Friday, 16 January 2015

Demystifying Race

The premise upon which differences between races of human beings are said to exist, that human beings can be classed into four or five divisions in consequence of complexion is flawed. This flaw has resulted in great confusion and has made human beings see themselves as more different than they are similar. The world has, over the centuries, adopted a definition of race based on the physical appearance of human beings. This definition has been maintained and often used to back the science of discrimination against the people of colour, with a special focus on black people. This prejudice continues to be at the core of interactions between the people of South Africa. 

In an attempt to overcome this prejudice I have sometimes thought it progressive to reject my blackness and to adopt a non-racial identity. The universal declaration of human rights has cushioned me in this pursuit while the idea of a rainbow nation has filled me with hope of unity. Through an ongoing pondering upon my blackness I have understood, sometimes with great difficulty, that there is an ideological force waging against black people the world over; and that by virtue of being born black, I am often at the receiving end. 

In South Africa it has become common practice to suggest that black people should forget the past and embrace the future as a response to their cries about the prevalence of apartheid through its legacy. As a black person, this translates into shedding one’s blackness as a means to overcome the imbalances of the past; to get over apartheid and “get with the program”. This is in stark contrast to my reality where there is no space in South Africa that I can step into without being reminded of my blackness.  While in the past my blackness made those of my kind to endure gross discrimination, my blackness continues to be a thorny issue in present day South Africa. My kind are said to be reverse racists. It is an encouraged proposal – this shedding or rejection of my blackness and instant colour blindness. It is designed to make me fit in, to be accepted in so-called ‘white’ spaces. Remarks such as “you speak so well” and “you are not like the others” are evidence that you are making progress in shedding your blackness. It is further reinforced through subliminal messages on the television that promote whiteness. 

The emergence of the black middle class is the ultimate ace in the sleeve as it rubber stamps the idea of an integrated society, perpetuated by a false understanding of race. It allows those who benefited from the past an opportunity to rid themselves of the guilt and privilege.  Furthermore, for political reasons, the use of racial categories in the process of designing policies and strategies for a non-racist society is problematic if no consideration is given to more fundamental questions about its efficiency for ongoing social analysis. This approach has shown the impact of racist practices as a factor in understanding South African society post 1994; but does not acknowledge that the majority of the people continue to be victims of apartheid’s legacy.

In an attempt to get a better sense of socio-economic interactions between blacks and whites, and simultaneously shed light on better race relations in post-apartheid South Africa, one needs to point out that the real problem in South Africa since the advent of democracy is an economic one. The African National Congress-led government has adopted an approach to race that has resulted in no revolutionary change in the economic structure of South Africa since apartheid in 1948, and in that a few blacks are now in the privileged class thereby creating the illusion of racial integration. It also needs to be said that as a consequence of apartheid, most black people are subject to poverty. This further makes complex the distinction between the economic and racial nature of the struggle between blacks and whites.

The realization that we are united in race can be a great starting point to address the economic disparities that exist between black and white. To label incidences between black and white people as racially charged is but a symptomatic treatment of the economic problem. Pretending that the new faces of government have brought about real and meaningful change in the lives of the ordinary people needs to stop because it maintains and protects white privilege.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

An Inconvenient Reality

I am passionate about positive change in South Africa. Given the high levels of poverty in the country one can be forgiven in thinking that the drive for change would be gathering momentum and support.

Having spent time in the ghettos, rural villages, townships and suburbs, I have come to a conclusion that the drive for change in South Africa has lost momentum. One can see the remnants of apartheid in all our communities. There has been very little improvement in the living conditions of the people previously marginalized despite statistics that show that GDP per capita has increased. The levels of service delivery leave one angry and corruption is rife. Growing levels of apathy are evident among the population,  the youth are not interested in the vote, and the poor continue to grow in numbers. Racial integration and transformation are as elusive as winning the lottery.

I am generally one who adopts a positive mindset but this is at risk of changing. In my neighborhood, the majority of youth are unemployed and they are drug addicts. The drug peddlers are friends with law enforcement and there are blurred lines of who is protected by the law. The local municipality officials behave as demigods and remain inaccessible to the people. When I visit friends in suburbia I am stopped and searched by the police because as a black man my identity is profiled as that of a criminal.

