The University of Pretoria’s Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender invites you to a web-based partner forum series on digital advocacy towards gender and social justice. The sessions will be facilitated by Adebayo Okeowo and the platform will allow you to engage on a range of key digital activism issues like: the shifting shape of advocacy against gender-based violence during COVID-19; and ethical and political implications of taking our work into online spaces. Adebayo is an experienced lawyer and visual campaigner who is passionate about using technology and digital media to promote human rights.
Members of the public are invited to join us in these conversations, with three available sessions:
Session 1: Tuesday, 23rd June 2020 from 14.00-16.00, or
Session 2: Thursday, 25th June 2020 from 14.00-16.00, or
Session 3: Friday, 26th June 2020 from 14.00-16.00
Please RSVP to: firstname.lastname@example.org with your preferred session(s) to receive the Zoom meeting information and link(s).
When final year medical student Bettina Buabeng-Baidoo approached the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G) at the University of Pretoria (UP), in her role as Fundraising Officer in the South African Schools Debating Board (SASDB), to collaborate on a social justice writing competition for high school learners, we were very excited.
The South African Schools Debating Board is a non-profit organisation which facilitates World School Style debating in the nation. The SASDB believes that debating and public discourse are pivotal tools in creating a more tolerant and equal society.
The CSA&G runs a social justice project for students at UP, Just Leaders, and we have learned that the energy, enthusiasm and sense of justice in young people is infectious, and critical to a functioning society based on freedom of speech, fairness and dignity, determined to redress the imbalances of the past.
This volunteer programme, funded by the Students and Academics International Assistance Fund (SAIH), aims to build an inclusive UP, one which recognises that differences around class, ability, socio-economic status, gender, sexuality and race still matter in who arrives at, and succeeds in, the University. The Fees Must Fall movement was an earthquake for the tertiary sector, in its aftermath there is still much work to be done.
This social justice writing competition was Bettina’s brainchild; building on her work with the SASDB where she coaches young people in debating skills. This marriage of her interests and the CSA&G’s ethos has been a happy one. Together we developed a call for schools in Gauteng to send teams of Grade 10 – 12 learners, accompanied by their debating teacher, to a one-day workshop on social justice. The workshop was hosted with the generosity of Crawford College in Pretoria and we especially single out Yvonne Reddy for her support for the day.
Run by volunteers of the Just Leaders programme, the workshop explored human rights and social justice in South Africa, and then homed in on themes of race, inequality, HIV, sexualities and gender as exemplars of work that still needs to be done in South Africa to realise the dream of an equal and fair society.
Participants in this workshop were then invited to write and submit an essay which had social justice as its theme. While they were encouraged to write on the themes of the workshop, any essay which explored justice in post-Apartheid South Africa was eligible. We selected the most promising essays, provided feedback for re-writes and revisions where necessary, and helped to polish them lightly so that they shine. We did not select winners or runners up for this exercise, but chose to showcase a cross section of stories instead: the entries appear in no particular order.
It is important to note that we obtained full consent from the essay writers and their parents/guardians for these stories to be published.
This consent was important because we discovered that the learners did not hold back! HIV diagnoses, rape, gender violence, questionings around sexual orientation and gender identity, provocations around race (did it still matter today – definitely said one writer, it shouldn’t said another) and questions of privilege and culpability come up in these stories. There is a rawness to some of them and while they don’t reflect the views of the CSA&G, the SASDB, or the schools from which the learners are drawn, we are also passionate in our defence of their right to have their say. These are their views, their stories and we are proud of them. We hope you will be too.
The Just Leaders project was launched in 2018 as a flagship programme of the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender at the University of Pretoria. Just Leaders draws on the student body 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 region,” (CSA&G, 2020). Through its focus on student-led and informed research, advocacy and support of intersectional social justice, the Just Leaders programme develops justice-driven leadership that works to improve and sustain inclusive tertiary environments.
The collection of designs that follow in this publication flows from one such Just Leaders initiative. Together with artist and activist Brenton Maart, the Just Leaders research cohort of 2019 gave expression to their own understandings, interpretations and critiques of the notion of “social justice”. Over the course of a year the students engaged in a series of workshops around themes of social justice, political citizenship, activism, agency and intersectionality. Along with the theoretical components of these workshops, the students, under Maart’s guidance, also acquired skills and methods including photovoice and visual literacy.
The outcome of the project challenges its audience to engage with young leaders, not through mediated or second-hand accounts of their experiences and perceptions of social justice, but in their own words. The photos used were taken by the students themselves – self-portraits capturing what appear to be everyday moments – and the text that accompanies the pictures stems from conversations with the students. Together these designs ask of us to rethink not only the supposed limits of student research, but also challenges us to engage in intimate ways with the thinking of the CSA&G’s Just Leaders.
