THE FIRST OF MANY MORE TO COME?
The tragedy of five people dead in the Cape Town storm is a terrible thing. The worst part of it is that these deaths were preventable. Climate change scientists have for years been warning of extreme weather arising from global warming. With this blog I thought I should explain why this is so, making the links clear for everybody to understand. We cannot lend these deaths meaning unless we do our utmost best to ensure it never happens again. This requires an understanding of the dynamics at play and the reasons behind the increased occurrence of extreme weather.
A good starting point is to understand that, although the planet has become on average one degree Celsius hotter, the planet is not warming evenly or at the same pace everywhere. Africa, for instance, is warming up faster than the global average. This leads to instability in the world’s weather patterns.
The scientific basis for this claim was established in 2013 when it was shown that because of the increase in temperature around the equator, the winds which together constitute the weather pattern known as the jetstreams, were moving gradually away from the equator. The jetstreams are instrumental in regulating the climate, bringing monsoons to the east and rain the west. What has happened is that jet stream oscillations are increasing
. This means that the wave patterns of air they sketch back and forth across the equator have become more extreme. The jet streams are slowing, and increasing oscillation is moving extreme weather north and south. The typhoons, hurricanes and cyclones which used to hit the tropics are now hitting further north and south as the extreme end of jet stream oscillation moves.[i] It has been concluded that “Man-made climate change repeatedly disturbs the patterns of atmospheric flow…through a subtle resonance mechanism”[ii]
But the problem is not just an increase in frequency of superstorms. It is also that they hitting new areas of the planet. The tropics which are used to strong winds have indigenous vegetation and freshwater drainage systems which help them recover quickly. The areas which are receiving these storms now are not likely to do so well under the impact. How long do you think before Cape Town recovers? What else could we have done with the money which will now be spent on rebuilding what was there?
The second factor which affects the frequency of extreme weather is that wind is essentially a consequence of differentials in air temperature. In Cape Town, for instance, the south easter arises because the air in the hot uplands is warmer than the air at the coast. Now, if the Karoo is heating up faster than the coastal areas the south easter will become worse. This accounts for the increase in gale force winds we have had lately. This effect can be seen all over Africa as temperature differentials between land and sea increase. [iii]
This new research also explains how we now have floods and droughts at the same time. In the case of Johannesburg, of course, it was easy to understand that although it rained, it rained in Johannesburg and not in the catchment areas which feed the Vaaal and the !Gariep. So Johannesburg had drought, then floods but no potable water at the same time. But the same thing can happen to Cape Town, although it has rained on our one and only watershed. For every 1° C increase in temperature, there is a 7% increase in the amount of humidity that the atmosphere can hold. This leads to more evaporation, heavier rain and worse storms. But it also leads to more evaporation and water being sucked out of the top layers of soil. This leads to drought.[iv] Because we have denuded the land of trees and shrubs, while we have ploughed and poisoned all the humus out of the soil, there is nothing to capture the water as it falls. It erodes the bare soil and runs off hard surfaces. This means that when the next drought hits the landscape has no resilience. In essence the lack of water is systemic, it is linked to the way we farm and build our cities. Climate change is an additional spanner in the works which highlights the weaknesses in our systems of living.
The death of three people in the Knysna fires is incredibly sad. But it is not enough to express sympathy. We need to understand the reasons for these fires so that we can know how to stop them from happening. It is the increase in high winds which also accounts for the rising intensity of forest and settlement fires. Warming temperatures mean the rate of evaporation increases, that is, soil and plants are drier than they used to be. Add a high wind in this context and it will make fires go out of control. There is indeed very little that all the technology of humans can do until the wind dies down. As climate change gets worse, we must expect more high winds on drier land.
In conclusion we need to see these tragic deaths in context. It has been estimated that already in the last decade over half a million deaths can be attributed to climate change. [v]So, all things considered, should the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Province really be investing lots of money in supporting a huge natural gas plant in Saldanha Bay? [vi] Is an expansion of the natural gas system either safe or desirable, given that we need to be reducing carbon emissions and checking every new development in the light of the risks imposed by increases in extreme weather? But what is most disturbing to me has been the relative absence of critical voices from Cape Town civil society. As we mop up after the storm, we need to ask ourselves if we have done enough to stop climate change where we can, and deal with the effects of it were we cannot. We need to act now because the one thing we do know is that this storm will be the first of many.
[i] . Petoukhov, V., Rahmstorf, S., Petri, S., Schellnhuber, H. J. (2013): Quasi-Resonant Amplification Of Planetary Waves And Recent Northern Hemisphere Weather Extremes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Early Edition) [doi:10.1073/pnas.1222000110]
Jisk J Attema, , Jessica M Loriaux1, and Geert Lenderink Extreme precipitation response to climate perturbations in an atmospheric mesoscale model http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/9/1/014003/pdf/1748-9326_9_1_014003.pdf
Waiting for Gukurahundi
“We dare not compromise nor dare we use moderate language in our cause for freedom”
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe
Why I say I am waiting for Gukurahundi is because they will probably come for the Black lesbians first. So if I am arrested or disappear mysteriously in some random ‘thug’ attack I want to know I said what must be said before it was too late.
This evening I attended the memorial service of Ramesh Vassen. For those of you who don’t know him he was for many years the colleague of Dullah Omar and lawyer for (amongst many others including myself) Ahmed Kathrada and Oscar Mpetha. Now the one thing I remember most clearly about Vassen was his habit of always speaking the truth. He carried many secrets, some of them to the grave, but when he spoke he spoke absolute truth without caring for the consequences or whom he might offend. Then he would laugh. It was a most charming characteristic to a young radical like myself. In Vassen’s honour, I wish to do some plain speaking.
So here are the facts: Zimbabwe has not had free and fair elections since 2002. Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, Sudan, Somalia: the list of African countries who have suffered from either military dictatorships or a version thereof like civil war for periods ranging from ten to twenty five years is long and depressing. This is obviously not evidence of some inborn African propensity to violence or anything like that, it is simply the inevitable consequence of the fact that when direct colonialists consented to share a modicum of political power, they did so with every intention of retaining the economic structures of white supremacy. They therefore set in power organizations who were most likely to deploy the rhetoric of peaceful governance under the reality of capitalist rule. Settler colonies like Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa probably felt it the most but all over Africa we have tried to perpetrate the logical impossibility of a politically democratic rule together with an economic structure of exploitation and inequality. If it was going to be possible it would have worked by now. But it doesn’t. Africa would be an excellent example of where we have empirically tested the hypothesis that political peace can co-exist with economic injustice and proved it thoroughly flawed.
