Friday, 15 May 2015

The ASR Institute's Opening Dinner

The Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute (ASRI) kicked off the second of their civil engagement conferences this evening at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg. This was an evening of inspiring speeches by high profile South Africans, pleasant food, and cordial conversation; and also, unexpectedly, a stark reminder that the nation-building work that lay ahead is perhaps just as daunting as it was in 1994. Just as the Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, prepared to deliver the keynote address, a man rose from the gallery and loudly pronounced that the speaker is a murderer, and that the people demand justice for what happened at Marikana.

The audience observed an uneasy silence as the protester was aggressively removed by the Deputy President's security personnel. The cacophony of the violence died down, and proceedings continued. The Deputy President spoke with the calm, measured confidence one expects from a seasoned politician - skillfully dissipating any tension that may have lingered. He spoke of the process of developing the National Development Plan (NDP), the revered blueprint of the coming South African success story. He spoke of how a group of strategists had been appointed by the President to consult and engage with representative segments of South African society to develop this plan, drawing similarities between the drafting of the NDP and the Freedom Charter. The point was that this NDP document needed to be adopted and implemented actively by everyone, because it came from everyone. He lauded ASRI for bringing together the "fertile minds" of the Muslim community to engage on the NDP, because "we all share a common future." 

Earlier in the evening, guests were reminded of the substantial contribution Muslim leaders made in the struggle against Apartheid. In the areas of politics, activism, social upliftment and sports - Muslims have been a positive force in South Africa. Guests were encouraged to make use of this excellent platform to reconnect with that heritage, to start become active citizens on matters of governmental policy. This, after all, is what ASRI is all about.

The final speaker was the leader of the Jamiatul Ulama South Africa. He took to the stage to share the Islamic perspective on cooperation with the rulers, working towards good in plurality, and being proactive. He made use of the platform to assure the government representatives present that the Muslim community of South Africa would offer its collective expertise and abilities to help build the country. 

What is particularly encouraging about this evening's event is the range and diversity of guests. Prominent people, Muslims and non-Muslims, from all sectors of civil society actively engaging on the state of South Africa. Excited at the prospect of unity despite clear differences. Excited that Muslim contribution to public policy will be based on credible research and will be heard by government. It would be easy to get swept away in the buzz of it all. Then, I look at the programme for tomorrow. Education, safety, health, unity, employment, environmental protection, corruption and policy implementation - they are all there. But one can still hear the cry of the protester as he is dragged out of the hall: "we demand justice." Yes; what about justice? Perhaps we will find out tomorrow.

Friday, 10 April 2015

All Rhodes to Racism

This is not about statues. It never was. Statues hold significance not as mere harmless impotent bronze or concrete in a contextual vacuum; but are erected to honour and immortalise people, and to reflect the values and aspirations of the people of a time and place. Those statues represent a past that must never be forgotten, but cannot be honoured by the majority of people in this time and place.

We would all like to believe that from 1994, most people in SA have disavowed their racism, and those that didn’t were just the ugly remnants of what had to be left behind. We heard our elders still refer to people of other races in ugly terms, but we forgave them and laughed it off thinking, “MY children won’t have to deal with this.” We held the narcissistic idea that starting with us, racism would just dilute itself out over a generation or two; so ending racism was just a waiting game. Then we could all just start respecting each other’s cultures and get on with being the awesomest country in the world. We didn’t even realise that that was perhaps the most racist thing we could possibly do.

How could we be so short-sighted so as to assume racism has no economic component? As if a black child in an informal settlement playing on the side of the N2, seeing the beautiful cars driven overwhelmingly by people that look nothing like him, would not start to make the connection? Would he not start to see his colour as a factor in his destitution and his indignity? Or a white child growing up in large Southern Suburbs home, watching his mother call Mavis or Patience to come and clean up the mess he made: will he not grow up with a sense of superiority over those darker than he? And then we have the “coloureds” – that still, believe the Apartheid construct that they are superior to black people in some way? Now please, do not misunderstand me. I am not saying this is true in all cases in all places for all races. I am saying that enough of these racialised circumstances exist to perpetuate racial animosity.

