Lindi Makhoba on SAFM May 2014

On posing for Jodi Bieber: Q & A with Sabelo Mnukwa

Fellow Activator, Sabelo Mnukwa, was one of the subjects in photographer Jodi Bieber’s breaking boundaries exhibition, Quiet, at the Goodman Gallery in April 2014. The exhibition examined conventional masculinity by confronting traditional representations of men in which strength and toughness among other masculine attributes are valorized while locking men into gender roles that are complicit with violence.

“Bieber’s portrayal of men in their naked, vulnerable moments rather than the usual portrayal as workers and providers was interesting in that it went against the stereotypical role of men in the media, says Mnuka, “The exposure of unseen moments ironically demonstrate how rarely men are portrayed as ‘imperfect”.

ACTIVATE! Asked him a few questions about the experience:

A! Why did you pose for Jodi Bieber (JB)?

SM: I was curious about being exposed in public, breaking away from an image that I try to project and how others experience me and rather just being the person no one ever really sees. Her idea of portraying men in their quiet moments was also something I realised I don’t see much of in the media.

A! How did you get involved with JB?

SM: I attended a lecture by Jodi at Wits University last year where she mentioned her next project and what she was trying to achieve. The idea of going against the conventional image of what it means to be a man excited me as well as the opportunity to get involved in breaking down gender stereotypes.

A! What drew you to this project?

SM: Before this project I had never questioned why particular images of men are popular in mainstream media. It is rare that men are shown to be less than perfect such as in this photo series where Jodi shows regular men reading books in their underwear or caught in their everyday life away from masculine pressures. This kind of exploration into image made me question how I portray myself and how others perceive me.

A! How did you feel about going against traditional representations of masculinity and opening up, literally and metaphorically, leaving yourself bare?

SM: The experience was awkward and uncomfortable. I didn’t tell any of my friends that I had signed up for the project because I felt that they wouldn’t understand. I was hyper-aware that going against traditional representations of masculinity, was going to be difficult to explain, even amongst friends. The reinforcement of notions of heterosexual masculinity as separate from feminine qualities made it hard to express my involvement in the project. I learnt, more than I had ever realised, how little opportunity men have to express their inner feminine qualities to the world because we are supposed to be constantly representing ourselves in a certain “masculine” way.  Having participated in the project I think there is a need to begin breaking barriers around masculine representations as well as the expectations around personal representation.

A! What were you impressions of the project?

SM: This project was an important conversation starter around how men are portrayed in mainstream media and for me personally, how black men are represented. There have been mixed views about the project from critics with many people asking whether the project actually helped change any of the stereotypes. However I think that this was a bold project and that Jodi did well in her portrayal of “behind the scenes” male life. If nothing else, I think that this shed light on an issue that does not get enough recognition, although we still have a long way to go.

A! How did you feel about confronting the viewer the way you did?

SM: I felt strong and balanced in my representation of myself as an African man. African people in the past wore very little clothing and this was not seen as taboo. By posing the way I did I felt like I was reclaiming that indigenous part of me.

A! What have you learnt from the experience?

SM: I’ve learnt that we hold on too tightly to the representations we are taught to follow by society, culture and religion. Even worse is that we don’t question them. If we are moulding ourselves to fit these representations then it should benefit us rather than creating problems in our relationships and more importantly our self-esteem and self-worth. My advice to people is captured in the words of James Baldwin, the African American writer who once wrote that; “Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self: in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one’s robes.” 

ACTIVATE! Exchange: Stretching our vote beyond election time

“When youth participate in the democracy and development of their countries, then Africa will be set to claim the 21st century”, Kingsley Y. Amoako, Ghanaian-born international civil servant and diplomat who led the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

Indeed public participation is a fundamental part of any democracy and allows for the strengthening and maturing of democracies.

In the South African context, our Constitution emphasises the importance of active involvement and participation by citizens. The relationship between government and citizens is very important. Ultimately government is accountable to citizens for decisions taken – at a macro level, at a community level and at an individual level.

At a macro level public accountability is exercised through oversight by public representatives in the legislative arm of government. At a community level government should consult and involve communities in discussion about projects and programmes that directly affect them. At an individual level citizens have the right to hold government to account for, and get reasons for government decisions that directly affect them.

According to the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa accountability is ‘hand in glove’ with the duty that comes with the elected privilege of serving the people and is the bedrock of true democracy and effective governance.