Let me underline this point. White supremacists need to admit that their economic system is logically impossible to combine with social cohesion and a level of peace. The levels of violence necessary to keep the poor poor and the rich rich requires a continuous undermining of the rule of law (at least if the law is a just law) and civil peace. The more so since the share of income going to profits rather than labour has increased worldwide during the last few decades of neoliberalism and structural adjustment. The inescapable tendency of capitalism is towards rising levels of violence. So the post-World War Two rhetoric of Westminster-style parliamentary democracy is just that. Rhetoric. As long as the economic system remains unchanged, white supremacists are deluding themselves that they can ever live outside their well-defended laager. So too are those black middle class people who think they can continue to accumulate while talking left and walking right.
This is not to cast aspersions on the good intentions of our founding fathers like the Nkrumahs, the Nyereres or the Mandelas. The problem is that such leaders cannot last. They are replaced, sooner or later by what can only be characterized as the houseniggers of African politics. Just like in patriarchy where the women who rise to the top are the ones patriarchs are most comfortable with – i.e. feminine’ women – and just like in heteronormative society where the few LGBTI people who do well are those who most conform to straight stereotypes, so in white supremacist economies the blacks who end up in charge (and I use the small ‘b’ deliberately) will be those who are easiest for whites to deal with. Those are the blacks who fit into the archetype of the violent, brutal but rather stupid black. Does that sound like anybody you know?
This housenigger sooner or later gets tired of reconciling the irreconcilable and decides that it is easier to enrich himself and his cronies through cutting short the rhetoric of democracy. Outright military dictatorship saves a lot of time and trouble all round and allows him to deliver more efficiently to his capitalist masters. Make no mistake. Despite Mugabe’s pseudo nationalist garbage that he spews out every time he feels defensive. some white capitalists have done extremely well out of the new Zimbabwe. As has the World Bank.. +
What I am saying that the decision in 1994 to take the political sphere while conceding the economic one meant that the present political moment could be foreseen by anybody with an understanding of the dynamics structuring recent African political history. Yet this trajectory was chosen not just by the ANC, but by everyone who voted ANC. As the last remaining political colony on the continent, we did not have the excuse of, say, Ghana or Zambia. We had forty years to study this dynamic. So it was indeed foreseen by some – unfortunately not the majority. The entire Black Consciousness Movement did not participate in the 1994 elections. A fragment of Azapo stood in the 1999 elections, but most of us remained outside the system. We worked to keep the initial period of political liberalism open for as long as possible, and if you consider that Gukurahundi took place from 1983-1986 – that is, from three years after political independence, then managing to keep the liberation struggle momentum rolling until 2006 was not bad going at all. I myself took no interest in party politics although I spent much time studying the building of a nation state under Mbeki. It was not an easy task, and it must be said in fairness that while the turn to neoliberalism was much to be regretted under his tenure, it had this one advantage that it kept corruption to a minimum. Selling out the family silver and paying private companies to do the government’s job may not be the best way to run the country. But keeping the state to a minimum meant there just wasn’t that much money to steal and the implementation of the Public Finance Management Act under Trevor Manuel and his trainees (Gordhan and Nene) meant there was some modicum of control. I would venture to say that if fruitless, wasteful and unauthorized expenditure under Mbeki amounted to millions, under Zuma it amounts to billions. Whereas the Mbeki government occasionally built taps and toilets, not to mention the odd house, under Zuma we have seen a failure of service delivery such that mass public protest has reached unprecedented heights.
Please do not read what I am saying as in any way a defence of GEAR! The only point I am making is that the difference between neoliberalism and what we have now is like the difference between a bowl of porridge for lunch and no bowl of porridge because the head of the school feeding committee stole the sack of maize. Obviously children should eat a lot better than mealie meal for lunch. But a bowl of porridge is a damn sight better than nothing at all. Anybody who says it isn’t has never gone hungry.
In this spirit the 2006 Zuma rape trial was a wakeup call for me and many others. It signaled that the end of relative political liberalism was at an end. Figuring that half a loaf was better than no bread I took a job defending the Constitution. At the CGE I was in a prime position to observe the patriarchal backlash as most of the advances made by the women’s movement inside and outside government were roiled back.
The history of Gukurahundi began with an attack against women. Every woman who could be interpreted as having some measure of economic independence, such as nurses, teachers, etc, were attacked, called prostitutes, beaten up in the streets, forced to moderate their dress code and appear securely attached to some man in a heterosexual marriage. The persecution of LGBTI people followed soon after, beginning with the prosecution of Canaan Banana. Independent women and LGBTI people were, so to speak, the canary in the goldmine. That is why the public metaphorical lynching of “Khwezi” struck me with stunning force. It signaled that the logical contradiction between an oppressive economic system and political governance was about to rear its ugly head. The Mandela miracle was well and truly over. The ten years since has been one violation after the other. It is like being in an abusive marriage. Just when you think it cannot get any worse (say Marikana), it gets worse (say ‘we are going ahead with fracking and nuclear’).
What is the relation between this analysis and the situation today? Well, obviously, the last semblance of a ruling party which practices governance has gone. The president now does not consult even with the remaining vestiges of a once proud liberation movement. He rules this country singlehandedly. The coup he has perpetrated is so thorough that it cannot be undone without a thorough revision of our current political system. You see, the trend of recent African political history was never inevitable. It could have been undone by the actions of many people at many times. Every one of us Africans who acted in their own self-interest instead of in a spirit of Ubuntu in the hope that somebody else will be the Ken Saro Wiwa; and every single one of us that chose at critical moments to do nothing have to bear the responsibility of the violence and militarization which has engulfed this continent while all the while extraction of its riches has continued unabated.
The white supremacists who choose to believe that merely getting rid of Zuma will somehow allow them to continue to cling to power and privilege are of course wrong. The problem is systemic not individual, and just like many whites were forced to flee under Mugabe so continuing along the present trajectory will lead many individuals to lose out. And they will have no South Africa to go to. Whether Europe wants them is extremely moot. So for people who identify as whites there is little option but to accept that it is either the end of democracy or the beginning of redistribution. They choose.