As long as the geographic and the socio-economic circumstances of people still mirror what it was during Apartheid, we cannot expect racism to disappear. And no, racists, this isn’t about “it’s their culture” or “they’re lazy” or “they want a free ticket”. This is about the hundreds of years of cumulative disenfranchisement of black people, and to a lesser degree other non-whites. This is about Apartheid’s INFRASTRUCTURAL and INSTITUTIONAL components that were never dismantled, and so remain active and current sources of racial tension.

So back to the young students at UCT and that statue. In their families, in their friends, in their trust-fundlessness, in their landlessness; the dispossessed still feel their dispossession racially. They feel the macro- and micro-racism, the subtle glances, the taxis crowded with coloureds and blacks. They feel the suspicious stares and the Bravos and Charlies by security guards; while white  people, by virtue of their skin tone and centuries of privilege, can walk around like they are NOT part of a police line-up. In the context of UCT, black students continue to feel unwelcome, unless they went to a school with white friends. They feel alienated on a campus that is supposed to be there to empower them. They feel the indignity and patronisation of being silently reminded that this is privilege for them, while it is a right for their white peers. Now we can shrug this off as "victim-mentality", but then we assume they are lying/exaggerating/feigning. Racism on loop.

And then, they have to look up at the face of one of the worst disenfranchiser of blacks in SA history sitting there. Cecil John Rhodes. The Usurper. The Entrencher. The White Collar Thief. The Unapologetic Racist. 

It’s time for us to realise: this may not be about race to many of us, but to those who still have to deal with race as a handicap, it very much is.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Racism part of our heritage, Cape Times?

Heritage Day today coincides with a horrible stand-off in an upmarket mall in Kenya, where the extremist group Al-Shabaab gunned down at least 62 people, and held hostages. It begs mention that although this grouping have adopted religious rhetoric, their aims and actions are driven by distinctly political intent.

The depiction by the cartoonist in the Cape Times on the 24th September 2013 regarding this incident distresses and disappoints me deeply. The cartoon, of demonic bearded men in turbans with their murderous shopping list and their gleeful anticipation of going on a shooting spree, is replete with contextual inaccuracies, racism and cultural insensitivity.

The majority of Al-Shabaab fighters are native to Somalia. Why would they be depicted as Arab or Middle-Eastern looking? Because that is the stereotype of what an "Islamic terrorist" looks like? Because it should reinforce the profile everyone should be looking out for? Is it not concerning that similar-looking peaceful Muslim South African men also frequently don the garb depicted?

It is often argued that taking offence to satirical representations of one's culture or ethnicity is just plain oversensitive, especially in South Africa, where the diversity of these elements necessitates a slightly thicker skin. This argument, of course presupposes that these representations fall within the ambit of acceptable commentary that does not marginalise any group, does not promote hatred or violence towards a specific group or does not alienate the group from the rest of the populace. Bearing in mind that Muslims are being profiled at airports internationally based exactly on the caricature offered by your cartoonist, that there has been a hate-murder of a man in a beard in South Africa on the basis of a perverted idea of what a terrorist should look like, and that even Hashim Amla was called a terrorist by an Australian commentator based on his appearance; it becomes clear that stereotypes of this nature are wholly and completely unacceptable. If you don't think Islamophobia is a problem in South Africa, I challenge you to check on South African news websites. The vitriolic hatred spewed out there in the name of anonymity is jaw-dropping.

As previously alluded to, this incident is of a distinctly political nature. The vast majority of the millions of African Muslims, and over a billion Muslims internationally, condemn in the strongest terms such acts of indiscriminate violence. It is fully understood and appreciated that these extremists need to be opposed on all fronts. Muslims in South Africa know this, and have already officially condemned this incident in the strongest terms. We also remind the media that the fight against extremism is also a fight for the symbols of our religion. The beard and turban is a venerated symbol of piety, peace, scholarship, love, patience, forbearance and strength. When a cartoonist collaborates with terrorists in usurping our sacred symbols, we cannot be silent. We will defend our heritage.

Will the Cape Times defend this racist filth as part of their heritage? Let's wait and see.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Exposing young Cape Town boys

I was scrolling through my status update feed yesterday when I came across a bit of a rant from one of my friends about a page that had been created called ‘exposing young Cape Town girls’ (I only use the full name now because the page was removed yesterday evening). Curiosity got the better of me; I navigated towards the page. What popped up was a profile picture of a young lady in a very compromising position, completely naked. Her face was not the only thing clearly visible, and the timeline was filled with other young women in similar positions.