Without accountability and transparency, democracy is impossible. In their absence, elections and the notion of the will of the people have no meaning, and government has the potential to become arbitrary and self-serving.

It is clear, therefore, that young people as members of the South African have a role to play as active citizens who understand how to voice their interests, act collectively and hold public officials accountable. Young people are a major force in the contemporary world and are often at the forefront of global, social, economic and political developments. 

The context of youth participation forms the basis of the next ACTIVATE! Exchange, a series of events and facilitated dialogues, that take place throughout the year. They provide a platform to discuss what young people are doing to create change and what can be done to support them.

This series taking place in 3 venues in 3 provinces (Johannesburg,Gauteng; Durban, KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town, Western Cape)  on the same day will explore the question of public accountability and how young people can contribute to it. On the panel, members of the ACTIVATE! network will be joined with prominent businessmen and civil society.

Seats are limited, to book please send your name, organisation and city to Candice at exchange@localhost

Has Mazibuko made a meaningful impact on SA Politics?

If we are to celebrate 20 years of democracy, we need to credit all those who contributed and who have continuously redefined our spaces. Such praise should not be limited to be people who hold the same views but should acknowledge those that have kept our democracy alive. 20 years of democracy should tell us a story that we have become politically mature regardless of our affiliations; after all we want a new generation of leaders who will not be afraid to take our country forward. Mazibuko is one such leader and I hope her example will speak to many young black women to do the same.

When it was announced that Lindiwe Mazibuko would be quitting as the DA’s Parliamentary Leader, to study abroad at Harvard University, social media went crazy.  Comments ranged from wishing her well to astonishing comments attempted to discredit her decision. The latter comments were mostly related to the perceived fall-out she had with DA’s Leader, Helen Zille, over the Employment Equity Amendment Bill (EEAB).

While there may be some merit in the speculation over Mazibuko’s real reasons for departing, it’s important that the impact she has had on young black women is not lost in the noise. Politics, among young black females in particular, is often thought of as a business for old men.  Her entry into and triumph in a male dominated environment, which saw her rise from an ordinary DA member to effectively lead it, needs to be acknowledged and not undermined by South Africans.

I believe that that Mazibuko speaks to a new generation of young black women. She has become a force to be reckoned with, challenging conservative ideas about why black people shouldn’t vote for the DA but, more importantly, shattering the glass ceiling which insulated the patriarchal political system from women. In terms of representative politics, her presence allowed other young black women, even if they disagreed with her, to believe that they too could claim that space as their own. Under her leadership, Parliament became a place of robust debates, something that interested young people and made Parliament less of a distant and irrelevant institution. From her Impeachment of President Zuma, to her stand on POSIB, Mazibuko has led our nation’s discourse on critical issues. And she has allowed young black women to believe that they can do the same.

I am personally not very supportive of the DA. I believe that they still haven’t cracked the code that would help in reaching the majority of black South Africans. They are, inmy mind, still too white and middle class. Mazibuko, and the likes of Mbali Ntuli, the DA Youth Leader, are embodiments of a changing DA. These are beyond just appearance, but in substance as well. There are other young black women in politics,  such as Anele Mda, but Mazibuko is among the few who actually seized the  opportunity given to them and did not fade away.

Despite being  called  ‘sell out’, a ‘tea girl’ and other derogatory names that none of her male counterparts are subjected to, her staying power and determination to lead has left a lasting effect on me – and, I’m sure on other young black women too. That she will study at Harvard University, something that still remains a far-fetched dream to most young black women, makes her even more inspiring.  To continuously see young black women pursuing education at the best universities across the world – something our forebears may have never even conceived – shows us that despite the difficulty in overcoming the effects of systemic racism, we can and we will.

Whether she left because she was pushed or because she chose to jump should not be our concern. That she continues to trailblaze her way through South Africa and soon-to-be Harvard is enough for us to accept her contribution to our development, as a nation and individuals, and hope that she is back soon.

If we are to celebrate 20 years of democracy, we need to credit all those who contributed and who have continuously redefined our spaces. Such praise should not be limited to be people who hold the same views but should acknowledge those that have kept our democracy alive. 20 years of democracy should tell us a story that we have become politically mature regardless of our affiliations; after all we want a new generation of leaders who will not be afraid to take our country forward. Mazibuko is one such leader and I hope her example will speak to many young black women to do the same.

