Do Black Lives Matter?

“That justice is blind goddess

Is a thing to which we black are wise:

Her bandage hides two festering sores

That once perhaps were eyes.”

– Langston Hughes

Do you know what it feels like? It feels like it’s all been too much and I am tired. Daily we talk of death, of illness, of people without means to earn a living. The numbers climb, the effects of the pandemic gets closer and closer to home. Then to witness a death; images and videos that would play on an infinite loop. It was all too much.  Too much, so I hid. Too much, so I lied, but only to myself, the worst sort of lies. I would watch George Floyd die once, yet he would die a million times over in my mind. Everyone was speaking about it, everyone was outraged. Me? For me it was all too much. It’s still all too much, so I divert my thoughts. I can’t write or talk about it without the anger spilling over. It’s too much, so I hide, I believe in my invisibility and impotence.

We have seen the knee on the neck of a black man, we have seen his life brutally stolen from him, we have cried, we have rallied, and we have used social media to launch our protests. So shocking, so jarring was the senseless brutality, that no one could be unmoved. And so, we reacted. And so, we allowed our divisions and our privilege to emerge- as deep and as enduring as the laws that were once put in place to keep us focused on race as identity. In the blink of an eye, South Africans were transported to our own violent history, in the blink of an eye we were reminded of two things; the worthlessness of a black life and of our ability to deny blame. I wondered if those who responded to the situation with “All lives matter” and talk of the farm murders in South Africa, were the same people who believed that it was “God’s Army” that targeted, and systematically tortured and killed activists during the apartheid. I wondered if, in amongst everyone that took to social media, we genuinely believed in our collective humanity, or if after a post we would still look to black people and ask, day after day, for proof of their humanity. I wondered all of this because we did more than just revisit our history and open old festering wounds; we also created villains who would allow us to absolve ourselves of blame. And as Hans Rosling wrote, once we create villains, we stop thinking.

Would you villainise the police and condemn brutality? Would you villainise Trump and the hate that spews from his mouth? I would. I would do it because I was angry, I would do it because having a face to direct my outrage helps. It helps to name this feeling as anger, and it helps to shift that anger towards someone. Or would you rather villainise the protestors, the looters? Perhaps you knew all along that power at the hands of a black man meant destruction, perhaps the creation of villains had happened long ago in your mind. Whoever you chose, whichever side you were on, there were victims and villains. But where did that leave you? Because here’s what creating a villain does- it helps your anger, it turns your cheek so you can’t see your face in the mirror. Because if you did, you’d see your knee on the neck of a dying man, you’d see that you, just like me, are a villain.

I think of a South African villain, a man known as “Prime Evil”, and how he once said that all his acts of violence, the atrocities he committed, the deaths, were all for nothing at the end, “We all could have been alive having a beer”. Lives, families and to many, hope, crumbled at the hands of this man, “all for nothing” at the end. I have read numerous accounts of horrific acts that Eugene De Kock committed or orchestrated, and nothing jarred me as much as that one statement. To think of the destruction of lives, of the lost potential and to hear from someone whose hands could never be washed clean that it should have never happened, struck a cord so deep with me. No lives should ever be lost in this way and while we know it as a fundamental truth, we are slow to action. Perhaps what scares me is that when we look back years from now will we say that George Floyd died for nothing? That his death, while so public, so viscerally demanding, would one day mean nothing? It scares me that even though we’re shocked and appalled to watch a man die like an animal in the streets, we will still be the ones that keep our knee on his neck. It scares me because we don’t see our own culpability in this mess. It scares me because black lives don’t matter when all you do is put up a post on Facebook. It scares me because black lives don’t matter when you believe in the lie that is white competence, when you say you didn’t hire black talent because you couldn’t find it. It scares me because black lives don’t matter when you ask “Was the apartheid that bad?”. It scares me because black lives don’t matter when you don’t pay your domestic or your gardener a living wage. It scares me because black lives don’t matter when you propagate racist jokes or condone racist slurs. It scares me because black lives don’t matter when we rob people of opportunities to live a life they chose to value. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the visibility, I applaud those who have shown up in some way or form, but it is not enough. It is not enough to be act only when you’re outraged. Black lives will never matter until we internalise our role, until we see that the knee on the neck does not belong to one person but to all of us. If we do not acknowledge our privilege, if we do not truly condemn the systems that serve us, will black lives ever matter?

The COVID19 Diaries: Kickin’ it old school

Something happens to me the moment I think about high school, suddenly there are 90’s R&B songs playing in the background and I feel the need to put on a pair of baggy jeans and crouch low for the camera while moving my hands in front of my face with a menacing look in my eyes. Yeah, I’m a G. Wait no, actually I’m not even sure what a “G” is, or that I have the clothing or co-ordination to pull off those moves. “G” or not though, there is something fun about remembering high school- the angst, the drama, the hairbrained things you got up to with your friends. I’d be lying if I said I remembered all of it, it was almost two decades ago and most days I can’t even remember how many Easter eggs I’ve eaten (don’t judge- we’re in an apocalypse and I need Easter eggs as a matter of survival). In fact, I’d be lying if I said I thought about high school that often, but recently a Facebook friend started gathering the troops for a reunion and it has got me thinking about those awkward, strange and stupidly fun years. Will you stay with me a while for a trip down memory lane?