Of course I was surprised to find this kind of content on an openly accessible site, but my surprise quickly turned to indignation, and then anger. Who would do such a thing to young women? I thought of the parents, the siblings, the partners. I thought of their futures of professionalism and perhaps motherhood… Why would someone punish them so disproportionately for a moment of vulnerability? It seems unlikely they were adult entertainment professionals; were these women coerced, under-age, intoxicated, mentally or emotionally compromised? There is an entire litany of reasons they could have had; which the sadistic, malicious ‘exposers’ may or may not have been privy to. The point is that it was wrong. And I took to my own status update to vent my feelings on the matter.

Many people agreed with me, but I found some nasty jibes coming through as well. ‘They are probably druggies’, ‘they deserved what they got’, ‘they have no integrity’, ‘they must learn the lesson’, ‘just exposing a spade as a spade’, and one or two other scornful comments hissed through the general collective outrage. Of course, these holier-than-thou, let’s-throw-stones arguments are quite easily rubbished in the context of such time-tested principles such as proportionality, non-prejudice and empathy. But I think these poisonous opinions are symptomatic of two larger societal issues we face, and these issues are at the forefront of preventing our advancement.

Issue number one: we still have a destructive tendency to blame the victim. Make no mistake; these women are victims of slander, libel, defamation, malice, jealousy, spite, cowardice and inhumanity. Yet we will blame them without any real knowledge. After all, we like blaming the victim, whether it is in the case of domestic violence, drug addiction or sexual crimes; we are far too willing to look at how the victim should have behaved to prevent the misfortune. Perhaps she shouldn’t have complained so much, she needed to be put on her place, he tried too hard to be cool, she shouldn’t have worn such tight clothes. While preventative measures are well-advised in general, to shift blame from the criminal to the victim is absurd. As if we should all just curtail our legally sanctioned liberties because bullies and criminals can’t control themselves, we cannot be held hostage. We have just emerged from an extensive campaign to stop sexual violence against women and children. Yet it feels like we have taken a huge step back.

Issue number two: double standards on decency. I would love to know why women are expected to maintain a higher standard of integrity than men, and if they don’t, they are bullied by both men and other women. Why do the crimes against decency perpetrated by women deserve to be ‘exposed’, when equal or worse crimes perpetrated by men go unpunished, sometimes applauded? Are we naïve enough to believe that those pictures were not in some way solicited? By emotional blackmail, reciprocation, lies? I think a much more extensive page would result if one scornful woman decided to populate it under the title ‘exposing young men in Cape Town’. A few years ago there was a spate of local sex videos doing the rounds. The reputations of many women were irreparably ruined, yet the men remained anonymous. They were often behind the camera, they were often one half of the act, they were often the instigators. Yet their reputations remained intact.

I hear the familiar ‘that’s just how it is’, and I cannot accept that. That is what the Germans accepted as millions of Jews were slaughtered in WWII. That is what many people of colour accepted as the Apartheid regime withheld their basic human rights. That is what we are accepting now as our society drowns in oppressive patriarchy and abuse of our women and children. We have to show zero tolerance to these misogynistic chauvinists. It is not okay to degrade the dignity of another person. We must stop going backwards in our humanity. Expose the real criminals.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Open letter to the African National Congress Youth League

To whom it may concern,

There was a time, generations ago, when an armed struggle was necessary in South Africa.

There was a time such a resistance was honorable; and throwing stones and burning tyres were symbolic yet tangible attempts at defiance against the heavy-handed, armed riot police of a racist government.

Not too long ago, we were the victims of our own skins - being oppressed for being too dark, too African, or just too ethnic.

This was the time when the ANC called for revolution against the oppressors. Our leaders, like Steve Biko, Moses Mabhida and countless, un-celebrated mothers and fathers, inspired selfless bravery in the face of brutality;  hope in the face of despair. And at the heart of this was a youth league that energised the noble ideals of the African National Congress.

But that resistance was just a means to an end, not a way of life.

