersectional approach to dynamics such as sexualities, race, class and gender which inform student experiences. The Just Leaders theory of change states:

“Through promoting social justice, critical consciousness and inclusive practices, we will co-create university environments that are responsive and transformed by just leaders.

Just Leaders

Whether facilitating dialogues, workshops or giving a presentation for lecturers and students, our focus is situating knowledge from the students’ lived experiences by developing communities of practice where learning is contextual and meaningful. We create conducive environments for learning by removing power hierarchies and employing teachers as learners and learners as teachers philosophy.  What we see happening when this philosophy is applied is that students question! We enter into conversations, where we begin to question our own privilege, power and positionality. We start confronting the uncomfortable truths about ourselves. An exploration of ‘contradiction’ takes place because we are all living in a space of contradiction. I am reminded of a lecturer, who, after one of our sessions shared that: students have the ability to intellectually grasp theories and articulate them well but struggle to practice what they learn in their daily interactions.

We also often hear these issues from students:

  • There’s a lack of understanding about our backgrounds and history.
  • In class, there is a fear of saying the ‘wrong’ thing to each other.
  • I grew up as a black person in the suburbs and thought racism was over.
  • “I’m ghetto and a cheese girl” (blackness as a layered and multifaceted phenomenon, it also includes questions of class)
  • “I’m white and I don’t feel I have privilege, I don’t quite get it, as I’m from a poor family”
  • “Black peers positioned as angry and attacking”
  • “Being around white people, I have had to sacrifice/compromise”
  • “Was bizarre to see racism at UP when I came (as white person) from a multi-racial school”

What these utterances shed light on, is the reality that we do not always get practice right. There are pitfalls, habits and places where we go to, when we are in fear; directing us, silencing us, or making us loud. Work that challenges taken for granted knowledge that has been naturalised over time through socialisation is challenging. Often time, some people are comfortable with the status quo. Our work greatly involves getting people to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and this is not always easy. For example, work around race, class, gender, sexualities is difficult. Often, when you have any form of privilege you want to hold on to it and fear of losing that privilege often makes people defensive and not open to challenging beliefs that may be harmful to others.

One of the most challenging subjects that I have had to discuss and deal with is sexual and gender-based violence. As a woman and particularly working at an institution of higher learning, it has become evident that those who are mostly at risk of gendered and sexual violence, are young women and specifically students.

In South Africa gender-based violence (GBV) has overwhelmed the country and the Post-School Education and Training System (PSET). Amidst protest action in 2016 on our campuses, institutions stressed the need for the PSET to actively address GBV on campuses (DHET, 2019). As a result, policy and programming became a vital course of action. The University of Pretoria (UP) recently reviewed and developed its Anti-Discrimination Policy, an all-encompassing policy that tackles issues around all forms of discrimination.

In alignment with above mentioned, my work at the CSA&G, also involves being part of a team that facilitates anti-sexual harassment training workshops for both students and staff members, to familiarise the campus community with the anti- sexual harassment policy, as well as to raise awareness and prevention around sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). This includes working closely with the Transformation Office, tasked with driving anti-discrimination work at UP, and the #SpeakOut Office. The latter is staffed by trained and mentored student volunteers who have been capacitated to listen, support, provide relevant information as requested, and refer accordingly. Peer support allows for an informal space to unpack an experience, where one will be listened to and supported, enabling a student to make an informed decision. Rape and sexual assault may require urgent and immediate intervention and volunteers are trained to refer all students to the relevant support services at UP.

Studies have shown that a large proportion of abuse and violence that students experience is perpetrated outside the institution’s premises, often time by intimate partners, family members, friends, neighbours, acquaintances and those unknown to the complainant (Vetten, 2014). Bearing this in mind, even though cases of this nature fall beyond the jurisdiction of institutions, this does not stop us from providing information, guidance, assistance and support to students who have experienced SGBV. Given the nature our work, providing student friendly services (including HIV testing and counselling), and our visibility and the rapport we have established with students; more often than not students prefer to access our offices for information, assistance and support with regards to SGBV that may have occurred on or off campus. This proximity to students has enabled me to have first-hand knowledge of the lived experiences of students and their struggles in accessing justice through the criminal justice system.

The South African government is increasingly passing legislation to combat GBV as seen in the establishment of the police’s Family Violence Child Protection and Sexual Offences service (FCS), the Thuthuzela Care Centres based in health facilities, and the reintroduction of sexual offences courts. In spite of these progressive policies, we continue to experience a drastic increase of SGBV. These causes include socio-cultural drivers, a weak response by the criminal justice system and lack of proper implementation of these policies. This has fuelled distrust and disappointment in the criminal justice system; therefore, discouraging reporting and further silencing survivors of SGBV. This was evident while supporting students who had fallen victim to SGBV and chose to seek justice through the criminal justice system. Two separate incidents were reported at different police stations but the outcome was the same. Our criminal justice system failed these students and justice was denied. Both students expressed feelings of disappointment, frustration and discouragement.

I observed:

  1. The failure of the investigation officer to follow up and contact the complainant after statements were taken.
  2. Re-traumatisation as a result of having to give a second statement because a new detective was now assigned to the case.
  3. The incorrect recording of the initial statement and inappropriate behaviour by a warrant officer who was tasked with taking down a statement.

I understand and share some of frustration experienced by the students. I witnessed the inappropriate conduct of a warrant officer when I accompanied someone when she gave a statement about her GBV experience. The warrant officer who was taking down the statement alluded to the complainant’s attractiveness as a possible reason for her experience; and used inappropriate sexual language to describe the actions of the accused. Hearing I was an isiXhosa speaker, the warrant officer also spoke to me in isiXhosa, effectively excluding the complainant from our conversation. Not only was this disrespectful to her, I saw it as an attempt to set up an intimacy between us. This played out in two ways: the warrant officer effectively asked me out on a date and, in a subsequent text message, suggested that, between us, the complainant’s story seemed improbable.

The above narrative is not an isolated incident but an experience shared by many survivors who have tried to seek justice through the South African criminal justice system. Ross (1993) correctly identified that even though police investigators receive instructions to be ‘sympathetic’, they still hold onto myths surrounding rape, such as, women are prone to lay false complaints of rape. This is evident in the manner in which police handle women who lodge complaints. Often time, women are treated with suspicion and find themselves having to prove that they have been raped.

Myths and stereotypes about rape and rape victims worsen the plight of victims of sexual offences. They trivialise the harm of sexual victimisation and blame victims for its occurrence. The consequences of these ideas may be unsympathetic, disbelieving and inappropriate responses to victims by society in general.  Our work at the CSA&G pays particular attention to the social context of violence and the ways in which this violence manifests within patterns of gender, sexism and individual institutions. In addressing GBV we look at the complex interplay of different genders, sexualities and forms of masculinities. And we focus on dismantling harmful behaviours and promoting understanding of social justice and GBV that is transformative for the world we live in (Crewe, 2017).

Another project that I had the pleasure of working on is the Gender Justice project, which focuses on strengthening gender equality and social justice. Here we provide a platform for our partners in the region (Zimbabwe and South Africa); to critically and collectively reflect on the challenges in their practice and engage with new forms of evidence and trends. The aim is to develop new avenues and means through which our partners are able to work toward the attainment of more open and inclusive societies. Often time in the work we do, people with disabilities (PWD’s) and children are silenced and invisible. This became evident when some of our partners reflected on their challenges in working with PWD’s. Some of the identified challenges included difficulty in communicating with people who had speech impairments, and information that was not accessible to people who are visually impaired. It was also highlighted that PWD’s face social exclusion and they are also invisible at the family level. In our continued efforts to strengthen practice and maximise impact in working towards achieving social justice, once again it became evident that children were the most vulnerable. In relation to the SGBV cases presented during discussion by the different partners, all the survivors/victims were children. Hamida Ismail-Mauto, who works for SRHR Africa Trust (SAT) Zimbabwe, highlighted that gender inequalities at population level contribute towards extreme vulnerability of women and young girls with disabilities as they suffer rape and sexual disempowerment, mostly by family and community members who are supposed to protect them.