When people start a conversation with me about children, which happens at an alarming frequency, I am prone to ask, “Have you met a 13-year-old girl? Is there anything more terrifying?”. There isn’t enough wine in the world for me to find out, trust me. But of course, there is something more terrifying, it’s many 13-year-old girls grouped together. Throw in a roughly equal number of boys, struggling to find the right way to be cool, or how to style their hair and you’ll have the disastrous mix of teenage angst that usually kick starts high school. Part of me wants to say that I started high school like a new born deer, all gangly, with limbs that never seemed to be co-ordinated with each other, but that would only be true if you could also imagine that deer with something that could be an afro, but never quite lived up to it’s potential. My goodness, it’s almost embarrassing to think about what a weirdo I was at that age, luckily I’ve now grown up and had many years to cultivate and encourage that oddity so that I am now a fully-fledged, card carrying member of the weirdo club, but back then I was just a young girl who thought she could change the world by having her ears pierced twice (can someone say super cool rebel?). Things I did know at that age were my times tables and that I would never drink alcohol (EVER), sadly neither of those proclamations hold true today, although those times tables did come in handy for many a drinking game, so I’m convinced not all hope is lost.

Now my school was nothing like the American movies had promised it would be, there were no jocks, cheerleaders, nerds or drama geeks. The only stereotype that did fit where the token representation of black people at my school. That there were no jocks or cheerleaders is hardly surprising, schools such as mine, which even post-apartheid, were termed “Indian Schools”, usually placed little or no emphasis on sports or athletics. Nope, schools were there to push us towards becoming doctors, engineers or lawyers and wilfully shame those who didn’t. I actually remember two classes, Guidance and PE, being cancelled in lieu of more maths lessons, because what young minds and bodies needed was evidently less guidance and physical activity, and more maths. No wonder so many Indian men in their 30s have a specific body type that’s sort of between, “I’ve just had a baby and I’m trying to lose the weight” and “Will you come to my baby shower next weekend?”. I can’t blame my school or teachers though, education has always been considered the great leveller, the one thing to right many wrongs of our past, anything extra curricular was for you to find out about when you finally start hanging out with white people. I almost fell out of my chair when someone told me rowing was a sport at university, white people were funny like that. I get the focus in those “Indian schools” and while I’m grateful for my education, I wonder if perhaps there wasn’t another way to nourish the potential within us apart from rote learning and the encouragement into cookie cutter jobs. But what do I know, I cant even raise my tomato plants right.

I suppose even though the American movie stereotypes didn’t fit, it didn’t exactly stop us from creating our own groups and dysfunctional units. There probably were nerds, but I don’t feel like any of them were shamed for being academically inclined, in fact they were probably put on a pedestal, and walked around haloed and revered. Doing well academically was also almost always a marker for who would be head boy or head girl, the king and queen of all the prefects in the land, but sometimes even this norm was challenged and few who didn’t top the grade would be selected. Of course, there were the prefects, that subset of our group there to preserve law and order and to keep the rest of us unruly beasts in line. That I wasn’t elected a prefect crushed my vulnerable teenage spirit in a way that I can’t fully explain- my loud mouthed, bossiness made me believe I was meant for leadership (or at the very least shouting at people). So, I ditched my school tie (talk about rage against the machine) and decided on a course of action that hurt me more than it did my school. Blinded with the arrogance of youth, I didn’t understand that then. Let’s see, who else can I lump together to form a disastrously inaccurate single story? Oh, I know, there were the quiet girls. I must tell you, I so wanted into this group, but they seemed to only exist in pairs, and they were painfully shy, always hiding behind beautiful hankies and giggling to themselves at jokes I’d never know. I guess I always wanted to be a quiet girl, the girl who never made trouble, the girl who knew how to plait her hair, the girl who did the right thing. But I just couldn’t fit all of my stupid opinions into the mould, I could never be the quiet girl, not then or now.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I knew who I was in high school. I barely know who I am now, but there are parts of me that haven’t changed much from that annoying, loudmouth girl always asking questions and getting herself in trouble. I want to say that I’m a bit softer around the edges (and while that’s certainly true physically) my thoughts, beliefs and ideals have become sharper and more focused with time. In other words, I still pick fights, but just not with everyone. Funny how people go out into the world to “find” themselves, when sometimes all you need to do is to remember who you are. If I think about it, parts of me that I love were shaped during those crazy high school years, some parts I’d rather not remember but we don’t get to cherry-pick the lessons life hands us. What we do get to chose is what we do with those lessons.

The COVID-19 Diaries: It’s The End of The World As We Know It

I feel like I need to preface this blog with a note explaining that I am a massive zombie movie fan. I love the gore, the predictability and the dystopian view of the world gone to the hands of flesh-eating creatures for reasons that I cannot explain. It is neither normal nor healthy, this proclivity to find entertainment in such avenues, but I shall not chase my tail in the exploration of all the weird things that entertain me. Anyway, you can imagine that when I first heard news about the Cornona virus, my immediate thought was, “There it is, the rise of the zombies”. I can’t say that I was particularly alarmed by that thought either, everyone who knows me, knows that if we were in a zombie movie, I’d either be the person who died during the opening credits or the stupid person who decided to keep a zombie as pet, and ended up being eaten by it.  Trust me, I’ve given it a lot of thought, so I’ve already accepted my fate. But I am sort of attached to my mortality and I don’t think I am quite ready to give it up for the zombie apocalypse (besides I’ve  already imagined myself as one of those women who still rock a bikini when they’re sixty, so I still have a few years to go and to work on that bikini body). Zombies aside though, what if this isn’t the end of the world as much as it is the end of the world, as we know it?

Two important things shaped my thinking that perhaps we’re gearing for a new world, one is that I beat Husband at a PlayStation game (mainly by screaming “Stop hitting me” and pressing every button on the controller) and the second is that Husband beat me at Scrabble (by getting a 42 score for the word “sexy”). I mean, in what universe is Husband better at Scrabble than I am? Yes, I’m still nursing my ego over it. In all seriousness though, what if the times really are changing? What if this new version of normal allows us to not only challenge our existing preconceptions, but the opportunity to reinvent who we are and what we do? What if I really am some sort of legendary gamer and what if Husband has had the talent to be a wordsmith all along? Okay, it’s a stretch on the gamer front, but what if this time of isolation and spending more time with ourselves actually shows us a greater deal of who we are and who we could be? What if in this world, where we’re preoccupied with restrictions, there is an opportunity to ask, “What if?” What if this is exactly the opportunity we’ve been waiting for to remove the restrictions that bind us?