Pierre Brouard – introduction
It would be an underestimation to say that we are caught up in a critical global moment around racial justice – well it feels global, though it might be true to say that beyond Covid-19, other parts of the globe are caught up in their own social justice struggles (Hong Kong, China, India, Russia come to mind). The struggle I am referring to is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest movement in the US, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, echoed by mass protests in many countries, especially the UK where the disproportionate policing of black bodies has always been an issue.
In South Africa we have also seen protests in support of the BLM movement, and our government has made a call for three consecutive “black Fridays” in solidarity with BLM. Our own context has brought an added nuance, in that there have been protests around the killing of Collins Khoza and others in the wake of heavy handed lockdown enforcement. In the private school, and Model C sector there are calls from many former and current black students for a reckoning around schools which are racist and have had a history of exclusion. This is not a new phenomenon, but I believe the current wave of protests is inspired by BLM; they are a call for long overdue action in the many private schools struggling to transform.
However a young black man of my acquaintance was scathing about these private school protests, calling them out for what he said was their middle class privilege.
Writing in the Mail and Guardian , William Shoki argues that a class analysis offers a better insight into current forms of oppression here. Noting that South African incidents of police murder in this country, per capita, are actually three times higher than in America, Shoki suggests that the role of the police as a professional body of law enforcers is not a response to crime, but is a response to the threat that collective [working class] action poses to elite rule, and the unequal social arrangements which undergird it.
Identification with the victimisation of black Americans, he says, “reveals an unwillingness to confront the class character of police repression. So long as there is a capitalist state entrenching private property relations, there will always be some kind of security apparatus to defend it”. In the US this has racism coded into its logic of operation, and in South Africa, class relations.
What we need to do, he suggests, is to embrace and channel rage and protest towards the objective of a better world beyond capitalism.
Of course he is not arguing that the anti-racism project in South Africa is complete, nor that we should not support Black Lives Matter protests. Our history of Colonialism and apartheid harm means that we are still not transformed. I have worked in the school setting and many black students speak movingly, and with anger, about micro aggressions and racism (conscious and unconscious) that they see and feel every day. George Floyd’s death was a trigger, Shoki’s analysis notwithstanding, for many South Africans, mostly black South Africans it could be argued, who feel, at a deeply personal and visceral level, the hurts and rage of history, far and recent.
Here are some thoughts and feelings from CSA&G colleagues on these recent events.
I think people often forget how influential identity truly is. It is easy to tell someone to not care about what others think of you. How well does that truly work? What happens when those who are meant to lead and protect a society, show you time and time again that some members of that society are valued less than others?.
Society teaches us that some people do not matter. That it is OK to treat some people poorly and not see them as people, but less than people.
From a young age, it was made clear to me, that the colour of my skin makes me less than human. That sounds dramatic to some people but let me walk you through it. I was born in foreign country and lived there for most of my childhood. The reason for that was that it was immoral and illegal for my parents to be in a relationship. The country both my parents come from deemed interracial couples to be unnatural, immoral, and therefore illegal. This meant if my parents wanted to be with each other and with their children, they would need to flee from their home and take refuge in a foreign land.
At my school, a teacher told me that I should feel privilege to be in that school, because it gave me an opportunity to be outside of the dangerous area “from where I came”, not knowing that I lived close to that school. It is the same school where a learner told me that the “great thing” about me is that while I look black, I at least have the brain of a white person.
As a teen driving with my brother and father, we got pulled over by the police and my dad was asked if he was being hijacked, while my brother was being searched by the police. To their mind, we were not a family driving together but rather two coloured men hijacking a white man.
These are some examples of racism that I have experienced. From these and many more experiences, I learned that society sees me and people who look like me as criminals, dangerous, violent, and intellectually inferior.
When people say black lives matter, what they are saying is that for centuries the lives of black people have been seen as less valuable than other lives. And now the lives of black people should be valued, respected, and protected as much as other lives have been.
Whether listening to a radio talk show, watching a docuseries, reading a newspaper or an academic article, I often hear social justice activists and scholars influenced by the works of Paulo Freire reiterate the following words: “The structure is still exactly the same, only, it has become even more efficient in terms of oppression.”
However, what might have changed at a superficial level is who are the oppressed. The world all over is confronted and turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the midst of this crisis we are once again witnessing high levels of police and army brutality, both in the United States and right here at home in South Africa. Two cases that have dominated media headlines recently are the killings of two black men. The death of Collins Khosa of Alexandra Township, South Africa, and the death of George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. These cases are similar, yet different.