Democracy is indeed strange I conclude. It has not yielded any change for many poor people. Instead, it protects white privilege and labels me a racist when I point out the many ills in our society. The promises of freedom are daggers that kill our dreams for a better tomorrow, so too are the numerous accusations of being a racist when trying to speak of the hardships I see.

Change and freedom are synonymous in South Africa; both are just as evasive as the lottery. Those who drive change are sidelined and told to remember their place on the hierarchy. Red tape, bureaucracy and backlogs are the new buzz words hurled as excuses for non-performance and non-delivery in our society.

There are voices who cry for change, even from the white population. While these cries are perceived as solidarity, experience shows that this is merely a ploy to keep things as they are: a way to keep black people marginalized. This is perpetuated by the media which makes us disillusioned in thinking that it is the voice of reason and morality. Its numerous headlines of the many wrongs in our society send subliminal messages that blacks can't do anything right by themselves. The media has contributed tremendously to degrading the black man and ultimately his social status. I dare say that the media has done exceptionally well in entrenching whiteness as a social standard.

So then, given the dynamic forces at play, how do we get back on track with driving change? I think the first step is for us to acknowledge that as South Africans we still have a long way to go in as far as reconciliation is concern. While I cannot speak for all black people there exists a real perception that reconciliation is a path that black people are walking alone. This goes without saying that every white person is against reconciliation either. The hegemonic maintenance of whiteness is an impediment to change, and I can imagine why it is difficult to allow change to happen. White people, generally speaking, will not advance change while they still enjoy the privileges that come with whiteness.

With this simplistic assertion one can begin to craft a new wave of change but only time will tell the type and magnitude of such change.

Manhood: An Identity in Crisis

Inga* cries out in pain. His foreskin is swollen and makes it difficult for him to urinate. His mother tries to console him to no avail. His pain can be relieved by circumcision; but it is not as simple as it appears. His uncles do not want him to be medically circumcised as this will contravene his cultural practice. Being a Xhosa boy, he must wait till he is of age until he can be circumcised as a rite of passage to manhood.
His mother says the past few weeks have been rough for both her and her son. To her, getting her son circumcised seemed the logical solution to his dilemma. However, she is also weary of the implications of having her son go through this procedure. Her son could be abused by his peers for not having been circumcised the traditional way. Does she allow him relief through circumcision or does she allow the men in her family to deal with this the traditional way?
She has had to navigate around her son’s pain from a distance because as woman she is not allowed to get involved in such matters. Her face is a mixture of emotions as she tells me that she is happy that her son is receiving treatment. Her worry is that she has been made to feel like a spectator in resolving her son’s situation. Sharing her experience she says, “I had to let the men take over and see to my son’s health. As a woman I have no part to play since men see to these matters.”
When questioned about what she thought best for her son she tells me that “I did not care whether my son was treated traditionally or medically, it hurt me to see him in so much pain. I had concerns about him should he have been treated medically.” When sked about these concerns she goes on to say that she “feared for him because some men who have been medically circumcised in her community had been ostracized or victimized.”
There are many other youngsters out there like Inga. Some fall prey to victimization because they have been circumcised medically. These youngsters are deemed not man enough by their peers and certain pockets of society because of their choice to go through circumcision the medical route.
To get an understanding of this victimization I spoke to Bizo Bomela, a graduate of the traditional initiation school. He confirms that “those who choose medical circumcision are viewed as an outcast in the Xhosa community because the ancestors do not take those individuals as men because they have not been traditionally introduced to the clan.” He goes on to say that the Xhosa culture acknowledges the rights to freedom of choice of an individual, but men who choose medical circumcision over traditional circumcision must understand the consequences that come with their choices.
His views are confirmed by Chief Nosizwe Maxwele, 53, one of few female traditional leaders in Zimbane, Mthatha. She took over the chieftaincy when her husband passed on. She goes on to say that her role is minimal in the circumcision of young men, more so because she is a woman. Her major role in this regard is to ensure that the young men go through the registered initiation schools. When I questioned her about medical circumcision she states that as a leader of people she is not against young men who choose to get circumcised medically. She confirms that those initiates who have opted for the medical route are regarded as lesser men in the community.
I then questioned her on manhood and whether it is something that has changed over the years. She told me that nowadays some initiates deem themselves as men and assert their manhood by adopting habits such as smoking and drinking. These are things that have shifted over the years and have an influence on how initiates carry out their manhood.
To further understand notions of manhood as espoused through initiation schools I had a chat with Koko Zaka, a young Xhosa man who has gone through initiation school. He tells me that traditional circumcision is still relevant today. He says "it is a tradition that prepares boys to be responsible men". His own experience was described as a positive experience in which he learnt “to listen and play by the rules to survive and succeed in life." Bizo Bomela adds to this by telling me that “respect for women, the elders and peers is one of the vital values that I learnt at initiation school.” He went on to state that looking after each other while away from home taught him the importance of ubuntu and love.
It is evident that cultural traditions are intertwined with notions of manhood. Similarly, manhood does not exist in isolation; it is also shaped and influenced by womanhood. Chief Maxwele shared with me some of her experiences as a woman who is a traditional leader, and has been for six years running. One of her challenges was to overcome opposing forces to her leadership. Given the traditional setting, many men, including those close to her, were against the idea of having a woman lead them. She says that over time the community has warmed up to her as its leader.
She says the shift in attitudes has come as a result of broader society beginning to accept women in leadership roles. Her leadership style has also contributed to this shift in the sense that she partakes in the day to day rituals of her community and being in tune with what people want. She is a leader who lives with people and leads amongst them. She goes on to say that women still have a long way to go because discrimination against them is still evident today. Being a traditional authority she tells me that she has headmen who report to her and amongst these is one woman who plays the very same role. While the male ‘headmen’ get paid for their services the woman does not get paid.

