Decolonising the Literary landscape

Questions of race and colonial structures of literature brought to the fore at the Jacana Media discussion about decolonising the literary landscape.

This year the Franschoek Literary Festival (FLF) opened up a whole can of worms about the dominance of white privilege in the literary space when Author Thando Mqgolozana said that he was fed up with attending festivals like FLF where most people in attendance are white.

“Is anger Underated?” was the topic of discussion that caused what was considered an honest reaction from Mqgolozana. An article posted in the Daily Maverick, noted the literary festival as a place “where a lot was said but much more remained unsaid.”

The discussion at Wits raised important questions about decolonising the literary space in South Africa and urged those in the room to take a hard look at differences in the culture of reading that black and white people experience.

Eusebius McKaiser led the discussion along with authors Thando Mgqolozana and Siphiwo Mahala, as well as Ben Williams, Sunday Times books editor and founder of Books LIVE, and Corina van der Spoel, Franschoek literary festival organiser.

McKaiser made sure that the ground rules were set by elaborating and expanding on the reasons why Mqgolozana said he wouldn’t go to literary festivals of FLF’s nature. He explained that he was “sick and tired” of being the black writer who is only invited to make the audience understand race.

“The white South African authors, book editors, publisher’s are highly unaware of the un-erred privileges that come with being a white author,” said Mckaiser. He reiterated that this was ultimately something that they had to confront themselves with because it is no accident that only certain books are successful and punted.

These books are usually books that maintain a certain level of black people as ‘anthropological subjects’ and serve white people with a sense of satisfaction when they read it, thinking that when they’ve read a book about black people, they understand them. “That is something that white liberals have to confront themselves with and failure to do so puts you on a continuum with Steve Hofmeyr,” said McKaiser.

This set the tone for the conversation that at one point had an Englishman Ben Williams saying, “There is no opportunity for black literature” and then apologising for his exercise of capitalist systems that limit black literature as a book editor and publisher in South Africa.

The man in government stuck to diplomatic obedience and stated that he indeed knows what the problem is – lack of accessibility to books in places like townships – telling the audience that he can’t even find his own book in the community where he grew up. “We need an integrated approach and try to work together as a collective,” he added.

The discussion however moved to a question that sparked an immediate and emotional reaction from the audience when Corina Van de Spoel asked, “Are black parents buying books and reading for their children?” followed by a “Go find your audience,” and “Where is the black bourgeoisie?”

When Mqgolozana finally spoke he turned towards Van de Spoel and bluntly stated, “This is why Rhodes must fall.”

His statement was followed by comments that further explained the ways in which barriers of entry into a culture of reading are so high for black people in South Africa and in the end, white ownership and overt racist execution of white dominance was the answer.

No doubt the audience had their say with regards to Van De Spoel’s commentary and the discussion was helpful to those who didn’t understand the black writer’s struggle.

The outcome of the discussion (as important as it was, and those in attendance all play a major role in the ways in which the literary landscape can change for the better,) was that there is a level of self determination that is required with invigorating a culture of reading among black South Africans because the way in which it is set up, decolonisation is not happening any time soon.

No democracy for Wits EFF

IMG_0070
ILLEGITIMATE DEMOCRACY: Mcebo Dlamini, former SRC president, thinks that the university’s decision to cut the EFF from elections was unfair and undemocratic.

The Economic Freedom Fighters club and society (CSO) was banned after members of the CSO took the stage and disrupted the what was supposed to be a Student Representative Council (SRC) election debate. The election however continued after the CSO was banned but not many people agreed to the fairness of that decision.

When a fight broke out in the great hall after the Project W confronted the EFF for causing a disruption and effectively not allowing the SRC debate to happen, people were shocked that the situation became violent – shouting, shoving and fists being thrown around. And when seven students were suspended for their involvement, there was an of outcry from Witsies who noticed the unequal way disciplinary rules were being enforced by the university.

At the time the university took it a step further and banned the EFF from operating as a CSO and effectively pulling it from the elections. The ban was later lifted but the EFF were not allowed to participate in the elections. For students this limited their options and questions around the legitimacy of the elections was raised.