What has become evident in my line of work is that many of us walk and live in spaces of risk, but others disproportionally bear most of the burden of risk. We are also reminded that we all collude with patriarchy. So, in working towards dismantling any system; we need to have the will to be compassionate towards people as they are going through transformations. Often time people are challenged by something that rocks them to the core. I personally, like bell hooks, am mindful of how I confront power. Especially when one does not realise what they are participating in, is an exploitation, an oppression or hurting someone. Bell hooks exhorts us to confront and be confronted in ways that are not re-wounding or re-traumatising. Again, social justice allows communities and citizens to revitalise social belief in the alternatives to social oppression and marginalisation (Crewe,, 2017).

Finally, Francis Nyamjoh while delivering the Archie Mafeje Memorial Lecture, urged us to accept that one’s independence will always be thwarted by one’s dependency on others; reminding us to see debt and indebtedness as a normal way of being human, through relationships with others. 


Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender. 2017. Policy Brief Social Justice and gender Inequity. Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender, University of Pretoria

Crewe, M., Burns, C, Kruger, C. & Maritz, J. 2017. Gender-based Justice: Reflections on social justice and social change. Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender, University of Pretoria

DHET, 2019. Policy Framework to address Gender Based Violence in the Post-School Education and Training System.

Freire, P.1974. Education for critical consciousness. New York: Seabury.

Ross, K. 1993. Women, rape and violence in South Africa. Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape.

Vetten, L. 2014. Policy brief 72 Rape and other forms of sexual violence in South Africa. Institute for Security Studies.

#MenAreTrash vs. #NotAllMen

by Martin Mushomba

I am studying for a Masters in Medicinal Plant Sciences at the University of Pretoria. I joined the Just Leaders programme at the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender mainly because I wanted to learn more about social justice. I am part of the student research cohort. And, I wrote this opinion piece because it got me thinking about my role in the greater social justice project.

For a long time, Gender-based Violence (GBV) has been a serious problem in South Africa. The last two years have seen an increase in social justice activism against GBV moving from the streets to social media platforms. In 2018, the hashtag #MenAreTrash emerged as social justice activists spoke out against the ignorance and lack of awareness of endemic GBV in South African society.

The hashtag exploded on South African Twitter bringing a social issue which was often raised by activists and street protests to everyone’s lips – or fingertips in this case. The hashtag #MenAreTrash resurfaced once more in 2019 following the brutal rape and murder of UCT student Uyinenne Mrwetyana, along with other hashtags like #AmINext.

What has been common whenever #MenAreTrash was brought up regarding GBV was the knee-jerk response #NotAllMen. The latter hashtag represented those (often men) who objected to the branding of “all men” which they perceived as being grossly unfair. The #NotAllMen camp positioned themselves against #MenAreTrash by taking offense at being labelled as “trash”, while others pointed to equally horrendous actions carried out by women in an attempt to show that there’s enough blame to go around. Many women also took up the #NotAllMen tag by telling stories of men who have supported and carried them through their lives, and of how the men in their lives valued and cared for them. A number of women also expressed their disapproval of the #MenAreTrash as being demonising and offensive towards men, thus making men victims of online gender-based abuse.

Despite #MenAreTrash being a response to the violence against women and children (and society’s ignorance of it) the attempt to attain justice for the oppressed and vulnerable was suddenly being misconstrued as an attack against good and seemingly blameless men. Internationally, feminist movements both in public and online have been met with a stern disapproval from those on the opposing side of the political spectrum. An example of this clash is the rise of Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) who have previously risen up to challenge campaigns about women’s rights. MRAs strive to raise awareness that men are also victims of gender-based oppression. More radical MRAs argue that in a world that is accustomed to seeing only women & children as victims, men today have become the worst victims of gender-based forms of oppression.

An interesting documentary illustrated the clash between feminist anti-GBV and pro-men activism. In 2016, American feminist and film maker Cassie Jaye endeavoured to create a documentary film about Men’s Rights Activism. She called it The Red Pill. During her making of the documentary, she kept a video journal of her thoughts during the course of the interviews and filming. Her original intention behind making the documentary was to expose Men’s Rights Activism as a hateful bigoted movement and to dismiss the notion that men are real victims of gender-based oppression. During the course of making the documentary, Cassie is confronted by a problem she had vehemently refused to acknowledge. This had a significant impact on her worldview and by the end of the documentary, she came to admit that men can also be victims of numerous forms of gender-based violence.

Many on the anti-feminist side or the #NotAllMen camp may count The Red Pill as a big win in this cultural war, having a “die-hard feminist” admit men are also victims of gender-based oppression. However, it’s important to remember that The Red Pill was never made to dismiss GBV against women, neither did the film-maker ever change her stance on the need to fight against GBV against women. If it was a matter of camps, then she never really changed camps. If she had been in the #MenAreTrash camp before (which she probably was) then I don’t think the making of The Red Pill turned her to the #NotAllMen camp either. Rather, I think it got her to realise that along with all the suffering women face daily, men also experience suffering and this needs to be acknowledged.

Sadly, the battle for the recognition of gender-based oppression in the online space is seemingly becoming a new battle of the sexes. MRAs are becoming an emotional reactionary response to movements like #MenAreTrash for boldly calling society to change and focus on women’s oppression. While there is a great need to highlight men’s issues, MRAs tends to be mired with unpleasant individuals, bigots, misogynists, chauvinists and people who are more against women’s empowerment than being against the abuse of men. This often serves to extinguish the chance for constructive dialogue between the camps.

I personally believe that it is possible to promote awareness on GBV against women while simultaneously recognising the need for MRAs. In doing so, it should be noted that #MenAreTrash forms part of an important movement for bringing awareness to a very serious problem in society, the vulnerability of women and children to abuse as well as their lack of having a voice in patriarchal systems. Women are still more vulnerable to many forms of abuse in South African as they still remain economically & socially disenfranchised. The hashtags used when reacting to gender-based oppression should not be used to attack individuals, they should be used to initiate dialogue on these pressing issues.

Just as #MenAreTrash should be used to open an important dialogue on GBV, a hashtag like #NotAllMen could be used to highlight that while men can also be victims of GBV, there are differences between the types of violence (emotional, institutional, psychological), especially when power dynamics are at play. It’s useful to note that the #NotAllMen response to GBV could spark conversations on how hard it is for many women to challenge patriarchal oppression. Whenever a woman or child in many communities, families or organisations attempts to report sexual or physical abuse by a man, the first response is often to defend the man, especially when the man is in a position of social, political or economic authority. #NotAllMen is the kind of excuse given when an important man in a family or community is allegedly accused of rape. One could also use this hashtag to raise the problems of many women who’ve falsely accused innocent men for abuse.

The conversations spawning from these hashtags can shine invaluable light on why GBV is made harder by societal patriarchal biases that are often in place. Having brought millions of people online to discussing these contentious issues, these hashtags offer us an opportunity to start a conversation on GBV. The ultimate purpose of activism is to bring about public awareness which can then turn into actions discussions and finally result in a positive change. So rather than seeing this as a new frontier of war, it should be seen as a great opportunity to educate and facilitate dialogue between millions of people in matters of women’s empowerment, GBV and gender-based abuse against both men and women.

Reflections on stigma, HIV and COVID-19

by Chris Joubert

As someone who works in HIV testing services, I have heard a lot of misconceptions about HIV. This misinformation ranges from the origins of HIV, to how it’s spread and treated. It wasn’t surprising to see similar trends with the Covid-19 pandemic.

In these times, information is more accessible and therefore spreads very quickly. This, like everything else, has its pros and cons. The cons being that it’s very easy to spread misinformation. Fortunately, on the pro side it is also possible to spread the truth. By being able to quickly relay information on a global scale, world leaders can share strategies for dealing with epidemics and pandemics. Scientists can share data to help give a clear picture and to contain the virus so that it does not keep spreading. Moreover, they can communicate with other scientists, with the objective of finding a vaccine and/or cure for this pandemic.