In South Africa Collins Khosa died after being assaulted at home by SANDF soldiers, who have since been cleared of the charges, despite a post mortem report stating that Khosa had died of blunt force trauma to the head (Venter, 2020). George Floyd has died as a result of a police officer placing his knee on Floyd’s neck, for nine minutes, resulting in his death (The Indian Press, 2020). These tragic incidents drive one to think deeply about of the concept of “locus of enunciation”, in how one tries to think, understand and make sense of these killings of two black men, in different parts of the world. Locus of enunciation, is a concept coined by Walter Mignolo (2007) and broadly understood as “to think from where you are located” (Mignolo, 2002). Ngungi wa Tiongo speaks about it in terms of the base: “how we see a thing even with our eyes is very much dependent on where we stand in relation to it” (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2018).
As a black South African woman, how do I think of, make sense of, and even speak of, the death of Collins Khosa, in particular? Living in what is said to be a democratic South Africa, led by a black government. And, I wonder how those in the global north, think of, make sense of, and speak of, the death of George Floyd in a Trump-led country.
Being situated in South Africa, my history and the events leading up to the death of Khosa, forces me to think deeply and critically about our struggles in Africa. Kwesi Prah reminds us of an elite who has inherited and extended the lease of life of the colonial culture. An African elite who has integrated themselves and trying to get a position on the table of western culture. Since the dawn of democracy Kwesi Prah argues that we have succeeded in sending our kids to their schools, learn their languages, speak like them, like the things they like, eat exactly what they eat and drink what they drink.
He pushes it further by stating that when we do all these things COLOUR does not save us, instead we become part of a culture. He posits that human beings are cultural animals and in South Africa we have succeeded in integrating ourselves into a particular culture (Prah, 2017). Therefore as we think, make sense of and try to understand the death of Collins Khosa, we must remember that our struggle in Africa is not just about race. Instead it is to lift the condition of our history, our culture, our, languages, our heritage and place it at the centre, and that is not blackism, it is Africanism. It is not just racism that we are fighting, we are fighting for the upliftment of the African history, culture, society, AFRICANS! The fact that most Africans are black does not make all blacks African (Prah, 2017).
Looking at both the cases of Collins Khosa and George Floyd I am reminded of James Baldwin’s words when he said “don’t try to be safe, nobody is ever safe…people are not wicked because they do wicked things. The reason I want to suggest it to you is because I want you to know that there is nothing that has been done to you that you are not capable of doing to someone else.” (Baldwin, 2017).
What we are witnessing in the United States currently in relation to the ongoing protests ignited by the murder of George Floyd is what Kwesi Prah would characterise as an African-American struggle to remove the privileges that whites have over blacks. Prah asserts that US politics and systems have dictated the terms of the freedom struggles of African-American people – a struggle formed around challenging white dominance and privilege – versus the freedom struggles in Africa where questions of identity, language and culture have predominated (Prah, 2017).
bell hooks, in her book titled Black Looks: Race and Representation, says because African-American people have been socialized within white supremacist educational systems and by a racist mass media, “many black people are convinced that our lives are not complex, and are therefore unworthy of sophisticated critical analysis and reflection. Even those of us righteously committed to black liberation struggle, who feel we have decolonized our minds, often find it hard to ‘speak’ our experience. James Baldwin understood this. In The Fire Next Time he reminded readers that ‘there has been almost no language’ to describe the ‘horrors’ of black life. Without a way to name our pain, we are also without the words to articulate our pleasure” (Hooks, 1992).
In their similarities and differences the tragic and unfortunate deaths of Collins Khosa and George Floyd in the hands of state should invite us as “critical thinkers to break with the hegemonic modes of seeing, thinking, and being that block our capacity to see ourselves oppositionally, to imagine, describe, and invent ourselves in ways that are liberatory. Without this, how can we challenge and invite non-black allies and friends to dare to look at us differently, to dare to break their colonizing gaze?” (Hooks, 1992:2).
Being involved in social justice work and activism, and as I witness different forms of injustices unfold during these trying times, I concur with Thuli Madonsela’s sentiments in an open letter she recently wrote to our President, stating that “the constitution requires that no section of society should be unjustly and unfairly excluded from opportunities, resources, benefits and privileges. No group should bear a disproportionate burden.”
Rather, we should build a society which tolerates, respects and treats cultural differences equally. And, remember that South African society has the ingredients for a truly cosmopolitan culture with contributory derivations from all parts of the world.
Tumelo “Duke” Rasebopye – Do #BlackLivesMatter in South Africa?
I have been a victim of police violence before and have had a front row seat at how brutal the police can be towards an innocent citizenry. First, in 2015, when a friend and I were arrested while commenting on the police’s violent interventions towards a line of people looking to buy food from a sidewalk vendor; second, later in 2015, during the #FeesMustFall protests, when students from higher education institutions across the country gathered peacefully at the Union Buildings and were ambushed with rubber bullets and teargas after having being called back by authorities for an apparent address by the President; and then in 2016 when we participated in peaceful protests advocating for fair labour practices and the equality of students in the teaching and learnings activities of the University of Pretoria.