The black middle class people who use system change as an excuse to do nothing are not convincing. Fine, you do not want to support anyone in the ANC. What are you doing instead? Where is your revolutionary option? Because to pretend you can get up tomorrow morning and carry on as usual merely demonstrates your tacit support for the system. It leads me to believe that you in some way benefit from the system and you are acting to protect your class interests. You choose.
Where does this leave us now? Going back to the status quo ante is impossible. Those who say protest now will only benefit Ramaphosa or some other neo-liberal candidate have it wrong. History cannot move backwards. It can only move forward. Should civil society move now to save what is left of the ANC which once believed in Mandela’s dream, they will owe us. The driver’s seat of history will have shifted from Parliament to the streets. We will have taken back the power we gave away in 1994.
There are no inevitabilities in history. Please do not believe that Zimbabwe is the only option! We could also choose to become like Somalia: a bunch of city states run by politicians who are little more than ganglords. We could choose to become like Southern Sudan or Niger: a state which is at such a low level of functioning that it can barely be called a state. We could choose 25 years’ civil war like Congo or Angola. Or we could choose to use the current political moment in the same way that Mandela used glasnost in 1989. He was not a god but a human being just like every one of us, and chose to move history forward a little bit. The future is in our hands. The Black lesbian has spoken.
A lot of ignorance is going around about Cape Town’s water crisis. I find this strange since this crisis should have been foreseen. I wrote on this since 2009, personally workshopped every province in this country in 2011, and in fact not only hosted my own climate change workshop in CCT (for the CGE) but in 2012 went to the City of Cape Town Women’s Day event to talk to them about it. In that year I went to two subsequent meetings with the CCT Energy and Climate Change Office, and why a city has such an office if they don’t know that climate change is happening is just inexplicable. They should have seen it coming. Those of you who follow my blog know that I can’t be shut up about these things. Well, better late than never. Maybe they will listen now. I will keep it short since shallow bowls fill quickly.
Well, there is my advice, absolutely free. No, I do not want you to vote for me either. If you would like to buy some soap, do so at the Conscious Living Fayre next month. We shall be launching our new household cleaning soap. It is 100% natural, bio-degradeable and actually will fertilize your plants. I have been growing my trees on it for two years just to make sure that it does what I say it will do. It’s called working towards a win-win situation.
When I was young it was so much easier. We had drag queens with a history of playing netball on Sunday afternoons, and we had butches of surpassing handsomeness. I have a soft spot for butches (is it so obvious?) so I fell in love with all of them. There was something about the interplay of male and female energy in one body that felt like home to me.
We were all so poor that nobody transitioned in a bodily sense. The drag queens talked wistfully of saving to go to Rio to have the surgery done, but I only know of one person who ever actually did it. The butches, naturally, were strong and said little. As far as I can recall they did not want to be men. They wanted to be butches. And mind you, in those times just being out and staying alive was a challenge that drained everyone’s energies.
When I think of the people I now know were intersex, they were deep in the closet and working through tremendous trauma. Sally, having been all but castrated as a baby, was passing for male in a monastery. When Sally’s body became more female she confessed all to the Prior and was eventually expelled. It was to be the beginning of a long journey to be recognized as human. Sis Funeka was undergoing genital mutilation at 18 and recovering from the after-effects which proved to be life long. To this day she says she regrets it. Indeed, bodily mutilation creates tremendous trauma which in many ways cannot be fully overcome. Sally became asexual. Sis Funeka passed for butch. The rest of us lived in oblivion.
I know from my work with Black working class men that to get people who see themselves as oppressed in one way to acknowledge that they are privileged in another way is hard political work. In some ways it is the hardest. Victimhood is comfortable. Becoming a survivor, and from thence to resistance and then revolution is such a hard mountain to climb. For anybody to say that one must complete the journey by acknowledging the ways in which one contributes to another’s oppression seems just impossible. I can only imagine it begins with an apology. I am sorry for the ways in which I have benefited from the gender binary. When Bernedette Muthien of Engender used to say the very act of engendering is violent, I had no clue what she meant. I can only apologize for my obtuseness. Without a doubt I was in some way seeking to protect binary privilege.
I have of course laughed at whites for years as I watch their fumbling attempts to acknowledge privilege. I have been amused and occasionally angry at the way in which they seek refuge in denial from having to confront the benefits which white supremacy bestows on even the most conscious of them. Well, karma has its own revenge. I sit now having to confront my liberal years. There can be no more bitter statement from one whose political life has been Black Consciousness.
In 2003 I ran a Girl-Child Movement workshop in Namibia and during the session on ‘what is gender?’ was told the story of somebody’s cousin who was born intersex but in such a remote rural village that nobody knew but the family. The mother bathed the child separately and brought them up as a boy. At that point I did not realize that this child was one of the lucky ones. If you are fortunate enough to be born in a rural area so remote that there is no doctor, no clinic and not even registration of birth certificates, there is a chance that you may escape genital mutilation and forcible engendering. The poor sods born in city hospitals are mostly not so lucky.
I became more aware of intersex issues when, upon being appointed Commissioner For Gender Equality in 2007, almost my first meeting was with Sally whose insistence was polite but uncompromising. Sally asked for me to intervene in the matter of forcible genital mutilation of babies, a matter so clearly unconstitutional that I needed no convincing that it was part of my job description. She also wanted me to complete the work she had begun with the Promotion of Equality and Unfair Discrimination Act (2000) of ensuring that intersex people had legal status. Yup, that’s right folks. Here we had a naturally occurring genetic order, occurring in about 1 in every 2000 people, something which orchids, pawpaws and snails handle without any fanfare at all, for which this sizeable minority had absolutely no protection in law. Until the promulgation of PEPUDA, the law required a human being to be either male or female. For those who were both (or should we say a third gender ?) the law literally declared them non-humans. Of course I promised to ‘help’ Sally.
AWID conference in Cape Town 2008, an intersex human from the US decided to come out in mine and Berne’s seminar. I said ‘but in my culture that’s very familiar. You get three genders, male, female and intersex. ‘ This person broke down and cried and needed much hugging. They said it was the first time in their life that anybody had said that.To this day I am ashamed that I could not see what the big deal was.
