I was born in South Africa, classified ‘Indian’ by the Apartheid Government, schooled with and educated by Indians. I still maintain a family home, in what used to be and largely remains a Group Areas Act Indian settlement, in Northdale, Pietermaritzburg.
When I saw the news of Jackie Shandu’s comment, ‘one Indian, one bullet’, I was not filled with anger or moral outrage. I did not respond with shock or horror. My heart sank, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of utter helplessness in the face of what I knew was going to be a backlash of mammoth proportion against this passionate young scholar and activist. I believe Shandu was attempting to express a National and unspeakabable grief (that is being suppressed and ignored in a most inhumane way) through his use of a turn of phrase that is symbolic in South Africa’s history of protest. This is, in my opinion, the legitimate use of artistic and literary device to vocally express that struggle and the lack of actual power or, as in this case, weapons.
To truly understand and obtain a holistic grasp of South African Indian racial prejudice of the kind that led to the Phoenix Massacre, and all manner of violence against Black bodies around the Province, including my town and area, one must have lived, breathed and moved among the ‘race’ as I have. But most importantly one must be seen as ‘wanting to belong’ to this cultural group, racial category, classified community, as apart from, and even against, other so-called ‘communities’, a term that seems to have become an accepted and constitutionally sanctioned euphemism for race. To associate with Blackness beyond any perfunctory level of interaction, such as labour, business or casual social niceties, is unusual, especially for Indian women. Inter-marriage is an ultimate taboo and will have you disowned, ostracised and isolated if not declared publicly insane.
It is difficult to be intellectual about what to me felt like an attempted genocide of Blacks by so-called ‘Indian Communities’. Discourse around Asian Anti-Black racism in Africa and abroad is by no means new. That Gandhi used racist notions of cultural superiority to plead the case of Indians as deserving better treatment and greater freedoms than their Black counterparts to the British is similarly well documented. To deny now, as absurd and untrue, that cultural, economic, socio-political and linguistic prejudices and behaviours kindled and nurtured by the Apartheid state and perpetuated beyond it by the permanence of the Group Areas Act as the ultimate social and racially motivated social engineering experiment, has led to this bloody moment in South Africa’s violent history, is National mental illness and tragic delusion.
I am terrified of Indian racism in South Africa. I don’t remember an exact moment of any realisation of it, but the recollection of my fear of it began as a child. It was triggered by sight, sound and general sense. The tones of voice and body language reserved for Blacks. The jobs reserved for Blacks. The language reserved for Blacks. The dishes and utensils reserved for Blacks. With the privilege of an educated and politically involved family, as well as by virtue of being in the Christian minority among Hindu’s and Muslims, my inter-racial social interactions were unusual compared to my peers. We socialised to some extent with people of all races and class. There was no overt racism in our household (which is not to say that it did not exist), which made it all the more complex and difficult to comprehend when confronted with the extremities of it among peers. Apartheid was ultimately a lived reality based on difference that we wore like second skin.
The late eighties ushered in a new era of discourse in Indian High Schools. Suddenly we were discussing the potential repercussions of a New South Africa in which we would have to integrate or at the very least assimilate. The idea seemed inconceivable. My most outstanding recollections of those debates were that the boys were up in arms that their half-clothed sisters would be at the mercy of Black predators at the local Olympic Swimming Pool. Any dissention was seen as lunacy and sexual deviance. General racist slurs, the gruesome sexual dehumanisation of the Black female body in casual conversation, the construction of the Black male body as representative of physical threat and sexual violence was the everyday stuff of my teenage years.
Thirty years later, the more things have changed the more they have stayed the same. I have developed a near phobia of leaving my yard for fear of what I will see or hear beyond it. They WE us THEM decent blacks LOOTERS stupid illiterate useless K……For the duration of the period in which so-called communities felt the need to patrol the suburbs armed with artillery, knives, sporting equipment, garden and household cleaning implements as well as Bob whistles in defence of their lives and property, I lurked awake, night after night, sick with fear that the men marching up and down past my house would get what they desperately wanted – A Black to kill, preferably a Zulu, but any would do. People died here. But it wasn’t a massacre and we’ll never know. People died all over. And we’ll never know. But we do know about Phoenix.
When Jackie Shandu made his statements on the stairs of Durban City Hall last week, I had yet to have seen any public comment or media coverage that located the Phoenix Massacre, or any other racially motivated violence in the Province, within the context of deep-seated entrenched Apartheid racism among White, Coloured and Indian so-called communities. The prevailing narrative was one of stubborn defence. While the bloodletting continued unabated the SA Human Rights Commission, the DA, African Democratic Change, The South African Hindu Maha Sabha and eThekwini Municipality said and did nothing. The contrasting response of the public to so-called Hate Speech as opposed to Hate Action speaks volumes of the hypocrisy upon which this Democracy is based.
Jackie Shandu retracted his statement for obvious reasons, made as they were ‘in the heat of the moment’. Had he not, I would support him anyway. If Mr Shandu is to be held up to the Nation as an example of the consequences of ‘hate speech’ where are the warrants of arrests for the hundreds of Indians, Whites and Coloureds (including teenagers) who filmed and posted to social media their hateful, barbaric incitements to murder (and in at least one instance rape) Blacks in so-called defence of property? Until that time, when the daily humiliation, deprivation and dehumanisation of Black Africans by Indians (and other minorities) is boldly acknowledged and addressed at its root I will stand by my support of both Mr Shandu and his statement and continue to reject the racist identity of ‘Indianness’ foisted upon me by both the Apartheid and current government, as an abomination and embarrassment. Bite that bullet.