What is clear is that #BlackLivesMatter raises an issue that is not just limited to acts of police violence and brutality towards black persons in the USA alone, but gives us an opportunity to interrogate what seems to be an institutional culture that is a cancer to the police’s reputation internationally. Yes, we have been here before, and so have generations before us, but one gets the sense that this time around it has gained a heightened level of attention, gaining allies from unexpected groups and sectors, and hopefully this will be significant enough for it to advance real change.
As wonderful as the support has been from South Africans, one can’t help but notice the overwhelming silence of South Africans towards the excessive force being exercised in our own country. It’s saddening to have seen people being shamed for having not posted anything about BLM while also noting the struggle of local activists in trying to bring attention to, and seek justice for, victims here.
The Covid-19 lockdown period has exposed the blatant racial bias that exists in the South African Police Service and the South African National Defence Force. We have seen the level of humiliation used towards black communities in reinforcing the lockdown regulations, we have seen the lengths that law enforcement has gone to in order to locate and arrest offenders who trended on social media. And we have seen the violence used in enforcing these regulations, resulting in death as well. This is not the same energy exercised towards predominantly white communities who may document their violations on social media as well.
Unlike in the USA, the violent enforcement of the law in South Africa is mostly perpetrated by black police officers. This makes it clear that we are not only dealing with a historically racist institution, but that it is so structurally violent that it no longer matters what the race of the police officer is.
The institution remains mostly violent towards black people and black communities in particular and seems to reserve the serving and protecting for white people, privileged persons with power, and those communities and persons who present an association with or proximity to whiteness.
It truly is a joy to have activism reach such levels globally and that groups that have been marginalized historically and structurally today have found a collective voice to call for justice where offences exist, and social justice in its entirety wherever they may live, work or find leisure. The reality is that the hashtag will probably lose traction, the following will reduce significantly, and people will likely return to this issue when someone else dies and we find ourselves outraged by seeing the video on the internet.
There is still a lot of activism needed before we can claim success or any progress towards dismantling this system, but we need to start getting angry at our own institutions here in South Africa and start demanding accountability for the injustice, violence and racial profiling that continues to exist in our country. Especially considering that it is the majority in this instance that remains oppressed and still dies due to the service it receives from the police.
Baldwin, J. (2017). Baldwin Speech: Living and growing in a white world
Hooks, b. (1992). BLACK LOOKS: race and representation. South End Press. Boston, MA
Mandonsela, T .(2020). Dear Mr President – open letter from Thuli Madonsela is going viral!
Mabhena, C. (2019). On the Locus of Enunciation
Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S.J (2018). THE DYNAMICS OF EPISTEMOLOGICAL DECOLONISATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY: TOWARDS EPISTEMIC, FREEDOM. Strategic Review for Southern Africa, Vol 40, No 1. Change Management Unit (CMU) University of South Africa, Pretoria
Prah, K, P. (2017). Has Rhodes Fallen? Decolonizing the Humanities in Africa and Constructing Intellectual Sovereignty. The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF) Inaugural Humanities Lecture. HSRC, Pretoria.
Prah, K, P. (2018). The challenge of language in post-apartheid South Africa.
The Indian express (2020). Explained: Why George Floyd’s death sparked violent protests across the United States
Venter, Z (2020). Soldiers cleared of Alexandra man’s murder
Walter, D. M (2002). The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference
 See here https://www.release.org.uk/publications/ColourOfInjustice for a report on this
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?
Excerpt from a forthcoming CSA&G monograph
by Mary Crewe
Folks, we either have a country or we don’t
Earlier in 2020, Paul Simon recorded from isolation, American Tune for Til Further Notice 03/19/2020:
I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t know a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
or driven to its knees
In her book, Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag (2003:5) makes the point that after WW1, there was the realisation of the ruin Europe had brought on itself. That is what we need to reflect about when we think about COVID-19, the lockdown, the destruction of the economy and surely the fracturing of society. While the virus was a random event and circled the world very rapidly – the response – the shutting down of society and the economic and social consequences that will follow, were entirely the decision of our own and other governments, backed up by the hysteria and anxiety generated by WHO and the pandemic of panic that was created by the media. The early responses late 2019, set the scene for what was to follow. Mainstream media revelled in crisis and drama and rising hysteria and the South African media has largely followed suit. One notable exception is the news updated regularly by the Swiss Propaganda research group (https://swprs.org/a-swiss-doctor-on-covid-19/) offering fully referenced facts about COVID-19, provided by experts in the field, to help readers make a realistic risk assessment.
