Saturday, May 21, 2011

why i voted...

AFTER casting my vote on Wednesday I chatted to a few people about the
elections. One non-voter said he did not believe in the current system, but
in a plutocracy where educated people should be running the government.

Being a bit ignorant about this I decided to look up plutocracy and discovered it is actually a government system by the wealthy by virtue of their wealth. Given the current phenomenon of many people getting wealthier because of their political affiliations, the notion of a plutocracy isn't too much of a stretch for South Africa.

My housemate and her friend also confessed to exercising their right not to vote. I am never sure how far my judgment should extend on this decision, given that people have the right to choose to vote or not. But the history of the franchise in South Africa, especially for black women, has always led me to take my voting rights seriously. So when people choose not to vote I'm never certain what that means-given that a democracy rests on the mantra "for the people, by the people".

Another friend said she did not vote because there was nobody she wanted to vote for in her constituency in Port Elizabeth. So she decided to stay in Grahamstown. Actually she was disappointed she hadn't registered here because she had finally found a candidate she could support and felt strongly about.

Then a friend who did vote and who was in line at the polling station told
me she was only voting because she had someone to vote for. "Chris
McMichael," she announced. I was surprised by her open confession. Since 1994 I have believed what my mother taught me: "Your vote is your secret".

But my friend had no problem being loud and proud about voting for the
Rhodes campus ward candidate Chris McMichael, a student at Rhodes who is
part of the organisation Students for Social Justice. This small group of students has embraced the notion of young people getting involved in social change and social justice, and one way to do this is to have a candidate in the local election.

Then there are also those I know who voted and left the voting stations
elated. "I'm proud to be able to do this," a second year student commented
as we walked out of the polling station together. I didn't delve into people's thoughts about voting for the ANC or the DA - the lesser evil. Given that the media's attention is centred on this rivalry, it always seems, when we talk about voting, we only have these two political parties as options.

But this is a travesty, given the dissatisfaction people have with the ANC and their uncertainty about the DA, a political party spearheaded by women, with a white woman as the leader nogal. The gender and racial tensions and discourse that still pervade often cloud the real issues about why people should or should not vote. To my mind the local elections are critical and should not be bogged down by ideological
debates. Rather, the conversation should focus on who has evidence of service delivery and who does not, who is able to ensure bucket systems are done away with and how housing improves for those who do not have decent homes.

Given the varied reasons for people casting their vote or not, I contemplated why I had voted. This is my second election. My first was in 2009 in the national elections. Then I voted because I wanted to feel like a citizen who could stake a claim in the decision making processes afforded to me.

On Wednesday I voted because I want to add my voice to the change that needs
to happen in one of the poorest municipalities in the Eastern Cape. I recognise that many often feel that casting a vote makes little difference.

But given that there is now a bigger need than ever to seeing meaningful
social change in a democratic country with a progressive Constitution, I
hope every South African will in future consider carefully why they vote or
don't.

[first appeared in Friday's Daily Dispatch]

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

a delayed thought...sexual violence in south africa

BY THE time I was in matric, I had three friends who were rape survivors. All three had been raped by people they knew and I never pressed them about whether they had pressed charges or not.
The reality is that many women are not raped by strangers waiting in dark alleyways ready to pounce on their vulnerability. Women are sexually assaulted and raped by people they know: partners, cousins, colleagues. This is not surprising considering the rape statistics in South Africa claim that a woman is raped every 17 seconds.
There are certain places I know I should not go to after dark; I have to be even more careful if I am out drinking with friends because I am aware that in South Africa, a woman’s body is not her own. Not only is my movement curtailed as a woman, but my body can be used as provocation for a violent crime.
As a student at a relatively safe university campus, one is still not 100 percent secure. There have been instances of rape and sexual violence. Some have been reported and many probably not.
Trying to raise concern about the silence around sexual violence, I recently participated in the “1 in 9 Campaign” which seeks to raise awareness not only about the shocking rape statistics, but about the State’s silence in dealing with many cases.
Research conducted by the Medical Research Council in 2005 focused on the reporting and non-reporting of rape survivors, revealing that only one in nine survivors reported the crime to the police.
The 1 in 9 campaign (based on this one in nine statistic) encourages women and men to speak up against this physical violation and stand in solidarity with women who have been silenced by sexual violence for any reason.
This year over 1000 students took part in the campaign, wearing purple T-shirts and taping their mouths shut to symbolise the silence that prevails, because sadly, South Africa is still one of the most violent societies for women to live in.
Despite this the national discourse and political agenda around issues affecting women remains very worrying.
Who can forget ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema, publicly stating that the woman who accused President Jacob Zuma of rape had a “nice time” with him.
Recently in KwaThema township (Gauteng) a 24 year old lesbian, Noxolo Nogwaza, was raped and brutally murdered; another statistic of the corrective rape scourge that takes place in South Africa, prominently since 2006, when the case of corrective rape against a lesbian, Zoliswa Nkonyana, was reported.
When there is no outcry about such actions or comments from our country’s leaders, violence against women is not condemned, but entrenched. Chauvinism is held aloft and the national crisis of violence against women is not even seen to be an issue of national importance.
The judicial system too, has also failed women as many cases are delayed in court for various reasons. A rape case can be postponed up to 32 times without any explanation in our courts.
The responsibility needs to shift from rape and any kind of sexual violence being a woman’s issue, one in which we are expected to bare sole responsibility for what we wear and what time we are in public in certain areas.
Rape and sexual abuse need’s to be everybody’s issue.
We need to all agree that men should no longer be demonised as violent people who cannot control their urges and women should not be treated as second class citizens where violence against them in any form is treated with indifference.