The downside however is that misinformation can also be relayed with great speed. When HIV first showed up in the 1980’s it was known as GRID (gay-related immune deficiency). This was because many of the people experiencing the symptoms of the virus were homosexual men. The reason behind the origins of the virus soon became “clear” to the general public: GRID is a biological weapon created by the government to eliminate gay people. Naturally there were more and more confirmed cases who were not gay men. We learned that HIV spreads from person to person through blood, breast feeding and unprotected sex (regardless of your sexual orientation).

Many years later the idea of the virus being a man-made bioweapon is still common:  some people still believe that the targets of this bioweapon are gay men, others believe that it was created to kill black people. Their reasoning behind these beliefs are that gay men and black people seem to be those who are mostly affected by HIV.

Similarly, the theme of genocide has shown up with Covid-19. Shortly before the lockdown I was in a taxi when the driver asked me what I think about the virus. I gave the very generic answer of “it’s crazy”. Soon after he started speaking about a conspiracy: we shouldn’t worry because the virus was made by the Chinese to destroy America and Europe. Admittedly I was intrigued by this conclusion and wanted to know more. The driver went on to say that the Chinese created the virus and have a cure already. They are simply waiting for other countries to collapse before selling it.

Bill Gates has also been blamed for Covid-19 as he’d mentioned in 2015 that a pandemic like this could happen and that the world’s health care systems needed drastic improvement. As many point out, this was fair comment, while others believed he was in some way behind the creation and spread of Covid-19.

In a way I do understand conspiracy theories. They may sound a bit far-fetched but the need to believe them makes sense. For many people it’s much scarier knowing that some things are random and are not in our control. As inhumanly cruel as it would be for people to destroy each other by means of a bioweapon, there’s a comfort in knowing that we (or at least someone!) is in control.

Control is also at the heart of stigma, the negative actions and attitudes towards those who are infected or pass on the virus. The attitudes and actions are a way of isolating and punishing those we dislike or don’t trust.

When I was in primary school, I remember a group of boys saying you only get HIV from “sleeping with a black girl … who would ever want to do that anyway”? Similarly, in the 80’s and 90’s many people who found out that they were HIV positive responded by saying “but I’m not gay”.

These misconceptions about HIV created an increase in infections, because they allowed people to believe they did not belong to a “risk” group. They also led to the stigmatisation of a lot of people. For the clients I work with as an HIV counsellor, the most challenging aspect of being HIV positive is the fear of how their community will treat them. I am not saying they are not concerned about their health, but usually that comes from a lack of understanding of how antiretroviral therapy (ART) works. Once I explain ART, and where they can access it, the fear of getting sick reduces quite a bit.

The potential stigma from family, friends, current or future partners, health care workers, teachers and the greater community are what my clients see as their biggest challenge. Some have stories of how family members or people they know are mistreated once their HIV status is revealed.

When it comes to Covid-19 some people once again need a group to “brand” as the infected. Even though South Africa’s patient zero was a man who had recently travelled to Italy, and most of our first cases came from people who had recently travelled to Europe, Chinese people, or people assumed to be from Chinese origins, were the first to be stigmatized. Some even went as far as calling it the “Chinese flu”. And many people around me said that it would only really affect elderly people. But those who are infected and those who unfortunately have passed away from Covid-19 are not exclusively elderly Chinese people!

The problem with this stigmatisation is that not only are certain groups of people horribly mistreated, but that it also puts everyone at a much higher risk of exposure because they feel invulnerable.

As with HIV, when you believe that only certain groups have the virus and will be the cause of your infection, your mistreatment or avoidance of them doesn’t make you any safer. The opposite belief, that anyone could have it, will be the thing that keeps you safer. If you accept that anyone could have HIV, you’ll be more likely to take precautions by testing, being aware of your status and your partner(s)’ status and ensuring you use protection.

Covid-19 is no different: distancing yourself only from certain groups of people helps no one. Our country, like many others, encouraged social distancing and later went into a nation-wide lockdown. The belief that only specific groups of people are at risk and that by distancing yourself from these specific groups of people you will be fine, is extremely dangerous to one’s self and ones’ surroundings.

I will confess to having made the same mistake of stigmatising both HIV and Covid-19. Before my time with the CSA&G I had a lot of misconceptions about HIV. Thankfully, during the Future Leaders at Work volunteer trainings, I learned about how HIV works and realised the dangers of being misinformed, and the risks of not learning from the correct sources. And with Covid-19 I wanted to believe that it wouldn’t reach South Africa or if it did that it would be contained before something as drastic as a nation-wide lockdown had to happen. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Clarity on prevention and treatment of both HIV and Covid-19 is imperative. Being HIV positive, your immune system is compromised and it’s vital that one does what one can to take care of one’s health. HIV has been plagued with false remedies: raping a child, sex with a virgin, fake cures. ART is still the best way to help fight HIV and one needs to get it from reliable places such as hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, and one must adhere to the treatment.

During this Covid-19 pandemic it’s important to stay up to date with prevention and treatment options. Avoid information that is passed on through instant messaging. If one does receive information, make sure to confirm it with a reliable source such as the WHO (World Health Organisation). For now, it is vital to stay at home. Leave home only when absolutely needed, like for essential goods and services. Furthermore, regularly wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds.

There are of course pitfalls when it comes to this. Adherence to ART has been difficult for many people due to social and economic restraints. It’s hard to adhere when ART is not in stock at your clinic or when you are forced to hide that you are on treatment. ART also requires you to eat healthily and regularly, which is a challenge for many who simply can’t afford to do so.

In relation to Covid-19, staying home is difficult to do when people are homeless. Additionally, the country has high levels of domestic abuse and for some being away from home is a safer option. Some communities like informal settlements don’t allow for social distancing because they are densely populated. A shack made from corrugated metal gets inhumanly hot during the day, sometimes as hot as 40-50 degrees, and people are forced to get out.

In conclusion, I do understand that this lockdown is difficult for some people. In many ways it has shone a light on problems we had long before Covid-19 came to South Africa. Consequently, the government and other institutions will be forced to address these challenges during and long after the pandemic. However, staying informed and avoiding stigmatizing and spreading misinformation are things we can all do.



Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic. (n.d.). Retrieved from World Health Organisation :

Gates, B. (2015). Ideas worth spreading. The next outbreak? We’re not ready for? TED2015.

Zanetti, S. (2020, March). Coronavirus – South Africa LOCKDOWN: What they didn’t tell you. The Digital Rainmaker with Simone Zanetti.


Covid-19, HIV and me

by Dipontseng Kheo, Professional Nurse, CSA&G

When the news of Covid-19 came I panicked and feared for my loved ones who recently moved to China.

And when the first case was confirmed in South Africa, as a Professional Nurse working at the CSA&G mainly with HIV testing, I started getting calls and messages. From students, relatives and friends, about how this would affect them since they were living with HIV. I could sense fear, panic and stress. I did not know much about Covid-19 and I started reading more. It was said that individuals who were on treatment, and were stable, would be seen as low risk. This helped to put the people I was communicating with at ease because they were on treatment and complying well.

In my opinion, and looking at the trends of how it affects individuals who are older and individuals with underlying medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease, I feel individuals who are on treatment and stable need not panic.

My advice for individuals with HIV is the same for everybody else: they should take their medication religiously, avoid stress as this also can lower immunity, maintain social distancing, wash hands frequently, wear a mask to prevent one inhaling air droplets from an infected person, and avoid touching their faces to prevent entry of the virus.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “People living with HIV who have a compromised immune system should be extra cautious to prevent coronavirus infection. These include people with a low CD4 count (<200 copies/cell), a high viral load, or a recent opportunistic infection. This is because your immune system may not be prepared to deal with the virus. We also know that people living with HIV are more vulnerable to respiratory infections when their HIV is not well managed. For this reason it’s very important to be taking your antiretroviral treatment as prescribed – always, but especially during this time”.

