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The Unwarranted, Unneeded and Unprovoked Side Effects of Covid-19 on the Black Community

By Relebohile Naledi Sekese

When initial reports of the newly discovered coronavirus, aka Covid-19, became public, I, like many others, was intrigued, almost fascinated.

Turning on various news channels and observing how one of China’s busiest cities suddenly becoming a ‘ghost town’ due to this supposed outbreak of Covid-19, was something completely foreign to me. A sickness likened to the common cold or ‘flu, holding thousands hostage and killing hundreds more, was a completely extraordinary occurrence, almost too hard to believe. Nonetheless, none of my business I thought, after all I wasn’t the one eating bats or exotic snakes right (courtesy of President Donald Trump’s declarations at various press briefings and national addresses)? Wrong. Covid-19 quickly became my business, it became everyone’s business, overnight.

On 23 March 2020 the leader of the Republic of South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa, announced that our beloved country would be entering a 21-day lockdown as of immediately. Life as we knew it was about to change forever. Within a matter of days of the commencement of the lockdown, it became disgustingly clear just how divided and unequal our nation is, as if we needed any reminder.

Twenty-five years into democracy and the rainbow nation dream of our late Nelson Mandela, the ever so stark contrast between white and black has not faded. One would assume we would’ve managed to uphold the principle of Ubuntu (togetherness) far greater than the sad reality we face today in this country. The various ways in which both black and white people are regarded whether by media, educational systems, or even the handling of criminal behaviour, could not be more different.

It is no secret that historically, our black and brown community has a sour and poor relationship with our police and defence forces. Several videos and images of our people being degraded, humiliated and beaten, or should I rather say, subjected to ‘skop n donner’, quickly circulated in social media. Witnessing large drones of army vehicles parading around townships while screaming at civilians to return to their houses became a new reality. Sadly, once again, black and brown communities were being made ridiculous examples of by authoritative powers such as news stations and police members, over something they had no part in creating or spreading. The virus originated offshore and was sadly brought in by members of a travel group who had contracted it in Italy. The group thereby unknowingly spread the virus to multiple people within their proximity, which resulted in the alarming situation we now face today.

Entrepreneurs, ranging from street vendors selling apples and onions, to hair salons operating on a walk-in basis, all quickly had to come to terms with the new world order. Thousands applying for unemployment, grants and credit extensions while more affluent communities being afforded the luxury of cleaning out shelves and stores to selfishly hoard essential items, was a heart-breaking actuality. One could liken it to watching a sick and twisted episode of Black Mirror.

The consequences of Covid-19 will long be felt, most especially by the already disenfranchised and marginalized. Factors like poverty, inequality, access to quality education and so forth have a larger influence over a person’s health status and health outcome, rather than individual habits. Housing, employment and basic healthcare are all areas which have been alarmingly put in the spotlight in the last few weeks. Before this pandemic most of us did not truly realize the importance of frontline workers such as cashiers, nurses etc.

We do know however, that structural racism is a key driving force of those social determinants mentioned earlier. The community you come from, your birth name and your educational background are examples of factors that can dramatically tip the scale regarding the luxuries and privileges you can be afforded in life. Our communities are in crisis and will require explicit and intentional effort to address these factors, long term and short term. Testing, support to community-based organizations, access to PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for essential workers and added financial support are just a small number of factors that need to be handled in order to get through the worst of this pandemic.

Of course, with that being said, these are just superficial efforts that will grant temporary ease or aid. The core of issues surrounding disenfranchised and poor groups goes far beyond a few masks or grants. A complete restructuring of governmental departments, employment systems and wealth distribution will need to be reanalysed by the necessary authoritative parties. This most certainly won’t be a simple or quick task, but extremely necessary if underprivileged groups are to stand a chance of surviving this phase of life.