We are in the nightmare of a random control trial of one. There is no control group, just the experiment. No placebo, just the untried drug. The state is now invested and locked into lockdown orthodoxy. If it works and the epidemic is contained, those who imposed this will be heroes, if not they will be able to claim that they were acting on the best evidence available at the time. The bio medics and the epidemiologists will win either way.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) exhorts us to “play your part”’ in the fight against #COVID19. “Follow the rules, and cooperate with healthcare professionals,” so too the politicians who will also have a greater arsenal of weapons for social control and further action. A phrase much-beloved of politicians is that they are “following the science”. Mostly however, this is being used “far more as a blame-deflecting tactic than as an acceptance of the disagreements, hypotheses, uncertainties, and traditions of rigorous questioning of actual science.” The National Security Agency whistle blower Edward Snowden warned that governments are using the coronavirus to build an “architecture of oppression”.
The world, said Edward Said is full of, “not so much intellectuals, but experts and professionals – and there is a great pressure on them to commodify their skills and expertise in a given field. And by virtue of that they then belong to a community of experts whose whole role is selling the wares to the establishment. That the principle goal in mind is not to tell the truth, or to say what the alternative to the present is, but rather to maintain the status quo, to satisfy the customer – to represent the ideas of power that rule the world in which we live.”
What we have seen, are seeing with COVID-19 is the array of experts on our TV screens telling us what we ought to know, what we ought to do and how we ought to behave. The public health crisis has hastened the transition to autocracy, and there are serious doubts about the capacity of countries to effect a course correction once the threat from the virus abates. S. Y. Quraishi, the former Chief Election Commissioner of India, writes that, “Joseph Cannataci, the UN special rapporteur on right to privacy, has rightly observed, ‘Dictatorship often starts in the face of a threat.’ Earlier it was the invisible and distant threat of terrorism that demanded obedience, now it is the threat of pandemic – a fear closer to home – that is pushing people to give away their rights.” The question is for how long?
The imposition of any kind of emergency, formal or informal, without an expiry date, should be cause for deep anxiety – as is the case with the current Lockdown 4 where there is no sense of a time frame – just the implicit threat that one way or another it will depend on how we all behave.
This is political science, in other words, as opposed to empirical science. As Lionel Shriver wrote, when this is all over we deserve an enquiry – conducted by independent scientists who’ve not attached reputations to any policy or prediction. In years to come, we too will see that this was a plot against ourselves, or as in the world of sport the disastrous own goal.
Of course attempts to curtail epidemics raise – in the guise of public health – the most enduring political dilemma: how to reconcile the individual’s claim to autonomy and liberty with the community’s concern with safety. How does the polity treat the patient who is both a citizen and a disease carrier? When does the citizen become merely a subject? And in the end what is most important, the rights of the infected or of the uninfected? Sometimes, as Sontag wrote, a disease is just a disease. But, such is the power of fear, of the unknown, of infection, of epidemics, that diseases become powerful metaphors for social issues beyond the death and the pain that they cause.
From the earliest times to the present, epidemics have affected human history in myriad ways: demographically, culturally, politically, financially, and biologically. Humans have never known a time in history when epidemics did not loom large. This is as true today as it ever was. And, despite claims that we would defeat it we are still living with HIV, with the shadow of cholera, with TB, with the memories of Listeriosis. All of these it was claimed would change the world as we knew it. In the end, though, we have learned to live with them rather than be controlled by them.
In this way we, too have forgotten about them.
In 2018, a total of 63 000 people died of TB in South Africa and the WHO estimates that around 301 000 people fell ill. There is, however significant uncertainty about this estimate since there is a 95% chance that the real number lies between 215 000 and 400 000. AVERT estimates that South Africa has the biggest and most high-profile HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 7.7 million people living with HIV in 2018. South Africa accounts for a third of all new HIV infections in Southern Africa. In 2018, there were 240,000 new HIV infections and 71,000 South Africans died from AIDS-related illnesses. And let’s not forget that South Africa, in 2017, had the worst outbreak of Listeriosis in global history.
There are no daily mention of AIDS and TB in the news, no condolences to their families, no flags being flown at half mast, no saluting of the health care workers, and no social panic about drug resistant TB. All these diseases have available treatments and yet, these figures are astoundingly high.
Bambi in the Headlights
It’s astounding how various Ministers can, without shame or irony, say that COVID-19 has shown us the inequalities in this country. The lack of water, of power, of roads and transport. How could they not know this intimately? Why have they not acted before with water tanks and mobile support units? It’s not as if we have a shortage of labour – far too many people available for such work. But it’s part of finding an external agent to blame. This is the result of Apartheid – correct – but that’s not a new insight. Close your eyes and you would think that you were back in Apartheid South Africa, ponderous ministers having interminable press conferences surrounded by compliant bureaucrats, and brooking no questions or dissent.