There have been some uncertainties about how Covid-19 spreads, like whether it is airborne or not. Over the past few weeks it has been confirmed that you can actually contract it from inhaling droplets of an infected person if you are standing less than one meter away from them. That is where social distancing came about. Weeks before lockdown I witnessed a physical fight between two people at a retail store because one individual touched the other, showing that people don’t always agree on what should be done.

Because I have worked in HIV I have been thinking about the similarities and differences between the two diseases.


The lack of information has caused fear and enormous amount of panic about both HIV and Covid-19 –involving the community and giving information on all social media platforms helps to reduce fear and builds compliance.


We saw, when Covid-19 first emerged in South Africa, how people of Asian descent and people who travelled were met with anger and violence. I witnessed a physical fight in a store where an individual was furious because someone of a different race touched her. This was how people with HIV were treated at first; black people and homosexual individuals in particular were treated like dirt and people did not want to live with them.


Covid-19 is transmitted through droplets (coughing and sneezing) from an infected person and HIV is transmitted through unprotected sex, blood contact and from mother to child. This makes Covid-19 much more contagious than HIV, you can contract Covid-19 just by being in the same space with an infected person if you do not wear necessary protective gear like a mask. It is harder to contract HIV because you need more intimate contact, like unprotected sexual intercourse.

Both HIV and Covid-19 can be asymptomatic in some people, especially at first. And in the acute stage (just after the person has been infected) both HIV and Covid-19 can present with flu-like symptoms.

What have I learned from Covid-19 and HIV so far?

  • No human being (and no race) is immune from contracting these viruses if prevention measures are not taken.
  • Providing and involving the community with information helps to reduce or stop the spread of these viruses.
  • Fake news creates unnecessary panic.
  • Scammers always take advantage of any epidemic e.g. they impersonate health care workers, or they push fake cures.

In conclusion I feel that while HIV has taken lives over many years, Covid-19 has taken lives across the world in a very short space of time. Only time will tell what the impact of this will be.


The privilege of thinking outside the box

by Tshenolo Thulare

Final year BCom student at the University of Pretoria. Joined the Just Leaders volunteer programme at the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender in 2019. I am part of the Befrienders (lay counsellors) and the student research cohort. I wrote this opinion piece after being motivated by the ‘education for liberation’ topic we covered at a research methodology retreat. The experience encouraged me to be self-aware of my surroundings and I hope the opinion piece will encourage someone to practice self-awareness and be liberated.

I grew up in a black female household where I was taught to behave in a certain way.

I had a 5pm curfew because it was believed that nothing dangerous could happen to me before then. I couldn’t wear shorts: somehow that would protect me from perpetrators. However I was allowed to start wearing shorts only when I moved to Hatfield, because it was believed that perpetrators did not exist in Hatfield.

I will never know how a boy child would be raised because I am the only child. However I could tell by comments such as “boys will be boys” that a boy child would get away with a lot of things that I wouldn’t get away with, such as cat calling another girl or violating them in some way. It seemed that if I got violated, it would be my fault because I didn’t do as I was told.

There are different advantages and disadvantages to the way I was raised, advantages such as learning not to disrespect the next person because I knew I should not violate them, for example cat calling them. The disadvantage is that I was taught that it is my responsibility to make sure that the perpetrator does not violate me, by making sure that I am dressed in long, covering clothes and by coming back home before 5 pm.

These principles seemed acceptable because even my friends lived by them. When I came to university I was exposed to people of different upbringings and views about life. As soon as we started engaging on different topics, such as rape culture, that’s when I started understanding the flaws in the ideas I was raised to believe in, such as not holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Not holding perpetrators responsible for their actions oppresses both the perpetrator and the person that is violated. The perpetrator will not learn their lesson and will continue to violate people; while the person that is violated will believe that it is their fault and that they have to follow certain steps that will prevent them from being violated again. By challenging myself, and continuing to have the conversations that require me to think about the next person other than myself, I am able to do self-introspection.

We often go to higher learning institutions with the intention of getting a career that will offer us financial benefits such as a large salary package, and we use that to measure success. The financial benefits might be obtained in ways that may be a disadvantage to someone else, such as paying someone less than what they deserve. The person that is paid less than they deserve may not be aware of that and it is up to us to speak to employers; or if we are the employers to make sure that they are paid fairly.

The higher learning institutions may have policies that are against other groups in societies such as the Afrikaans policies that non-Afrikaans speaking students will not benefit from, however a platform that provides critical thinking is provided and it is up to us to use the critical thinking to benefit people other than ourselves.

A closed-minded society is a disadvantage to minorities who might be oppressing without realising it. It is up to us to have thought provoking conversations that will make other people think outside of the box. With the knowledge I have, that other people may not have, I have to inform others and assist in transformation in relationships and in the spaces that I occupy. It may be hard, executing change, however with time and the conversations we have every day, we are able to correct ourselves before saying anything, and can act differently

Positionality, Reflexivity and Power

by Martin Mushomba

I am studying for a Masters in Medicinal Plant Sciences at the University of Pretoria. I joined the Just Leaders programme at the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS, and Gender- mainly because I wanted to learn more about social justice. I am part of the student research cohort. And, I wrote this opinion piece because it got me thinking about my role in the greater social justice project.

I had decided to write on my navigation on gender issues and my position amidst gender inequality, navigating this issue as what I’d label myself, a typical man trying to be part of the solution. I admit that I have been quite reluctant to put my thoughts on this issue in writing. I tried to think of a different issue I could have written about, but I couldn’t find anything compelling enough. So here it is, my reflections on Positionality, Reflexivity and Power following the recent CSA&G’s Just Leaders research cohort outing.

Many of the discussions at the outing were focused on complex issues such as race, politics and religion. I quickly noted a universal zest and passion to share and be heard when it came to gender issues. This was one issue I was reluctant to discuss in a crowd mostly composed of women. I felt that my power and position could cause a certain turbulence in the stream of egalitarian and feminist views flowing from the women in the group. Though the other men would frequently engage, I would often just listen.

Eventually, I realised that I couldn’t have been a neutral agent, hard as I tried to be. I was already a part of the mix. Being naturally pugnacious on pressing societal issues, I did at times challenge some of the views involved. I found that I often sided with the women against the men, phrasing my remarks as banter or a friendly jest. For example, one of the men in the group stated that he valued his prospective position in a marriage as being a provider, while simultaneously expressing his admiration of hard-working professional women. I challenged him on that, asking whether he would be comfortable with having a wife who earned far more than he did. I felt that was the best way to navigate that space so as to create an appropriate environment for the women who felt that men would perceive them negatively if they proved to be better providers.

When we had formal discussions on rape culture and the responsibility of men in confronting other men about rape, I listened to the women explain their hardships and fears living in a society that regularly objectifies them. While some of the men in the conversation were bold enough to stand up and offer their protection to women, I noted how this position of power was challenged and contested by the women. I had my views on the matter, but restrained myself from raising them.  The women felt that the Patriarchal view of them, as “damsels in distress” or “weaker vessels” in need of male protection, was appalling. Being well aware of the environment we were in, where the women were challenging the Patriarchy woven into society, I begun to think of how they had benefitted (or allowed themselves to benefit) from the Patriarchy during that weekend.

I withheld a lot of these thoughts during the discussion, knowing my proclivity to always challenge and point out contradictions might spill out if I didn’t contain myself. I felt I had walked a very neutral line during the course of weekend. I felt I was in good standing with all the women in our cohort, but beyond that I knew that they held my views in good regard. I had registered positive responses from them when I spoke out against injustice, when I articulated my views on political and religious ideas. I’m convinced that I wasn’t so much trying to impress them. Rather I believed that I was trying to reassure them that I was informed, concerned and committed to the same egalitarian vision they held. I also registered the frustration they felt when raising the issue of rape culture in our discussion. I committed myself to not being an obstacle in them expressing the discrimination they felt. I recognised this discrimination and recognised how my position, as a man already having previously established myself in other discussions, could frustrate the points they raised.

Once the group discussion was done, I returned to the thoughts I had suppressed during the engagement.