Can we get through this (Covid-19)? Yes we can. A little battered and bruised might I say, but nonetheless, we will overcome. We are a resilient nation after all, so racially and socio-economically diverse. And as the pitori (common lingo or language spoken by residents of Pretoria) proverb goes, “We fall, we phakam, we move”, meaning we never stay down for long, we dust ourselves off and always keep going.

About the author

I am currently studying BCom Economics in my final year. I joined the CSA&G’s Just Leaders programme in 2019 out of interest after I had seen some marketing campaigns on campus and haven’t left since. I am part of the Befriender, Research and Community Engagement programmes. I was moved to write this piece as a way to communicate my feelings and thoughts regarding our current global situation

Reflecting on my time at the CSA&G – Chris Joubert

by Chris Joubert

Chris JoubertBack in 2014 when my friend told me about the CSA&G volunteer training he was doing, I saw it as a pointless distraction.

A few weeks later, we both had a large gap between our classes, and he had to attend a catch-up session at the Centre. I went with him to this session in order to kill some time and it was incredible.

My friend had joined the Future Leaders at Work volunteer programme of the CSA&G to find something to put on his CV and not just “be a student”. I did not really see the point of this because I had never considered that I would have to do more than just get my degree.

Both my parents never finished school and to them if their kids went to university, they would have better lives. When I got into UP it was sort of a surprise to most of my family members because I was not the type of person who excelled at school. A few of my teachers told my parents that I might have a problem “paying attention and staying on topic”.

They were not wrong. I got into a disagreement with a teacher about why a certain “nude” colour was considered “mens kleur” (the default colour of “humans”). In short, I was “that kid”, who always had a smart answer or had to be difficult. My sister called it an “obedience disorder”. In her view I had an impulse to disobey authority figures. I needed to learn to listen and follow orders, “because that is how it is”, she said.

Arguments like these have always annoyed me. The fact that something is “that way”, just because it is what it is, was never a good enough answer for me. Going to Tuks was, however, a great opportunity and I did not want to disappoint the people who gave it to me. So, I knew I would focus on my studies and not get distracted with anything other than what I had registered for.

During that first 2-hour session at the CSA&G, I learned that the Centre was the type of place that asked difficult questions. The type of questions most people I knew would answer with “that’s how things are”.  During my second year I formally joined the Future Leaders at Work (now called Just Leaders) training and a few societies.  I looked forward to these sessions mostly because it was one of the few places that encouraged me to imagine what the world could be like, rather than asking me to assimilate to how the world is.

By the end of the year I signed up for the Befriender programme, which provides pre and post test counselling for people who want to test for HIV, as well as the rapid test itself. The training taught me a lot about lay counselling, but it forced me to do a lot of self-evaluation and come to terms with some personal things I did not like dealing with.

After that I ended up spending a lot of my time at the Centre. I only had to volunteer 2 hours a week for the programme, but I ended up spending most of my day there. I absolutely loved counselling. I loved being able to help people and in some small way being able to make a difference. By the end of 2016 I graduated from Tuks and thought I would have to leave the Centre but fortunately I still managed to volunteer there. In 2017 I started volunteering for about 20 hours a week and before the end of that semester they offered me a position.

Working at the Centre is great and is something I would literally have done for free. In a way the Centre changed for me. This change presented me with an opportunity: as a volunteer I was mostly using the Befriender skills and my job description was clear; as a staff member I was giving a chance to do whatever I wanted to support and promote the Befriender programme.

Not being given a narrow job description seemed frightening at first. Soon I learned that it was quite freeing. I got a chance to be involved in what I was interested in. I started by co-facilitating the training and supervising of new Befrienders.  The Befriender training runs for 7 straight days, roughly 8 hours a day. By now I have facilitated a number of Befriender trainings and it is so amazing to see how much a person can change in one week.

Each group of volunteers I have been a part of training is so unique. Training and working with these volunteers is one of the most enriching and at times extremely challenging things I have ever done.

