Today, South Africa observes Reconciliation Day with what can only be assumed to be a healthy dose of sobriety. 2016, infamous for its never-ending, unsuspecting and often unwanted surprises, has also proven to be a contentious year in the socio-political economy of the country. With unemployment reaching a 13-year high last quarter, a number of students left with uncertainty after the confirmed fee increases, a shortage of available spaces at some universities, continued high levels of inequality, and divisive racist and sexist outbursts on social media, it would be fair to look to December 16 2016 with cynicism, particularly after President Jacob Zuma declared that the theme for this day would be “Bridging the Divide Towards a Non-racial Society”.
Even in a historical reading of December 16, predating the anti-year of 2016, the irony is difficult to escape: events on this day include December 1838, when an army of roughly 10 000 Zulu soldiers were killed by 100 Afrikaans soldiers in the Battle of Blood River over land disputes. Or on December 16 1961, when after the Sharpeville Massacre, the ANC departed from its then non-violent stance to establish Umkhonto we Sizwe, its military wing co-founded by Nelson Mandela. December 16 can thus be said to represent an elusive conceptualisation of reconciliation, the term which in the presence of a precarious social contract, is made untenable by the very same conditions that make its modern day celebrations ironic. These include, but are in no way limited to, issues of land, wealth, service delivery and employment, which are elusive to the majority of South Africans living under similar structural violence as that underpinning the events of 1838 and 1961.
The dangers of romanticising reconciliation and terms like Ubuntu, is that they evoke a sense of national pride in symbols, without adequate consideration for the privileged access to services and employment that fall along contentious fault lines in South Africa, including but not limited to race, gender, ability and class. These dynamics help to explain why a number of South Africans express pride at being South African and a belief in Ubuntu, but have very low levels of trust for those from other identity groups. While the middle-to-upper income groups diversify (as more people of colour send their children to former model-c schools, ideally allowing for interactions on a level playing field that continues through to the workplace); it is the lower income groups that are alienated from the practical implications of the reconciliation narrative without adequate integration because their interaction is limited to the work place hierarchy where the maid-madam dynamic continues. However, the practical integration that is meaningful for creating a sustainable social contract requires that the state intervene in ways that bring into disrepute the current narrative of reconciliation – a baseless call for a symbolically integrated, but practically alienated society. Improving access to just and humanising service delivery, directly addressing spatial planning and land redistribution in urban and rural areas, and being responsive, adaptive and accountable to communities, are some of the ways in which the state can demonstrate that reconciliation is not a pacifying tactic designed to manage the legitimate expectations for the realisation of constitutional rights.
This is not to dismiss the utility of promoting mutual respect and integration in society, surely the transition to democracy in 1994 was relatively peaceful because of the renewed sense of unity and commitment to a South African nation-building narrative. However, while the narrative guaranteed a successful transition in 1994, it included a political settlement that would ultimately contribute to the further fragmentation of society. The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that focused solely on gross human rights violations is an example of the challenges that emerged from the settlement that was useful for peace in 1994, but problematic for reform thereafter. The TRC allowed secondary perpetrators of human rights violations, including racism and sexist acts to detach from the public narrative of responsibility pitted against the foot soldiers of government agencies. A number of white suburban South Africans well-understood that they had not committed murder or aided a physical disappearance, rather they conceptualised their relative privilege as a function of hard work and not as a result of the structural violence of apartheid. Instead it was the foot soldiers of the AWB, NP and the Boeremag who despite the admission of guilt, were not the orchestrators of apartheid, some of whom were exonerated and left unscathed by the transition. Forgiveness then became the burden of those victims of gross human rights violations, who had to return to communities where countless of others on the receiving end of forced-land removals, intimidation, rape and harassment had to look to the promises of the Constitution for “equal opportunities”– pending available government funds.
It therefore comes with little surprise that the number of public protests have increased in the past few years, the most prominent of which have been the intersectional #MustFall movements emanating from university campuses. These movements call for equal urgency to address structural violence as that deployed by state agencies in response to physical violence. Equipped with the promise of equal opportunity and reconciliation on somewhat diverse campuses, the jarring reality of gross inequality, biased discourse and pedagogy, and the burden of forgiveness, has evoked a rage in the youth that is in revolt to the narrative of “Mandela’s Reconciliation”. These neo-black consciousness proponents push for a radical equality of race, class, ableism and sex and express frustration at the slow pace of social justice in the face of blatant state corruption and waste at the municipal level. And while they were initially broadly supported through canvassing efforts on social media, scepticism has begun to creep into public discourse as the movement is pushed into the ambit of “traffic inconveniences” and deviance, associated with other activist movements that have gone before them. That the state engages in brinkmanship also does little to support its so-called peace-promoting narrative of social cohesion that exists across multiple policy documents but with little impact at a societal level without adequate redress.