Just consider the new way in which many of us are now forced to work. I marvel every day at both the resilience of people and at how resistant we are to change. We are fascinating creatures, both in our ability to compel ourselves and others forward, and in our ability to get in our own way. I wonder if post three weeks of lockdown, or even further beyond that, if we’ll look at remote work and wonder why we didn’t adopt such practices sooner. I am not of the belief that technology can entirely remove the need for human contact, I would never want to work or live in that world, especially because the people side of my job is the most interesting. It’s interesting how we now have no option but to trust each other, trust that things will get done even though we can’t look over anyone’s shoulder anymore. You have to find it intriguing though, that many of us will actually thrive while working remotely and I can’t help but wonder what the new “normal” at the office is going to be. One thing I will say about working remotely though, it’s almost like having a long-distance relationship- if you have built a strong foundation of trust and respect, you’ll probably whether the difficult days much easier than if you didn’t. Also it’s sort of the relationship that only makes sense if both parties have committed to making it work. When we come out the other side of this, will different things matter to us both professionally and personally? Man, I hope so. I hope we start to challenge what is is that we want and who it is that we are. One thing though, not my zombie movies- self-reflection and growth don’t you dare steal my movies from me. You know what’s the most exciting thing about the time we’re in right now? That we have the power to shape tomorrow. What if we didn’t waste that opportunity?

The COVID-19 Diaries: Dear White People

Okay, I get it, I do. I have two dogs and Husband and I often go for a run on the road to blow off steam or to remind ourselves of how unfit we are, so I get that not being able to leave your home to do those things is frustrating. It’s frustrating to be told what you can and cannot do. It is frustrating to have your freedom of movement revoked by the government. I’m definitely not saying that this is a ‘walk in the park’-okay sorry, stupid analogy. It’s hard, yes. But come on, get a hold of yourself. I mean seriously now, get a grip. And if you want to complain, put things into perspective first, not only because this is a small sacrifice to make for all South Africans, but also it would be wise to remember the very crappy things your forefathers did to people of colour in this country. Trust me, those restrictions were far more heinous than you having to deal with your dog digging up your garden. Hand to heart, the black government is not out to get you. Also, I think that if you took a moment to channel that energy spent complaining into something more fruitful, say reading up on our country’s history, you’d come out the other side of this a better South African.

In case you don’t remember, life was cruel and unjust for people of colour during the dark days of apartheid. It may be day two of the lockdown, but it’s also a week after we celebrated an important day in our history, Human Rights Day. Just the fact that we have a public holiday to celebrate our human rights should be telling in itself, we weren’t always a country that respected human rights. In fact, scratch that, the gross violation of human rights and the right to dignity can’t be labelled under the gentle tones of disrespect. The system of apartheid was far more purposeful and merciless than disrespect. I wondered on the 21st of March whether others saw the irony in facing the day by trying to restrict their movement. Was it not in Sharpeville that protesters fought, shed blood and died, to fight against the Pass Laws set in place to restrict their movement as black people?  But it is callous of me to compare the restrictions we faced both prior to, and during the lockdown, to that faced by people of colour during the apartheid. These restrictions are far too gentle and just, the severity of them pale in comparison.

Of course the apartheid regime did more than restrict movement, this was a regime that constructed clever and cunning ways to dehumanise people of colour- forced removals, making it illegal for families to live together or own land, the raids, the insanity of Bantu education, torture and perhaps the kind release of death if you were unlucky to be imprisoned. I wonder if luck had a face then, and if it was white. There are volumes written about those atrocities, so I won’t belabour the point. Let’s just focus on one particular element of the apartheid’s cruelty, the Pass Laws. Not only did people of colour have to carry around these passbooks, the Dompas (a name fit for people who are ignorant, no better than an animal and less predictable at best), they’d also have to keep it up to date, and were always at the mercy of their Baas who could at any point refuse to update the pass. Imagine that, just on a whim, maybe because you didn’t like the look of one of your workers, you could simply deny him the right to live, basically. Could the black man take you to the police or go to court? Of course not, there was another noose around his neck in the form of a law that prevented him from doing so. On the off chance that he could get an audience with the police, his Baas would probably be commended for setting a good example. Hundreds of thousands of black people were imprisoned yearly when caught without a pass or when their pass was not up to date, many of whom where never seen again. Families were destroyed, men lost their ability to provide for their families- without a pass, it was impossible to work. Children would go hungry, many would starve, their bodies weakened and primed for death when an illness set in. Life in a one room shack was hard, but you could still live through hard. Life without a pass was impossible. A piece of paper worth so many lives, a piece of paper with the power to destroy.

Maybe you’re reading this and wondering what difference it makes now, so many years later. Maybe you don’t like the guilt I’m laying at your feet. Maybe you know people of colour who never experienced these horrors. I would say to you then that those you know are the lucky few, you know the ones who are like you, like me. We are the haves. What of those who fall into the majority of our country, what of those for whom liberation has not brought real freedom? What of those who cannot get work, not because of a law but because of the unconscious bias that propagates the white competence myth? What of those who due to the structural legacies of our passed are still confined, are still restricted?  I can tell you this much, they’re not complaining about not being able to walk their dogs. And maybe, just maybe you should get to know some of them before you do.