The rain beats purposefully down upon the tin roof. The sound is orchestral and makes it all the more difficult for me to hold in last night’s drink now terrorizing my four year old bladder. Grandpa snores gently at the far end of the gigantic bed. He is a Health Inspector and rides a motorcycle. Sometime he lets me wear his helmet and pretend to ride but no matter how hard I try to stretch my fingers across I cannot grasp both the handles and the brakes simultaneously. Granny’s chest heaves beside me under the stifling guthrie (A heavy covering made of many old blankets stitched together and covered). If I wake her now, she will be cross and grumpy. She will swear and curse under her breath so as not to wake grandpa, and pinch my arm and push me hastily down the slippery, ragged brick path to the outside shed. There I will climb up the gigantic wooden box and straddle myself across the pit-drop toilet while the paraffin lamp in her hand casts a ghostly glow over the proceedings. Tomorrow, I have been warned, THE PRISONERS are coming to fetch THE WASTE. I am to remain indoors and out of sight for the duration of this event under threat of a severe beating if I don’t. I wonder what THE PRISONERS will look like. I think of THE HOBBIAHS in the story that Ayah reads to me, with their red eyes and sharp teeth, tap tap tapping on the tin roof. I am thrilled and terrified that they are coming. I know I will creep creep creep to the curtain and squint through the tiniest gap in its togetherness tomorrow.
I squirm and try to HOLDIT. That’s what my mother always says when I need to go at a bad time. HOLDIT! I shift under the burden of blankets, careful not to tumble over the edge of the bed, and ponder the afternoon’s events.
My mother has been attacked by ASMA. Ayah packs my bag and dad drives me in his Valiant along the narrow, winding, dusty sugar-cane road from Shakaskraal to Verulam where I am left with my maternal grandparents because mum has had an ASMA attack. I love driving with my dad. I like to listen to the humming of the mammoth motor car, peering at the clouds through the little square window of my made-in-china plastic camera, a little replica of my dad’s real one. It has a button that clicks and a little lever that whirrs when I turn it; just like the sound of dad’s each time he whirrs the film to take a new picture. I don’t mind being away from Mum. Even when she is not being attacked by ASMA she is in a bad mood. One time she broke plates. I think it was my fault. Grandpa says I’m a good girl but mum says I’m not. She smacks me when I pick the flowers from her garden but I can’t help it. They are so pretty and inviting, especially the little purple ones with the yellow and black tumbling all out of the middle that she keeps on special shelves in a special place on the veranda. They are AFRIKIN VYLITS. Come and look at my AFRIKIN VYLITS says mum when there are visitors and they have finished their tea. Besides there is plenty to be done at granny’s house – chickens to feed, eggs to gather, dogs to pet, cats to chase, fruit to eat. Maybe a visit to the shops would yield granny sweets; hot, sharp peppermint disks wrapped tightly together under a wrapping that said XXX. My taste buds had tingled in anticipation as I lay back and closed my eyes into the sun, colours popping and bursting in my brain. And dad driving.
The tin shack has a kitchen with an enormous primus stove, a small bedroom hardly larger than the enormous bed and a modest lounge. It nestles below road level at the bottom of a curving, sandy driveway, neighbourless and surrounded by bush and a small forest of litchi and mango trees. Behind the house a dull concrete building is divided in to a single parking garage and a large coop; beside this are scattered kennels and cages of the rescued creatures that the WHITE LADIES of the Animal Anti-cruelty League bring to Granny en route to their new and hopefully happier lives. One time there was even a goose that chased me. I’d run for my life from the creature, as it snapped and hawed at me, running and jumping and leaping, clumsy and deranged. I’d burst into the kitchen, slamming the flimsy door shut in the nick of time, it’s breath still hot on my behind. I try not to remember my fear and make another concerted effort to HOLDIT.
When the WHITE LADIES come I have to stay out of the way and be quiet. Granny takes out the special WHITE LADIES cups and saucers. Grandpa and Mum look like white people but they are not. Granny is short and round and dark. She is definitely not a white people. Ayah is a HINDOO. She has mandarin skin. She was dark like granny but wanted to be light like mum so she tried a medicine that didn’t work and now she has mandarin skin and no one will ever marry her so she has to look after me forever. She likes to sing. Sometimes when there are weddings she dresses up in a fancy sari and sings a special song. Then she doesn’t look like my ayah any more. Then she looks like a HINDOO princess, like the pictures above the brass lamp in her father’s barbershop. Mum never wears saris. Mum wears WHITE LADIES clothes. Sometimes she even wears trousers. Ayah says mum is a very special lady because she looks like a WHITE LADY. Ayah says I am very lucky that a WHITELOOKING lady like my Mum is looking after a DARKLOOKING girl like me. She says Mum and Dad broughtmefromthehospital when I was two weeks old. Ayah also says sosadshecanthaveherownchild.
Granny has saris. She has cut one of them in half for me, lengthwise, to drape around myself; the pleats stitched together, easy to wind round and round and fling over my shoulder as I sing the made up words to my HINDOO songs. Only today, though, I have been slapped for singing in my sari. For a second I forget to HOLDIT as I remember the stinging humiliation of the afternoon.
Ayah had taken me to a prayer. There had been bells and shells and lots of singing and sweet things to eat. I thought of the singing when dad had left me and driven off in a cloud of sand. I could remember some of the words. REAL WORDS! That was much better than the silly MADEUP words I would sing, to the tunes of HINDOO songs granny and grandpa listened to in the evenings on their record player that looked like a little square suitcase, while whirling and twirling in my little sari. PAR PAR ZINDAGEEEEE KAHBI KAHBI MERE SONA HE LALALA AH AH OH OH ….
