Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: political (Page 1 of 18)

Statues

Big Friendly’s best joke ever is about the Greek man who, through hard work and sweat becomes very wealthy and builds his mom a mansion. He asks her if there is anything she wants and she replies “statues”. He spares not an inch of space and covers the outside with concrete statues, the inside with marble statues, and even the carpark with iron horses. Then he asks her what she thinks and she says, “it’s lovely but where’s my statues?” He is confused and waves his hand the length and breadth of the landscape. She says, “no, man”, putting her thumb to her ear, and pinky to her mouth, “I want is-tat-you?”

As a kid I remember being bored out of my mind by statues. They were always a dull grey colour and the eyes were always terrible, blank and scary. Horses looked wrong, and the men (I don’t remember seeing any women) gave off a sense of power over things that irritated the natural rebel in me. As I got older I found the aesthetic of statues dull. They were the water colour still lives of the sculpture world.

But it was the years and years of attending the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and seeing the 1820 Settlers Family sculpture protruding from the aloes, and decorating the dust alongside that huge 1820 Settler Monument (that apparently celebrates the arrival of English to the area – the irony) that alerted me to the singularity of history that monuments like statues portray. Here, an intrepid British family look out at the land they are about to make their home. They are just off the ship, in their British best. He, in huge top hat, holds books, while the girl child looks up adoringly at mother and father. What a gorgeous family.

And the message was (and still is) that they were coming to where nobody was. All the people that were actually there, in that place, were (and still are) invisible. As if they didn’t exist. They did not count as humans; as people.

Now imagine being a Xhosa person from exactly that place. Imagine seeing this distortion of history every single day of your life. Imagine looking at that representation of a family who stole the place of your family, your ancestors, your birthright. And, for one moment, imagine how that person would feel when you defend the right of that statue to be there, above the right of the one that isn’t there.

Here’s the deal. As far as I am concerned, there is only one way to keep statues that offend, tell half histories, and hurt, and that is to build, right next to them, the other side, the alternative vision, the silent voice. That is not going to happen. So, let’s tear them down.

Feeling Safe

Yesterday my friend and I Skyped with our bestie in Oz. It was about 230pm here and in Melbourne it was 11pm. The first thing that we couldn’t believe was that we were speaking to her (and seeing her face) while she was on a tram! The miracle of modern technology still astounds a neanderthal like me, and I can’t believe I live in that sci-fi  fantasy of video calling.

The second thing that blew my mind was that she was on a tram, going home, by herself, at 11pm at night. She was free to use her cellphone to Skype us. She was waiting to get off at her stop and walk the rest of the way home, by herself, in the middle of the night. She was safe. And I was jealous. I was totally, unashamedly jealous of that freedom, because I have never felt it here, at home. I have never walked by myself at night, or caught public transport at night (or regularly during the day even). When I come home, in my car, I scan the road I live in. I look up and down and left and right. When I leave, in my car, I make sure my valuables are nowhere to be seen.

Poor me. I, who have a car. I who will pay for an Uber if I need to. And then there is the majority of women in this city, and country, who have no option but to take public transport and to walk home by themselves at night, and are scared every day of their lives. Women whose cellphones get stolen as they run the gauntlet from station to home. Women who have to sit with steel tight knees and thighs on overcrowded minibus taxis so they are not harassed. Women who cannot find themselves alone in a train compartment, or taxi for fear of losing their lives. Women whose children are unsafe while they wait for their mothers to come home. Women who are in the cross fire of gang wars. Women who are afraid, all the time.

I want women to feel safe here. I want to feel safe here. But I think it is too big an ask and that breaks me.

A last word on the ‘comments’

One of the niggling things that has been bouncing around in my mind is a picture of  the kind of white South African who has tons of opinion about the how and why of protest.

In the comments there is the voice of outrage about how these people burn stuff, and destroy stuff, as if they should somehow know better. In the comments, people judge from a position of superiority, as if the commentator is somehow above this savagery. Their tone is, if only these people were more civilised in their protest we would have more sympathy for them, but, how can they expect our sympathy if they burn/stone/destroy what little they have?

If I were to visualise this person I would see this man that I once saw at the Gardens Centre. He was shouting at the man who was putting change into the parking ticket machine. This first man was in his late forties, and he was fat, with his boep hanging over his belt. He had food stains on his shirt, and crumbs on the wiggling hairs of his moustache. His voice was whiny and breathy. His car keys jostled in his hand and his overflowing bags of Woolies groceries lay at his feet. He was terribly inconvenienced, this man, who wasn’t able to use this particular machine at this particular time to pay for his parking. And he was bullying a man who would never, in all his whole life own a car, let alone park one, or drive one. This man, who was shouting felt entirely superior and worth more.

As I turned away in disgust I thought about how deeply unjust this country was, that allowed this man, in all his mediocre failing, to be more than, worth more than anyone of colour. All he was was born into it. He hadn’t earned a single fragment of the privilege he tossed about. He hadn’t even made good on his huge and outrageous starting advantage. He was a giant blob who in any other circumstance would have swept the car park, or moved the trolleys. And yet here he was, and he was an alarm bell, a flashing neon light, an advert for how even the most miserable and mediocre among us are better off than the black majority who won’t be let out of the starting blocks.

So when that ‘civilised’ voice makes its ugly appearance in the comments section, I see that man. And I imagine the protesters seeing that man drive past them, or watch from his balcony. And, to be honest, it makes even me want to go and burn shit.