Dlamini who is studying a Post Graduate LLB said that “Democratic centralism and even democracy have failed, it has collapsed. It’s not fair because we have reduced participation. Even those who will be in office, they will be illegitimate.”

“I don’t think it’s right that they didn’t at least get like a fair chance. As much as they were kicked out there may have been a portion of Wits that wanted them there and that’s why they’re there, is to bring change. So they should’ve at least deserved a chance.” Said Enrico Pespizolo, a 2nd year, Architecture student.

Another student, Brittany Lawton said that, “I don’t think it’s fair because obviously they’re still a party that needs to be voted for and they still need to be part of elections but at the same time considering what they did maybe it was handled right.”

Many students disagreed with the way elections took place and CSO’s who didn’t necessarily support the EFF said that the whole process of campaigning and elections did not go well. A reflection of uneasy times at Wits University.

The Wits Rag society celebrates Women’s month

IMG_0131PETALS OF EMPOWERMENT: The Rag pub was beautifully decorated to welcome the few who attended the Women’s month celebration event. Photo Rafieka Williams

The Wits Rag society hosted a Women’s Month event to highlight the experiences of women in South Africa. One of the few events at Wits to have taken place in the course of the month, it took place on August 6 with just under 30 people in attendance.

Held in the cozy Rag pub, in the basement of the Matrix the organisers set up a free intimate poetry session for students. The poets who performed included Thando Buthelezi and Nobuhle Khanyile both of whom do not take the art of poetry very lightly.

The aim was to bring about an awareness about women’s struggles, and also celebrate and empower women. Although the entrance was free, attendees were encouraged to give donations for the The Diary Of Esther, a charity and education initiative that focuses on the transformation of the girl into a woman and what that process does to young women, especially girls who come from areas where menstruation is a taboo subject.

The inititative donates sanitary pads and towels to needy girls in schools and universities. They also have an education programme where they involve boys in understanding what happens to a girls body when she is on her peiod.

Sibongile Bhebhe, one of the representatives of the Diary of Esther said that “Since time in memorial, periods have been something that we do not want to talk about, something that scares us, something that people are shy about, so what the Diary of Esther has done, we want people to understand – why the period?”

Although the turn-out was low, the response from people who attended the event was that it really struck a chord. Mostly students feel that women are not celebrated enough at Wits.

Zoe Ngwenya said, “I’m a firm believer in the notion of empowering women and as an aspiring feminist I feel that it was really important for me to be here and to stand and to see what other women had to say about women and the experiences.” Ngwenya also thinks that, “We could do with more events like this where more guys actually attend these events. We need to actually also involve men in such things because they are very ignorant to certain things that involve women.”

Another student in attendance Charlie Hadebe said more events like this need to happen “on a large scale, on a huge scale, I mean most of our lecturers aren’t females, academic world, business world, it’s not enough”.

“This was very educating and it opened a lot of eyes, I was opened to a different view of women because I didn’t know a lot and as some of the speakers have said that we guys don’t understand. The people who were speaking and performing, they gave me an insight into what it really is to be a woman” said Mamphofulane Mohale, one of the few male students in attendance. He said that he doesn’t think the university is doing enough to empower woman because the only other event he’d seen was Vow FM, the campus radio station, asking people to write messages on a piece of paper at the library lawns to celebrate women.

“Definitely it’s not enough, women need more recognition in this school and I think the school can do better… People are not being made aware and they’re not being taught the importance of women’s month.” said Mogale.

Who was suspended?

Fifteen students are currently under investigation by the university following their involvement in the fight that broke out at what was supposed to be a Student Representative Council (SRC) debate on August 18.

“The investigative and suspension process will be concluded before the end of September,” said Shirona Patel, communications officer from Wits. She also said that the people who are under investigation are from the Economic Freedom Fighters, Progressive Youth Alliance and Project W.

But of these fifteen students, only seven students have been suspended, the majority of whom are members of Wits EFF. Lwazi Lushaba, a PhD student and Mcebo Dlamini, the former president of the SRC have also been suspended.