I live in the Western Cape. And for the longest time I remained hopeful that one day, the ANC would come and democratically wrest power away from the current ruling opposition.
Not because of political or ethnic considerations but because like so many here, I want to live alongside our fellow countrymen under a rule of law, by a party who still bears the scars of a struggle that gave us that opportunity. The right to live, love and prosper with whomsoever we chose to do so without fear or prejudice.

Yet today I pen this letter, feeling dejected and betrayed and largely confused by the actions of a youth league  that threatened to turn our city into a war zone.

After 18 years of freedom, the youth league still sees the tactics used against the Apartheid regime as applicable today. And that saddens me deeply.

I am 27, Muslim and “Coloured” but most importantly I am South African. I am also the grandson of a man imprisoned for dissent against the old-regime and the son of parents who both rioted in the 70’s with this very youth league against racist oppression.

Yet today, I feel far removed from this once honorable movement. Instead, you find a man increasingly at odds with your actions.

What shame, pain and embarrassment for those who have to witness a legacy that is feted the world over – tarnished, neglected and preyed upon by a youth wing that openly expressed a desire to have vandals and criminals in their ranks.

Today’s unrest spoke volumes of what the league has disintegrated into: a home for hateful incitement, racist name-calling, hooliganism and unbridled anarchy.

Youth League, answer this: Are we not a nation built on respect and diversity? Where is the respect for those who do not share your political views? Where is that diversity that the ANC embraced once upon a time when they stood side by side with the South African Indian Congress, the South African Coloured People’s Organisation, and the South African Congress of Democrats in 1955?

Does our proud history of united action mean nothing to you?

Also, why do you decry racism so fervently elsewhere when yet there is almost no racial diversity within your own leadership?  We are all different, but equal. I state the obvious because I hope in text, it will imprint a change or at least flicker a moment a self-reflection.

I know all too well that there is an economic battle being waged in homes all across South Africa, with the poor finding no respite. Poverty is something we need to confront earnestly, together.

I agree that there is an over-representation of white males in positions of power within the private sector, but why should employees that are not in positions of power have to suffer for this? This is a battle that is best taken up with the executives of the corporations.

Yes, multi-nationals get disproportionately high profits on the backs of our own natural resources, but this is something we must confront with thought and consideration.

Unhinged militancy and incitement do nothing to build the bridges we need for resolving our nation’s many social problems. And they do even less in resurrecting our fading dreams of a better South Africa for all. All you are doing, in light of your planned actions, is burning bridges to the ground.

I turn my back on your gangster mentality, because there is no place for it in our society. And as a league of comrades, not a gang of thugs – we should be leaders with an example of our own. An example that honors the blood that have been spilt in Soweto, Rivonia, Vlakplaas, District Six and all those uncelebrated places where people have struggled for a better life.

There is an open forum for public discussion and debate: a platform that was built by YOUR predecessors at the ANC. I look at the life of Chief Luthuli and wonder:  Is this the legacy he envisaged?
He was a noble man that was known to be intolerant of hatred, he led 10 million people in non-violent protest, and he fought every day of his political and educational career for educational equality and a better life for all.

Today, as you spread anarchy, resentment and continue the cycle of hatred in our streets; his values seem completely at odds with the ones you express.

Youth League, I challenge you:
·    To see the educated and informed will of the people as more important for a peaceful society than gaining political points and power.
·    To admit and address that there exist cultural exclusivity and superiority (racism) within your organisation, effectively barring other minorities of previously disadvantaged backgrounds from full participation and membership.
·    To address the militarism and hateful incitement that does nothing for the social cohesion of a diverse constituency.
·    To recognise that through your calls to militarism and hooliganism, you are directly responsible for the destruction or theft of public and private property, the injury and trauma of innocent non-participants, the exacerbation of economic disparity by disrupting small and entrepreneurial business, and sowing mistrust and suspicion between people on the basis of race. I remind you, intimidation and violence against a civilian population for a political or ideological cause constitutes domestic terrorism.
·    To acknowledge that the problems that South Africa is facing cannot be addressed by the militarism and armed struggle that you continuously propagate both implicitly and explicitly.
My heart broke a little today when you turned your back on the legacy of the ANC.

Today, I no longer believe that the ANC holds the future of this country.