Growing up under Apartheid you were schooled on the irrationality of power. On the capriciousness of Ministers and politicians making things up on the hoof, deciding what was good for you and what was not. We listened to Apartheid Ministers saying why Black people should not have access to alcohol or good housing or education. We hear it again. Apartheid, of course set the pattern for how we live, but what is actually happening to change this? In 25 years, many kilometres of piped water can be laid, many flushing toilets can be built at schools, many points of power can be connected, many panes of glass can be fixed in schools and chalkboards replaced. The fact that there have been gains in these things does not make the absence right, it makes the insult of poverty worse.
It cannot be that these terrible social inequalities are only now being exposed by COVID-19.
Hierarchies: Necessary and essential?
How are the lockdown decisions made? There is the fiction of the collective but that is disingenuous. This is a modern Cabinet working in a modern, constitutional democracy. It is not an NGO governed by the collective. Who determines, during this time, what is necessary? Who decides that it is possible to buy a winter duvet but not a cotton duvet cover? That expensive bubble bath can be bought, but not short-sleeved shirts? We have debated the cigarettes and alcohol and hot chicken endlessly and there are reasons that transcend public health at play. Smoking will not add to your risk of the virus (it is possible it may be protective) nor will alcohol. The lockdown started as necessary to contain the virus and then morphed into moralising, irrationality, seeming indifference and a lack of care.
As they (and we) regard the pain of others the various politicians claim to care – but they don’t, not really. No, “we” should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s pain. The failure of these politicians is one of imagination, of empathy – we do not hold the lived reality of people in mind. Compassion, is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action or it withers.
If they cared, they would take and use the money from the “sin” taxes, they would clarify and simplify the lockdown conditions, they would allow exercise all day and they would admit to failures of government.
This is why the rhetoric of “our only interest is our people’s health” feels no longer avuncular but tinged with something more sinister. In the same way that Sontag asks who the “we” is – who is the “our” in this? In far too many of the comments made by people in power there is a sense of power, of patronage or patriarchy and the sense that the populace – we the people – have to be controlled, brought into line and shown the folly of our ways. Were there a real understanding of ‘our people’s health’ then there would be no ban on cigarettes, alcohol or hot food. The moralising that comes from some of the medical commentators about the costs of emergency services, and of the health benefits of not smoking or drinking, are simply fatuous in relation to COVID-19.
In addition, the threats and bullying made by some of the decision makers are simply markers of a profound disrespect for “our people”.
“For Minister Cele to treat the public as errant schoolchildren – if one of you misbehaves, none of you can play outside – is behaviour that is way beyond the scope of the [Disaster Management] Act. Indeed, it has no place in a constitutional democracy. To be sure, in an authoritarian state, or sadly the USA of President Trump, collective punishment is employed. But in a constitutional democracy, such threats should have no place.” People who deliver threats of this kind have no place in senior political positions. Listening to this kind of menacing paternalism are we really surprised at the levels of sexual and gender-based violence in our country? What is our nation’s beleaguered identity in times of crisis?
What is necessary?
By the same reason, what or who is essential? We are allegedly all equal but some are more “essential” than others, we have a new hierarchy. Those that are now regarded as “essential” are also those that society tends in “normal times” to neglect and abuse. Teachers, nurses, refuse removal workers, store cashiers and many, many more are now “essential”. We have never considered them that before – if we did we would have paid them “essential” wages. We would make sure that the disparity between the earnings of doctors and nurses was not so vast, or between civil servants and the people employed in the local and provincial authorities who actually do the work.
It’s easy to understand the cynicism. Please don’t blow the vuvuzelas at 7pm, clap on Thursdays, cite us in speeches when at all other times the people now regarded as “essential” rank very low in the employment hierarchy – and whose professions are dismissed with disdain by many middle-class people and so called “captains of industry”. It is also easy to understand their fear. Never respected, before but now you’re placed in the frontline as essential to the response.
Who is essential?
We have been here before
“In September 2005, Dr Nabarro, the WHO’s public health expert coordinating the response to avian influenza, told the Associated Press that a global avian influenza pandemic could kill 150 million people worldwide.” “The overall human death toll was low — in the hundreds — but scientists and government officials feared that the virus could ignite a human pandemic reminiscent of the catastrophic 1918 Spanish flu. Emergency plans were drafted, experimental H5N1 vaccines were created and tested, antiviral drugs were stockpiled. And then … nothing happened.”
In 2020, in his COVID-19 narratives, Nabarro claimed we would see explosive outbreaks in just 2-3 weeks, a pandemic that doubles in around 2-5 days, which means an 8-fold increase in a week, a 250-fold increase in three weeks and a 1000-fold increase in 4 weeks – the WHO was projecting terrifying levels of world deaths. Bill Gates made the point that, “this is a nightmare scenario because human-to-human transmittal respiratory viruses can grow exponentially … [and] … that curve would never bend until you had the majority of the people infected and then a massive number seeking hospital care and lots of lots of deaths.”