The women were eager not to be seen as “damsels in distress” regarding rape culture, however the night before, two of them had called on us (the men) to save them from having to sleep in the company of a frog that had wandered into their room. The moment they came to us, we (the men) all volunteered to save them and two of us were dispatched to the scene, successfully de-frogging their chamber.

The rest of us (also men) remained to extinguish the bonfire that had kept us all warm. It was no issue for me contending with the smoke, as I had kept the fire going through the night with a skilful positioning of the logs, as I had the previous night. On our way to the campsite, our vans had gotten stuck in the sand. While the men came out to try free vehicles, most of the women stayed inside. When we got to the campsite, a group of us men unloaded everyone’s’ bags and on the way out reloaded them.

I considered the outing to have been a success. I met great people, engaged in great conversations and I felt that I’d navigated my position of power and privilege relatively well. However, I kept thinking about my silence regarding the “damsel in distress” issue during the discussion on rape culture. I couldn’t help but think back to how the women had benefited from me helping them. Wasn’t this them benefitting from Patriarchy? Did the appreciation I felt when helping them, or even holding myself back from criticizing their apparent contradiction, imbue me with a sense of ‘manly pride’? I certainly enjoyed it, doing things, providing help, providing views and opinions that reassured them… was I effectively navigating the space constructively or was I merely just reinforcing the Patriarchal system; that all this happened because I allowed it? Because I imposed it? Because I preferred it?

That was the issue I struggled to pen down as it presents an internal contradiction in itself. How can I strive towards social justice and equality for women if I still participate in essentially exerting myself as I see fit? How do I address Patriarchy without first addressing the manner in which I still act and manoeuvre to make women comfortable? Is it a true comfort that I am providing or a comfort within a Patriarchal system as far as I am comfortable with keeping things? Did I really challenge the status quo, or did I merely reinforce it?

Forget about doing Gender Properly and be an Ally

by Vuyisa Mamanzi

We all carry misinformation and stereotypes about people. We acquire this misinformation at a young age in bits and pieces from TV, from listening to people talk, from watching the expressions on our parent’s faces, and from society at large. We also witness people being treated badly because of their sexual orientation or because they are not “doing gender properly”. “Is heterosexuality ‘compulsory’ in the sense that resistance to heterosexual identity, behaviour, and cultural image rare, costly and perhaps often virtually unthinkable” (Heath et. al, 2013).

What does it mean to do gender properly?

I grew up playing with my cousins who were boys. We were not allowed to play outside the yard, so their friends would come over to play with us. I was quite a physical and active child growing up, and I enjoyed playing the games they played, I climbed trees, played soccer, played marbles, played top, and I even got involved in a number of fights with some of the boys. Of course, this meant that at times I would get some knee bruises from falling. I would always get a hiding from my mother for these bruises and was always reprimanded for behaving like a boy. My cousins also didn’t like it when I fought with their friends. You see, as a girl child, I was expected to act, behave and play in a way that represented ‘my gender’. I was policed into doing gender ‘properly’. Reflecting back, I realise that I did not fit neatly into this ‘gender box’. Having spent most of my childhood playing with boys, I observed how they would cat call young girls whom they liked. I remember on our way to the shop one day I tried cat calling a boy too. The look on that boy! Well, my cousins were also not impressed with me at all. So I guess, yet again. I was not doing gender ‘properly’.

My experience growing up then speaks to Judith Butler’s idea that “heterosexuality, like gender identity, must be constantly achieved and reproduced in daily life by habitually enacting social practices associated with cultural gendered ideals associated with heterosexuality” (Fischer, 2013: 504). Butler and other scholars recognised that the idea of heterosexual identity was both performative and socially achieved (Fischer, 2013). Here we see that heterosexuality is not natural, or innate, but rather institutionalised through socialisation.

What does heterosexuality mean?

Heterosexuality is broadly understood or defined as an erotic attraction to the ‘opposite’ sex, meaning that men and women are viewed as complementary beings. This also speaks to the power relations embedded in heterosexuality as both an institution and a discourse: how the qualities associated with men and masculinity are more highly valued and rewarded than those associated with women and femininity. For example, men who have multiple sexual partners are often seen as ‘players’ and praised for their prowess. However, women who choose to have multiple sexual partners are not afforded the same status, instead they are frowned upon and often labelled as ‘loose’ or ‘immoral’.

Let us take a look at how the late Mam’Winnie and our ex-president Zuma were treated differently by society in “doing their gender and heterosexuality”. Julius Malema and Kopano Ratele have both recently commented on the sexual lives of these individuals, in one way or the other on social media. But what stood out for me was when Julius Malema said “They say Winnie slept with young men when Madiba was in prison and all that, they are saying all sorts of things about her. Okay, let’s say we accept that nonsense. And because she slept with young people she must be isolated, she’s immoral. How many of these men slept with young people, slept with the children of their own friends.” Let’s say we too accept that ‘nonsense’ as Julius Malema puts it. One can choose to see that from Mam’Winnie’s story, there are variations in heterosexual experiences that heterosexuality is a site of “pleasure as well as oppression”, or that heterosexual women were and are not necessarily the “cultural dupes” of compulsory heteronormativity, but could and can resist how heteronormativity regulates their social-sexual lives.

Additionally, heteronormativity creates hierarchies between heterosexuals themselves, where married monogamous heterosexuals represent the cultural ideal, while other ways of doing heterosexuality, being unmarried, promiscuous, or seeking sexual relations for commercial gain, fall outside the “charmed circle”; a group of people who are seen as or viewed as having special power or influenced, as suggested by Gayle Rubin.  Scholars therefore agree that it is better to speak about “heterosexualities” to capture the diversity of heterosexual lives.

So one can argue that maybe umamWinnie, or I for that matter, or even some of you, all hold anti-heteronormative identities, that we are conscious and critical about heterosexual identities. That people like us can be understood as being “straight queers” (Heath et. al, 2013).

So, it is in our own interest to be an ally to people from diverse and oppressed groups. Ultimately, our own struggles are tied to everyone else’s. When you give support to others, you are developing allies for your groups and causes. As we all learn how to be more committed and caring to each other, we will build a strong foundation for change in our communities. The stronger the trust and commitment people have, as individuals and between groups, the more effective they will be in uniting around important issues (Axner, 1999).

James Banks, a multicultural educator, says that living in a diverse society requires that we “know, care, and act”. In other words, we need to learn about people and understand their issues, care about people with our hearts, and take the action necessary to make sure that people are treated well and that justice is done. That is, basically, what an ally does.

And like Luvvie Ajayi, a Nigerian author, speaker, and professional trouble maker, I too refuse to be quiet, because being quiet is comfortable; keeping things the way they have been is comfortable and all comfort has done is to maintain the status quo. So we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable by speaking these hard truths. And one of these hard truths is that, being an ally “is not an identity. It’s a practice. It’s an active thing that must be done over and over again. In the largest and smallest ways, everyday” (Giannaki, 2016).

In addition, constant and thorough reflection on our privilege and positionality is vital. We should also keep in mind that there is no unified heterosexual culture, sex-worker culture or gay culture (Plummer, 2018).  Therefore, in realising our own ways of oppression, we will possibly become able to fight collectively against everyone’s oppression. We would understand that, for the times we need help, we would not need to look around so hard, if we made sure that we were somebody else’s ally.

Finally, Baldwin reminds us that it is not a question of whether you are black or white, gay or straight. Instead it’s a question of what do you stand for, who are you and how can you know that and operate from that position of power?



Axner, M. 1999. Interview with Arthur Himmelman.

Butler, J. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Fischer, NL. 2013. Seeing “Straight”, Contemporary Critical Heterosexuality Studies and Sociology: An Introduction, The Sociological Quarterly, 54:4, 501-510

Giannaki, AF. 2016. The Role of “Privileged Allies in the struggle for Social Justice.

Heath, Melanie (coordinator), with Travis Beaver, Nancy Fischer, Bruce Nordstrom-Loeb, and Brandy Simula. 2013. “Crossing Boundaries, Workshopping Sexualities.” Working Paper on Critical Heterosexualities.