 

The tightrope, the time bomb, the end of the line

On Saturday morning I almost lost my voice as I screamed back to the ward councillor (DA Roberto Quintas, I think) for Hout Bay being interviewed by Africa Melane on Cape Talk. My screaming was a bad idea because I was on my way to the recording studio to do voice overs.

He was talking about the protest by the residents of Imizamo Yethu, living on a sports field while waiting for the blocking system of their informal settlement to be completed. They are living on a field with no electricity, in the middle of winter, way after the due date of their moving back to a place where they are going to have to erect their own shacks with ‘shack kits’ provided by local government. They are not allowed to light fires to keep warm or make food. They have no idea how much longer they are going to have to stay there.

And this ward councillor was using words like ‘mitigate’ and ‘implement’ and ‘overcoming the obstacles of delivery backlog’ while human beings are living on a SPORTS FIELD, without ELECTRICITY in the middle of WINTER. I could hear the frustration in Africa’s voice, as he tried in vain to point out that these were desperate people in absolutely untenable circumstances, and I was thinking about the people of Knysna who were offered free Spur food and even free hotel shelter when their houses burned down. I was thinking about them, and how they were promised money by ABSA, and the absolute difference. The hideous difference.

Imizamo Yethu was literally a squatter camp, set up in the bushes of the mountain, for black workers to sleep in because transport to their work in the white suburb of Hout Bay was so lacking. That is how it started. So, residents of Hout Bay. Is it not time for you to start taking responsibility for Imizamo Yethu? Is it not almost too late, while you drive past this sports field, to your electric fence surrounded home that is cleaned by one, or two, of the residents of this township that BURNED DOWN?

Please, councillor, take responsibility, make a commitment, and work for all the people in your ward, not only those who are inconvenienced by the road blockade, and who can’t drive the most direct route to their homes, and light fires in their fireplaces as the soup bubbles on their stoves.

Virtue Signalling

A couple of months ago my friend K introduced me to the concept of virtue signalling while we were chatting about politics. It was a new one to add to our growing lexicon of complicated ideas, but it is one that I was particularly drawn to.

Virtue signalling is when you announce the goodness in you loudly; like a white ally, crying white tears and making the issue about your identifying pain. I have been totally guilty of virtue signalling. It is part of the process of acknowledging white privilege and the systemic racism we are part of.

When I think back to the huge deal I made about starting to learn isiXhosa I recognise that I was doing a lot of virtue signalling. I had to be called on it (before there was a definition for it). It was a hard lesson. My virtue signalling goes back a long, long way to my varsity days during the crazy early 80s and the mad and dangerous state of emergency, violence, and real revolution that was starting to play out. Going to Crossroads or Lavender Hill for a UDF meeting was not living in Crossroads or Lavender Hill. Protesting along Rhodes Drive with almost 90% white UCT students was not quite the same as #feesmustfall. My history of (privileged) activism cannot be used as retrospective virtue signalling to gain cred, or political points. I am still learning what virtue signalling is, and what means to be a true ally, and what calling out bullshit in others is. I don’t always get it right. I keep trying.

Virtue signalling is at its worst on social media, where it is easy to have knee jerk responses to things, to have solidarity to half truths and fake news, and where you can signal your ‘virtue’ by ‘liking’ or ‘hearting’ or ‘cry-face-ing’ a thing, with no further action needed. It is also so easy to offend people on Facebook and Twitter (I sure have had a week of it), and I am still trying to decide whether it is useful to offend people, or not.

One of the most ugly and opportunistic and reprehensible spin offs of virtue signalling is crisis advertising, where companies advertise how they are helping in a crisis situation. Take the Knysna fires, for example. Banks and supermarkets and restaurant chains (I am certain with the best Capitalist intentions) seem to have taken advantage of the chance to put their names on the helping hand basket for pure PR purposes. Of course their help is desperately needed, but I do gulp when I hear about this help in paid for ads on the radio. Do you see the irony there? We have to work hard to tell the difference here, but it leaves a really bitter taste in my mouth.

I want to work hard to recognise my own virtue signalling. It is a dangerous distraction from the real work that needs to happen. Who is with me? What do you think? Is this post virtue signalling?

 

The Difference

A child is dead and her mother is badly burned, fighting for her life in hospital here in Cape Town. An appeal by the woman’s husband’s employer has been on Facebook. This husband is a good man, from Malawi, who ended up in Knysna to make a life. This man has lost his baby daughter and may lose his wife too. An unbearable loss. I know that people will open their hearts to help this man.

This man’s daughter died because his wife and child tried to outrun the fire. They were on foot. They couldn’t. There was no way. Now I know people who have lost everything they own, but they were able to escape by throwing their children and animals into their cars and outdriving the fire. In fact, there are photos of cars burned to their frames, on the side of the road, or in garages that no longer exist,  and I think it is because there were not enough drivers for all the cars. This is the difference between black and white here, in case anyone was worried that I was making it about race. This is about race. Everything is about race.

The banks are jumping in, and helping in Knysna. Of course they are. They own the houses. Those are their mortgages and bonds. ABSA and FNB did not help in Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay. Those shacks were of no interest to them. This is about race. Everything is about race.

The difference is not who lost, but how. And how they will be helped to rebuild and fix. The difference is in driving not running. The difference is in where the banks will help.

I still stand by my post of yesterday. This could be the fire that rewrites Knysna, and South Africa, in how people choose to respond to it, but I think it will take more than just me asking for it. This is about race. Everything is about race.

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