HARE RAMA, HARE KRISHNA, HARE, HARE, HARE, HARE! I sang in my sari. HARE RAMA, RAMA RAMA, KRISHNA KRISHNA!!! I sang in my sari and whirled and twirled in the fading light watching and listening for the purr of grandpa’s motorcycle coming down the drive in the looming dusk. HARE RAMA HARE KRISHNA … The sudden grab of my arm, the twisting pinching flesh, the quick-fast five-fingered explosion of pain in my gums and teeth and eyes, so unexpected, sucking the sails out of my sari as granny shrieks and shrieks. DON SING THAT, DON SING THAT, WE ARE KRISTIANS WE ARE KRISTIANS. SING ANY OTHER WORDS ANY OTHER WORDS NOT THAT NOT THAT!!!!
HOLDIT HOLDIT HOLDIT HOLDIT.
The big black umbrella has kept our heads dry, but our feet and legs are wet from the rushing river of rain that races over the path to the pit. I may as well have peed in my pants I was so wet. Granny huffs and puffs under her breath, heaving and cleaving and towelling us dry before putting out the lamp and curling back under the covers. STUPIDGIRL STUPIDGIRL STUPIDGIRL.
HARE RAMA, HARE KRISHNA … I dream that I am singing in a sari. DON SING THAT, DON SING THAT, WE ARE KRISTIANS WE ARE KRISTIANS shout the WHITE LADIES. Dad is driving, mum is wearing trousers, I am a brown cloud of dust and THE PRISONERS are coming to fetch the AFRIKIN VYLITS.
Juanita Chitepo is a Theatre practitioner, musician, educationalist and writer. National Arts Festival Fringe Productions comprise a solo performance in Masquerade of Mannequins, a play exploring Indian Female Identity in SA; Speaking Spaces/ Archaeology of an African Identity, a play about the still birth of the Rainbow Nation work-shopped with and performed by Grade 10 to 12 students from 5 PMB High Schools and SOUNDGAZE: Moving Images of Marie in Woyzeck, an Inter-medial interpretation of the original comprising a live band, an original score and photographic images. She has been published by Chimurenga Magazine and National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe.
A Freedom Day reflection from a member of the Ex-Robben Islander Empowerment Forum (ERIEF)
As many South Africans celebrate the 27 April Freedom Day or 27 years of Freedom during this most trying period, which for many has been considerably worsened by the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, many liberation struggle veterans and ex-political prisoners are forced to mull over how their lives have turned out since April 27, 1994. Their daily lived experience of hardship compels them to reflect on what happened to the promised freedom and justice for which they sacrificed their youth in order for the majority to declare and celebrate this day, 27 April Freedom Day.
But, many South Africans celebrating this day are young people and adults who may not be so well versed in the praxis of struggle politics required to fight the entrenched multi-layered strategies of continued long-term aspirations of white economic domination and its associated racist oppression. These young South Africans, popularly referred to as ‘Born Frees’, are often saturated in the neoliberal ideologies so ardently pushed at universities, notwithstanding that those who push this ideology are strategically placed white academics and foreign nationals (who are employed before South African Black academics and who are not that invested in South African Black emancipatory thinking) carefully picked from the moderate liberal echelon. As such, they tend to be dismissive of the true sacrifice of the youth of the 1976 student uprising and the liberation struggle that preceded that uprising. Indeed they often frame their disparagement of this contribution by all freedom fighters on the premise of the misdeeds and corruption perpetrated by those liberation veterans who joined the anti-black ranks of the white echelon at the expense of the majority. But let us be clear. I speak for those 1976 veterans who did not jump on the gravy train and have stayed true to the struggle for the complete emancipation of the Black indigenous majority in South Africa.
It would thus be unjust to place the blame entirely on the shoulders of the millennials for their lack of a critical in-depth analysis on the struggle against the impact of the long-term aftermath of white oppression on its targeted victims and those who directly opposed it. One could rightly say that this political blankness is engineered, beginning at schools where the South African liberation struggle history has been deliberately overlooked, other than a Mandelaesque watered down Rainbow version, which hardly inspires authentic Black Consciousness or radical critical thinking. Not only that, but liberal embedded academics have smuggled in individualistic cross purpose ideological neo-theories that rule out all 20th century struggles as patriarchal and worthless.
Nowadays struggles are fractured into multiple individual problematics that vie for attention and funding from the corporatised NGO sector, at the expense of the collective struggle for the economic and cultural emancipation of our majority. This is the weaponisation of real struggles into deformed liberal frameworks that set pertinent struggles against each other. Issues that ought to be addressed in tandem with the emancipation of all oppressed peoples from the clutches of a white patriarchal stranglehold, are herded into individualistic compartments. This strategy has been carefully engineered to obfuscate the overall struggle for Black freedom by distorting radical thought into new frameworks that fracture and confuse revolutionary ideals and decimate the collectivism required as the fuel for radical emancipatory ideology on all fronts for all Black people. Ironically this shattering of collectivism ultimately protects white economic domination, ensuring the perpetuity of white hegemony. In addition there is an alarming proliferation of conspiracy theory that is eagerly taken up by a youth searching for meaning in this age of fragmentation and a vampire economy.
Surely, the ruling party has to accept full responsibility for failing to care for, preserve and protect the history and culture of the indigenous African people and their liberation struggle. What they have done instead is to ensure that the youth are spoon fed a distorted history that overlooks the dire impact of colonial brutality on our people and calls for reformation that only feeds their avaricious desire to enrich themselves at all costs. In this way instead of preserving and learning from our experiences they have disingenuously pushed the ANC as the only liberation entity that ever existed in South Africa and enforced liberal capitalist strictures onto what was once a radical objective for liberation.