It goes without saying that rather than emphasise a non-racial society, as the state has so boldly done, what is necessary is the intersectional reading of privilege, power and inequality in South Africa – which displays all the characteristics of a racist, classist, sexist, able-ist society. The Restitution Conference hosted in Cape Town last month was one such attempt at surfacing tensions around redress, however moving from the Castle of Good Hope into the Waterfront and being confronted by the gross inequality that characterises Cape Town, one cannot help but think twice about the proponents of reconciliation and the choir that they preach to (myself included). As the upper-middle income diversifies it becomes easier for those of all races that live in relative privilege to deny the reality of the burden of reconciliation, because a more sober reading of what it might truly entail would serve to upend the very socioeconomic structures that perpetuate unrest for some but privilege for others. Instead of the narrative of unity in diversity, it is rather more necessary that December 16 be associated with the underlying conflicts that threaten the social contract if not adequately addressed for their legitimate concerns. Perhaps, 2016 will serve to heighten the sense of urgency for South Africans, as time seems to run out and patience in waiting for the promises of democracy wears thin.
This piece is based on research conducted at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Masana writes here in her personal capacity.
Today something unusual happened.
I took a train to town and as we approached Cape Town, I tweeted and put a Facebook photo of the train with the mountain as a small backdrop and captioned: I love taking the train. My experience in France has made me to appreciate public transport.
Unlike driving- and I hate traffic, taking the train allows me to see a glimpse of people's lives as they go to and fro. Middle, working class, the poor all mashed up in a space.
I went back home on the train. Then took another train after a few hours en route to work.
An elderly couple got onto the train and decided to sit in front of me.
The gentleman asked: Do you speak Xhosa?
I replied: I am still learning
Him: Where are you from?
Me: Half Congolese, Half Zimbabwean
Then he asks a question which most South Africans do not ask: Which Congo?
Me: The small one.
Him: Brazzaville? Why do you say the small one?
He went on to tell me that he was in Brazzaville in the 80's. And his spouse went on to say that he was on Robben Island for 22 years, and was released in 1986.
In that moment my heart, my eyes were almost filled with tears. I am even holding back tears as I write this. I responded: That's the year I was born!
To think that I had only met political prisoners at Robben Island itself on tours. One of the things that I dislike about the tours is how much emphasis is solely placed on Mandela. A great man indeed- but there were hundreds of others who also endured prisons and their names are largely unknown.
But to meet one in this daily life was an honour for me. It shifted the narrative for me. It became person-al. So I humbly asked for his name, and unfortunately my mind could not pronounce it for my memory, due to not have acquired a local ear. And I felt it would have been rude to ask him to say it again or to spell it for me.
Amidst the #RhodesMustFall movement that has swept UCT, Stellebosch and now Oxford, I was reminded that #BlackLivesMatter as we have endured oppression for centuries and continue to gain strength. Through this history embodied in this esteemed (in my eyes) old man, I was reminded that the struggle is not over.
Statistically Blacks still live in poorer conditions than whites in South Africa. We earn less. We still experience racism in so many ways. And so forth...
I am humbled to have briefly read this history embodied in this gracious old man that reminded me that my shout in the desert is not in vain.
The struggle continues.
Dear Black South Africans,
May you please give us a break?
By 'us' I mean non-South African Black Africans.
It seems a lot of us suffer from selective amnesia but it wasn't long ago that many of you were fleeing South Africa to head to Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique and other places during the horrendous apartheid regime.
Many of us accommodated you during your time of turmoil.
It seems the tables have changed. We have been flooding South Africa for various reasons: education, so-called 'greener pastures', refugee status as we are fleeing other African governments.
As both a Kongolese and a Zimbabwean 'my' people are represented in their millions I believe.
So what is this rant about? Well let me get onto it:
A number of times when we get onto taxis, a fair number of you insist on speaking to us in your spoken [native] language- that is: Zulu, Xhosa, and other African languages spoken on this side of the world- because of our shared Blackness- which by the way isn't homogeneous. And yet, when we reply in English, which is the language we have either come to learn as a third or fourth language, or as an official language from where we come from- we get given the cold shoulder we are responded to in a local South African language.
The irony is that: we may at times would have been in your country for a few days, a few weeks, a few months, a few years- and yet you do not [seem to] expect the same from your white South Africans whom you have "shared" this physical space for centuries.