So who do we believe? Increasingly the bio medics – the “expert” virologists and epidemiologists are telling us that there is a great deal about this virus that we do not know or understand. That does not stop them, confidently, from speaking with authority. If they got it so wrong with avian flu, is there the possibility that they could be so wrong again. Dissenters are seldom listened to, and no one seems to be anxious that the Imperial College study (not peer reviewed and later admitted to be flawed) was the one that set the tone.
At the start of the HIV and AIDS epidemics we were faced with similar reactions. There was social and political panic. There were calls for isolation and quarantine. In our country we faced calls for the criminalisation of infection, for AIDS to be a notifiable illness and for people not to consume alcohol as this would lead to a lowering of inhibitions, unsafe sex and infections. Early on there was the anxiety and fake news about touching, kissing, saliva, and sharing utensils. AIDS, we heard, would change the world as we knew it, destroy the country, the region. It would cripple industry and the bureaucracies. There were dreadful images of marauding bands of young people threatening our security and many apocryphal stories of deliberate HIV infections or horrifying acts that required prompt action. None of this came to be. The wild projections of the numbers that would be infected and die were wrong, over dramatised and in the end we live with AIDS. Indeed we forget now about the daily toll that AIDS takes on the society.
People are now saying that we need to “learn” to live with this virus and not to be controlled by it. We need to understand it and manage it. This message is not the one that the stages of lockdown give us – that message is that we are controlled by and at the mercy of this virus.
This has led to discomforting “war talk”. Boris Johnson referred to COVID-19 as an “invisible mugger”. President Ramaphosa has said that we will need to think “post war”. Essential people are regarded as being on the frontlines, fighting “the war” in the trenches. The economy was “destroyed” by COVID-19, as if this virus has declared war on the economy. In fact, being controlled by the virus rather than controlling it – a clear and rational decision was made that “we” would destroy the various economies of the world by shutting both them and populations down. Along with the war talk we have the exaggerated use of language.
We have seen all this before – James Baldwin may have been right when he claimed people are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.
Being a spectator of calamities taking place in another country (or even one’s own) is a quintessential modern experience: “the cumulative offering of more than a century and a half’s worth of those professional, specialised tourists, known as journalists. These journalists come together now with a new powerful force of bio medics and politicians.”
In the end – a peasant that Inspector Salvo Montalbano met in the pursuit of solving a case said, “I don’t think, Mr ‘Nspecter. I don’t wanns think no more. The world’s become too evil.”
It has, but if we are to try and understand the calamity that has taken place in our country – we need to remember that there must be criticism: “there must be a powerful critical consciousness if there are issues, problems, values – even lives – to be fought for.”
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 Thurschwell, Pamela. American Tunes for Coronaviral Times: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and John Prime, 2020 https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/american-tunes-for-coronaviral-times-bob-dylan-paul-simon-and-john-prine/?utm_source=Los+Angeles+Review+of+Books+Subscribers&utm_campaign=ffd60b05fd-02%2F16+Newsletter_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_06979e2d46-ffd60b05fd-345801969&mc_cid=ffd60b05fd&mc_eid=a15351b95c [Accessed 5 May 2020].
 Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. (New York: Picador, 2003), p5.
 This quote is the slogan being used by the NICD in reference to Covid-19.
 Cowper Andy. “Slippery Language and Defensive Politics Try to Hide the Real Problems,” The BMJ Opinion, 30 April2020. https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/04/30/andy-cowper-slippery-language-and-defensive-politics-try-to-hide-the-real-problems/ [Accessed 4 May 2020].
 Tariq Ali. Conversations with Edward Said. (Seagull: New York, 2006), pp.110.
 Quraishi, S. Y. Across the World, the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Become an Invitation to Autocracy, 2020. https://thewire.in/government/coronavirus-pandemic-autocracy [Accessed 5 May 2020].
Cowper Andy. “Slippery Language and Defensive Politics Try to Hide the Real Problems,” The BMJ Opinion, 2020. https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/04/30/andy-cowper-slippery-language-and-defensive-politics-try-to-hide-the-real-problems/ [Accessed 4 May 2020].
Shriver, L. I have Herd Immunity, 2020. https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/I-have-herd-immunity [Accessed 5 May 2020].
 Baldwin, Peter. Disease and Democracy. (Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005).p 3
 Sontag, Susan. AIDS and its Metaphors. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York, 1989), p10.
Louw, Marcus. 63 000 TB Deaths in SA in 2018, 2019. https://www.spotlightnsp.co.za/2019/10/18/63-000-tb-deaths-in-sa-in-2018/ [Accessed 3 May 2020].
Avert. HIV and AIDS in South Africa, 2020. https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/sub-saharan-africa/south-africa [Accessed 5 May 2020].
The Western Cape premier suggested that flags should fly at half-mast in honour of people who have died from COVID 19.