Pursuing freedom

During the first seven years (1978 – 1985) of my life, I had no idea what apartheid was. Let alone the fact that it existed. Where I lived, in Manse, where my grandfather was a minister, I lived and played with other children from different race groups. In our house, people were created as equal.

Even though I remember a story my grandfather told me about being a runaway slave and having to hide in ditches to avoid being caught. This story didn’t seem real or make any sense to me.

I remember my grandfather told me about his grandfather that was a runaway slave, that had to hide in a ditch not be caught. At that time, I was still too young to understand. Later at school, one of my teachers showed us the mini- series of Roots by Alex Haley.  One day on BET’s Teen Summit one of the young people complained about how they didn’t like the history they are being thought at school, the guest told them “don’t wait on the school system, do your own research.”   That day I was inspired to start doing my “own research”. Because I also wasn’t too fascinated by the South African history being taught at school, I started reading Roots and Queen by Alex Haley about American slavery and later books about South African Slavery. There I discovered that my mother tongue, Afrikaans was created by the slaves, hence the various language influences found within Afrikaans. I remember while at school,  a professor from the University of the Western Cape once came to our school about his research he did on Louis Botha’s ancestors and that they were free slaves.  During this lecture, I also discovered that Afrikaners called themselves free slaves, because they don’t belong to specific tribe.  I also discovered when my great-great grandfather was running away, he risked everything. He risked being branded in the face or other parts of his body. He risked having his foot cut off or losing other limbs. Yet he risked it all in pursuit of freedom.

Freedom is a call to action. It’s a call to choose. During apartheid, my grandfather chose to teach his family the opposite of apartheid.  He chose to open his door to all different racial groups and nationalities no matter the risk. He chose to teach his children to treat everybody equally. What did he do? During school holidays, he would take his children and some his nieces and nephews on a tour of South Africa via Transkei and Ciskei en route to Johannesburg. He would spend a few days with his friends in Transkei and Ciskei to teach the children values and not corrupt their minds by apartheid.  And when his friends came to Cape Town, they stayed over his home. Sometimes a person can be physically captive but mentally and emotionally free. My grandfather had to overcome a lot of challenges in his life living in Stellenbosch which was the testing ground for apartheid. Where he had to witness his dad being demoted, because of his race. My grandfather matriculated at Healdtown. But the journey to Healdtown was not easy. After he completed his primary school (grade 8), he had to work one year and then attend Healdtown. He went back to work as petrol attendant and then back to school again.  It almost took him six years to complete his high school education, because the school saw his dedication and every time he came back to school he passed with As they paid for his grade 12. Even though he experienced a lot of injustice in his life, he believed the best in people and where people endured injustice he became their voice. On 26 April 1994 (special elections) he went to vote at the age of 75. He witnessed a fellow Healdtown student become the first democratic  president. The next year my grandfather died. 19 years after his death, his legacy continues to live on in my life.

Sometimes, we can be physically free but mentally and emotionally captive. How our elders and ancestors  wish they had the freedom we have today. When I look in my own community the young people that choose not to attend school, even though they have the opportunity.  It saddens me to see young people as young as six smoking and drinking and sometimes even using drugs and thinking that they are now adults. Not knowing that they are actually living as slaves. Because during the time of slavery in the Cape children were given tobacco and wine to destroy them. Working in the community, I believe it’s my responsibility to inspire them to break the legacy of slavery in their lives and grab the opportunities to bring freedom not only in their lives but in the lives of the family and community.

11 years ago, I was the Circuit Youth Co-ordinator at my previous church and worked on programmes to have youth from different racial groups together.  And even later Youth Synods to the voice for racial unity, because of what I was taught as a child. For me, what I experienced the first seven years was more precious than gold or diamonds that I feel that need to share with the world.

This generation has the responsibility to remove the filth of Apartheid and Colonialism and set people free mentally, emotionally and physically. We, as South Africans, can teach the world about unity. Why must we be classified as black or white. Who said you are black or white? What is black? What is W\white? If you are white and you take a white piece of paper is that your skin colour? If you are black and you take a black piece of paper, is that your skin colour? Now who told you were that colour, even if you’re not that colour? We are all different shades of brown from the darkest shade to the lightest.  That means we all are people are the earth. We all bleed red. We might be different, but we have more in common than we think. If we, as a nation, stop looking at our differences and unite to eradicate poverty and all other social ills.