The COVID-19 Diaries: Day One of The Lockdown

I have always prided myself on being calm under pressure and being fairly level-headed when facing ambiguity, but if the Corona Virus has taught me anything, it’s that I am not half as “good” as I thought I was. I faced the thought of working remotely somewhat smugly, which did nothing apart from send a message to the gods of humility to take me down a notch, and believe you me, they did. I’d start off the day feeling absolutely pumped, ready for the challenges of remote working and social distancing (picture Rocky at the bottom of those steps with Eye of the Tiger in the background) and then Wham!, out of nowhere, my network connection drops. Still energized and beguiled by hope, I’d reset my router, make a cup of tea and pray to the indifferent gods of connectivity. From there it’s slippery slope to fighting with a call center agent who not only fails to solve my problem, but worsens it by remotely disconnecting me for five hours, and to me seeking solace in the Danish cookies I promised myself I’d stop eating. And if the gods didn’t think I was adequately broken that day, they saw fit to bring me a day that followed where my water was cut off. Each time I opened a tap, the only thing it seemed to release was my grip on my sanity (yes it was a loose hold to start with). So yeah, I’m a mess. Its like I’ve completely forgotten how to exist in the grey, in the middle, that all that is left is for me to exist in the extremes. I’m either brimming with positivity and helping others navigate this turbulent time, or I’m upset because I don’t have enough Easter eggs to see me through the apocalypse. I want to say that I’m falling apart but it’s not that, it’s more that I’m keeping myself together rather inconsistently.

Take today for instance. I wouldn’t say that I woke up ready to take on the world today, but I did wake up to a feeling of hope and gratitude. I was grateful to have the luxury of space, food and company that I loved (most of the time). There was a distinct stillness in the air that seemed to suggest that everything would be okay, we’d all be okay as we started this 21 day lockdown. Fundamentally, I believe that we, as South Africans, will emerge- we must emerge-stronger from this and I am grateful for our president and for his show of exemplary leadership when he addressed us earlier this week. Hearing the words, “Nkosi sikelel iAfrika” reminded me of the strength and beauty of our country and our people, and I knew that we find our way. I know that still. But reading about the first reported deaths related to COVID19 in our country left me cold. I don’t think I’ve ever understood that expression before today. For a few minutes all I wanted to do was cry, it did not matter that I was about to go into a meeting, it didn’t matter that the meeting was actually something important to me. I wanted to take that moment and feel the pain and sadness that those deaths evoked. I wanted to find a release for the mixed bag of emotions flowing through me daily. But I did not. I willed away the unwanted, unshed tears, I forced the thoughts of two lives cut short and I put on a happy face. And maybe this is part of the problem, maybe this is why I can only hold myself together inconsistently. Maybe it’s because all I’m doing is pretending.

Here’s what I know. I know that I am scared. I am scared that my grandmother won’t see her 90th birthday later this year. I am scared that people I love and care about will lose their jobs. I am scared that amidst all of this I am not around my family. I am scared because there are so many relationships that I had hoped time would mend one day, but that I’m coming to realize that may never happen. I am scared that I won’t be enough when people count on me. I am scared about the way we treat each other; I am scared that our divisions will play themselves out in technicolor, tearing us further apart. I fear my vulnerability, my fragility. I am scared and I guess, a lot of us are. I hope that if nothing else brings us together, it is our fear and the acknowledgement that we are all scared. Whether it’s your own hunger or that of your family’s fueling your fear, or whether it’s the restrictions on your movement, or whether you’re concerned about that nagging sore throat that won’t go away, we are in this together. Whether we hate or love each other, or if we find ourselves somewhere in-between, we are in this together. Maybe over and above all my fears, I am scared that we may miss this opportunity to truly connect and see our shared humanity. Perhaps, this fear, like most things that are difficult to bear, is beautiful lesson. A lesson in fragility, vulnerability and a lesson in the shared human experience.

For the LPGs (Lotus Park Gangsters)

Trust the LPG’s (Lotus Park Gangsters) to get upset about me excluding them from my ‘Spingo blog.  Well, I hope this makes up for it. For you, Desan, thanks for setting me straight and reminding me to write about Lotus Park as well.

When I think about Lotus Park, I immediately want to tell the story about how a dead body was found in our school’s swimming pool. There’s so many juicy bits in that one sentence alone, I’m not sure what’s more shocking – that my school had a swimming pool or that there was a dead body in it. That I can’t remember whether the story about the dead body is true or not does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm about the story either. But I guess that would be far from starting the story at the beginning, so perhaps some context would go a long way here.

While it wasn’t often that the pool contained a dead body, just the fact that my primary school, Kamalinee Primary, had a swimming pool was something to behold. For a substantial part of my primary school years, the apartheid was well and truly underway, and although me schooling in an Indian area would mean that we had access to basics like furniture and toilets, it was something else that we had both an impressive library and a swimming pool. Now a charou that can, and likes to read is not uncommon, but a charou that swims, well let’s just say that’s an exception. Sure, we’d lug a pot of breyani to the beach and walk on the sand wearing our jeans, a few daring ones might brave the shallows but by and large, swimmers we were not. Please read that last bit with an undertone of smugness, my family is a family of very proud swimmers. The idea of pool in an Indian school was both mesmerising and impossibly posh, I felt posh going to Kamalinee because of that pool alone. Of course, what wasn’t that posh was that many of the students who came to my school faced the dehumanising effects of poverty daily and as much as I loved that pool, I always thought it was a bit unnecessary in the great scheme of things. Something that the teachers organised at the school that I loved though, was a feeding scheme of sorts where potato sandwiches would be made and wrapped in paper and placed outside the library for anyone to collect so they could have something for lunch. Now, being a kid, there was nothing worse than a potato sandwich for lunch and my mother somehow thought that I had the appetite of a rugby player so my lunch pack consisted of four slices of bread, chips, a chocolate and a juice box (yes for a six year old). Needless to say there was absolutely no reason for me to take one of those wrapped potato sandwiches when they presented themselves. And of course, that’s exactly why I did. Flip, that sandwich was probably the best potato sandwich I’ve ever eaten, nothing like an illicit meal to make you appreciate the simple things in life. It probably was not worth the lashing I got from my mother afterwards and the years of guilt I’ve carried with me but, no one said I was a smart child (although it does seem apparent that I was a hungry one).