While the Befriender programme takes up most of my time at the Centre, I also started getting involved in other activities, like doing talks at TuksRes. From time to time TuksRes approaches the CSA&G to give talks to their students, often around sex, sexualities, gender identity and GBV.

Even though these talks mostly happen in the evenings, and in some cases I have shown up a bit tired to some of them, I get a surge of energy speaking with these students. I sometimes take the safe CSA&G space for granted and forget that it is still not very easy for people to talk about some things. Creating a safe space and allowing people to speak more freely really empowers everyone.

Beyond the work I do with students at the CSA&G, it has been a true honour working and learning from the staff members of the Centre. We never have a single dull moment. Considering the diversity of the people who I have met at the Centre, there is always a fantastic blend of intriguing perspectives, new information, and of course, humour.

With the nationwide lockdown in affect and no clear sign of when it will end, most of the type of work I am used to, has essentially stopped. Frustrating as that may be, I suppose like most of my time at the CSA&G, this challenge brings a new opportunity to try new approaches to our work.

An important part of the CSA&G is the environment it creates. During this lockdown, a lot of people are left feeling vulnerable. A safe space is one of the things people really do need right now.  How do we continue to provide that safe space?

Leadership during Covid-19

By Vickashnee Nair

What makes a person a leader is complex, especially during crises such as the one we all face at this point in history.

Why leadership matters now

In these times, leaders can seek to emerge, and those that have been longstanding leaders are tested. This goes beyond the obvious examples of presidents, ministers, and politicians; but to community leaders, pastors, celebrities, activists, managers, bosses, CEO’s, and many others. Leaders all hold positions of power and how each chooses to wield such power plays out in numerous ways.

This might be partially due to the idea that leaders depend upon their followers and how these followers define, and think about leadership (Felfe, & Schyns, 2010). One cannot exist without the other, one is the flame and the other the kindling with which to ignite it. Followers need to perceive their leaders as trustworthy, charismatic and transformational (Felfe, & Schyns, 2010).

Now more than ever leaders at the forefront of managing and addressing this unprecedented pandemic are being scrutinized by their followers. Every address to the nation by President Cyril Ramaphosa is followed by analysis and discussion. Commentators have critiqued decisions by leaders in the USA and the UK, noting how citizens, often poor and black, have been at the mercy of the decisions made by their leaders with regard to access to housing and healthcare. And when followers see their leaders become ill with Covid-19, they are reminded that we are all mortal and fallible. Boris Johnson’s ill health, and that of numerous celebrities, reminds us that the virus does not discriminate, and can make their followers feel anxious.

What kind of leadership do we need right now?

Leadership is a complex phenomenon and can mean such a variety of things. A useful definition is that it is a collective relational phenomenon that is “cultured” and situational (Kirk, & Shutte, 2004): it emerges in a specific context and time. This contrasts with notions of charismatic leadership invested in heroic individuals and ones usually in dominant hierarchical positions in a community or organizational system.

Presidents and leaders who feature regularly on social media and television screens offer one kind of leadership, but community leaders offer what has been called “distributed” leadership. This emerges through a process of dialogue, connectivity and empowerment: leadership within communities of different people who come together in collaborative endeavour (Kirk, & Shutte, 2004). Plurality and robustness of engagement are its hallmarks.

However, when there is a global crisis that faces leaders and people, there is a sense of urgency and immediacy and leadership efficacy tends to look very different as priorities drastically change. In this context it can be argued that there is a need for both charismatic, confidence inspiring leadership (it is seen as decisive), as well as elements of distributed leadership (it is seen as collaborative and inclusive).

What pressures do leaders face?

The response of people during a crisis is often to look to leaders to “do something” (Boin, & Hart, 2003). Leaders are often the face of pandemics, crises and periods of hardship for many: they can emerge as either heroes or scapegoats (Boin, & Hart, 2003).