There wasn’t much I could do to keep my promise to Sally until the Caster Semenya debacle of 2009, at which point I am pleased to say the entire CGE pulled together as one and not only offered Caster any assistance in our power but also made the most of the opportunity to raise awareness on this issue. It was good to be held by the organization and to know that LGBTI issues were not ‘my’ issue but all our issue. I only wish I could have led by example. I still needed to recognize intersex as a human issue: that while my siblings were dehumanized then so was I.
And of course I supported sis Funeka whenever possible, although it would be more correct to say she supported the CGE during the End Hate Campaign, doing all the groundwork of the Zoliswa Nkonyana murder trial and contributing in no small part to the legal history we made on the day we got a guilty verdict that specifically mentioned homophobic hate crime as a motive.
But see, I was still ‘helping’ and ‘supporting’. I continued to benefit from the gender binary without even thinking about it. I thought I held my job on merit without considering that no openly intersex person has ever been appointed to high office in this country. Sally had applied twice and twice been turned down. How liberal was I? It shames me now.
Yet it is easy to see how I have benefited from the binary system. Despite a life of much hardship, I have never been subjected to genital mutilation, and the life-long trauma which comes with it. I have never been subjected to the fear of genital mutilation and forced to hide my true identity in order to not be mutilated. I have never come out at a seminar and burst into tears at even mealy mouthed liberal acceptance.
I have written of being a lesbian child and how the secrecy I was forced to practice damaged my personality development, possibly irretrievably. But I don’t know and cannot begin to imagine what it is like when the very fact of your genital mutilation is kept a secret and you do not even know about until puberty, or even later, when you wonder why you cannot have children and why you live in constant pain. I do not know what it is to feel lucky that you are still reasonably whole bodied.
I acknowledge my privilege in that I never had to wonder why I was not killed at birth as some intersex babies still are. I acknowledge privilege in that I never had to see guilt in my mother’s eyes every time she looked at me, until I no longer knew what love was, really. I have never had to be afraid in intimate relationships of – like the ‘stone butch’ of old – allowing myself to be seen and touched. I have had rejection many time in love but never because of my physical conformation, an accident of birth and something over which I had no control. Once, in trying to dissuade an intersex person from having surgery in her thirties I said “but it is a political struggle, you cannot solve it on an individual level” and she looked me in the eyes and said “but for me the problem will be solved”. I acknowledge privilege in that until that moment I could remain blind to the truth.
I know that too many straight women are genitally mutilated too. But they are never called ‘not human’, ‘freak’ or demonized and cast out of home as the personification of evil. I don’t think comparisons of victimhood are meaningful, that is not what I am saying. I am just trying see binary privilege with eyes which have been socialized to be blind.
So you understand why it hurts me particularly when the Black feminist movement, in some essentialist appropriation which even I (a part-time essentialist for as long as I have been a scholar) find embarrassing, seeks to in some way exclude or silence intersex, genderqueer or non-binary people from its work. It hurts my feminist heart to see women enforcing binary privilege and claiming it as some form of ‘right’. The feminist movement here stands at a cusp. In ” The Epistemology of Intersectionality” elsewhere on this blog I have written on the importance of understanding that for identity politics to be revolutionary they have to ultimately seek to deconstruct the very identity around which they organize. This is the political work done by conscious intersex and trans people. ? Is dismantling the gender binary not the most important political work we can possibly do? Should we not be extending leadership to those who do that work simply by living, with dignity and unimaginable courage, from day to day? Can we fail to dismantle privilege and still call ourselves feminist? I think not, because to do so would be to add wilful blindness to our exercise of privilege. It would be the end of us as a movement. We might survive but we would certainly not be feminist.
And to welcome intersex as our own means welcoming trans as well, because the politics of the closet which even so called feminists enforce means, as my late friend Karin Koen never failed to tell me, there is a lot of intersex going on amongst the trans movement. In fact I would go so far as to say we would probably not see the strong non-binary movement coming through the way we have were it not for trans. Trans is a liminal space, the joker in the pack, which makes a multitude of other movements possible.
Well, I continue to learn to see with non-binary eyes. No doubt it is a lifelong journey along which I stumble with humility. My feminism demands that I take responsibility. I own this.
Cis is probably not the right word. I mean, intersex people are as cis as the rest of us (if they are lucky). Maybe ‘woman born woman gendered woman’? But then we are stuck with another acronym: WBWGW? I think the last thing Queer needs at the moment is another acronym. There. I have entered the liminal zone (or at least I peer tentatively at the margins). I don’t know who I am anymore. That is progress. The first step to knowledge is admitting ignorance.
 “Your Silence Will not Protect You”: Silence, Voice and Power Moving Beyond Violence Towards Revolution in South Africa OUTLIERS: A Collection Of Essays And Creative Work On Sexuality In Africa Theorizing (Homo)Eroticism In Africa Vol 1, 2008, pps. 30-45 http://www.irnweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Outliers-no.-1.pdf
 . Limor Meoded-Danon Ph.D. & Niza Yanay Ph.D. (2016) Intersexuality: On Secret Bodies and Secrecy, Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 17:1, 57-72, DOI: 10.1080/15240657.2016.1135684 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/297747175_Intersexuality_On_Secret_Bodies_and_Secrecy
 . Yes, I know trans has a perfect right to exist on its own without needing justification or anybody’s approval (although I continue to call for accountability like any other sector). But that is not the point I am making here.
University of Life
School of Hard Knocks
Department of Bitter Experience
Course: Revolution 102 (Congratulations on passing the first semester! :))
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.(Camus)”
Form: Essay may take any form, i.e. academic or fictional prose, poetry, music, visual art, etc.
Marks: Theory will be tested in practice. Pass means liberation. Failure takes you back to debt peonage and prostitution.
How do we think about physical and mental illness in this age of HIV? When a comrade is ground down by too much grief and loss, do we check up on them are we too busy continuing the struggle? Do we respect weakness as well as strength? Or are we still stuck in the macho resistance culture of last century? Have we become brutalized? Is this why we are not only shooting our own children but emotionally abusing them – as if the burning of buildings can somehow justify shooting young people in the face and telling them it is their own fault? As if things becoming more important than people is a normal and everyday feature of life.