It is interesting to note these developments because they speak to greater issues of transformation in society. Equality amongst men and women is something that is enshrined in the constitution of the land yet hard to come by in everyday situations. Given the fact that culture and tradition evolve over time, shouldn’t the roles played by men and women also be scrutinized? Is it not time that we started educating our communities such that they welcome those who are medically circumcised?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Elections 2014: Putting Young People First

This contribution was first published by A! Campaign for Action and Accountability

I am a young person living in rural KZN in South Africa and passionate about improving the lives of ordinary citizens in this beautiful part of Africa. I am not affiliated to any political party. I have had people recruit me to join the various political parties that exist in South Africa’s political makeup. Truth is, the more I listen to these people the more I realise that I do not have faith in the whole lot. Some have gone on to label me an anarchist and one who is anti-establishment because of my relentless stance in joining a political party.

While I am of the opinion that one does not need to be affiliated to effect change I find myself caught between a hard place and a rock. “How so?” you probably ask yourself; let me explain. The elections are approaching thick and fast. With almost all the political parties having made public their manifestos I find it a great travesty that I am expected to participate in these elections; and yes I am registered to vote. All the political parties have forgotten one key ingredient in their manifestos according to me. All have neglected to have young people at the centre of these manifestos. Maybe this is because young people expect things to be done for them; the entitlement syndrome that we are so quickly diagnosed with. I’ll shed more light on that diagnosis on another blog post, now back to these manifestos. Through my eyes every country that is serious about its future invests in its youth. By virtue of these political parties neglecting the youth I am of the opinion that they do not have a concrete plan for the millions of us who are a “ticking time bomb” by the admission of others.

The looming elections in South Africa are a bit of the same old happening again and again. Young people are expected to come out in their numbers to vote for a party that will deliver. The only snag is that the only delivering that will happen is the continued side-lining of young people. The National Youth Policy 2009-2014 is another has been in the greater scheme of things. It is another well-written document that has no implementation strategy. The less said about the agency setup to take the lead in this regard the better.