Plummer, K. 2018. Sexualities: Twenty years on. SAGE, 21 (8), 1204-1210


A queer lockdown

by Pierre Brouard

A lockdown is a very queer thing, but to be queer in a lockdown can be even trickier.

Queer people who want to come out may not because if they face hostility they cannot escape, and those who are out may suddenly find they face a new kind of scrutiny, unleavened by opportunities to leave the home even temporarily and find solace in friendship and community.

A young trans man of my acquaintance reached out to me recently to say that as he was forced to be with his family during lockdown he was faced with an extreme and intense version of their transphobia, manifesting in deliberate mis-gendering from his family, accompanied by promises (threats?) of prayer interventions to “de-trans” him.

As Mamba online noted “amid the pandemic, millions around the world are under some form of lockdown or isolation, leaving vulnerable people at the mercy of those they live with.” Citing a UK organisation, the Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT), they say that “If you’re a young person and you’re thinking of coming out, press pause on that until you get support.” Of course this may be possible for some, but if you are gender diverse in some way, it is often more difficult to “press pause” on how you look.

AKT also noted that for many LGBTQIA (queer) youth, homelessness is already their reality. While there are few statistics on queer-specific homelessness in South Africa, international studies have shown that queer youth are more likely to end up on the streets. And South Africa only has one shelter for queer people in crisis, the Pride Shelter in Cape Town: what might other queer people across the land do?

It is important, I believe, to see this issue against the backdrop of a broader gender violence epidemic. There is already evidence of gender-based violence (GBV) becoming worse during a lockdown: victims and perpetrators in domestic violence contexts may be forced to stay together, in pressure-cooker spaces, and opportunities to find support will be limited by the requirements to stay at home.

The South African picture seems mixed: so far domestic violence organisations report fewer calls, although they believe victims may be too scared to reach out; rape statistics seem down, and Thuthuzela Care Centres are less busy according to the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. A number of these organisations noted that the beginning of the lockdown was a time of great anxiety for those living in unsafe relationships and homes as they would have had to make quick decisions about where to sit out the lockdown, based on variables they could not always control.

So far, so bad.

Pivoting away from queerness as problem, I’d like to turn to the idea of queerness as opportunity. When you’ve lived your life on the margins, or been sexual in ways which are under the radar, away from the gaze of prudes, life in a time of Covid-19 can simply be a new challenge.

One thing is clear: hooking up during lockdown is not only illegal it is almost impossible to achieve, and even people who are in relationships but do not live together are faced with a complete hiatus in the intimate sphere (beyond phone/cam sex, becoming re/acquainted with one’s sex toy collection and developing a shortcut to Pornhub).

For some, who have lived through the fears of HIV, STIs and even risks associated with hook up culture, a prohibition on sex may seem like another hurdle to be negotiated, not resigned to. Jay, 28, from Spain, in a Huffpost story, had this to say:

“I already feel like I put myself at risk so much already with some of these encounters that Covid almost doesn’t feel that risky in that particular context.” Pressed to explain, he clarifies: “Crazy people, STIs, all the risks that come with walking into a stranger’s house and making yourself vulnerable. Most of the time in secret, so if something were to happen no one would know where you are.”

Obviously I’m not suggesting that queer people (or anyone missing sex, casual or not) break the requirements of a lockdown, but I’m arguing that queer people have “form” when it comes to making peace with danger, and have a rich history of counter-narratives and counter cultures to draw on.

Here are some ways in which this could play out.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if hook up culture and its apps, Grindr and Scruff come to mind, were just a tad kinder, making it possible for people to share ideas and feelings, not just nudes? This is not an attempt to sanitise queer sub-cultures, many of which have fought very hard to break the shackles of heteronormativity and moralism, but there is a case to be made that some aspects of hook up life are dehumanising, splitting the affective from the physical. A sex quarantine, which this is in effect for many people, is a chance to ask some tough questions about what makes us really feel better about ourselves.

Queer people can re-ignite debates about what constitutes family. This has crept up on us over the last decade or two, but the traditional heterosexual family (whether it’s nuclear or extended it usually involves men and women living in spaces with children they have created heterosexually) is under the microscope in ways hitherto unimaginable. And the queers have come to the party; surrogacy, co-parenting in different homes, single and polyamorous parenting arrangements, have all entered the lexicon. In addition, a group of queer people living together in a tight or loose, but unromantic, set up do often consider themselves to be family. And even those who don’t live together might see their queer kin as just that, people to draw on in good times and bad, sometimes before their biological brothers and sisters.

In the context of this lockdown, I know that I have un/consciously reached out to my queer family, especially those who are living alone, to see how they are doing. Some have lost or abandoned (or been abandoned by) their genetic family, or we have a shared experience of marginality: in these times “your people” have special needs, perhaps, and there is an intensity to video and audio calls which I cannot deny.

Such kinship is an example of social capital – “direct and indirect resources that are a by-product of social networks” – in operation. Heckman speaks of queer kinship forms as exemplars of bonding, bridging, and linking social capital.

According to Hawkins and Maurer “Bonding social capital refers to relationships amongst members of a network who are similar in some form. Bridging social capital refers to relationships amongst people who are dissimilar in a demonstrable fashion, such as age, socio-economic status, race/ethnicity and education. Linking social capital is the extent to which individuals build relationships with institutions and individuals who have relative power over them (e.g. to provide access to services, jobs or resources).”

Because queer people often live at the intersection of multiple identities and communities, argues Heckman, they have a unique position within social networks and thus a particular relationship to bonding, bridging, and linking social capital.

Deploying queer capital

Deploying queer capital in the lockdown is, of course, easier said than done.

But I would argue that bonding, bridging and linking are in the queer “wheel house”: now more than ever we need to be there for each other. But the Covid-19 experience is also a time of vigilance. Queer people must seize this moment to ask the bigger questions: can restrictions on civil liberties be used post-Covid by those who resent queer rights; will sentimentality about “family” we are seeing push back the gains of queer family forms; will ideas about “sexual safety” and “morality” be invoked to sideline sexualities and genders outside of Rubin’s charmed circle? We haven’t locked down the implications of Covid-19, perhaps only time will tell.

(If you need phone or Skype support or counselling on coming out, contact OUT in Pretoria on 012 430 3272 / 066 190 5812 or call the Triangle Project Helpline on 021 712 6699 in Cape Town.)

The SheLadies Programme

by Belinda Pakati

Reflections on a pilot project (Community Outreach Programme)

Working with young mothers from High Schools in our Community Outreach Programme has been interesting and fascinating. Young people are curious human beings who like to experiment and explore. This can often lead them to engage in toxic relationships and sub-cultures. Despite the good values that their birth parents had taught them while growing up, getting exposed to social media and negative sub-cultures greatly influenced their lives.

The peer leadership programme carried out by the CSA&G Community Outreach Student Volunteers worked with young people between the ages of 16 and 18, divided into 10 boys and 10 girls from High Schools in and around Pretoria. The programme is focused on providing learners with information on gender, sex and sexuality, basic information on HIV/AIDS and discrimination, drug and alcohol use, communication and negotiation skills, teenage pregnancy and sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR).

The focus in this article is on one school in Atteridgeville. During the recruitment of schools to partner and work with, the Life Orientation (LO) teacher we approached became very supportive. The teacher liked the idea of the programme and assisted in identifying a group of 20 learners to form part of the programme.

During the sessions, particularly on teenage pregnancy and SRHR, learners were very excited to have a space where they were able to speak freely and openly about sex. They participated fully while learning and having fun.

While the learners were interacting with one another, I noticed that when a question on teenage pregnancy was posed to the whole group, both boys and girls would pass it on to specific learners in the session. In a scoffing manner they made remarks like: “We do not know, those who have babies must answer because they know better”. Those that had babies responded by saying “we are not text books you must leave us alone”. The student facilitator intervened to control the situation by reminding the learners that they must abide by the group rule of respecting one another.

