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.