It is high time political parties realised that they refer to young people when it refers to the general public, after all, more than 60% of South Africa’s population are young people. The time is right to put young people first. While we await political parties to catch the drift of where we are coming from as the youth, we are mobilising ourselves. Accountability is what we want from the political parties; amongst a pro-youth approach. We want to be involved in building the country into what we imagine it to be.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Of 67 minutes and service delivery

Last year on Mandela Day my friends and I dedicated more than 67 minutes to fix the tap where most of our community members get their drinking water. It was an act of necessity more than it was out of the goodness of our hearts.

I live in a rural area where access to water is a long-standing challenge. One would imagine that given the water scarcity challenges confronting the country the response to this particular challenge would be swift. The tap in question is located right next to the Umzumbe Local Municipality offices. I reluctantly approached the receptionist at the municipal office for assistance. My previous experiences with the officials at this municipality had not been great. On one occasion I was made to wait an hour to see the Speaker. Mind you I had made an appointment with the said person and had called the previous day to confirm that appointment.

The receptionist didn't give me much of a reception. She told me that Umzumbe Local Municipality did not deal with water issues, that I should call the relevant body and that being Ugu Water. I then asked if she could call Ugu Water on our behalf to which she refused citing stolen telephone cables that had rendered the municipality not reachable over the phone. I believed her and just as I was leaving the reception area a miracle happened. The phone rang and she promptly answered it as her job dictated thus. I hung around a bit, hoping that she would call me back and make the call to Ugu Water on my behalf. I decided to walk away when she did not call me back. I had been hopeful given that she had the means to call Ugu Water on our behalf.

I gave a report back to my friends and we then called Ugu Water. The response we got was that they would send a people over to attend to the problem. After waiting for close to two hours we eventually decided to attend to the broken tap ourselves. It was clear that help would not come. So off we went, shovels and picks on our shoulders, tools determined to fix the tap ourselves. Some 2 hours later and more than 200 litres of wasted water we were victorious in fixing the tap.

Today, being Mandela Day, I was reminded of the events of that day last year. I walked past the tap my friends and I had fixed last year. The situation has gotten worse. Instead of there being a tap there is now a pipe that has a nozzle to control the flow of water. There is a puddle of mud where the pipe sits and one must do a balancing act on the stones that have been placed there to make the tap accessible. The health of the community is potentially at risk as a result of this.

It is safe to conclude that the Umzumbe Local Municipality is not bothered by the state of this once-was-tap pipe that gives drinking water to the community it serves. The fact this pipe sits literally two paces from their premises is neither here nor there. I think they await others to give of their 67 minutes to make up for their service delivery debacle.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Our Situation

Questions of becoming have lingered on my mind for a long period of time. As a young South African, these questions have prompted me to look at what is happening around me; locally and internationally. ‘What is our situation as black South Africans?’ I have continually asked myself.

In South Africa we have inherited a rich and diverse history. Part of this history is intertwined with issues of colonial conquest and an oppression of the black people. The current political setups, spearheaded by the ANC-led government, are engaged in attempts at redressing the many imbalances of the past, and ultimately bring about transformation. A daunting task if you ask me! This envisioned transformation is expressed differently, depending on political affiliation or conviction. There are those who have gone to great lengths to expand on this notion of transformation, how it ought to be brought about, how it lacks, how it can be fast-tracked, etc. All do agree however, that transformation is needed.

Looking at transformation at the individual level, I am of the opinion that the best place for it to be effected is the mind. Our minds need to be transformed. This transformation is a step in the right direction as we forge an all-inclusive South African identity, as we shape a collective future for all South Africans; both black and white. In forging this identity and common future we need to liberate ourselves of the past. This liberation is an intricate process. For any previously oppressed group of people to be liberated they need to be at the forefront of their liberation; they need to navigate carefully in both the political and socio-economic environments. This then further compels us as young black South Africans to stand up for ourselves, to become active within the systems that are put in place to bring about transformation.

Moreover, as a young person committed to positive change in the country, I believe that through reflection we are able to take the necessary steps towards the transformation of our minds. Our socialization, and the environment in which that socialization takes place, have an impact on this transformation. One of the most important elements of this socialization in post-apartheid South Africa is the education system’s quality deliveries of skills that help young people navigate the socio-political landscape. Based on the assumption that delivering quality education to society has positive returns in the long run it then follows that thinking deeply upon our situation as young South Africans is key.