In observing the way that the learners were engaging with each other, I felt that the young mothers were somehow alienated: were they facing challenges in the school and from their fellow learners? I decided that I needed to come up with an intervention to engage more with them. I then had a meeting with the LO Teacher where we discussed the idea of the intervention and obtained more information about the young mothers in the school.

The teacher felt that the idea was very relevant because the number of girls who fall pregnant at an early age in their school was high. She supported the programme and said these young women could be an example to other girls in the school. Then the SheLadies programme come into being.

Having these young women in the SheLadies Programme, together with student volunteers from the University of Pretoria, we were able to create a safe space to engage with them on the issues that affect them as young parents. For example, they had to leave school due to their pregnancy and after giving birth returned to the same school.

In the conversations during these engagements the young women indicated that before they became part of the SheLadies programme they did not worry too much about falling pregnant and getting STI’s. They just wanted to feel a sense of belonging to the culture of young people who were able to afford the expensive and fancy life that their friends were living. Even after pregnancy they did not stop seeing the older man because the demand became high now that they had babies. Some said the fathers of their babies were not able to maintain them and their babies because they too were still in school. Others left them while they were still pregnant, and some said now that they were young mothers their partners left them for other girls who did not have babies.

They then resorted to multiple-partner relationships and relationships with older men that could afford to meet their needs: expensive clothes and money. Some said they used the money from these relationships for the right reasons, although they got it in the wrong way.

I was emotionally moved by the stories of these toxic relationships. Poverty was mentioned as one of the driving forces for intergenerational and multiple-partner relationships as a method of survival in life.

They explained that life becomes easier if you embark on these kinds of relationships. You are certain that you have money for your child’s napkins and you will be able to pay the Aunty in your neighbourhood who looks after small babies while you are at school, or in the evening when you have to go out. There will also be taxi fares from home to school and back. You are able to buy food and clothes for siblings and school fees will be paid because the older man provides better support than boys your age.

Having these young women in this pilot project of the CSA&G Community Outreach Programme has afforded us an opportunity to make a difference in their lives.

We were able to help them explore other ways of surviving in life without being dependant on someone else. We also encouraged them to plan a very successful Career Day event which they organised and facilitated for their fellow learners. The event in a way was speaking to them indirectly, so they can benefit from it. We had invited other stakeholders from our university to come and share their knowledge and the importance of education, and to motivate the learners to have the eagerness to further their studies.

I had an opportunity to share from my own personal experience on how pressurising it is to not have higher education qualifications, while being surrounded by intellectuals in an academic institution. I also explained why I was unable to further my studies. I was a young mother myself and I had to return to the same school after giving birth. Raising a child with no support system was never easy. It meant that certain things had to be delayed – time waits for no man (or woman)! After matriculating I had to stay home and raise my child, indirectly relieving my mother from the burden I had added at home.

Behaviour change is very complex. Although I may have not succeeded in changing the mindset of all the young mothers in the programme, some of them were able to see and do things differently after the monthly engagements.

A few started to focus more on their studies, they were able to register for tertiary education by using the information they received during the Career Day Event mentioned above. Others were motivated to find temporary jobs so that they could take care of themselves and their children and save money to further their studies.

They even requested that we should have a session where we could discuss the difference between sex workers and people who engage in relationships to get money from men or boyfriends. Unfortunately, time did not allow this as they had to start preparing for their final exams, and our programmes are designed so that they do not disturb or obstruct our students and learners from focusing and concentrating on their studies. Their education comes first as it holds a key to opening doors for opportunities in life.

But I am confident that the programme changed some of the lives of these young mothers, and it helped me to think about my own story in new ways.

Shalate Belinda Pakati is a senior project manager who coordinates student outreach and community engagement programmes within CSA&G. She is also responsible for the HIV testing and counselling work and on going student support. She has a background in Human Resource Management. She is passionate about working with and giving back to the community. 

Uniting against the common enemy: Covid-19 and South Africa’s militarised nationhood

By Tinashe Mawere

The “Thuma Mina moment”: A nation ready for war

The discourse of war – national unity, resistance, defence and victory have characterised President Cyril Ramaphosa’s public speeches in the wake of the fast spreading and deadly global pandemic, Corona virus, Covid-19. Coming late on the basis of wide consultations, invitation of various players including oppositional political parties, reflections on the history of South Africa and the notion of resilience, the presidential use of military regalia, use of military language and resources – all created a sombre and serious atmosphere and a sense of a nation in danger and posed for a great war.

On 15 March 2020, in his first address to the nation around the Corona virus, Covid-19, Ramaphosa used the vernacular “thuma mina” (send me) to call upon individual South Africans to stand up and in various and distinct ways, offer themselves for the services of the nation, an act showing a great degree of patriotism and nationhood. This was elaborated by his statement on 23 March 2020 that, “Many have had to make difficult choices and sacrifices, but all have been determined that these choices and sacrifices are absolutely necessary if our country is to emerge stronger from this disaster.”  It is this patriotism and sense of nationhood that is “most definitive” for the survival of the nation since the country was “confronted with such a severe situation” never witnessed since the advent of South Africa’s democracy. This call by Ramaphosa set the tone for the declaration of ‘war’ against Covid-19, which is threatening South Africa as he posits, “as we marshal our every resource and our every energy to fight this epidemic…our resolve, our resourcefulness and our unity as a nation will be tested as never before.”

In the three State of the Nation Addresses (SONA) on 15, 23 and 30 March, Ramaphosa’s speeches offer a description of the South African challenge in medical terms as he employs terms such as epidemic, spreading, infections, disease and so on as well as in economic terms as he articulates the economic impacts of the pandemic. He then reflects on various ways the state has devised to manage the pandemic and mitigate its effects on people, livelihood and the South African economy in general.

When Ramaphosa appeals to the sensibilities of South Africans, he makes use of the affective language of unity, nationalism, history and past resilience such as “We are responding as a united nation to a common threat” and “if we act together, if we act now, and if we act decisively, we will overcome it.” He then announces the formation of the National Command Council chaired by the president to lead in curbing the virus.

However, as concerns about Covid-19’s ‘threat’ to the nation grew, there is a clear trajectory where Ramaphosa’s language and approaches move from medical interventions and management, national welfarism, and economic cushioning, to military and combatant language and approaches. This culminated in the announcement of a 21 days nationwide ‘lockdown’ on 23 March 2020. It is very spectacular that instead of calling it a ‘stay at home’ the more forceful and militant term ‘lockdown’ has gained popularity. Ramaphosa’s militant language and approaches reached a peak when he addressed the South African National Defence Forces (SANDF) on 26 March 2020, ahead of their deployment to ‘fight’ and ‘defeat’ the virus.

Covid-19 and the invasion of the South African space

The Corona virus, Covid-19 is regarded as some ugly and fatal violence that has overwhelmed the whole world. In President Ramaphosa’s speeches, Covid-19 is personified and seen as an ‘enemy’ of the nation which should be resisted and defeated by a united South Africa, hence the nation’s response to ‘wage war’ against it. As the President says while addressing SANDF on 26 March 2020, “We will wage war against the invisible enemy, coronavirus. You are expected, as soldiers of the RSA, to defend our people against this virus. Your mission is to save lives.” Stressing on the role of soldiers, Ramaphosa commands, “Go out and wage the war” since a “load rests on your shoulders, as soldiers of our country you took an oath, an oath that you will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and that you will defend the people of South Africa.” In nations, the military is tasked with the role of national defence and protection. Considering that males are the most visible in the military, and that the military’s role is to defend and protect the nation, agentive power is naturalised and normalised on men (Mawere 2019; Simon and Hoyt 2008). It is important to re/think of the visibility of military men on the South African streets, the kind of knowledge that is communicated and internalised and the kind of knowledges and world order that would be passed from generation to generation. Butler (1988) argues that gendered meanings are made practical and visible through performances of the nation. I regard South Africa response to Covid-19 as a performance of the nation.