Mustard gas was a weapon of war during the two European World Wars. It was a tool of oppression when the then Minister of Education, F.W. De Klerk ordered apartheid police to teargas students in 1980. Now we do it to our own. Have we completely lost it? Sometimes it is comforting to think of taking refuge on madness. Sometimes the ones who are gone appear to be the lucky ones. At least they did not have to live to see this world we have created.
When people ask me what I do, I tell them I am a traditional healer. I try to heal the society which makes people sick, I say.
The recent death of a friend from breast cancer, the death anniversary of another, and the breakdown of a third brought low by too much loss, has brought home that I complicate my grieving by insisting on seeing illness as socially determined. Like another cancer survivor said:
“I completely agree with Lorde’s assessment in The Cancer Journals that the higher instances of cancer and other chronic illness are the result of toxins in the environment. The challenge is for all of us is to force federal agencies to implement more restrictions on the use of pesticides and other toxins that ravage our air, food and water supply. Without any drastic changes made to reduce and/or eliminate these toxins, I suspect we will continue to see higher instances of cancer and other chronic illnesses.”
Deaths from perfectly preventable diseases had become essentially a call to action. They told me I was not working hard enough, my hours were not long enough, or that I was not shouting loudly enough. My grief had become inseparable from my struggle. I used to at least give myself some recovery time according to Lorde’s maxim:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
But then the Black feminists went and complicated it for me. They asked “Why?”. Why should Lorde have had to look after herself?
“Audre Lorde didn’t die a natural death. She died an institutionally produced one, a death that was generated at the level of social infrastructure. I want us to learn to regard Audre Lorde’s death as an effect of racial capitalism—its fundamentally unequal provisioning of wealth and social goods, its ableist and productivist standards as to what constitutes a healthy person, its fashioning of health care as a private commodity rather than as a fundamental right, and its particular commingling of sexism and racism that at one and the same time materializes the constant demand that black women work and renders the work they do invisible. The conditions that produced Audre Lorde’s death, in other words, might also serve as a reminder that in the aggregate, black women bear a disproportionate share of racial capitalism’s propensity to work its workers to death. And a major feature of these death-making conditions is to be found in the ways in which it is structured so as to refuse to recognize as work what so many black women do for themselves, for each other, and for their communities…”
Bahati Kuumba had by this time spent many years trying to bring us to consciousness about the sheer amount of emotional housework we do even in the struggle. It was from that history that the idea of self-care seemed to me a revolutionary idea: a hot bath, a good book, actually not doing any carework (emotional or otherwise) for the day. Now, the notion that actually, maybe if I was not so undermined on a daily and hourly basis I would be well without having to self-care struck me with blinding force. Young people do occasionally come up with interesting ideas.
See, years of the sustained attack on Queer people’s existence known as hate crimes has left me often unable to grieve. I say my grief muscle is overworked. I started a new poetry collection called “the New Normal” trying to express this feeling that violence had become so normalized that any random day would bring news of another one killed, raped or beaten up. The grieving stacked up so much that I was never able to finish it. There was no time to write. And I’m talking only about the ones which hit the headlines, many other private griefs would come to me rumour-wise. I could not other than see these deaths as political.
There are also the living dead. The one who took a government job and since then can only talk about what she owns. She has no conversation except about what she owns, sends her son to a very expensive private school but lives in fear since she witnessed corruption and is scared for her life though it is obvious to the meanest intelligence that she will never tell. I look at her and think “What future? What future are you preparing for your son?”
The friend who disappeared down a bottle and never came back. The friend who can only hold it together on legal drugs. The friend diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder who could not hold down a job and was forced back to live with the preacher father who quite likely perpetrated the traumas which caused the BPD in the first place. The friend who was never diagnosed with BPD, outwardly highfunctioning but who continues to push-pull in her personal relationships, going from one wreck to the other. The steady, responsible but emotionally autistic friend. The friend who promised not to commit suicide but who is barely part of living community. As Neo Musangi has put it:
“it surprises no one that i disappeared
i have been the space between lines,
a face in the crowd, a crack on peeling paint,
he knows that to gradually disappear, she only needs to love
an empty heart.”
The living dead clutter my life, sometimes they come to workshops. They think of themselves as comrades. Sometimes this is the only meaning in their lives left to them, coming to meetings bearing mute testimony to the physical and mental violence which broke them. It is hard to feel alive amongst these comrades. I wrote about it in that poetry collection I never completed:
“I have been silenced and separated by violence
Mind, body and soul torn apart
I am with Audre Lorde on this one
I just don’t think chains and whips can be sexy for the children of slaves
Still, I too have repressed memories of a reality so evil that physical pain seemed a pleasure by comparison
I remember the need to re-enact those dramas of dominance and submission
Trying desperately to imagine a sense of control
I know the long road up the Mountain
Studying the difference between pain and pleasure
Learning self-love like a child, one step at a time
Until I no longer needed to cut myself just to feel something like alive”
So the idea of wellness as a birthright, to no longer feel tired but rested and full of energy as the norm struck me with stunning force. I knew that state once. It was youth. I had understood my exhaustion as simply the consequences of age. These young feminists questioning Lorde’s legacy made me rethink my approach to wellness. I became more aware of the constant draining from emotional housework. I started to be able to literally see the energy draining from my soul as I organized with my loving but emotionally dead comrades.
What I then noticed is that I myself had become unfeeling. This urge to be well, to not be drained constantly, to actually feel like getting out of bed in the morning was so overpowering, I simply did not want to other-mother the struggle for a while. This meant not supporting my comrades. It was not depression, it was not any form of mental illness. It was simply tiredness. I was about to cross over to the living dead. The important thing about this response was that it was a normal response to what was happening around me. Human beings are so made that they habituate, to a drug, an emotion or a situation. I was simply suffering-ed out, death-ed out. I don’t think I am alone in this. In the age of HIV/AIDs and gender-based violence, we have sustained so much loss that we run out of feeling. And it has become the norm. Koleka Putuma says that illness has become an embarrassment to the social polity:
“There are protocols to reaching out:
Do not share a meme of your panic attacks on social media
Your 3456 friends do not know of the epilepsy that came before,
The willpower it took to pick up the phone and tell your mother
That today, it is hard.
It is sore in all the places you cannot see or wrap uh gauze around.
Do not post a selfie of your self-mutilation
God forbid, your status reveals that you are lost or breaking
No one will comment on how raw or close to healing your wound is.” 