Your colossal contribution to our past will always be respected and appreciated, but if your future leaders continue on this poisonous path, then I can no longer cast my ballot for you.

Deepest regrets

Kamal Salasa

Friday, 20 July 2012

Feminism: the amusing to the sober

I had an interesting discussion about feminism a few days ago from a very smart lady that happens to be both feminist and Muslim. For those of you confused about how a woman can be both those things, it is entirely possible, and more and more women are redefining the way they perceive their role in modern society. This discussion I was having was way too short for my liking: it was more of an abstract of the topic from her point of view, but it got me questioning my own perceptions of gender roles in society. I have always had a hazy idea of what these roles should entail, and I have always acknowledged that a lot of my preconceptions in this regard stems from an immensely patriarchal view. Come to think of it, the society in which I live is a beautiful blend of cultures and ideologies that have two very strong commonalities threading through all of them. That is an inexplicable emotional attachment to the geography of our beautiful city, and an overwhelming tradition of patriarchy.

She sent me some literature to read through, but I have chosen to document my views before my education starts, to chronicle my change of perceptions in all things “girl-power”. Please do not judge me if you find my views too traditional or too progressive, I always try to take a middle path where there is no clear winner.

In terms of equality between men and women, there are two types that I can differentiate. The one is absolute equality, where men and women share complete equality in everything; from salaries to child-nurturing to changing tyres. Then there is relative equality, where both objective and subjective means are utilised to ascertain equality relative to characteristics inherent to the respective genders. My view is that patriarchy stems from a place meant to engender equality at a very relative level, while with modern advances eliminating the need for traditionally gender-specific duties, the feminine role has tended more and more towards absolute equality. Let me explain using an analogy. When we lived in harmony with nature in our mud huts, the men would go out and hunt for bokkies (the animal kind) so that there could be food on the fire for his family. He would protect the house against wild animals and child-molesters. And he would have his wounds tended to by his partner after a hard day out. The woman would gather berries and tend to the kids, and kept the clay plates in a condition that was clean enough to ensure the health of her family. Now this is a case study in relative equality. Men are generally stronger and more adept at violence, so they naturally gravitate towards the role of protector and provider. Women are physically suited for children and tend to be less dominant, so they take up the role of nurturer and mother. Would it be in the best interest of equality to have expected the woman to hunt a buffalo and protect her house against a hungry lion? I think the wise Aristotle said it best: “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal”.

That said, however, we do not live in a world where men have that clear directive of protecting and providing. ADT does the protecting and providing is now common ground. (By the way, some police stations are themselves clients of ADT. Worthy of a collective WTF.) Nurturing is left to babysitters and masseuses, so traditional roles no longer find a comfortable niche within society. That harmonisation between man and woman has taken on a far more personal and individual dynamic, such that the workings of these relationships have become as customised as an app-ridden cellphone.The social constructs of the past is being dismantled very quickly, and so should our views on traditional gender roles.  That said, I do not believe absolute equality can be achieved (at least until we all become androgenous beings that procreate through test tubes), and I suspect most people prefer it that way.

Another element on my views on gender roles is that often, the nature of the male is not sufficiently understood by the female, and vice-versa. I can only speak from a male point of view, but I do not think that women understand the strong natural magnetics that draw men into a certain way of thinking. It has been scientifically proven that men and women are wired differently, yet curiously, women expect a certain sophistication of thought, emotion, and behaviour found in themselves that men oftentimes fail to achieve. It is often mused about anecdotally, but never really integrated into holistic perceptions. Women woefully underestimate the power of their femininity over men. They don’t quite get how magnetic, intoxicating and even hypnotic their aroma, voice or smile can be. Men have the ability to conceal it, and have generally progressed enough to keep things socially appropriate, but those primal pangs are still there. This hidden nature extends far beyond the sexual. Men have inexplicable urges to dominate, compete, experiment, conquer and claim. Most men have these urges under control. However, too many do not, and this causes a huge problem.