I suppose there were loads of things we weren’t good at at Kamalinee Primary, but it amused me to no end that our school did not churn out an abundance strong swimmers. Wait, scratch that, some of the “swimmers” we churned out where the kind that needed to be rescued whenever they ventured into the deep end of the pool. Our pool was only a meter deep so that meant one could easily get away with being a “swimmer” by walking through the water and throwing your arms about. You weren’t fast but you sure didn’t drown. I wonder if that’s why the pool was prime ground for the storage of a dead body. It’s quite clever really, it sort of reminds me of all the Indian aunties who never turn on their ovens, choosing instead to use it as cupboard space. I mean whoever chucked that body in the pool probably thought “this is a good use for this space” and did it to save us the embarrassment of having to be rescued during inter-school swimming galas. It is also possible that the dead body in the pool story was made up one winter when the pool turned a decidedly unappealing shade of pond scum green, and if it is, well that just goes to show that we could use a pool to spark our imaginations if not better our swimming abilities. Kudos to the Kamalinee Primary students on that one, perhaps we were better than we realised at certain things.

It’s hard for me to think of Lotus Park and not think of my school, a school that I’m convinced was one of the best in that area. I loved that school. Sure it was the place where my sister started to disown me (imagine being violently shook by the shoulders and a threatening voice saying “Don’t call me Akka”) but at least I would be able to convince my mother to buy Asterix comics for the school library, something I’m convinced is one of the biggest accomplishments in my life. I am biased to say that we had incredible teachers (my mother was one of them, and yes, I’m still working through it with my therapist) and that they always seemed to want the best for us, they pushed us, they shouted at us but most importantly, they created a foundation like no other. You’ll also understand that I say, with complete love in my heart, that I think they were a bunch of sadists. Hear me out, here. I mean I just took a look at my primary school concert pictures and remembered the sheer horror of those strangely choreographed dances, the costumes that didn’t fit the way they were supposed to, and worse still, the ones that fell apart in public. Why was it that most of our pageant/concert clothes were put together by nothing more than safety pins and hope? Remember the duck dance of ’90? Of course, we were cute in our yellow crepe paper outfits and we had a little hip shaking dance to go with it, but let’s just take a step back and examine the mechanics of the thing. Crepe paper on a good day is only slightly more substantial than a politician’s promise in election year, but couple that with a windy day, squirming children and you’ve got outfits that are able to spontaneously destruct. Thank goodness none of us had boobies then, and that that number saw the great crepe paper ban.  I honestly think that whenever there was an opportunity to dress us up oddly, the teachers would jump to it, be it at concerts, school sports or at the min debs ball. Okay, that last one was totally on my mother, apparently she thought it was in fashion to dress your kid like the bride of Frankenstein.

Dead bodies in swimming pools, stolen potato sandwiches and clothing malfunctions aside, Lotus Park is also a place that reminds me of my late uncle, Juggie. It’s where he lived the last few years of his short life and when I think that I am older now than he ever was, it’s hard not to get emotional. Both Juggie and Lotus Park were a huge part of my childhood and sometimes when I think of my uncle, I’d like to think he would have grown old in that house in Lotus Park. That house where we would run around the living room singing “Beans kota sapa dingo”, where I learnt the reason why “stinkbombs” where named as such, and where I have the dent in my right shin from. My uncle wasn’t the youngest of his siblings but his crazy personality, his enthusiasm for life and that he could always get others (read his nieces and nephews) to do his chores for him, made me feel like he was. Maybe a part of my uncle will always be in Lotus Park, maybe it’s with that small part of me that was a child there.

This is ‘Spingo, Marms

I can’t quite recall what I was saying but the person I was talking to said, “That’s because you’re a ‘Spingo stekkie,” and strangely enough, instead of me thinking he had had a stroke, hearing him say those words cemented our friendship. There’s something to be said about shared meaning, about the ease of which that is known to both parties that makes for easy dialogue and communication but, of course, I can’t start a blog about ’Spingo and ramble on to deeper things and musings about how shared meaning comes about. No, no, I must, as with all stories, start at the beginning.

That the Durban International Airport was housed in Isipingo sort of made me feel like all roads lead to Isipingo

First some clarification for the uneducated reader. ‘Spingo is actually a town called Isipingo found in Kwa-Zulu Natal, but the only time you’d refer to it as such is if you were taking to a white person, or if you grew up somewhere fancier and were trying to act like a white person (and no, growing up in Umhlatuzana does not make you fancy). I’m pretty sure I’m making it too fancy by my reckless apostrophe before the “s” and that I’m going to lose street cred by constantly referring to it as Isipingo, but you’ll forgive me.  Right, where was I? Yes, the great town of Isipingo.  That the Durban International Airport was housed in Isipingo sort of made me feel like all roads lead to Isipingo, you could always find a road sign pointing you home. Man, were we proud of our proximity to the airport. Not only could anyone coming to Isipingo easily find us (all roads lead to ‘spingo remember?), but we also had a restaurant in the airport. Yes, one entire restaurant. Hey, don’t judge, we only went to that airport restaurant for the non-important occasions, for birthdays and dates we’d usually brave the drive to Toti to marvel at the white people. It was only testament to our wiliness and ingenuity that we used the airport not only as a means of travel, but also as a way to give direction, provide entertainment and sustenance.