Let me repeat this point again. I am not saying that mental or physical illness is rife, or that lacking in compassion has never been a feature. I am saying it has become normal. My friend Tandisa Nkonyeni used to counsel out of a container in Soweto. She said to me once: “A woman comes in complaining about depression. I ask her about her life. 45 minutes later I tell her ‘there is nothing wrong with you. This is an absolutely sane reaction to your circumstances. If you lived your life and were not depressed you would be having a serious [mental] problem.’”
To underline this point by force of contrast, let us turn to Keguro Macharia who reminds us of a past before we were overwhelmed by loss:
“Audre Lorde framed black women’s lives and experiences in terms of survival. In her hands, survival was more than simply enduring. It was not about resigning oneself to a fate and hoping to make it through. It named the strategies of care and knowledge that made it possible to imagine, make, and transmit how to live and how to love and how to be across generations. “
What does it mean when our current young poets are framing their experiences, not only in terms of loss, but in terms of the fact that people cannot be expected to care? That those who are sick are afraid of even seeking compassion, lest they be a bother to the tired ones?
More force of contrast: amongst the ancient Khoesan there was no word for ‘evil’, only ‘sick’ as ‘in out of balance with the ecosystem’. A person who has lost touch with the rhythm of Creation. So the cure for illness and evil would be the same: to bring the afflicted person back into the community of interdependence. But a species that lacks care for its young? I seek a herb or a ritual for that.
Perforce, over the past five hundred years, the Khoesan studied evil in minute, intimate and daily detail. It became a loan word, coming perhaps closest in meaning to ‘alienated’. The consensus seems to be that of the first cause there can be no understanding. It is a question which does not compute. What species wishes to place itself outside Creation? Why hurt another when the principle of interdependence means sooner or later that pain will come back to you, or somebody you love? Why build up bad karma for yourself in your old age, or for your descendants? To these questions there is no sensible answer. The words ‘to be part of’ just didn’t seem to compute for the primary evil doers.
Accepting first cause as a given, though, it is possible to come to some answers. I shall frame this in psychological terms: when evil is done to us, and we do not process in a safe and supportive environment, we continue to re-enact the traumatic events over and over again. Our subconscious needs to tell a narrative and if we are unable to express it in words (like, say, we don’t have a language for it, or we do not believe that anybody will listen) we will act out over and over again until resolved. That is, we will do unto others what was done to us unless there is a conscious effort to heal. Healing is hard. Many people prefer to become separate from their pain, to deny, and thus to re-enact over and over again. Once begun, evil will give rise to heteropatriarchy, capitalism, white supremacy, ableism and ecocide.
The descendants of the Khoesan and slaves studied evil for two hundred and fifty years of slavery, meaning two hundred and fifty years of institutionalized rape. After a century or so of silence we eventually came to speak about it – although rarely directly. That is not how the children of rape speak. We revived Khoesan culture, language, and built a movement. As a people we said that we would not allow the slave master to survive in us. The genetics we could do nothing about, but we could counter-genocide by turning our back on the culture into which we were forced to be born. This we have done. Throughout that battle, values came first. We lost our land, our cattle, our knowledge, our very bodies, before we were prepared to lose our values. For to become other than ourselves meant that we would have lost everything. Therefore this new state of non-feeling worries me (whenever I can summon up enough energy to worry). To held on to our values until just when we are almost in sight of victory would be a great tragedy. It would render the last five hundred years meaningless. It would mean that evil has triumphed.
Meaninglessness is indeed just another word for evil. Chaos is as necessary as structure for creativity. Pain, as in birth and death, is normal. It is in the life between that one seeks to make happiness as in worship. Pain, as in loss and gain, is part of living. I used to when I was younger rush to help a comrade because I knew that if I did not rush they would be back on top again soon and I would have lost my chance to be there for them. I hear nowadays this is called ‘co-dependent’. But for my ancestors it was called ‘normal’. It meant ‘belonging’. But to be in pain alone, to isolate yourself from other people because you are afraid of being a bother, to refuse connectedness, to be too tired to care, is the triumph of meaninglessness.
I plan to retire in this country. When that happens I would like it not to be riddled with corruption to the point where no implementation occurs. I would like it to be run by caring, competent people. It makes sense to me to invest in free liberatory education now so I can spend my last years in peace. That is every adult’s plain and simple task, surely?
In short, my #FMF youngsters, you did well to rise up. The last 22 years have not been good to us. Those of us who sold our souls for dollars (or more precisely Renminbi’s) are not having such a good time as they thought they would. Else they wouldn’t need to be constantly high. Here I do not even mean in spiritual terms, as in the thirst for material things cannot be slaked and leads only to an ever greater spiritual poverty. We know that. I mean it in a literal sense. The black middle class has not been sober for decades, whether abusing substances, religion or power. Because they cannot cope with what they had to do in order to be what they are. Because they cannot deal with separation from their communities. They stopped computing and have nothing but addiction to replace it with.
So don’t listen to anybody, including me. I could say so much: Continue to refuse to be part of the living dead. Care for one another. Be the parents you never had. Practice compassion. Stay true to your values. If my generation is to have any redeeming feature, let it be that we have shown by example that selling our souls does not bring happiness.
I could make a call especially to Queer youth. I worry about the tremendous pressure for conformity, within the broader movement and even weirder, in the Queer movement itself. Suddenly, it appears, there are normative ways of being Queer. Really? How does that work? It just tells me that we desperately need to move away from the politics of fear and hatred towards a revolution of love. Who is going to do that if not the Queer youth? Is love not what our movement is all about? Did I miss something?
But you will none of you listen to me and that is exactly as it should be. You are young and will make many mistakes. That is also as it should be. Experience is the most expensive education ever, taking payment only in heart’s blood, sweat and tears. School of hard knocks does not accept credit cards. But bless you for rejecting all notions of settling for less! Keep up the good work! Nothing and nobody can ever stop you from learning.
 . I am sorry I have forgotten where I found this. If anybody knows, please comment so I can attribute intellectual property.
 . Christian, Tanya Breast Cancer: Lessons that Audre Lorde Taught Me The Feminist Wire 14/2/2014. http://www.thefeministwire.com/2014/02/breast-cancer-lessons-audre-lorde-taught/
 . Lorde, Audre A Burst of Light: Essays Firebrand Books, New York,1988.