As unease sets in, and there is a growing sense of vulnerability, people often look to something (or someone) to help with such uncontainable feelings. As a leader, the pressure to react in an authoritative manner to such anxieties of people is quite formidable (Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009). Citizens expect to be safeguarded by the state, and returned to a sense of normalcy (Boin, & Hart, 2003). Crises, or in this context a pandemic, are highly chaotic, and dynamic, fuelled by uncertainty and threat; which all significantly disrupt social, political and economic processes (Boin, & Hart, 2003). Something so labyrinthine poses a challenge to most leaders.

How should leaders respond?

How do leaders respond in ways that still maintain their status as leaders but allow them to adjust and be flexible during a pandemic?

What might be helpful here it to look at how leaders seem to perform against the expectations of the public. Discrepancies between expectations and performance have been explored by Boin and Hart (2003) and they seem applicable to the Covid-19 pandemic. One expectation is that leaders should put public safety first; however research has found that leaders often have to consider the economic and political losses of regulating and enforcing maximum safety (Boin, & Hart, 2003).

This highlights how there are costs to public safety during a pandemic: in order to prevent spreading of the virus and to ensure the safety of its citizens South Africa has enforced a lockdown that has severely limited movement and activities across the board. This has come at the cost of social lives and income for business, has impacted on the economy negatively, and has changed the way schools and tertiary institutions have had to take the academic year forward. This all in hopes of achieving a greater good, albeit with sacrifice. However, it is often this cost that is hardest to adjust to, even though it is a means to an end.

This adjustment that has been a source of conflict between government and its citizens. There have been individuals who have attempted to go against this public health safety mandate: they have looted liquor stores, held wedding ceremonies with numerous guests, or tried to smuggle people in car boots across provincial lines (Grobler, 2020; Karrim, 2020; Maphanga, 2020). It is tempting to see them as “antisocial” but they illustrate how curtailments on freedom are a painful price to pay and not straightforward.

During a crisis there is also an expectation that leaders should be seen to take charge and provide clear directions for crisis management, apparently operating alone as the symbolic head of crisis operations. In fact, crisis operations often work through multiorganizational, transjurisdictional, polycentric, response networks, and there is lateral collaboration (Boin, & Hart, 2003). Evident here is a tension between appearing decisive, yet at the same time consulting widely. Perhaps what is needed is a blend of both these approaches.

Arguably, President Ramaphosa has approached decision making in the pandemic in this way. He has consulted with various sectors, stakeholders, experts and professionals before making pivotal decisions (Evans, & Cowan, 2020). He has shown collaborative leadership, working with others to make decisions that impact on the whole country. While this seems to fit in with ideals of community leadership, there is a sense of an individual who is able to steer a firm and decisive course.

What then emerges is an approach to crisis leadership. Crisis leadership is a specific response during critical situations like a pandemic. Competent crisis leadership has two stages: the emergency phase, and the adaptive phase (Heifetz et al., 2009). In the emergency phase the leader undertakes to stabilize the situation and buy more time, and in the adaptive phase they need to respond to uncertainties of the populace (Heifetz et al., 2009). It would seem we still find ourselves in the emergency phase as we attempt to stabilize our country and buy more time – South Africa, like much of the world, still finds itself in lockdown and under stringent restrictions. As these need to shift, the test for President Ramaphosa will be how he leads during the adaptive phase.

What is an effective leader right now?

Drawing on the work of Kerrissey and Edmonson (2020), there are a number of steps that a decisive crisis leader may need to take: acting with urgency, communicating with transparency, responding productively to missteps, and engaging in constant updates. All seem to highlight how imperative it is to communicate, respond with speed, and react with productivity and practicality. Similar sentiments are found in a study by Wooten and James (2008) on leadership competencies during crisis management. The following emerged: signal detection which involves making sense of the situation; empathy with those impacted; prevention and preparation which includes agility; and containment and damage control which encompasses decision making under pressure; and learning and reflection (Wooten, & James, 2008).