A white South African gets into a taxi, you speak to them in English. A white foreigner gets into a taxi, you speak to them in English. A non-South African Black African gets into a taxi, you speak to them in your local language and give them so much shade for not understanding you.
Would you give us a break please? Africa isn't homogeneous. We speak other African languages and unless we come from the neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe (read South of Zim), we would most likely not be able to communicate using an African language-yet.
I understand this is your home ground and you expect us to adapt to your ways. And a lot of are trying. We are hustling hard- to the point of being murdered for being other'ed by you as job and wives thieves- which is not true.
Many of us work our butts off to send money home to loved ones, working as car guards, trying to have a spaza shop here and there, yet we- the most vulnerable ones- get systematically oppressed by the already oppressed.
I understand the socio-economic realities of this country makes us- Black Africans- easy targets to unleash your wrath and anger that you hold towards your government, country, concerning unemployment.
We most likely have it worse because the majority of us do not have ID's, then there are those of us who are here illegally- not by choice (well we do have agency, but) the reality on the ground in a place like Zimbabwe has pushed us to do unthinkable things such as 'jumping the border'. It isn't right by law but we think we do not have another choice- other than to starve and die.
We are not the enemy.
Allow us time to integrate and learn some of your ways in order that we may temporarily 'co-habitate' in this land whilst we are sorting our shit out.
Give us a break. Abeg o.
Shingai is a Congolese and Zimbabwean, passionate about ethnochoreology, dance, technology, and politics within Africa.
Two weeks ago News24, in partnership with Code4SA, published a tool to calculate a reasonable wage to pay a domestic worker in South Africa. Based on data submitted by users, the news site found that on average a domestic worker in the Western Cape is paid R188.50 a shift, the highest when compared to other provinces such as Gauteng (R172) and KwaZulu-Natal (R150). These figures were above the minimum wage recommendation by the department of labour, which is R10.95 an hour, or R87.60 assuming an eight-hour shift.
There is, however, a stark difference between the minimum wage and a living wage — a contentious issue highlighted in the aforementioned articles. The calculator indicated that while most people are on average paying their domestic workers more than the legal requirements, this was not necessarily a just wage on which to live — often for sole breadwinners, travelling great (and costly) distances to get to work, sometimes as long as an hour each way (if not more).
Given that domestic workers make up 6% of the employed labour force in South Africa, the calculator is an important tool for rethinking how we engage with those who provide domestic services. Despite regulation entitling domestic workers to access to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) or basic leave benefits, often enforcement is left wanting, leaving workers in a state of constant precariousness. This is further compounded by relatively low wages that tend to remain low year-on-year despite increases in the cost of living across South Africa.
It is often argued that increasing the minimum wage will ultimately make domestic services unaffordable, and contribute to further unemployment as more people choose to take on their cleaning tasks themselves rather than employ domestic workers. This economic efficiency argument for market-determined wages is a well-known one. But last week’s visit by Thomas Piketty has again brought to the forefront the problem with allowing the market to determine the distribution of resources if we aim for an equitable society. Economic efficiency (as understood by neoclassical economics) and economic justice are not inevitable outcomes of a market-led redistribution process, but they need not be mutually exclusive either. Conscientious citizens need not wait for state-led reform if they are looking to be agents of change and promote economic justice in their private affairs.
For starters, anyone employing a domestic worker must understand the historical context of the work and how it has been a channel of oppression. Domestic work was often a means of last resort for a number of women in South Africa, unable to find employment in the homelands and trekking to urban areas to find work in homes of primarily white families. Tied into the complex intersection of race, class and gender relations, predominantly black women were often removed from raising their own families while working as live-in nannies in the homes of their well-off white counterparts. Constricted by pass-laws, this often meant raising someone else’s children while relying on the generosity of family in the homelands/townships to raise your own.
The ramifications on the African family unit are not yet fully understood. And while the end of apartheid should have resulted in the culmination of the sector’s racial and class bias, instead we have witnessed an increase in the diversity of “madams” but not of domestic workers. The new black middle class has been conscripted into this employment structure with little consideration for its history and the inherent power struggle between “maid” and “madam”: I have often heard conversations of domestic workers nicking sugar and flour by the kilo, but fewer conversations on the socioeconomic struggle facing these workers each day. Understanding the complex challenges facing someone who works in domestic services might serve to open one’s eyes to their humanity.