 . Low End Theory On Audre Lorde’s Legacy and the ‘Self’ Of Self-care, Part 2 of 3 14/5/2013 http://www.lowendtheory.org/post/50428216600/on-audre-lordes-legacy-and-the-self-of
 . Kuumba, M. Bahati. African Women, Resistance Cultures And Cultural Resistances. Agenda 20, no. 68 , 2006, pp. 112-121.
 . “Jimmy Choo! Really? One year’s earnings of a domestic worker on your feet? Another on your head? And you expect me to think this a good thing?”
 . Love Her – One 22 September, 2014. Unpublished.
 .Macharia, Keguro Michelle Cliff and Cedric Robinson https://gukira.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/michelle-cliff-cedric-robinson/
The reason why I call this an unscientific approach is because it is impossible to conduct a double blind clinical trial proving prevention. It is not impossible to design such a study but it is unethical and morally unthinkable. You simply cannot ask a certain number of women to use substances thought to cause cancer and an equal number of women to not use them in the hope of ‘proving’ that cancer is preventable. In such a situation, the precautionary principle – widely applied in the climate change field – is applicable. If you are doing something the consequences of which you cannot fully foresee then don’t do it. Zen Buddism applied to planetary ecosystems, of which you are part. Similarly, if you are not sure whether something causes cancer, don’t do it. Continue not to do it for a number of years, and if you are still healthy suddenly the need for a double blind clinical trial seems less overwhelming. So here’s a breakdown of things which may increase the risk of breast cancer. You can laugh at me but why bet your life on my being wrong?
Play it safe. Eat food you have grown yourself or buy as much organic food as possible. In fact, do the planet a favour and stop emitting carbon at those expensive gyms. It is the most insane thing ever to be using electricity to do such an ordinary human thing as exercise. Garden organically instead, in your own or a guerilla garden you find somewhere. Carbon free and provides healthier food. Eat free-range meat, organic eggs and milk. Find a local grower (hopefully a women’s co-operative) or set up a community supported agriculture arrangement to source what you cannot produce, and while you are about it eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables high in betacarotenes and antioxidants: carrots, pumpkins, cabbage and her cousins, and so on. Yes, organic is more expensive than pesticide-laden food. But I can guarantee you it is cheaper than breast cancer treatment.
Plus you can use your consumer power to support small scale agriculture and women farmers. What is known as a win-win situation!
This effect is doubled if your deodorant happens to contain cancer-causing chemicals. Yes, I said there are carcinogens in most deodorants and anti-perspirants sold on the market today. Aluminium is the one where the correlation is best proven, but parabens come a close second. Parabens are preservatives which are also known endocrine disruptors. You are adding grains of sand to the ones already contained in your diet. It is a further problem if synthetic fragrances are used in your deodorant because companies are allowed to patent these and in order to protect their patents it is legal to not declare the ingredients thereof. So we have absolutely no idea what they do. If the label of your deodorant says ‘aluminium’, any word ending in ‘paraben’, such as ‘methylparaben’, ‘butylparaben’, etc, or most ominously ‘fragrance’, toss it. Learn to read the labels. It can save your life.
Search for natural and organic deodorants. I am using Victorian Gardens’ one at the moment because I find that bicarbonate of soda ones give me a terrible rash. It can be ordered online. Or have a look at a health food store near you! There are many traditional herbs and clays which can be used as well, so think of getting to know your indigenous knowledge systems as something which might save your life. Another win-win situation.
My advice is to apply the precautionary principle: maximize those factors which prevent breast cancer and minimize those which may cause it. Do prayer, yoga and meditation which are great absolutely toxin free stress reducers and bring your body back into balance with your mind. Hug lots for the same reason. Have fun. Though self-examinations are discouraged nowadays for goodness knows what reason, for feminist purposes they are enjoyable, especially if conducted by your lover. Maximize those and give radioactivity a re-think.
Yes, this has been known by doctors for a long time,that is why dosages have been steadily falling since the neutron bomb contraceptive pills of the 1960’s. And of course it remains better to increase your risk of breast cancer than to have children you cannot feed. We will be doing the planet a HUGE favour by having fewer children and in fact are going to need to do so over the next generation or two or we won’t have a planetary ecosystem to keep our kids in. But that said, there are many healthy non-toxic ways to avoid getting pregnant. The most obvious is to end gender-based violence, and I won’t go into that since Professor Gqola has told us exactly how to go about it. But obviously, if 1 in 3 women in South Africa are going to be raped at least once in their lifetimes then it is likely that one-third of all children born are as a result of gender-based violence. Probably more, since rape is the situation where you are least likely to be able to choose contraception. But that is a really bad reason to use the Pill.
Turning to the pleasure side of sex there are plenty of non-toxic, more pleasurable and much cheaper methods of contraception. Probably the easiest of these is to become a lesbian. May be emotionally hazardous depending on who you end up with but solves your contraceptive problem for life.  If you really, absolutely, not in a million years could stomach the thought and insist on being heterosexual, then use a condom. If you are allergic to latex or can’t stand the thought of emitting all that carbon, then practice non-penetrative sex in combination with the rhythm method. Do as the Khoesan did (in fact all matriarchal peoples) and get in harmony with the moon. Yes, it is more trouble and less reliable than the Pill. But it won’t increase your risk of breast cancer or render you a scientific experiment at your own expense. It will also serve to begin to undermine monopoly capitalism in the pharmaceutical sector. They lose their profits from the Pill and will also be less able to sell you expensive breast cancer treatment. I call that a good deal.
 . . The 2013 Berlaymont Declaration on Endocrine Disrupters Available at http://www.brunel.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/300200/The_Berlaymont_Declaration_on_Endocrine_Disrupters.pdf . Last accessed 30 May, 2014.
 . Wolf, Naomi (1994). Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How To Use It. New York: Fawcett Columbine.
 . I will give you just one example: search the web for a single source of information that can tell you how to keep intersex people healthy in their natural state and you will find none. Zero. Zip. Nada. The only medical science that exists out there is about how to make them single-gendered. But as to what constitutes their optimal hormonal balance or what happens when they are exposed to multiple endocrine disruptors in a binary gender system which in itself stresses them to hell and gone and you will find a big empty gaping silence. Now if modern science has no idea of the complexities which go into keeping a person healthy who has lots of everything in intricate beautiful balance, how are we to understand the complex hormonal interactions even of single gendered humans? Short answer: we don’t. Your lives are being played with people, while Big Pharma makes lots of money. How does that make you feel?