According to me, there were three parts to Isipingo- they were easy to identify because they started with the word “Isipingo”- Isipingo Beach, Isipingo Rail and Isipingo Hills.  Isipingo Rail was named as such because to live there meant you “lived on the wrong side of the tracks”, trust me I spent a good few years learning how to make mud cakes and ride my pink BMX there, it was rough, proper ghetto. Not only was “The Rails” a buzzing commercial hub that warranted a KFC and later a Chicken Licken, it was also home to The Isipingo Temple. I’ve seen many temples around the world, and I can say with all honesty, that none compare to the Isipingo Temple. Every year, around Easter, Hindus from all parts of Durban would make a pilgrimage to the temple. I was always a bit of strange child with an overactive imagination, and my relationship with organised religion, is and always has been, complicated. Despite that, I enjoyed my first experience at this temple. Well at least I did, at first. It was an unusual treat to walk beside my grandfather; the ground was warm beneath my bare feet and I had the special honour of carrying the camphor, which we would pause to throw into the flames as we circled the temple. The smell of camphor in my hands and the pleasure of having my grandfather all to myself seemed too good to be true. And it was, because as we completed the last circle around the temple it would seem as though we descended into the last circle of hell. I want to say that I saw a chicken flying over the temple roof in a graceful arc, but there was nothing graceful about the mad squawking and the hysteria that ensued and that’s saying nothing about how the chicken reacted. I also want to say that I was upset because this constituted violence towards animals, but in truth, I was more savage then, and I was more concerned about a wasted opportunity to eat that chicken.  I became convinced that the “Chicken Temple” was a satanic temple and that one day I too would be captured for Voodoo magic rituals (do Satanists do Voodoo rituals?). To make it worse, everyone from all over Durban came to this temple and this is how they saw the ‘Spingo members, no wonder everyone thought we were shambies.

Isipingo Beach was a place where you could lose your life, quite literally. Being an “Indian area” during the time of The Group Areas Act, the government decided that if the brown people wanted to get in the water, then we could also brave the sharks (do sharks like spicy food?). And, if the sharks didn’t get you, there was always the notorious “Beach Boys” to deal with. To be clear, I have no idea what it meant to be a “Beach Boy”, who these boys were or how the title was even bestowed upon a worthy subject, but I was told that they were fierce and fearsome. These guys were sort of like the Loch Ness of ‘Spingo for me, there would always be claims of sightings, some people would even have grainy photographic evidence, but they would always remain elusive, creatures never to be caught in broad daylight.  Isipingo Beach was also home to “Daddy’s” Supermarket and the most epic bakery next door, many a birthday would be graced by a cake from there. It was Isipingo Beach where I first ventured into the water, where I caught my first fish (a stick floating in a polystyrene cup) and where as children, the only thing wilder than our imaginations were ourselves.

Man, did I think I was fancy living in Isipingo Hills. I grew up watching Beverly Hills 90210, and even though I didn’t understand any of it- it was screened in Afrikaans and we could get the English version if we switched on the radio while turning down the volume of our TV- I knew that those rich people lived the life. I believe it was the apartheid government’s way of making us believe Afrikaans was cool, so advanced were their methods of brainwashing that I was actually surprised and somewhat disappointed to find out Kelly, Brandon and the gang were actually Americans who spoke English. I was convinced that Isipingo Hills would be similar to Beverly Hills 90210 and the fact that our telephone numbers all started with the numbers “902” added to my confidence. When we moved to “The Hills”, I imagined that our lives would be drastically different and even though high school was sort of like a soap opera, Isipingo Hills was more Little House on the Prairie than Beverly Hills 90210. Seriously, you’d easily find a herd of cattle crossing the road or a random goat meandering around. The Hills would be the place that shaped my high school years, from walking down the street to house parties, to swimming at the public pool all year long (and trying to avoid the lifeguard’s office adorned with nudie pics), to being entertained after school at Jeena’s. Jeena’s, if it still exists, should be a historical landmark. That so many high school students met there while waiting to be fetched by their parents meant that on any given day something would happen worth talking about the next day. The remark “meet you after school at Jeena’s” could be taken in one of two ways depending on the tone. If said in anger, it’s a challenge to a fight, and probably not one you can easily escape or win. Once these words are said, in that particular way, it is usually a witness or two who will turn to their friends and say in a non-threating manner, “meet you after school at Jeena’s” as an invitation to get a ringside view of the flight. I know it sounds simple enough, but I once confused the two versions and found myself slap bang in the middle of a fight, luckily, I escaped with neither a slap nor a bang, but it was a close call.

I can hardly believe that all I’ve done is scratch the surface here. Maybe there’s a great book to be written about ‘Spingo and the members, the marms, ‘Spingo Dingos but for now, this will have to do. ‘Spingo Dingo out

Conversations with a misogynist: “My mother was a slut”

I was proud of myself for waking up (early-ish) to write the other day- it was the day I finally stopped making excuses and I started writing again. My travel journal lay next to me, invitingly plump, filled with stories of adventure that begged release to a wider audience. I touched the soft surface of it’s cover and wanted to draw it to myself in an embrace. I flicked through the pages restlessly, eventually pushing it away. It would remain ajar, peppering my periphery, beguiling and admonishing me simultaneously. What I thought I would write about, what I wanted to write about was our most recent adventure. I longed for the freedom of those words, I longed to revel in the pastels of nostalgia, but I found no release. I felt like I was shaking a magic eight ball, in the foolish way one does when it’s given you an “answer” you don’t want, and you think, If I just try again, I’ll get a different outcome. The thing was, my magic eight ball was sort of warped – the tile that kept popping up read “misogyny” and no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake another answer out of it.