Furthermore, thought must be given to how one can decrease the precarious employment situation of domestic workers. For example, while paid leave is expected for most employees, those employed in the informal economy can often be dismissed for failure to arrive at work despite good grounds. Sick, maternity and family leave are all expected in employment contracts in the formal economy, but the same benefits are not transferred to the informal economy. Similarly, over the year-end break a number of domestic workers might travel or take leave (as most people in the formal economy) but are not guaranteed pay over that period. Yet, these are things stipulated and clearly defined in a formal working contract — something well worth pursuing and negotiating with one’s employee.
This negotiation process may shift the power balance, and rightly so: domestic workers provide a valuable service to this economy that allows countless women to work, they should have a say in their working arrangements too! Even making a contribution to UIF is a step in the right direction, considering that 80% of domestic workers are without it.
But most importantly, is the issue of wages and personal development. In the same way that any young millennial entering the job market hopes to progress through the ranks of their chosen path, so too should any employer (even in personal capacity) give thought to the personal development of their staff — especially in consideration of job satisfaction and a resulting improved output. It is rather frustrating to hear people complain of workers not returning after the Christmas break when they had no incentive to do so. Offering a competitive wage and options of personal development may yield better results in the employment dynamic.
Of course, this is the tip of the iceberg amid a sea of complex interactions between domestic workers and employers and this short piece cannot do it the justice it deserves. But this is an important conversation to have not just for the employment conditions of those employed in the informal economy, but also for the impact of the nature of this employment on the families and the well-being of those employed therein.
By Masana Ndinga-Kanga
* Understanding does not mean condoning
The current state of affairs across the world has made peace and security a pressing concern not just in policy circles, but also in public discourse. Issues of marginalisation and violence continue to plague numerous parts of the world, with often dire results: The rise of Isis in the Arab world, the prevalence of social unrest in South America and European countries grappling with challenges in their political economy, or poor policing decisions in US. The trend globally has been that intrastate conflict has escalated while there has been a notable decline in interstate conflict. This means that South Africa is not unique in having to deal with what seems like a sharp rise in domestic social tension, in an increasingly democratic and globalising world. The very nature of our international political economy has heightened internal tensions, while limiting the options available to states for reform given the prevailing values of a democratic world. Much of the conflict we are currently witnessing is owed to structural challenges that alienate a broad spectrum of people in different ways.
Psychosocial precursors to violence
What explains violent and high-risk behaviour, particularly among the young? Jim Cochrane and Gary Gunderson have developed a multi-disciplinary model to explain the five psychosocial “leading causes of life”. In order for a human being to make sense of the world, they need a sense of hope, agency, connections, inter-generational relationships and coherence. If these five aspects are not provided through positive channels, prevalent negative channels step in to allow people to make sense of the world and their place in it. This explains the appeal of gangs — they provide hope, agency, connections and a sense of coherence much needed by our young men and women. Similarly, drug abuse, domestic violence, and even racism, a sense of privilege or xenophobia are passed on as learned behaviour to younger generations through observations and narratives about the world. While not set in stone, unless there is an intervention, children closely observe how their parents respond to conflict and imitate that behaviour. In order to deal with the consequences of marginalising power structures that lead to violent behaviour we need to address the psychosocial concerns that make them possible.
Continued structures that perpetuate injustice
Despite its importance, it would be a farce to address only the psychosocial concerns that lead to violence. This is an important factor in full development and rehabilitation, but the material concerns that give rise to violence and negative behaviours are pervasive. Controversially, I would like to argue that townships and informal settlements should not exist, they were created forcefully on systems of injustice. To remedy a neighbourhood entrenched with such complexities without addressing the historical challenges that make it possible for negativity to thrive is like putting a plaster on a rotting wound.
The violence of apartheid has been restructured in development discourse as inevitable given the conditions that many South Africans were facing. With the advent of democracy the discourse and language surrounding violence shifted, and was reframed as deviant and unwelcome — particularly by those in power who themselves had been part of a violent struggle. Instead of being understood as an outcome of injustice, violence was interpreted as something to be squashed — as Marikana highlights.
But as it was then, so it is now, violence represents an expression of desperation for channels of engagement and reform, articulated through learned behaviour. Characteristic during the apartheid era, and early years following Nelson Mandela’s release, was how violence was concentrated in areas of stark deprivation aimed at accessible targets instead of the expected perpetrators of injustice. People incorrectly channelled frustrations about the world to those within reach. This bears a strong resemblance to the recent xenophobic attacks targeting false enemies to express a misplaced frustration at the slow pace of transformation in the country. It cannot be accepted by any means whatsoever. But unless the root causes of these violent outbreaks are addressed, the future does not bode well.
The conditions that gave rise to violent and disruptive behaviour and marginalisation have barely shifted. While this is not to say that nothing has been accomplished in democratic SA since 1994, it is perhaps pointing to Frantz Fanon’s ominous predictions for post-colonial states — the structures have stayed the same, while the faces have changed colour.