Looking at all of this holistically an image of a leader during hardship emerges: someone who is able to work collaboratively, get the best information possible, engage in thoughtful planning, execute well, act decisively and inspire confidence. It is an almost impossible task and no one person every gets it completely right!

What does all this mean to me?

As previously mentioned, leaders are not always powerful presidents, statesmen, or politicians, or even the people whose faces light up screens across the world. Beyond the form of leadership we want from someone like our President, as explored above, all of us can offer more humble forms of leadership in our everyday interactions and more localized spheres of influence. This has caused me to reflect upon my own leadership role professionally.

I have recently started a job at the CSA&G, one which has required me to take on a leadership role with the Just Leader programme. This is a volunteer and leadership development programme for students at the University of Pretoria. It builds active citizenship in student leaders and promotes social justice, critical consciousness and inclusive practices.

The programme has been a prominent one at the Centre and its alumni have taken the work into their personal and professional lives. It was a daunting task to work with and manage students as I had never been placed in a position of leadership before, and it was a learning curve for me each time I walked onto campus.

Through interactions with each volunteer, I began to get a sense of each person, their personalities, their stories and their voices. This helped me get to know the programme better and see in vivo how relationships between students have thrived. This felt like a privilege and it has made me reminisce on my own experiences of being a student and my own development.

However, leadership comes with its own difficulties and growing pains. Being decisive and taking responsibility for others has not been easy. And the Covid-19 pandemic has made my role much more challenging. I was faced with anxieties of panicked students and students who felt “disillusioned with it all”. Students were wondering how they should proceed, and were worried about dangers of infecting or getting infected. This confronted me and made me question all my decisions. I had an inkling of how leaders at higher levels might have felt as they struggled to deal with this pandemic.

My colleagues in the programme and I had to make the difficult decision to delay all activities during the lockdown. We had to decide to be flexible about how we worked with students. We had to make our work and the mission of the programme translatable to students when we could not be in the same room as them.

Leaders have quite rightly been the focus of many discussions around this pandemic, as they have become its face. We will remember the faces of those who delivered national addresses, or who gave supplies to those in need, and those professionals providing lifesaving advice and information. They confronted us with the hard but necessary changes we had to make, even when they faced a backlash Leadership is not for the faint hearted.

 

My name is Vickashnee Nair and I am a 26-year-old Indian female originally born in Lenasia. I joined CSA&G as a researcher for the Just Leadership Programme in 2020. I have completed my Masters in Community Based Counselling Psychology through the University of Witwatersrand and I am working towards becoming a registered Counselling Psychologist. My interests include sexualities, gender, mental health, community and health psychology, and race. I have had experiences working in therapy and assessment in various communities, including the student population.

References

Boin, A. and Hart, P.T., 2003. Public leadership in times of crisis: mission impossible?. Public administration review63(5), pp.544-553.

Evans, S., and Cowan, K. (2020). ‘Ramaphosa to make ‘serious decisions’ about lockdown based on science, possible economic, repercussions’, News24, 9 April. Available at: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/ramaphosa-to-make-serious-decisions-about-lockdown-based-on-science-possible-economic-repercussions-20200409 (Accessed: 20 April 2020).

Felfe, J. and Schyns, B., 2010. Followers’ personality and the perception of transformational leadership: Further evidence for the similarity hypothesis. British Journal of Management21(2), pp.393-410.

Grobler, R. (2020). ‘Lockdown trunk call: Man arrested for trying to smuggle girlfriend to Mpumalanga’, News24, 20 April. Available at: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/lockdown-trunk-call-man-arrested-for-trying-to-smuggle-girlfriend-to-mpumalanga-in-car-boot-20200420 (Accessed: 20 April 2020).

Heifetz, R., Grashow, A. and Linsky, M., 2009. Leadership in a (permanent) crisis. Harvard Business Review87(7/8), pp.62-69.

Karrim, A. (2020). ‘Bride and gloom: KZN couple arrested on wedding day’, News24, 5 April 2020. Available at: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/lockdown-bride-and-gloom-kzn-couple-arrested-on-wedding-day-20200405 (Accessed: 20 April 2020).