 . Peeps, I dealt with GBV already. OK?
For P.C. Jones
Why are all our heroes dead ?
Is it because the living
Do not loom over us, larger than life,
But their faults do?
We remember the courage of the dead
Honour their wisdom
Take the truth of their lives to heart
And love them always
Because they practiced what they preached
And died for the struggle.
Still, who knows the courage it takes
To get up every morning and breathe
Not the grand passions of the hero
But the silly human moments of life?
And I respect
Who choose to live for the struggle
a/ The NGO Mama. The technical term is ‘elite capture’. Nothing can happen unless it goes through her. She has been powerless her entire life and now she is dedicating the little bit that she has to make sure that you all pay the price. If you are working for struggle wages, with compulsory overtime and weekend work as standard, where only the buttlickers get to go to conferences and such and you find yourself having to explain to the community how your carefully negotiated workshop schedule got changed for the fourth time in this morning’s meeting because your boss woke up with another bright and completely impractical idea, then this is your NGOM subspecies. Tell yourself you are building your CV and then move on.
b/ The manipulative Queen. Do yourself a favour! Look up the symptoms for Borderline Personality Disorder online and then tell yourself that you did not cause it, you cannot cure it, and what you need to do is deal with your co-dependency issues. Collect your data and consider it a capacity-building experience.
c/ The “I did not struggle to be poor” Queen Bee (no offence to bees intended), who is purely in it for the honey. If you notice that she and the Chair of the Board seem to do an inordinate amount of travelling business class and staying in five class hotels while this person with a post-graduate education decides that no, the community does not need more than two capacity-building workshops because the budget does not allow for more – or no, the organization cannot afford workplace childcare – then again, collect your data and move along.
d/ actually another version of the Queen Bee was the Director of an NGO I knew whose girlfriend worked for a funder and who coincidentally employed girlfriend as a consultant out of said funder’s budget. Unless the Board got its sh-t together (usually not or they would have got the Director figured out long ago) there is not much you can do but sit and learn. You never know when experience tracking down corruption may come in handy.
a/ you know that point in the meeting at which that permanently waif-like emotional vampire who is looking for someone to project her stuff on has just managed to manipulate the entire collective into a stupid and pointless idea which has bullying at its heart? Don’t be afraid to make gat. If everybody cracks up laughing the tension will be broken and there is every hope that something constructive may yet emerge.
b/ ja, you know that other moment in the meeting where we all have bitched, complained and generally made ourselves very comfortable in our victim status, the time has come for constructive, creative suggestions and a painful silence starts to spread around the meeting while everybody starts furtively looking at their cellphones? Make your suggestion! The worst they can do is laugh at you. But you know, Goddess sees you and will give you brownie points in feminist heaven for at least trying to be a real revolutionary.
c/ and if the movement dumps your suggestions of building biogas digesters, starting food gardens, fermenting effective microorganisms, improving the water supply, volounteering at pre-schools, scrutinizing the Auditor-Generals accounts to figure out exactly how much money has been embezzled which could fund free quality education, or some other activity which might make A REAL DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF ACTUAL WOMEN and combine immediate needs with long term strategic qualitative change; in favour of yet another demonstration/workshop/petition/activity which involves lots of rhetoric, many speeches and much grandstanding for who gets the biggest microphone (see point 6), then you need to start asking yourself if you are really in the right movement. 90 % of the time it is less emotionally draining and more productive to just go off and start another movement (see point 1).
a/ ensure that even the smallest minority is heard even when it is not what Everybody Else is saying?
b/ take it for granted that everybody needs to be held accountable for their actions, and it is NO BIG DEAL to be asked to account?
c/ resolve conflict openly, i.e. tell you in public with witnesses or a recording device what their problem is, give you a fair hearing and acknowledge any factual evidence you may wish to bring to the table?
d/ take steps to limit the conflict to the actual protagonists, assuming that they are grown people who will take responsibility for their actions and remember that the struggle really is bigger than they are?
e/ accept that you are the agent of your own liberation, i.e. that telling who you are and what you should be doing in the name of feminism is probably not very feminist? You think?
Or do they
i/ Shut people up when it gets uncomfortable?
ii/ start crying and saying you are nasty when you ask them why they did that tomfool thing in the organization’s name when the previous meeting had precisely decided it was tomfool?
iii/ resolve conflict through gossip, innuendo and rumour, backbiting and going suddenly quiet when you rock up, e-mailing stuff about you which you are NOT being cc’ed, all the while smiling to your face and telling you they are your only real feminist friends?
iv/ drag non-combatants into the conflict, creating caucuses and movements within a movement, expecting everybody to take their side and when people – surprisingly – don’t, insist on making it an issue of personal loyalty? As if patriarchy cared…
v/ decide that they are the real experts at liberation and yes, their pain is really much more important than workingclass/unemployed and unemployable/rural/ trans/genderqueer pain and that it is actually all about them. So they think nothing of occupying the entire meeting/movement with THEIR ISSUE and will not let it go without creating maximum amount of drama and division.
Well, there you go my childen! Remember, just like you cannot let the faith-based institution stand between you and Godde, you should not let the movement stand between you and bringing down patriarchy. 90 % of women/trans/genderqueers are still unorganized. If you are in a movement like 11 i-v/ you will probably even find your Neighbourhood Watch or your Consumer’s Association more potentially radical, and at least considerably more useful. You can exhaust yourself trying to stay and fight or you can what?
MOVE OUT AND BUILD A MOVEMENT!!!
 . I deliberately use the female pronoun here because hopefully genderqueers are more mature than that.
 . Nope, not being able-ist. In fact, I think we need a Mad Pride movement desperately. But see, I own my craziness.
 , No. We do not need workshops on how to use sex toys. We used to have to figure out stuff like that by ourselves. If the younger generation don’t know what to do, they shouldn’t be joining the feminist movement. Neither do we need ‘sex-positive spaces’. Let them go do it in the bush like we used to. It’s called tough love.
 . Not saying that we don’t need these things. Just saying that if they at some point don’t lead to practical action then you are probably not in the feminist movement.