It is also important to ask if development as we now frame it can take place without social disruption. Development might be a zero-sum game if we do not change the rules that determine it. In this way, South Africa is least unique. The global political economy is hostile to the kind of transformation envisaged in our Constitution: free flowing capital, low trade barriers and fluctuating exchange rates might cause established multinational corporations to thrive but have dire outcomes for unemployment, labour and small enterprises — the backbone of any economic development. China’s poor labour conditions and environmental challenges point to this. We need to ask who is paying the ultimate cost for our development, and who is reaping the ultimate reward of our current policy regime. It is a misconception that the political economy is governed by an invisible capitalistic hand that cannot be shifted. But how it should change is still to be answered.
Masana Ndinga-Kanga is an activist and an economist in remission.
In two years, Cape Town has experienced two rather rude awakenings in the form of “poo protests” in normally sanitised areas meant to represent the best of the Western Cape’s development. The first protest, organised by the disenfranchised Ses’khona People’s Rights Movement, was meant to highlight the deplorable conditions of toilets in informal settlements and townships across Cape Town. It was a clash of two different and highly unequal worlds as the stench and rot that many have to encounter daily was brought into the Cape Town Airport and Legislature in 2013 — an infringement of the cordon sanitairethat is often inaccessible in townships.
The second protest took place more recently at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and featured several students throwing excrement at the long-standing statue of Rhodes on Upper Campus. The exact details of those involved remain murky, but what is clear is that the protest was organised against “white arrogance” and the ways in which black students are treated at institutions of higher learning. At face value, it might seem that the only thing these protests have in common is the use of human excrement to highlight a grievance, and this may be true. In some ways, the UCT protests are a direct deviation from the initial protests organised by Ses’khona. Being at the university already places one in the ranks of educated elite. Many of those who make it onto the stage to accept their certificates are more likely to find employment than their counterparts with no formal post-high school education. A good number of students are recruited fresh from graduation by numerous South African corporates. Membership in this university elite is complicated, for many black students the reality of township life or being the first generation in university is ever-present. So too are the barriers seen and unseen that make timely graduation unlikely.
But being at an institution like UCT also comes with its own complex participation in Rhodes’ colonial legacy — as students benefit from the view from the mountain over the rest of Cape Town, access to flushing toilets, wi-fi and leading academic thinkers, a reality that is perceivable but inaccessible for South Africa’s majority.
But the class inequality created through increased economic and educational participation of formerly disadvantaged groups is representative of a positive trend. It points to further economic integration not possible during apartheid, and provides unimaginable benefits for the handful of students that make it through our universities. But it is also true that the harsh inequalities South Africa is witnessing are as much systematic as they are symptomatic.
It is no secret that compromises were made at the onset of our new political dispensation, many of which were less than desirable. This has also included the naming, upholding and celebration of historical figures — but often with exclusion of other historical narratives pertinent to the formation of identity among young non-white South Africans. Growing up in small mining towns in the North West, I was taught South African history from the arrival of Jan van Riebeek, and conquests of the Voortrekkers. Any knowledge I acquired of Steve Biko, Archie Mafeje or Albert Luthuli was through my own reading while the brutality of apartheid was inferred rather than directly addressed in my schooling curriculum. I can only imagine for some of my white counterparts that the formal curricula and narrative meant that discussions of white privilege and the structural consequences of apartheid were severely limited. Every year we continued to visit the Danie Theron monument outside of Fochville, without consideration of the Hector Pieterson Memorial, or the Apartheid Museum.
This lack of direct discussion on contentious markers of history bears direct consequence on how we envision our society going forward. Is there truly space for all narratives? For those calling Rhodes a part of their culture and negating the intention behind the UCT protests, a more serious question remains: What part of Rhodes and his legacy informs this association and what elements of that culture have you chosen to uphold and enforce? Because no one culture is better than the next, it is crucial that this choice be made with consideration of the great cost to human life and dignity that accompanied Rhodes’ conquests — some of which have consequences for today. It is important that we recognise all heroes of our tumultuous history in areas shared by all races, not simply in the townships where many of these commemorations currently stand.
Whatever our opinions of the poo-protest methods, the perceptions are important for engaging the debate about our history and the role protagonists of the past play in our common, complicated identity as South Africans. Perhaps if we better understand where others have come from, we can better address the symptoms of an economic and political system that thrives on great inequality.
By Masana Ndinga-Kanga
First published 11/03/2015 at M&G Thought Leader.
Image – Danie van der Merwe/flickr
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