Despite this our African children are clear about the injustices they are trapped in and are thus caught up in the national struggle for free education precisely because our leadership is locked into the race for self-serving enrichment and the looting of the state coffers and natural resources. It is hard not to conclude that the ruling party betrayed the indigenous African child and the nation when it reneged on, inter alia, its ANC liberation struggle promise to provide equal access to quality education as one of its fundamental objectives to reverse the racially-based socioeconomic imbalances associated to the history of colonial and apartheid era. In the haze of this engineered political blankness, the millennial struggle has glaring similarities to the 1976 uprising, a connection many are coerced into not recognising.
This distancing from our liberation ethos has been further confused by the likes of Tokyo Sexwale, as seen clearly in the social media bunfight fuelled by public allegations made by Sexwale about the existence of a Heritage Fund to help the poor. Sexwale is well known as one of the liberation struggle veterans and former Robben Island political prisoners who was quickly head-hunted to join the elite after his release. Sexwale is, inter alia, also a former Chairperson of the ANC Gauteng Province and provincial Premier of the same province. This significantly sets him apart from many of his ex Robben Island former comrades in that Sexwale now lives and enjoys a lifestyle of an international oligarch while they wallow in desperate poverty and depression.
What started off as an investigation into his allegations became a social media spectacle of speculation that seemingly divided people into two obvious camps. Those who believed his story hook line and sinker and who called out any critique of his allegations as mere anti-black conjecture, and those who laughed outright at his allegations as well as his three hour egoistic press conference. Neither of these two camps delivered on any satisfactory critical analysis of the matter. Firstly the anti-black narrative did indeed jump on the band wagon – as it always does. However those who believed his story and elevated him to the status of ‘the hero of black struggle’, also fed into a narrative that uncritically refused to analyse his intent and timing and rubbished the opinion of those who have been involved in a struggle against his own self-serving conduct – namely a collective of ex-Robben islanders who have been usurped through his accruement of obscene wealth built upon a welfare fund raised in their name that was meant to look after the needs of ex political prisoners and their dependents.
One example is an ill-informed Facebook comment questioning the timing of the statement issued by Robben Island Ex-Political Prisoners Empowerment Forum (ERIEF) following Sexwale’s allegations of the existence of the Heritage Fund.. This comment suggested that any critique of Sexwale’s utterance were somehow pushing an anti-black agenda and pushing the #ThumaMina agenda.
ERIEF thus felt it necessary to set the record straight.
The deliberate attempt at creating a public impression that the timing of ERIEF’s statement following Sexwale’s allegations may be linked to the Cyril Ramaphosa political faction/CR17 or Cyril Ramaphosa’s #ThumaMina election campaign, is ludicrous to say the least. Not only that, but to wilfully reduce the key focus of the statement to a single event and timing is both politically naive and ignorant. It is ideologically confused and a disingenuous attempt to smokescreen the real concerns raised by the statement.
ERIEF will thus not expend any energy on such attempts to associate its statement or its formation to the Ramaphosa election campaigns, except to say – we will not be distracted from our non-partisan mandate and key objective which is, to seek justice for, and to address the dire plight of the marginalised Robben Island ex-political prisoners and all forgotten liberation struggle veterans equally.
It is not ERIEF that planned and prompted the timing of the statement, but Sexwale’s public allegations that are peppered with half-truths and lies, in order to portray a false public image of his character while continuously invoking, in vain, the name of both Nelson Mandela and the Robben Island former political prisoners he has defrauded.
Furthermore, the focus of ERIEF’s statement has nothing to do with whether the Heritage Fund exists or not, or that Tokyo Sexwale’s allegations are true or not. Before Sexwale made his allegations public, ERIEF and the general collective community of ex-political prisoners and liberation struggle veterans had absolutely no prior knowledge of the existence of the Heritage Fund. Consequently, ERIEF will not comment on the existence of such a Heritage Fund or its authenticity.
However, against the backdrop of his allegations about the existence of the Fund and his key role in it, our statement has more to do with his utter hypocrisy and to highlight how over the years, Sexwale has shoddily used and treated his fellow former Robben Island political prisoners and grossly mismanaged their funds to finance his inflated personal lifestyle, while bankrolling both his political and presidential campaigns that have thus far failed to get him the presidency. This also applies to another failed Tokyo scheme, that being the very ambitious and expensive international campaign for the position of the FIFA secretary-general during which time the name of Nelson Mandela and the Robben Island ex-political prisoners became synonymous with his self-serving campaign to capture FIFA.
For more than twenty four (24) years Robben Island ex-political prisoners have sought legal recourse to force Sexwale and his cronies to account for the welfare funds (that eventually surpassed the Billion Rand mark in accumulated dividends) a matter that was officially raised specifically to address the dreadful welfare of poverty-stricken Robben Island ex-political prisoners and their dependants. This legal battle between Sexwale and the aggrieved former Robben Island political prisoners is well documented and was even covered by some of the local media houses and journalists over a period of time.
To reiterate, our original statement, the legal battle started soon after the establishment of a welfare organisation, namely the Robben Island Ex-Political Prisoners Committee (EPPC) at their 12 February 1995 reunion on Robben Island with then State President and fellow Robben Island ex-political prisoner, Cde Nelson Mandela. It was at this reunion that the EPPA was tasked the responsibility to address the plight of former Robben Island political prisoners, the liberation struggle veterans and their dependants. The name was later changed to Ex-Political Prisoners Association (EPPA) due to anticipation of potential legal technicalities).