I don’t often have cause to thank Trump, but I do suppose he’s helped me learn to spell the word “misogyny”. I suppose he’s gotten that word a lot of airplay since becoming the US president, but I wonder if, even though we’re better at spelling it, we’re any closer to understanding what it means. Misogyny or misogynist aren’t words I’ve used often, but I found myself in a situation where the word escaped my lips so effortlessly that it surprised even me. I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where someone says or does something that immediately triggers a word in your mind, forging an unbreakable and immediate connection. The word for me was “misogyny”, and the scenario was hearing the words “My mother was a slut, because she had me young” from an older man in a position of power, speaking to a group of around 30 people in a work setting. He was telling the story of his life, and who raised him, and had decided on a killer opening, it would seem. Later, in a joke, he would speak of my reaction, saying I reacted physically to his comment. I would be the only one in that group, on that day, to tell him that his comment was inappropriate, not so much because of his warped relationship with his mother, but because I thought he was shaming women by deeming them “sluts” if they were sexually active at what he considered a young age. The word “misogynist” would fall heavily in the room, sucking up the air and pausing the moment, but he would manage to laugh awkwardly and deftly change the topic. Even after the day, the conversation replayed itself in my mind, each time exposing another question. Was he a misogynist or was I being the girl who couldn’t handle a joke?  Why didn’t he apologise? Why didn’t anyone else find it inappropriate? Why did he think that his words were appropriate in such a forum, or at all? Was he “punishing” me later when he cut me off mid-sentence and dismissed what I was saying, or was that simply “just his style” or manner? It’s almost as though I had prepared myself for the subtle slurs, for the “well meaning” propagators of patriarchy even, but when faced with this explicitly demeaning comment, I was confused and caught off guard. I also wondered if I truly understood misogyny and what it meant.

I thought about the classic definition of misogyny, something along the lines of Merriam-Webster definition, “a hatred of women”, and it felt too narrow for me.  Apply that definition and all of sudden, misogyny doesn’t really exist or apply to many. All of a sudden, the issue of misogyny becomes non-existent because finding people who fit that definition to the letter is probably akin to finding the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. But here’s the problem, misogyny and misogynists do exist, they live and breathe among us. That classic definition was off base and incomplete for me. I began a search in earnest for a better understanding of misogyny. A couple of very odd articles later, some of which I’m convinced were written by misogynists themselves, I came across an interview with Kate Mann regarding her book Down Girl: The Logic Of Misogyny and something clicked for me.  Kate Mann draws the distinction between sexism and misogyny, referring to misogyny as the “policing” of certain behaviours and the punishment of women who do not confirm to the “norms” or do as they’re “supposed to”. Misogynists seek to punish or control women who don’t fit their narrow definition of what it means to be a woman (i.e.“bad” women). Contradict this norm or withhold certain things that women are meant to provide (be it care, attention, sex) and a misogynist will seek to put you in your place or punish you. Kate Mann refers to the classic definition of misogyny I mentioned earlier the “naïve conception” because it allows us to think of misogyny as a rare thing. I thought back to the incident that prompted this entire investigation and not only was I angrier, but I also felt defeated. Sure, now I felt vindicated for having called someone a misogynist but I’m not sure that I had made the situation any better.

I admit that I liked the anger in the word misogyny and the heady trip of righteous indignation. It was good to be angry; it was good to call someone out, but to what end? Don’t get me wrong, I’m neither apologetic or ashamed of my anger, such comments should inspire anger and action in all of us, but I still don’t know how we move forward. I still don’t know what the best course of action is or if my voice, on that day made the slightest bit of difference. I still don’t know why so many remained silent and why, even when I spoke to others who were present, I was told to understand that it was “just the way he was”. When I think about the fact that Stats SA routinely publishes data that tells us that the labour market favours men, when I think about the lack of women representation in leadership roles, when I think of all the young mothers who would have heard that comment and felt ashamed, I feel lost. I feel lost and angry. And somewhere in that, I know that, despite not having a solution, I will not be silenced. I know that I will speak until someone listens, even when mine is the only voice in the room. All I can hope for, is that one day you will join me.

Confessions of a loud girl

Even writing this title makes me uncomfortable. I hate being called “loud” and every time someone refers to me as such, I cringe. Whether it’s the sudden turn of your head and narrowing of your eyes when you hear me laugh, or whether you actually call me “loud”, I hate it. It sounds like an insult, like you’ve invited an elephant to your tea party just so you can make fun of her for breaking your china. Shame. That’s an accurate description of what I feel when I’m called “loud”. I feel ashamed. Maybe in ancient times, my people required the power of sneakiness as a means of survival, and that’s why I’m ashamed to be loud. Maybe my brain triggers shame to protect me from an evolutionary perspective. Maybe, a more likely option, my shame is linked to the idea that women are not meant to be loud. To be a woman is to be quiet, delicate and gentle, you don’t speak out of turn and you’re not bossy or opinionated.  To be a woman, is to be a creature of grace- serene femininity oozing from every measured word with the indulgence of a coquettish giggle when the occasion calls for it. How easily a loud girl fails that criteria. Truth be told, I don’t even consider myself loud. I am assertive, opinionated and unapologetic about using my voice, but I’d never describe myself as loud. But perhaps I should, perhaps I should reclaim it. Perhaps in this world, where all too often we silence the voice of women in so many inventive and subtle ways, I should be proud of being loud. If I am loud and just one woman hears my voice, isn’t that enough to be proud of?

In thinking about being loud, I’ve thought of my voice. I’ve also thought of women around the world who feel like they have none.  I used to think that my greatest fear was not being understood, but I’m beginning to feel like it’s something that precedes understanding. At its most basic form, if no one hears you, if your voice is lost, how will you ever be understood? I can’t say with absolute conviction that I feel like I’m heard. I can’t say with even a little conviction that men have not spoken over me, that I haven’t been ignored in male dominated environments. Yes, even though I’m “loud”. I can say that often during a discussion when I offer a suggestion to an otherwise male audience, it lands heavy but with no purpose. It serves to draw silence before an awkward man who has not really heard the concept, or my idea, presses forward as if I had not said anything at all. My words were just a speed bump along the road that starts and ends with solutions that I have no power to shape. It’s more than a slap in the face to be ignored in that way, it more than an insult, it’s an indication of my worthlessness. It’s often at some later point, once I’ve tried to make my point for the third time, that some man comes to my “rescue” saying, “What I think she’s trying to say is…,”. It fascinates me to see others bob their head when my ideas take on a male voice. Of course, it’s not uncommon that whichever man explained my suggestion also gets the credit for “his idea”. I reread what I’ve just written and part of me wants to delete the entire thing because I want to believe I’m making it up. I want to believe this isn’t what I’m experiencing with a shocking and sickening regularity. But it is true, and it does happen and not only to me. I’ve also seen this happen to men, from all walks of life, but I’ve never seen it happen as frequently as I see it happening to women. All around me I see women being silenced, I see their ideas being trampled on, I see men taking the credit where they don’t deserve it. We silence women by telling them they need to show up in certain way to fit in. We silence women when they grow tired of fighting to be heard and simply give up. We silence women when we show them that their voices do not matter. We silence women daily, routinely and without thought. Women do have voices and they aren’t afraid to use them, but have we been listening?