If women in this country are never able to fully claim their freedom of movement, our reality is that we are not yet free – a shame given our Constitution that recognises the dignity of every person. It is a shame that several years after I matriculated, I no longer have three friends who are rape survivors — but many more.
[first appeared in the Daily Dispatch, 7 May 2011]

Sunday, May 1, 2011

my infatuation with Cape Town

I’ve spent the past week in Cape Town and Stellenbosch. I have picked up the habit of going to the bigger cities when I’m tired of being in Grahamstown. I always think that’s an irony considering people in the big cities go to smaller towns for some respite from traffic, the blinding lights and massive billboards.

In Stellenbosch I was hiding and working on a farmhouse just outside town. I was surrounded by mountains and acres of land with vineyards. It was surreal considering that my view in Grahamstown is usually of the surrounding block of flats or when I stand at the Monument the entire town, with all its inequalities made visible in the very architecture of the housing. The inequalities were well hidden from me while staying in Stellenbosch. I don’t remember seeing any shacks or dilapidated RDP houses. When I did venture into town I ended up on the tourist side with endless coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques. If i didn’t know any better I would have convinced myself I’m in another world. A very white world as well. Fortunately my hosts were far more colourful than the world outside our yard. A cosmopolitan group of young people from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Norway and South Africa offered me much comfort with copious amounts of tea and comfort food.

After Stellenbosh, I headed for Cape Town...I never know what to make of this city. Coming to Cape Town has always been an encounter with the crude reality in South Africa. I chose a first class carriage which was quiet, with less people. I didn’t have to see the blind woman who always sings on the train asking for money while being led by another woman equally haggard-looking. I didn’t have to be accosted by the man selling odds and ends in economy class. I was able to watch Cape Town unfold as I drew nearer to the city centre. Passing through the stations I realised that like many places in South Africa, the Group Areas Act still exists in Cape Town and people always seem quite happy with that as they still live in areas according to their race demarcated by the apartheid government decades ago.

On Freedom Day I escaped a protest about the appalling toilet infrastructure in some of Cape Town’s areas (and there was finally a victory from the courts as well) and spent most of the day in Kalk Bay enjoying pancakes and waffles with new friends. We played a game that left us in stitches with laughter enjoying our freedom of association with friends from diverse backgrounds.

Staying with a friend in town meant that I woke up to the view of Table Mountain everyday. Seeing the mountain at such close range and not a picture made me think I could grab it or even climb it. Every morning I contemplated my day by looking out the window with the Slave Lodge, Houses of Parliament, The Company’s Gardens and the St George’s Cathedral as my view. Watching people from a bird’s eye view, I contemplated my perspective on life and of course, ended up thinking too much. Fortunately when I did this often, a friend was always around to ask me “where are you Atha?”. Being in Cape Town, I always prefer hiding in my mind. I don’t have too many memories in this city but I have enough to remind me that living in two worlds of privilege and disadvantage is easy if one chooses to make peace with the inequalities.

This time around, I did not end up on taxis trying to find my way to Khayelitsha. I did not have to encounter rude taxi drivers or deal with to much cacophony at taxi ranks. I was neatly tucked away in a friend’s car or the Jammies to UCT. Or I walked in clean streets like Long, Wale, Adderley, the Sea Point Promenade instead of sandy pathways filled with debris. I could appreciate a walk in the Newlands forest in the late afternoon.

While chatting to my aunt who enjoys living in Pretoria, she protested that my infatuation with Cape Town is false, “This is not the real South Africa”. I don’t mind dabbling with infatuation from time to time because I know the real South Africa all too well and I’m happy to embrace any respite from all the images that remind me that South Africa has a long way to go; the road to Freedom, Equality and Dignity for the majority of the South Africans has begun, but seems to get longer every time I turn on the radio, read the newspaper because of yet another scandal of morally bankrupt leaders squandering resources that should be meant in giving people better opportunities in this country.