But the EPPA could not rely on donations alone to address the plight of the destitute ex-political prisoners. It was resolved that the organisation needs to identify commercial investment opportunities that would also assist with their housing, medical aid and education bursaries, as well as to create both long-term and sustainable employment opportunities for the ex-political prisoners and their dependants.
To achieve this the ex-political prisoners resolved to set up a trust, namely MAKANA TRUST and its frontline commercial vehicle, namely MAKANA INVESTMENT CORPORATION (MIC). This was the key objective of the EPPA which is contrary to using and exploiting the organisation as a platform of selfish enrichment. It was clearly understood that the Robben Island ex-political prisoners are the Founding members of these three (3) entities, the EPPA, MAKANA TRUST and MIC. It was further clearly understood that the said entities will act in full consultation with and must always act in the best interest of the collective welfare and empowerment of Robben Island ex-political prisoners and their dependants at all times.
Not only did President Mandela officially endorse the organisation, he also actively lobbied international figures; celebrities and the corporate world to support the EPPA and its initiatives. A number of international figures and famous celebrities responded very positive to Mandela’s appeal. The international financial support was later bolstered by BEE business related partnerships with traditionally local white corporate companies who were keen to grow their BEE status by grooming their own political connectivity to ANC officials, thus government business deals and the mushrooming of ANC Alliance linked tenderpreneurs.
Soon after, ANC leadership structures were fast turned into breeding ground for aspirant tenderpreneurs to access government business contracts. They transformed and duplicated themselves into repeat business deals approved by political cronies and overseen by family foundations.
The EPPA, MAKANA TRUST and MIC were not spared. In fact the poverty-stricken Robben Island ex-political prisoners became the first victims of the corruption linked to senior ANC leaders, many named in the Zondo Commission and ERIEF’s submission.
Contrary to his claim of being a crusader of the poor, Sexwale has since 1995 enjoyed a high life of an oligarch after raising millions of funds using the name of both Nelson Mandela and the Ex-Political Prisoners, as well as their trust, MAKANA TRUST and MIC.
When the millions (which later turned into billions worth of investments and in accrued dividends) started rolling in, Sexwale and his political cronies then became greedy and corrupt and hastily put into action a plan to swindle their way out of their obligation to the welfare and empowerments objectives of the of the EPPA. The plan included fraudulently amending, in the 90’s, both the EPPA Constitution and MAKANA Trust Deed governing the organisation and its decision-making processes without any consultation with the Founding members as mandated by the original EPPA Constitution.
Once the amendments were made, Sexwale and his cronies proceeded to hijack EPPA, MAKANA Trust and MIC. After advice from some of the well-established law firms representing white business, they then exploited legal loopholes to give themselves unfettered discretional powers to do as they pleased with the funds. There became no consultation, no transparency or accountability to the destitute ex-political prisoners. Funds were then diverted into secret or person accounts and soon family foundations became very fashionable to a number of politically connected individuals.
The fact that rampant corruption paralleled to the growing number of politically connected BEE tenderpreneurs had become a standard norm in the senior ranks of the ANC was by no accident, but due to the shocking lack of diligent oversight by the entire collective ANC leadership structure, religious leaders and chapter 9 institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission.
Among a long list of those who were approached and requested to intervene on behalf of the poverty-stricken former Robben Island political prisoners are (to name just a few):-
Jody Kollapen – South African Human Rights Commission
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Desmond Tutu Foundation
Navanethem Pillay – United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner
Kgalema Motlanthe – former Deputy State President
Norman Arendse – Advocate and CSA former president
Christine Qunta – law firm Qunta Incorporated
Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota – Former ANC National Chairperson and South African National Defence Minister
Barbara Hogan – former Chair of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Finance and Minister of Health and Public Enterprises
Jeff Radebe – Minister in the Presidency
Ahmed Kathrada – Former Chairperson of MAKANA TRUST
Dikgang Moseneke – former Deputy Chief Justice
Vusi Tshabalala – Former Natal Judge President
Thandi Modise – Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa and former Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces.
All the named people were warned of the long-term implication of the corruption that was increasingly becoming very rampant in the leadership structures of the ANC and its impact on South Africa’s socioeconomic transformation; distribution of service delivery and social cohesion.
However, and due to both political and selfish financial considerations, connectivity and complicity nothing was done. Instead they turned a blind eye and/or acted in ways that ultimately protected and financially benefited Tokyo Sexwale and his corrupt cronies. It later became clear why no action was taken. Some of the people approached for intervention had become obsessed with growing their political and business careers. Some ANC leaders had become preoccupied with the scramble to exploit their struggle credentials and political connectivity to become overnight wealthy BEE barons/tenderpreneurs who soon established Family Foundations that were hastily propped up with Sexwale’s financial assistance.
It is then not that difficult to understand why some of the aggrieved Robben Island ex-political prisoners suspect that the circumstances surrounding the establishment of certain BEE business companies and family foundations that are beneficiaries of Sexwale point to one conclusion, that these were entities set up to serve as secret financial depositories that were also being used as bribes in return for favours and to pay policy makers, including members of the judiciary, to turn a blind eye to a select set of corruption activities and abuses committed by certain comrades.