Kerrissey, M.J. and Edmondson, A.C. (2020). ‘What good leaders looks like during this pandemic’, Harvard Business Review, 13 April 2020. Available at: https://hbr.org/2020/04/what-good-leadership-looks-like-during-this-pandemic (Accessed: 20 April 2020).

Kirk, P. and Shutte, A.M., 2004. Community leadership development. Community Development Journal39(3), pp.234-251.

Maphanga, C. (2020). ’21 arrested after 16 liquor stores looted in the Western Cape, Cele calls urgent meeting’, News24, 12 April. Available at: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/21-arrested-after-16-liquor-stores-looted-in-the-western-cape-cele-calls-urgent-meeting-20200412 (Accessed: 20 April 2020).

Wooten, L.P. and James, E.H., 2008. Linking crisis management and leadership competencies: The role of human resource development. Advances in Developing Human Resources10(3), pp.352-379.

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 et.al, 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, et.al, 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. 

Bibliography

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.

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

Students represent UP at the Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference on sexual and reproductive health and rights

Twelve students from six UP faculties (Humanities, Education, Economic and Management Sciences, Engineering the Built Environment and Information Technology, Law and Natural and Agricultural Sciences) were selected to represent the University of Pretoria at the third Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference (SARSYC) on sexual and reproductive health and rights in Lusaka, Zambia from 10 to 13 July. These students are active members of the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender’s (CSA&G) Just Leaders Volunteer and Leadership Development Programme and devote their time outside of lectures to co-create safe and inclusive university spaces.

Under the theme Plan Prioritise and Prevent, the conference called on governments and stakeholders to effectively plan for the realisation of young people’s sexual reproductive health and ensure that there is a coordinated response in addressing students and young people’s sexual reproductive challenges and the prioritisation of key populations amongst the youth constituency. These are students in institutions of higher learning with a special focus on the female student, LGBTI youth, young people with disabilities and young people living with HIV and all stakeholders to join the efforts towards preventing early and unintended pregnancies which usually escalates to unsafe abortions and deaths, whilst ensuring that girls remain in schools until they complete their education.

The UP student delegation was accompanied by three CSA&G staff members and one staff member, Mr Duke Rasebopye, also facilitated a session at the conference on UP’s anti-sexual harassment training interventions and programme, under the #SpeakOutUP umbrella. The Just Leaders programme is supported by the Students’ and Academics’ International Help fund (SAIH) in Norway and their support funded the UP delegation’s attendance of SARSYC.

The Dean of the Faculty of Humanities hosted the delegation for a send-off function prior to the conference. From left to right, front row: Kimberly Munatsi, Sebabatso Mapheleba, Boitemelo Nokeri and Mohau Nei. Back row: Prince Mkhondo, Nthathi Mabena, Dimakatso Mocumi , Kgaugelo Sehoole, Deliwe Chakapu, Dineo Mautjana, Tebello Moreboli, Duke Rasebopye (CSA&G), Prof Vasu Reddy (Dean: Faculty of Humanities) and Johan Maritz (CSA&G) Absent: Karabo Hermann and Belinda Pakati (CSA&G)

 

A version of this article was first published on www.up.ac.za 

Introducing Just Leaders

Just Leaders is the new flagship CSA&G volunteer and social justice leadership development programme and is made possible through the continued support of the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH). The programme evolved from the CSA&G’s previous Future Leaders @ Work programme and endeavours to build a movement of active citizen student leaders that promote social justice, critical consciousness and inclusive practices at the University of Pretoria and supporting similar movements at partner universities in the Southern African region.

Just Leaders’ theory of change is: “Through promoting social justice, critical consciousness and inclusive practices, we will co-create university environments that are responsive and transformed by just leaders.”

Only students of the University of Pretoria are able to join Just Leaders as volunteers.

Read more about the project here.