At the showcase, we started a campaign called “Igniting our South African Identity”. The purpose is bring healing and unity to our beloved country by removing racial classification from all documentations and writing the real history of our nation.  On documentations you do not tick at : White/Black/Coloured/Indian/Other box. You create a new box namely “Afrikan” and tick in it. “Afrikan” as a sign of defiance.  Our identity is not defined by what colonism or apartheid taught us. Our identity is knowing that we are all Afrikans whether we are the darkest or the lightest shade of brown.

We have a history to be proud of. The oldest running university according to Guinness book World Records is in Morocco. The book of Mark (The Bible) is written in Egypt (there is documents that state that). And the book of Mark was used as a source for Matthew and Mark.  Egypt and Ethiopia has the oldest churches not Europe. Africa is known is the epicentre of knowledge from ancient times. Other kingdoms came to Africa to acquire knowledge. China, India and other countries were trading in Southern Africa, before the Europeans even came.  Before the Europeans to Africa, Africa was already influencing Europe. Hence alot of Europeans have African ancestry.  There is no pure race in this world, we are all related to each other. In learning each other’s ancestral history, we will start to understand where we are all coming from. Where our history might be extremely painful, let us learn from it and educate our descendants to repeat it. My definition of a racist is somebody that does not want to know his family. Let us become that great kingdom of South Africa, where other nations again will come to learn and experience true ubuntu.

Activator Story: Planting Seeds

Having lived all his life in Bonteheuwel, 31-year old Dean Jates says his activism not only seeks to transform the area, but also the residents.

But for now he’s planting small seeds, hoping that soon they will blossom into tall trees, which will eventually bear fruit.

On one of the hottest mornings in April, Dean gathered some of his neighbours who also brought along some gardening implements.

Their task: To transform a small patch of land next to the road into a garden and thus create a beautiful space in an otherwise dreary urban setting.

“The proposal that I put forward to my neighbours was basically three options: That each home contributes 10 litres of water per month for the garden, or four hours of their labour each month, or R5 per week to maintain the garden.

Dean is using his training from ACTIVATE! to organise his community, and change perceptions about volunteerism.

While the project was being driven by married couple Dawood and Rabia Salie, both unemployed who’ve taken on the task of caring for the garden through the support of the community.

Around 10 residents of the street picked up their shovels, spading the ground and removing weeds, while other neighbours provided refreshments free of charge to those who had braved the hot sun.

His initiative was a way of kickstarting volunteerism in Bonteheuwel, a typical township on the Cape Flats where unemployed, drug abuse and gang violence is rife.

“I was disappointed in the youth not being involved. Also very few men participated, insisting they would only do if they were paid,” said Jates.

He’s not given up yet, and says next month he wants to go all out to get more people involved in the project to transform their neighbourhood.

While we’re seated on a tree log for this interview, one of Dean’s neighbours points to a corner where a young man was shot, eventually dying 15 metres further up the road.

“When I finished high school in 2001, I wanted to study sound [engineering], I wanted to study film, and computer [science] but there was no-one who could guide me in terms of where I could go,” said Jates.

He eventually got a job where he worked for four and a half years after which he quit after receiving a bursary to study film.

“I studied, finished the course in 2008, and the next year I got a job at the District Six Museum,” says Jates.

His time at the museum, he says, opened his eyes to the history of Cape Town’s coloured people.

“But not just coloured people, but black people, South Africans as a whole,” says Jates.

He would eventually be retrenched from the museum, and last year he took up a short course in theatre, which eventually saw him applying to do the Activate course.

Jates says during his time at school he was inspired by rap music, particularly Afrikaans rap.

“If we as coloured people start speaking AfriKaaps, we feel ashamed, which we shouldn’t because suiwer (pure) Afrikaans actually comes from AfriKaaps but our people, because of the apartheid system, are ashamed of their language,” says Jates.

While the particular AfriKaaps hiphop blares from a set of speakers, some of Jates’ neighbours are hard at work transforming the piece of land.

“You don’t just have to be active in your community, good deeds always go unnoticed, and some people are embarrassed. Its not something for which you can be reimbursed,” says Jates.

Since 2008 he’s been involved in independent film, hosting screenings as part of the Encounters Film Festival.

He started his own audio visual business, hiring out sound equipment, doing video editing and CD copying.