As recent as early last year (February 2020) and after a number of tele-communications to the Zondo Commission, ERIEF made a submission, including supportive documents, highlighting a long list of wrong doing to the Commission. Copies of the submission were also distributed to individual members of the Commission’s legal team such as the following:-
Advocate Paul Joseph Pretorius
Head of Investigation Terence Nombembe
Advocate Leah Gcabashe
Advocate Thandi Norman
Advocate Kate Hofmeyr
Advocate Isaac Isaac Vincent Maleka
Unfortunately, except for one acknowledgement from the Zondo Commission, and advocates Thandi Norman and Kate Hofmeyr, there has been no further action from the Zondo Commission. The last submission to the Zondo Commission was on 5 April 2021. ERIEF is still waiting acknowledgement thereof
This lack of response from the Commission is, unfortunately, reinforcing the narrative that the Commission is caught up in the ANC’s slate politics and factionalism, thus bias. This bias may also explain why the ANC has basically outsourced its Disciplinary Code of Conduct and Integrity Committee work to the Zondo Commission in order to protect a select mafia-type group of ANC leaders and Cabinet ministers, while pre-empting certain legal outcomes. (Proof of the submissions and supportive documents will be made available on request based on its validity or authenticity).
Added to this tragic saga that prompted ERIEF’s statement, Sexwale now seeks to exploit the current explosive political scenario and former mentioned political confusion of the youth, by exploiting the on-going national student protest for equal access to quality education for his own personal and political gain. This includes, among others, an embellishing of the truth, which many respond to, with half-truths and lies while simultaneously marketing himself as a crusader of the poor.
Surely the exploitation of the plight of ex-political prisoners for his own enrichment sounds the alarm on his own very real anti-black intentions.
Against this bleak backdrop and cesspool of corruption, nepotism and quagmire of poverty, many destitute liberation struggle veterans and their dependants are apathetic to the Freedom Day celebrations. To them, the celebrations are a constant reminder of an elusive freedom and justice that they, for now, can only fantasise about. IT IS NOTHING MORE THAN A FARCE that insults their sacrifice in the struggle for equality and freedom.
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Robben Island Ex-Political Prisoners Empowerment Forum (ERIEF)
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The list of black people being murdered and brutalised grows by the minute. It’s not just by police officers and military but people behind the uniform they are wearing and the system, aka systemic racism, that backs up police and military action. Basically, systemic racism is anti-black practices, the unjustly gained political and economic power of white people, the continuing economic and other resource inequalities along racial lines, and the white racist ideologies and attitudes created to maintain and rationalize white privilege and power.
As an indigenous Black South African I write to express my dismay and disgust at the recent appointment of outgoing WITS Vice Chancellor, Adam Habib, as Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) by the University of London. Board Member Marie Staunton, the Chair of the SOAS Board of Trustees has this to say in her pleasure at his appointment:
The presidential race is underway and for the first time in our democracy a woman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is presented as a definite contender. An interesting by-product of this is that the matter of the ongoing underrepresentation of women across society and in government is back on the table and being hotly discussed on social media.
Though it is said that women enjoy more cabinet representation in South Africa than many other countries on the continent, there is still a long way to go. Statistics show that despite the fact that women outnumber men in South Africa we have remained a male-dominated society. Women in business, in politics and in institutions still earn less than men. Few top positions are filled by women as the glass ceiling is still firmly in place. In this system black women are the most compromised as witnessed in the low numbers of black women in leadership positions across the board. Those who are black, female as well as poor are most unable to enter the neoliberal market and are forced to eke out a living on the margins of society.
All this came to mind as I watched Lindiwe Sisulu give the keynote address at the annual memorial lecture in honor of struggle stalwart, Lilian Ngoyi, in Khayelitsha last weekend. Her feminist and pro-poor delivery was resonant and this got me thinking about what sort of President she would make and how hard it would be for a woman of her stature to run for this position in an administration that remains male dominated.
Feminists from across the political spectrum have been hopeful for some years that a woman president would be elected in South Africa. Thus far all the political parties remain headed by men or have an overwhelmingly higher number of men in office. This means that despite a constitution that promises equality between the sexes, the issue of institutional patriarchy still remains. Until we see equal representation of women in business and in politics, we cannot argue otherwise.
It was revealed in the media recently that Sisulu may also join the presidential race and has been on the receiving end of death threats as a result. Though she has not verified her involvement political writers have indicated that she has the backing of key branches in the Eastern Cape as well as many struggle stalwarts and MK Veterans. Student leaders such as Mcebo Dlamini have publicly declared their support of her saying that students will not be ashamed to march beside her.
But in a male dominated administration it is clear that if Sisulu does campaign she will not only have to run the gauntlet of men in power, many of whom would no doubt resist her efforts, she will also have to deal with the lack of support from women within the ANC ranks since she is effectively running against the Women’s League choice of candidate. To complicate matters further it has been said that Dlamini-Zuma is also Number One’s number one choice.
With a Women’s League that has been harshly critiqued as an organisation that has lost its way and spends its time and resources spin-doctoring on behalf of President Zuma instead of fulfilling its mandate around women’s rights, it seems inevitable that Sisulu will not get support from those quarters within the cabinet. Some have said that they take their instruction from the men on top and lack the feminist agency that one would expect from a movement with its roots in the struggle for justice for women. In fact many say that the Women’s League’s dismal track record shows exactly how little they do to address the multiple injustices meted out to women in South Africa, particularly those surviving on the margins of our economy. Feminists have written on social media that they have become a useless entity there to serve the patriarchy instead of their own constituency.
There have also been strident voices on social media intimating that it is no surprise that Zuma is campaigning for Dlamini-Zuma in the succession race, insisting that she remains beholden to him via relationship and history and is his ‘stay out of jail’ ticket as well as a conduit through which he can maintain his network of patronage and his fingers in the Treasury coffers. Her current campaign tour, on which she has been given presidential security despite not being Member of Parliament nor a registered VIP, has been criticised and she has already been accused in the media of spreading divisive politics. This all compromises her own track record and as a woman in her own right. Dlamini-Zuma, who attained her medical degree at a time when to be black and female meant exclusion, is not the empty vessel that some chauvinistic writers have described her to be. She has held top office in the ANC government and has just completed her term as the first female chair of the AU.