In matters of equality, I think these masculine traits are what caused the need for an uprising of feminism. Abuses of this nature by men have caused women to become subjugated and abused, and this is unacceptable in modern times. As far as we have come as a country in the recognition of women’s rights, the facts on the ground tell a completely different story. South Africa has one of the highest instances of domestic violence against women in the world. In terms of employment, women are still under-represented in the workforce, despite making up the overwhelming majority of single parents with custody of children; and what is worse, they earn less than men for doing exactly the same job. The rape, prostitution, slavery and exploitation of our women by animalistic men still speaks volumes for how far we have to progress in women’s rights in a suffocatingly patriarchal society. And the saddest thing of all: most men believe that the fight for women’s rights is a feminist thing that should be taken up by women only. It is a great irony that feminism is bound to fail without the direct participation of men. We men need to be taught to be masters over our own barbarism: women are not property, or tools, or entertainment.
To a large degree, I think the debate about what kind of equality is most applicable in today’s society is irrelevant. First, we need to establish SOME kind of equality. As things stand, women are extremely vulnerable, and men need to stand with them in changing both our legislation and our cultures to facilitate a safe environment for our women to excel. We should be marching in the streets, joining feminist movements, and educating our young girls in an objective critical fashion.

Feminism therefore isn’t really feminism. Feminism is social evolution. And we all need to be involved.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

While I was Painting

I am in the process of renovating my lounge. Ok not me specifically, because I apparently bring my safety officer habits with me; so my dad has taken command of the ship and is directing the hard grafting work. I have been reassigned to the very manly task of choosing colour concepts and décor. I am allowed to paint on the odd occasion, but the grinder and the skill-saw are firmly off-limits. Apparently “real men” don’t require all the safety apparel specifically mandated in the user-manual. In fact, “real men” don’t even need to read the user manual at all. Pfft.
Painting: an opportunity to daydream

This colonisation of my lounge has affected a bit of a media-blackout for me, so I have not been as up-to-date with newsworthy happenings as I usually am. It has, however, given me time to think and philosophise about many things. I’ve had musings about life and death, relationships, XX-chromosome-related insanity, ideology and even the supernatural; all while watching the tips of my paintbrush streak an uneven layer of rich chocolate-coloured paint over the wall. Some quite profound notions formed in my head, and if I had a slightly better memory than a mentally-challenged goldfish, I would relate them to you now. Unfortunately, most of them fluttered off like monarch butterflies on their long journey to their breeding ground. Something did stick though, thankfully, and that is what I thought I would share with you.

Some will say typical VW. Me, I say, typical VW.
Last year, I made a few resolutions. Since the year 2011 was speeding to an end and the promise of 2012 loomed ever more prominently, I, like many many people the world over, decided to change a few things. Some things were big, some were just minor adjustments. But they represented something that we all need pretty regularly: a fresh start. We need to clear out the cobwebbed clutter in the closets of our minds and take up a fresh perspective. Why, you may ask, is he thinking about this kind of thing in the middle of the year? Well that’s exactly the point. Why restrict one’s self to renewal but once a year? I find the more often I reaffirm resolutions, the more natural and consequential the achievements of those resolutions become. For example: if my resolution was to clean my room every day after I wake up, and I fail after a week, the overwhelming sense I would get for the rest of the year is failure, followed by apathy. At least until the next year comes along. But if I get continuous opportunities to reaffirm, then if I fail after a week, the next month is an opportunity to try again. Perhaps last a bit longer than a week. And so it goes until I actually achieve my resolution at the end of the year. I always pictured the analogy of an old car on a cold winter’s morning. You lean forward as you swing the ignition, but often, the car just chokes a bit before it dies. If at this point, you gave up and resolved to try again the next day, you will more than likely get the same result, and thus literally get nowhere in life. If, however, you take a deep breath, then try again; the car is still unlikely to respond, but it may choke a tiny bit longer. If you keep at it, there is strong likelihood that the car will roar into life, and then all the roads open up for you. Unless you forgot to fill up with petrol. But let us not ruin a perfectly good metaphor.

I am lucky, many of my resolutions are spiritual in nature, and I have an opportunity to reaffirm them five times a day. Dividing your time into smaller chunks of opportunities to realign yourself with your dreams, desires, goals and ambitions must be one of the most effective ways of not getting lost in a world so full of distraction. To make sure you stay true to yourself and your principles. To find that satisfaction of seeing everything you work for inch ever closer to your grasp..

And then I painted over the white skirting. Dammit.