Having touched on the transformation of the mind and the link it has with education, it is necessary to stress synergy of the various education departments, society and other relevant stakeholders in ensuring a quality education. Overcoming the various challenges within our education system so that it ultimately contributes towards the transformation of the mind should be stressed beyond being solely the government’s responsibility. Societies need to seek means that will help transform them; and where these means do not exist society should help create them. This can be done through social movements or social clubs. The private sector should play a more meaningful role in ensuring a quality education. After all, it is also a beneficiary of the schooling system.

One possible avenue where the private sector, working with communities, could champion a cause in this regard is that of reading clubs. I have been part of reading clubs for children aged 4-10 years old. These reading clubs are a fun and learning environment outside conventional school. They bring parents, teachers, the young and the old a chance to come together to read, write, sing, play and dance together. They further allow children a chance to grasp the use of an additional language outside the school environment. The Annual National Assessment (ANA) results of 2012 show moderate progress when compared with the previous year. This should encourage us further in continuing with initiatives such as this one. One thing about reading clubs is that it only takes one adult, 3-5 young children, and a great story book to get you going! The boost in confidence on the part of the children that attend is plain to see; their spelling has improved and so has their behavior- I dare not leave out the countless smiles they have put on my face. The seeds of the love for reading and writing sown in these children will serve to liberate our minds and  strengthen our democracy. Ironically in South Africa, there is a general level of apathy towards the democratic process as a result of service delivery issues amongst others.

So then, what does this mean for us as young people? The most important consideration is the emphasis on education. Considering that higher education remains highly inaccessible to the majority of black people we need to find various means to get our societies educated and skilled. Without these there is not much we can do to change the status quo and contribute to society at large. We need to inspire young people to take an active role in the advancement of liberation.

Friday, 12 April 2013

How Can Young People Claim More Space To Drive Change?

(Delivered at UKZN Graduate School of Business, at the launch of the Activate! Exchange on 20 March 2013)

There is a global trend where governments formulate youth policies that respond to the changing conditions of young people in the 21st century. Ironically, the extent of young people’s involvement in the formulation of these is questionable.

Currently South Africa has the National Youth Commission (NYC) Act, 1996 (Act 19 of 1996), the NYP 2000 and the National Youth Development Policy Framework (NYDPF) 2002/07 which are youth legislative policy frameworks that were undertaken by the national Parliament to ensure that youth development and service delivery for young people happens. These undertakings outline the South African government’s attempts at creating an enabling environment for young people to drive change.

I am grateful that such measures have been undertaken; it is a step in the right direction as we grapple with issues of transformation as young people, and as society at large. These legislative processes amply outline institutional arrangements for youth development and give perspective on how the delivery of services for young people was to occur, with their involvement and meaningful participation.

The government’s perspective on youth issues must be properly aligned with true realities of young people.

There are 4 propositions that I will make that should enable young to be effective in driving change.


Information is a key support in public- and private-sector interventions to transform poor neighbourhoods into economically vibrant, diverse communities. The lack of information, perhaps as a result of limitations in the education system and service delivery in general, has created asymmetrical developmental patterns that disenfranchise our youth; more especially those from rural areas. This is a stark contrast when you consider that today, thanks to technological advances and the recent census; we have more information about our youth than ever before. With that information and technology together, we have the power to be of better service to young people. The critical question is ‘do we as a nation and as young people have the willpower to do it?’ I believe that we do, both as a nation and as young people.

Young people need to be informed so that they can awaken from a deep slumber induced by ‘social anaesthetics’ such as drugs, alcohol, television, mass culture, anger, destructive behaviour, defensiveness, selfishness, etc. These anaesthetics make them disillusioned about the reality confronting young people today. Lifelong learning is what we need to advocate amongst young people. As learning beings we can transform our societies. Learning is the best thing we can do for ourselves as young people; this encompasses both formal and informal learning. We need to find ways of engaging young people as civil society, as the public and private sectors in more meaningful ways. Faith-based organizations also need to review how they make relevant the message of the Bible, African beliefs systems, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita, etc. to the young people of today. One cannot deny the influence that faith-based organizations have on young people generally and their capacity in the learning process.