But the fact that she is backed by The Women’s League in cabinet seemingly means that no other woman except the one selected by Zuma himself, will receive the much needed backing and lobbying from them – a matter that sources say, has created tensions within the ranks of the ANC. Apparently since Sisulu has become a potential contender the gloves are off and she is being undermined and disparaged by many of her female colleagues who say she is more of a fashion model than a leader and other such demeaning insults.
If this is true it is an all too familiar scenario that occurs in any environment where patriarchy has taken root and women are forced to play second fiddle. I’ve heard stories from other political parties, progressive social movements, universities and NGO’s that there are always exploitative men who will subject young women to sexual misuse and manipulate more susceptible women to wage war on the strong women leaders who pose a threat to their boys club.
This was a conversation that occurred throughout the Fees Must Fall Movement for example, when female students contested the domination of leadership spaces by men, decreeing that there could be no revolution until patriarchy falls.
Some independent studies suggest that until all women recognise systemic and attitudinal patriarchy as the thing that thwarts their career progress, chances are they will turn on each other in the workplace where patriarchal approval is often the only thing they can rely on to get ahead. Instead of uniting with other women to deal with this institutional chauvinism that continues to undercut them, creates glass ceilings for them and systematically sets them against each other these studies suggest that women will often internalize patriarchy as a way to survive this inequality.
Nowhere is this divide and rule approach more visible than when women are vying with men for political power. In a world where women still have to work doubly hard to gain the same approval as men or to secure social and political power, it is no surprise that this often materialises in hostile marginalisation of women by women. And sources close to Sisulu say that she on the receiving end of this syndrome and is thus being frozen out by the pro-Zuma faction of the women’s league, in response to her possible campaign for presidency.
Sisulu’s arrival as a potential contender in the presidential race has destabilised many it seems. This inimical response could have a lot to do with her stellar track record, not only as a former liberation fighter and senior in the MK, but also because she holds a very senior position in the NEC being one of the longest serving ministers in the cabinet. She also has an impressive record in good governance, an impressive academic record and has published several academic articles pertaining to women’s contribution to the struggle, women in the agricultural sector, and worker women’s rights amongst others. This will endear her to many women from across the sectors especially if her campaign highlights her contributions to knowledge-production around issues that affect their lives. Her CV is studded with global awards and currently I am told, she is doing her second PhD with Leeds University.
It is possible that she is recognised as the dark horse in this race? Could this be why she received death threats even as a comrade who has held the office of Minister of Defense and Military Veterans, Minister of Public Service and Administration and who is currently serving as Minister of Human Settlements.
Not only that but her work on the proposed anti-corruption bill will stand her it good stead with many voters who are sick and tired of the news around endless corruption and patronage within the ANC and the business sector.
If the rumours around Dlamini-Zuma and her inextricable ties to President Zuma hold any truth it would seem more prudent and progressive for the ANCWL to back someone of Sisulu’s stature. This would provide an ideal opportunity for women to become a united front to take the women’s cause forward, independent of the patriarchy. If anyone is up for this it is more likely to be Sisulu, who would come in as an independent candidate without any of the tribalism and benefaction baggage that Dlamini-Zuma has allegedly been coerced into dragging into her campaign for presidency.
This could be the ideal point in South African history for women to band together and vote a solid woman candidate into presidency. It could well be that Sisulu is exactly what the South African voting constituency is looking for after the Zuma and Marikana era, and she could well be the ideal candidate to win this race and to stitch back together the ANC’s tattered image.
I am an ardent supporter of ‘profane tongue’ as a protest performance tool when used to challenge and interrupt the violence inherent in the dominant discourse. I am also a supporter of the shit wars and regard the unfolding of the port-a-potty protests as the most potent disruption of elitist hegemony in a post 94 South Africa – followed by the Rhodes must Fall campaign.
At a time in our history where the collective is brutally suppressed and black anger is presented on mainstream media as the ultimate violence, the marginalised masses find new and inventive ways to make their grievances heard. If this means spewing the human waste that they are forced to live in, into the sanitised public spaces of the well heeled, then we should applaud their bravery and inventiveness. In a neo-colonial world order where democracy and human rights for the rich means “shoot to kill” for the poor, it stands to reason that protest becomes a desperate cry for the recognition of the collective and individual humanity of the disenfranchised.
Like it or not, defecation is the most visceral and inevitable aspect of being human no matter what your class, race or gender. By importing the unfettered faeces of the poor collective, who live with dismally inadequate sanitation, into the deodorised spaces of those who are able to flush their own faeces away in actual toilets, they are successfully exposing the extreme and dehumanising cruelty of a Capitalist system that privileges some and entirely de-privileges others.
By the same token using so-called ‘dirty language’ to express frustration at enduring white hegemony or at political elitism is an equally valid form of insurrection, as is stencilling profanities onto monoliths of race-based power rooted in a protracted history of colonialism and representative of entrenched white male privilege – such as Jameson Hall at UCT.
Of course the common sense response from the privileged class to the use of the profane in protest is usually shock and outrage. They decry the animalistic behaviour of the filthy bodied, filthy mouthed, uneducated poor. They criminalise their desperation. They cover their noses, eyes and ears and demand that ‘these people’ are taken in hand and disciplined, incarcerated and even massacred if needs be. They consent to the militarisation of the police force to keep the ‘unclean’ out of their pristine spaces.
