When friends and family ask why I am busier than usual, my response is rather morose and bitter: “16 days of lip service keeps me super busy,” I tell them. During this time I’m relentlessly spammed with emails, my phone rings off the hook; the media suddenly cares about gender-based violence and gender equality. Government’s speeches, which have begun to echo the sluggish monotony of test cricket commentary, are undoubtedly recycled from years past. But, for a little novelty, they add a sexist faux pas here and there. To keep us agonised or entertained? I have no clue.
All this repetition, the lack of change, tokenism and lip service makes you wonder if you’re actually just watching a terrible rerun or a horror movie on repeat. It all starts to resemble an Orwellian novel, a sardonic satire or a twisted absurdist tragedy. You’re not sure whether to weep, wail with laughter or wallow in misanthropy.
During a public meeting on Sixteen Days of Activism, our very own ministry of women and other rubber-stamping officials applauded suggestions from traditional leaders that the government cut all funds for centres for abused women and children, as they should be dealing with these issues at home. Half of South African women surveyed in a Gender Links study on gender-based violence (GBV) reported having experienced some form of violence in their lifetime, the most predominant form being intimate partner and interpersonal violence perpetrated primarily in the home. The National Council Against Gender-based Violence is on ice until another department adopts it. Apparently the new ministry of women does not deal with GBV.
But hey, if the South African government can call the riot police into Parliament, we know anything pretty much goes. History can repeat itself and the perpetrators can get away with it.
We saw yet another Marikana moment just last week when police opened fire in the Eastern Cape, killing two people and injuring 11 others. The South African Police Service is really outdoing itself – a video of three male cops brutally assaulting an elderly woman went viral a few days later. Perhaps they are trying to compete with the Ferguson police or the NYPD. But it’s not just feeling like the 1960s in the US. A few days ago a group of white men were caught on camera assaulting a black cashier at a petrol station in Witbank. This comes less than a month after a white man beat a black woman with a sjambok because he thought she was a sex worker. The list goes on.
In 1990, South Africa held the first ever gay pride march in Africa. This year, South Africa was the only African country in Geneva to vote for a resolution condemning violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. While Port Elizabeth is flying the largest-ever rainbow flag in Africa to mark the recent pride celebrations, we are cognisant that hate crimes, inequality and injustice persist in this country and beyond.
During the 16 Days campaign, we have to consider the people whose rights are persistently denied and violated. When these people demand their rights, their cause is promptly postponed and systematically excluded. Their rights are not seen as a priority but rather as a threat to other movements. Their humanity is deemed less important and equality is seen as a zero-sum game.
We think about Thembelihle ‘Lihle’ Sokhela and Skumbuzo Harold Mkefile, who join the innumerable people across this continent and the globe who have been subject to hate crimes and murdered because they do not conform to the binaries and boundaries that patriarchy has set for society. We think about how some people’s identities are collapsed into acronyms and single-issue politics, only to further police their bodies and being.
We think about the hypocrisy demonstrated by movements that supposedly stand for equality and justice for all, but fail to see these hate crimes as abominable as every other form of violence meted out against human beings. People are subject to daily harassment; have unequal or no access to basic rights such as health, justice and education; and regularly face secondary victimisation from the personnel in these sectors who are tasked to provide them with their rights. We also think of how the media perpetuates discrimination, framing people unfairly or often not at all.
We think of how although Duduzile Zozo’s killer got 30 years, Judge Tshifiwa Maumela still implied that some people could be fixed and their “lifestyles corrected”. We think of how, across the world, because of who people sleep with, how they identify and how they express themselves, they are deemed criminal, disease-ridden Satanists who Gambia’s Foreign Minister- Bala Garba Jahumpa described as “detrimental to human existence”.
The recent JHB People’s Pride demanded “365 days of no violence against all bodies. This has been a resounding call from many activists this year. We can’t keep running on the same spot, saying the same speeches and agonising over the same horrors that generations before us did. We need to revolt, lose the lip service and unlearn this racist, capitalist heteromisogyny. As writer Audre Lorde said: “The learning process is something you can incite, like a riot.”
Of course all lives matter, but life, like matter, has mass and volume. And the lives that are at most risk are queer, woman and black. We need turn up the noise. We need to start some fires. Let’s start a riot.