Perhaps what I should be, beyond loud, is louder. Perhaps I should speak and write till I am heard, perhaps I should also let my actions be louder. Perhaps I should own who I am, along with my voice so that I can allow other women to also do the same . For the longest time one of my frustrations with being “loud” was the assumption that I should be anything but. That I shouldn’t own the space I occupy, that I should be apologetic for even existing. That I should make myself and my voice smaller so as not to inconvenience anyone. It feels like that judgement seeks to replace me with a more acceptable version. But I’m not having that. Sorry, that’s not me. I am inconvenient, and, you know what, I love that about myself. The world is better with me being loud, brass, assertive and ambitious because that’s who I am. And folks, that’s most certainly nothing to be quiet about.

For women only: No men allowed

Here’s something I’d never thought I’d hear myself say, “I’ve had so many fights since I started a book club,”. I should clarify that it is a woman’s only book club and that it is a corporate one, not that that sheds any light on why this is such a contentious topic though. For some reason people (read men) are shocked, appalled and angry with me because I’ve created a platform that excludes them. Yes, I know, I should buy them all dictionaries so they can look up the word “patriarchy”. I suspect that I’m beginning to lose my sense of humour around the whole thing, I did want to title this blog “How not be an idiot and other useful tips” so perhaps we’re already in dangerous territory. It just frustrates me that men think that they should weigh in on certain things that, quiet frankly, are none of their business. Now, I am not saying that feminism shouldn’t include men, I’m not saying that men should be excluded from the dialogue, that’s as stupid as some of the comments I’ve gotten regarding a woman only book club. What I am saying is that I’m sick of men telling what I should do and I’m sick of them thinking they have right to do so.

I’m not about to apologise for pushing the agenda for women empowerment

I’m not about to apologise for pushing the agenda for women empowerment. Neither am I willing to apologise for the fact that I’ve created a platform for women to learn and grow from each other, and hopefully one that will encourage women to use their voices. Nope, I’m not about to do that but somehow, many men I’ve spoken to seem to think that’s exactly what I should be doing. I know the conversations would be easier if I was a bit more diplomatic (read agreeable) and if every time a man told me of how the book club should also include him I simply bowed in submission and said, “Kind sir, thank you for that golden suggestion, my fragile mind had not yet thought such grand thoughts”. Truth be told I had thought of whether the book club should include men or not, I had even discussed it with a wider audience and put it up to a vote before deciding because I am explicitly aware of the fact that to move forward, we must not do it in isolation. I also believe that this book club will evolve to include a wider audience one day. I don’t know when, but one day. I am fully aware that men exist in this world and that it is also their voices and their actions that we need to dismantle patriarchy. Nobody is saying otherwise, least of all this book club. But somehow, I need to explain it, I need to justify it, I need to make the men who I’ve excluded feel better because that is what’s expected of me. Unfortunately, I’m not willing to do any of that either. Tell you what I am willing to do though, I’m willing to pretend that I’m less annoyed and put together these few gentle, guiding points on how to be less of an idiot during these conversations with me. One day I’ll learn how not be sarcastic, I don’t know when, but one day.

Instead of saying, “I also like to read”, (because my response will remain the same “So, who’s stopping you?”) say, “That’s a great idea. I also love reading, what is the book club reading now?”. Say that and you’ll shift the conversation away from me saying, “By starting a book club that I did not invite you to, I did not magical cast a spell that stops you from reading or buying books. It is my sincere hope that you do not reproduce on the off chance that they inherent your intellectual abilities.” Instead I’d merrily leap into a conversation about our current book, what key things interest me and what actions it’s sparked. Chances are, I’d probably volunteer to lend you my copy once I’m done.

Instead of saying, “Yes, but why aren’t you involving me?” say “Yes, and I’d also like to get involved. How can I contribute to uplifting women?” That would probably earn you a high-five or a hug or both and we’d get to talking about how we can do something together to serve and even wider audience.

Instead of saying, “Women need to tell us how to fix this, otherwise we’d never know” say “Patriarchy has served me my entire life and I am ignorant to the challenges that women face. Are you aware of any known cure for my ignorance?” There’s no telling how this would pan out but I’d sure respect you for admitting that your were ignorant.

Instead of saying, “I don’t understand why women need to talk amongst themselves,” say “I think it’s great that you’re creating a space where women can leverage off each other and while I’d also like to be part of the conversation, I have no right to tell you or any woman what she should be doing with her voice.” Again, this is totally five-high and or hug material. We’d probably launch into a conversation on how we could go about breaking conventions and how we could leverage of each other to do something great for women. You would inspire me and you’d also probably be a unicorn, but a girl can dream.

It’s really not that challenging to stop and check your privilege. And if you want to be part of the solution, I applaud you, I really do. We need more men who want that. We also need more men who don’t think they have a right to tell women what to do. We need more men who call themselves feminists. We need more men challenging words, thoughts and actions that cement toxic masculinity in our communities. We need more men who listen, who have been listening to what women have been saying for centuries. We need more men who believe that patriarchy is wrong and who are willing to do something to challenge something that serves them. We need all sorts of men to do all sorts of things, but by god, we do not need more men in book club.

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