 The Economist. Smokers Seem Less Likely Than Non-Smokers to Fall Ill with Covid-19, 2020. https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2020/05/02/smokers-seem-less-likely-than-non-smokers-to-fall-ill-with-covid-19 [Accessed 3 May 2020].
 Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. (New York: Picador, 2003), p7.
 Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. (New York: Picador, 2003), p101.
 Singh, Kaveel. Tobacco Ban: Our Only Interest is Our People’s Health, Says Ramaphosa, 5 May 2020. https://m.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/tobacco-ban-our-only-interest-is-our-peoples-health-says-ramaphosa-20200505 [Accessed 5 May 2020].
 Professor Balthazar. Is This Truly Necessary? 5 May 2020. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2020-05-05-is-it-truly-necessary/ [Accessed 5 May 2020].
Hattersley, Giles. The Judi Dench Interview: “Retirement? Wash Out Your Mouth” 4 May 2020. https://www.vogue.co.uk/news/article/judi-dench-vogue-interview [Accessed 5 May 2020].
Bonneux, Luc and Van Damme, Wim. “An Iatrogenic Pandemic of Panic,” BMJ, 332:786 (2006).
Branswell, Helen. What Happened to Bird Flu? How a Major Threat to Human Health Faded From View. 13 February 2019. https://www.statnews.com/2019/02/13/bird-flu-mutations-outlook/ [Accessed 4 May 2020].
 Nabarro, David. Get Ahead of Covid-19 NOW! 22 March 2020. https://www.4sd.info/covid-19-narratives/narrative-eight/ [Accessed 4 May 2020].
Wayland, Michael. Bill Gates Calls Coronavirus Pandemic a “Nightmare Scenario,” But Predicts Lower Death Toll Than Trump. 5 April 2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/05/bill-gates-coronavirus-pandemic-a-nightmare-scenario.html [Accessed 5 May 2020].
Medical Brief: Africa’s Medical Media Digest. Debates Rage Over “Severely Flawed Imperial Study Sparked UK Lockdown. 1 April 2020. That https://www.medicalbrief.co.za/archives/debate-rages-over-severely-flawed-imperial-study-that-sparked-the-uk-lockdown/ [Accessed 3 May 2020].
Crewe, Mary. “AIDS, Democracy and the University,” Unpublished address. (Pretoria: University of Pretoria, 2004).
 Sharaitmadari, David.“Invisible Mugger”: How Boris Johnson’s Language Hints at His Thinking. 27 April 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/apr/27/muggers-and-invisible-enemies-how-boris-johnsons-metaphors-reveals-his-thinking. [Accessed 5 May 2020].
 Erasmus, Des. Radical Economic Transformation Best for SA Post-Covid-19, Says Ramaphosa. 6 May 2020. https://city-press.news24.com/News/radical-economic-transformation-best-for-sa-post-covid-19-says-ramaphosa-20200506 [Accessed 6 May 2020].
Crewe, Mary. AIDS, Democracy and the University. 2006. Unpublished address.
Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. (New York: Picador, 2003), p18.
Camilleri, Andrea. Rounding the Mark. (London: Picador, 2006), p.111.
Said, Edward. The World, the Text and the Critic. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 28.
I 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.
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.
- The failure of the investigation officer to follow up and contact the complainant after statements were taken.
- Re-traumatisation as a result of having to give a second statement because a new detective was now assigned to the case.
- 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.
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 Simon Nkoli Collective is a partnership with the Dean’s Office – Faculty of Humanities, the Centre of Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G), the Centre for Human Rights (CHR), and the Sociology Department. The Collective aim is to use this exhibition to open debates on transformation, social justice and ideas of memory 25 years into democracy. Moreover, the exhibition is also a celebration of the Faculty of Humanities Centenary through which Simon Nkoli’s memory is evoked as a site for reflecting on Black queer resilience. The desire to inhabit the past through Simon’s journey is to map this existence within the contradictions of (in)equality.
Why Simon: The aim is to provide an interesting and engaging introduction to the history of LGBTIQ activism rooted in Black narratives. In the excavation of the earlier narratives of black queer visibility it is difficult to overlook the much-documented life of Simon. It is undeniable that he championed many efforts. When Simon Nkoli’s memory is revisited, three images are often portrayed: his anti-apartheid, HIV/AIDS, and LGBTI activism. Some argue that he was an internationalist. Nonetheless, Nkoli remains one of the prominent internationally celebrated South African black queers.
The photographic exhibition profiles a series of thirty images, eleven awards, one video installations and a kanga designed by Kenyan visual artist Kawira Mwirichia. The nature of the installation requires minimal narration with the material intended to solicit the participatory presence of a spectator. Visitors will absorb, critically analyse and construct for themselves the Simon they prefer.
Dates: 17 July to 9 August 2019
Viewing times: 9:00 to 16:00
Venue: New Student Gallery, Javett Art Centre, UP Hatfield Campus