Sometimes they use elitist theory to delegitimise the intellectual premise for black protest in supercilious articles brimming with white supremacy masquerading as academic thought.
Or they just shut off the mic.
Theirs is an infantile semantic reaction. They decide how things ought to be and transpose their own set of meaning and values onto the poo protests, onto Rhodes must Fall and onto the defacement of Jameson Hall. Instead of engaging the semiotics of this protest action from the subaltern perspective they insist that this is just bad behaviour. They develop top-down arguments to criminalise black struggle and to silence black Rage.
Italian theoretician, Antonio Gramsci, argued that Capitalism maintains its control not only through state violence but also through a hegemonic culture, which propagates its own values and norms into a ‘common sense value system’ that is imposed on all. Its managers are enacted through lobbying and political funding into the realms of political influence, the mainstream media, the judiciary and the academy. Through this well-oiled network they work together to maintain the status quo.
The chattering class’s superficial discourse is influenced by this ahistorical, depoliticized dominant discourse and is, for the most part, lacking in underlying wisdom. Its logic is built on debating skills, personality cults, common sense fallacies and individualistic narratives constructed to push the illusion of a bourgeois social superpower.
It is through social and mainstream media chatter that the middle classes amplify their outrage and become the self-appointed arbiters of norms and standards as they move towards being the new dictators. Whilst paying lip service to progressive values they demand from the system, often in silent complicity, that more fascist methods are used against the poor collective when it challenges their sense of decorum.
State, as it becomes increasingly corporatised and oligarchical, readily obliges. They rely on this middle class consent to keep the masses down – ensuring that the collective is broken, abused, and fractured to avert real possibility of mass revolt.
Civil Rights activist, educator and author, Dr Cornel West, talks of this syndrome in the US context in his critique of President Obama. He calls it the co-opting of black individuals by neoliberalism. As West has written “We live in a time of ruthless ambition and individual upward mobility. This has largely obliterated the collective fightback and basically the black elite class have betrayed the black poor.”
The black elite class is what Left critics refer to as those neoliberal blacks who are useful to white hegemony, because they can easily pay lip service to the black cause in convincing language – but when it comes down to it, it is clear which master they serve. In South Africa this is also seen in black protectors of white hegemony – social and media gatekeepers who perform as if they are critical of systemic issues, but scratch the surface and it is nothing more than self-serving empty rhetoric that is ‘well adjusted’ to the status quo.
It is they who snatch the mics off expressions of black anger when their masters become uncomfortable.
In an entrenched hyper-capitalist system such as South Africa, the dominant discourse enduringly emanates from white monopoly capital bolstered by the black elite who benefit form it. It remains a “Master Narrative’ based on bourgeois norms and values. This narrative is often at loggerheads with the wider black narrative – especially when the black elite chooses to rebel against this white cultural hegemony, as happened around “The Spear” debacle. But for the most part the state is complicit in the white cultural and economic hegemonic in this country.
It is no wonder then that a young black audience member would shout out “Fuck whites” at the Ruth First Memorial Lecture – in utter frustration at the constant pushing of systemic whiteness in public spaces as well as the co-option of radical spaces by an increasingly corporatized liberal academic echelon. It is also no wonder that in an epoch where rampant individualism has taken the place of the collective, as observed by West, that a black liberal celebrity compere would take it upon himself to cut off the mic held by the frustrated interjector.
Switching off the microphone that amplified black anger, metaphorically and literally, is just what is expected of them. They are willing to be the mascots of what West calls the ‘superficial spectacle and hyper-visible celebrity born out of the culture of raw ambition and instant success. They are co-opted and incorporated into the neoliberal regime’ and are used to legitimate the ‘colourblind’ capitalist agenda.
But when they are exposed for doing the master’s bidding and reveal themselves to be complicit in the liberalist anti-black agenda, they quick-talk their way out of it using debate tricks and duplicitous discourse inherent in the Nature of neoliberalism. They play host to a non-existent radicalised consciousness and claim that white supremacy is high on their agenda.
Yet you will be hard pressed to find a radical critique of Capitalism and its reliance on the violence of white hegemony in their body of work.
As Angela Davis has warned: “Since the rise of global capitalism and related ideologies associated with neoliberalism, it has become especially important to identify the dangers of individualism. Progressive struggles—whether they are focused on racism, repression, poverty or other issues—are doomed to fail if they do not also attempt to develop a consciousness of the insidious promotion of capitalist individualism.”
The act of switching off the microphone of a Black person expressing his anger and pain which is rooted in a brutal colonial history, is the violence of whitist complicit bourgeois hegemony. It is racism by proxy. It decides on what the rules of engagement will be. It decides on the parameters of “freedom of expression”. It decides on what is acceptable or moral behaviour. It trivialises Black protest voice as fraudulent or labels it as violent.
If it is called out it will easily use the progressive struggle language available in its arsenal, to deny this conservatism and appease a black constituency.
The new liberalist trend is to push the dominant discourse and then attack dissenters with self-serving platitudes about their own ‘progressive’ agenda whilst dictating the terms and policing black rage.
You can’t push whitist cultural hegemony and then claim, in debate savvy doublespeak, that you are doing the opposite.
Oh wait – apparently you can in this slippery neoliberal epoch which relies on forked tongue discourse to maintain the status quo.
Who but the chattering class is buying it?
If you use the master’s tools to manage ‘Black rage’ or shut down counter-hegemonic language then you are working for the master – no matter how much you bleat the opposite.
An edited version of this was published in Sunday Independent 30/08/2015