The spreading of Covid-19 into South Africa is reduced to an undesirable enemy invasion of the South African space by a foreign body, hence the call for everyone to be vigilant to ensure national victory and national survival. There is a call for national unity to ‘fight’ against this intrusion. This call for unity is acted out on the first address when Ramaphosa gathered different stake holders for his national address. Thus, the threat posed by the virus on the nation required all horses to be gathered and weapons to be combined to fight this common ‘enemy,’ with the military specifically given the life-saving mission to resist and crush the national threat in a manner approximating the super-heroism of the Rambo and James Bond film stables.

The national efforts to curb and stop the virus is clearly thought of in terms of war, and the virus had to be personified by the term ‘enemy’ to make the language of war and South Africa’s militarised responses sensible. Subtly, however, in this process, war is naturalised as South Africa’s most appropriate response to challenges since stopping the virus needed the materiality and physical presence of war.

 “We will defeat the virus”: Militarised nationhood

The spreading of Corona virus, Covid-19 into South Africa provoked national sentiments that caused the national leadership to blow the war trumpet. This war trumpet was blown on the background that South Africa had fought wars before and through unity and resilience, the country had emerged victorious. Drawing this past history was important to instil confidence and show the country’s potential in protecting its citizens. The historical trajectory of resistance was also meant masculinise the nation and give it hope and confidence. As President Ramaphosa pronounces during SONA on 30 March, “Even as our country faces deep and pressing challenges on several fronts, there is no doubt in my mind that we will prevail. That is because South Africans have come together like never before to wage this struggle against the virus.” This is emphasised by his sentiments that, “I am convinced that we will succeed, because we will take this coronavirus threat seriously, we will adapt as a society, and we will all act responsibly. If we work together…we will beat this disease. I have no doubt that we shall overcome.” Following such sentiments from the president, the South African nation is given an assurance of national security.

The conceptualisation of Covid-19 as an intruder and foreign body on the South African space provoked the militarisation of the South African nation so as to wage war against the virus. Imagining stopping the spreading of Covid-19 as a real war was meant to show the nation how destructive the virus is and how serious the nation was in curbing the virus. To buttress the war situation, during his address to SANDF on 26 March 2020, just before their deployment, Ramaphosa appeared dressed in military regalia, symbolising how he was ready to, and the nation’s readiness to wage war against this intruder threatening the survival of the nation. For the South African President, dressing “in your uniform as your commander-in-chief [is] to signify my support and solidarity…as you embark on this most important mission in the history of our country.” Ramaphosa is the first president in the history of South Africa to put on an SANDF uniform. He makes it clear that this act is symbolic of his support and solidarity of SANDF.

However, apart from demonstrating that he is a hands-on president as well as performing support and solidarity, there is also much deeper symbolism that graphically illuminates from this wearing of military outfit. By putting on military uniform, one is made to see, feel, taste, smell and hear the South African nation in the hands of gigantic military masculinities ready to defend and protect lives. It is clear that the intensity of South Africa’s medical response to the Covid-19 pandemic is sensualised by evoking a battle-scape, hence this warfare is visualised through the President’s military outfit. Since militarism is linked to masculinity, what we see is a veneration and glorification of military masculinities (Mawere 2019, 2016; Vambe 2012). In Zimbabwe’s 2018 national elections, both the Zanu-Pf and MDC presidential candidates, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa respectively, in various and interesting ways, positioned themselves as militants to demonstrate their masculinities, virilities and capacities for national presidency (Mawere 2019). President Ramaphosa’s military regalia is therefore a dramatization, ritualisation and masculinisation of his own power and South Africa’s power.

President Ramaphosa is confident of the national army as he postulates, “You are strong, capable and able to undertake this mission. Execute it with great success.” This does not only show the military mightiness of South Africa, but also that a nation’s mightiness is measured through its military and militarism. The words ‘mission’ and ‘execute’ are highly martial terms that imply accomplishing a given duty, winning a given battle and tactical and careful application of military methods. This language produces visual and aural imageries of a nation in a battle for survival. However, subversively, militarism and battles are also re/produced and characterised as normal and necessary for survival in our everyday lives.

The war imagery demonstrated by Ramaphosa’s military regalia was made real when the military was deployed on the streets to enforce lockdown regulations. South Africa’s combat imagery is further buttressed through the circulation of videos on social media, showing soldiers imposing martial punishment on people who failed to comply with the ‘command’ to stay at home. Such punishment includes the offenders being forced to do press-ups, frog-jumps and rolling on the ground and rarely the skop ‘n donner, skiet and donner which Ramaphosa said should generally be avoided.

Normalising militancy and military victories as nationhood

Ramaphosa admitted that South Africans would be fearful of seeing soldiers patrol the streets with their guns. He however argued that the deployment would restore trust and confidence, implying that militarism gives some sense of security. It is interesting to think of how a gun-wielding culture restores people’s trust and confidence and the impacts of re/producing such a culture in South African communities. Adorations of military masculinities lead to war being valued and legitimised in a manner that naturalises violence as a solution to conflict, and makes militarism a foundation of society (Mawere 2019; Cock 1989). Such a militarist culture accounts for much of the violence in South Africa (Cock 2004).

It is therefore important to problematise Ramaphosa’s argument and how it might encourage individuals and groups to find comfort in possessing weapons such as guns, and what effects this has on South Africa’s challenges of violence against the weak as well as gang violence where guns and killing are used in the initiation of gang members. This is more frightening in the sense that guns are phallic objects and symbols of masculinity (Mawere 2019; Suttner 2009) and in the presence of literature that relates militarism to rape. One is made to think of Zimbabwe’s ‘Operation restore legacy’ where military excesses and macho nationalism were justified in the name of the nation (Mawere 2019).

Given the language characterising Ramaphosa’s address to the nation, it is therefore very significant to ask; As the nation attempts to stop the spreading of the corona virus, what other sub-text are stopped from spreading and what sub-texts are allowed to spread? Narratives around curbing and stopping the spreading of the Corona virus, Covid-19 have spectacularly taken; and have been driven by a military language rather than a medical language. The virus itself has been seen as an intruder into South Africa and its possible spreading in South Africa has been imaged as an invasion of the South African space. Considering the national call to fight the virus and the gathering of military warfare to ensure a South African victory, we should ask ourselves if we are not creating sub-texts that normalise fighting and violence as the ultimate solutions to disputes and aggression.

South Africa is a country facing a lot of challenges around violence and any act to normalise warfare in South Africa should make us think really deep. Considering that violence is re/produced through discourse and that discourse performs violence, it is important to re/think the effects of a language of warfare and its attachment to notions of nationhood and national survival especially in a country like South Africa which has a history and current challenge of violent crime and gangsterism.

In addition, Covid-19 has been regarded as foreign, and only forcing its way into South Africa to destroy the nation. Since it has been established as common-sensical that any foreign body has to be met with violent force and warfare, one can imagine what this means in a country with a thick history of xenophobic violence. This becomes a serious issue considering how ‘hygiene’ and ‘distancing’ are offered as primary to flattening the virus and how ‘foreigners’ are considered national pollutants and the presence to foreigners is sensitised as unhygienic and precarious for the nation.

A lot of literature has demonstrated how gender related disempowerments, crimes, eliminations and exclusions increase as states get more militarised and as militarised nationhood is intensified (Mawere 2019, 2016). Above that, militarised nationhood banks on gendered and sexualised scripts that privilege patriarchal cultures.

Mediating South African identities in the context of Covid-19

While South Africa’s efforts to stop the spreading of the Corona virus, Covid-19 needs to be applauded, it is important to reflect on how the language and methods used re/produce and perform dominant knowledges around nationalism, militarism and gender. Equally important is a reflection on how this re/production and performance of nationalism, militarism and gendered identities naturalises certain behaviours and actions which end up re/producing and acting out scripts that are based on power hierarchies, masochism and violence. In South Africa’s dealing with Covid-19, I see militant masculinities as central to the national project, trapping people into an everyday life of militarism, vigilantism, masculinity and violence. As we deal with the Corona virus, Covid-19, we should all pose and reflect on what discourses we are re/producing and performing as the normal and the kind of South Africa that we re/imagine. It is important to problematise the place and space of gender and power in the nation’s militarised struggle against Covid-19. 



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