Young people need to familiarize themselves with the Municipal Handbook for Councillors, and Making Local Government Work: An Activist’s Guide. Knowledge of these will enable young people to position themselves to be part of the change-making process and hold themselves accountable.

The guide will help you:

a)    Understand local government and what it should be doing for

 every community

b) Monitor (or keep track of) what local government is doing

c) Find out what to do when local government ignores the

    community or breaks the rules, and your role as the youth

d) Take action to enforce our rights to basic services such as water, sanitation,    electricity, housing, and health to name a few

e) Find organizations that can help you in bringing about change.

The need for young people to be informed and knowledgeable cannot be stressed enough. We should look at social clubs and the potential they have in imparting knowledge and information that can assist young people to occupy more space to drive change in their communities.


Once value-added information is attained, young people can provide their own insights and cognitive knowledge of the situation to turn that information into actionable knowledge. It is only at this step that young people can contribute to the mass democratic movement and help bring about transformation.

To provide balanced and objective information to assist in understanding the politics of today and their influence on topical issues, to seek alternatives, to access opportunities and find solutions to the myriad of social challenges they are confronted with young people need to consult, and to be consulted. The Activate! Leadership for Public Innovation and others like it are flagship programmes aimed at engaging young people in the change-making process. Young people should partake in such initiatives.

Planning for youth consultation involves

·        Consider legislative requirements

·        Select a non-partisan level of community youth engagement

·        Set up and maintain a community youth engagement record

·        Establish evaluation measures.

All these points are aimed at enhancing and strengthening a youth involvement strategy.


Public participation is crucial in the building of an effective democracy. This entails participation as voters, as residents who express their views before, during and after policy development, as participants in ward committees and IDP forums, as activists in monitoring the performance of local government.

Poor service delivery, a lack of job and study opportunities has made young people despondent and apathetic in their own development. To overcome this state of apathy rigorous involvement is needed on the part of young people.

Youth involvement builds “social capital” -- social ties, networks, and support -- which is associated with better community development and well-being. Participatory decision-making can uncover and mobilize community assets, strengths, and resources, such as young people, that would have been otherwise overlooked. Processes that can engage young people in identifying the resources and assets in their communities that can be mobilized to improve health, wellness, job opportunities and quality of life need to be put in place. Stated differently, young people need to identify themselves as a resource unto themselves.

Youth involvement is about opening up and engaging young people, and acknowledging and using their talents to help solve the problems that they own and live with every day. It is about including young people in decision-making processes, which is critical in the successful development of acceptable policies and decisions in government, the private sector and the community.

Implementing a youth engagement strategy entails developing an inclusive Action Plan, completing a Task Breakdown and the evaluation thereof.


This proposition is based on an understanding of the community’s resources — individual capacities and abilities, and institutional resources with the potential for promoting personal and community development.

The overall objective is to promote connections or relationships between individuals, between individuals and organizations, and between organizations and organizations. This should be translated further into collaboration between youth from different social classes and racial categories; which then broadens the horizon for young people and facilitates social re-imagination.

When young people are organized they can be better positioned to bring about change in their communities. I will stress the need for faith-based organizations, public and private institutions to make a concerted effort in engaging young people. Similarly, as young people we need to overcome the numerous divides that keep us from meaningfully engaging with each other. These divides are a reflection of our reality; and that reality is that we will not be young forever; and ultimately, the opportunities available to us as young people will come to pass. It is thus apparent that young people need to organize themselves as agents of change.

In conclusion, we need to engage with the powers that be in a non-violent manner for the advancement of an effective democracy; being informed facilitates active and meaningful engagement. We need to appropriately consult and involve ourselves in the processes of inter-sectoral collaboration. This means that we, as both black and white youth, need to collectively work together to transform South Africa and realize a non-racial country, while promoting the spirit of unity amongst ourselves.