The Wits EFF students suspended were Koketso Poho, Mbe Mbehele, Ayabulela Mhlahlo, Tebogo Mabese, and Vuyani Pambo. All seven students are contesting their suspensions.

The Mail and Guardian reported that Lushaba received a letter from the university which based his affiliation with the EFF on tweets that he posted in support of the group’s agenda. Lushaba was quoted in the article saying that the fighting that happened at the debate was, “fairly proportionate to the intensity or pulse of the political contestation [that] erupted on the stage of the Great Hall, aborting what was supposed to be an SRC Election debate among different contending parties.”

According to Wits EFF, the university also used comments the student’s had made on social media as part of the reason for their suspension.

According to a statement released by the university, those who were suspended were punished for their disruption of the debate proceedings. This means that candidates who were suspended agreed and signed and an electoral code of conduct. The university said the candidates who disrupted the debate by protesting, breached this code of conduct.

Patel said the other eight under investigation did not have immediate action taken against them because they promised to shun violence during a meeting with the university council, whereas the seven suspended students refused.

On Monday another fight broke out at an election circus between members of the PYA and Project W at Education Campus. The Wits Vuvuzela contacted the university to find out about what action would be taken against these students and a response was not sent during the time of publication.

Project W responds to allegations of missing money

Originally published by Wits Vuvuzela on 11 September 2015

Project W recently spoke to Wits Vuvuzela to set the record straight about the allegations of mismanagement of funds.

Project W and SAUJS shared an office during the election campaign period. Photo: Provided
Project W offices. Photo: Provided

An article that was published by Wits Vuvuzela revealed that Project W is under investigation, for mismanagement of funds collected during an iPad raffle competition held in 2014.

Dr. Pamela Dube, Dean of Students at Wits University, confirmed to Wits Vuvuzela that, “A separate process is being conducted together with Project W pertaining to allegations about them.”

But Project W says that they have no knowledge of this investigation.

The organisation also said that it was inaccurate to allege that R50000 was collected in the raffle competition. The actual amount was R10 370, which is the amount that they raised last year for the iPad raffle.

“We never raised R50 000, at no particular point did we say we raised R50 000” said Jamie Mighti, member of Project W. “I don’t know where Shaeera gets that number, R50 000.”

“when we raise money, we raise money, solely for students”

Mighti said that the money from the raffle was initially meant to go the Humanitarian Fund but the organisation later decided that they would instead contribute the proceeds to their own textbook fund. At the time posters about the raffle which had already been printed and put up advertised that funds collected would go to the Humanitarian Fund, but Project W later made it clear to the Student Representative Council that the money raised would not go the Humanitarian Fund.

Project W revealed that they had made numerous posts on their Facebook page about their text book fund, which is what they have used the money for. Evidence provided by Thamsanqa Pooe, President of Project W, indicated that the money was used for the text book fund.

“Thanks to all those Witsies who helped raise money for the textbook fund. Project W has been able to hand over R15000 worth of books over the last semester for students,” read’s a post that the organisation had put up Facebook on May 13.

What about the car raffle?

The earlier article published by Wits Vuvuzela  mentioned that the car raffle that project W was hosting this year was cancelled due to the investigation. Project W however has confirmed that as far as they know, the win a car raffle was not cancelled but instead put on hold.

“The raffle was not cancelled in the first instance, there were some things which were not aware we had to comply with, which we have complied with. We are pending to resume the raffle “, said Mighti, who added that,  “Comrades complained and said we were campaigning and that’s why the raffle was suspended.”

Pooe added that, “With the car raffle, the purpose is to raise money for students with outstanding fees… when we raise money, we raise money, solely for students.”

Where is the money Project W?

Originally published by Wits Vuvuzela on 3 September 2015

Wits University has confirmed that Project W is under investigation after allegations of not depositing fifty thousand rand that was meant to be their contribution to the Humanitarian Fund.

Dr. Pamela Dube, Dean of students, confirmed that Project W is under investigation for mismanagement of funds saying, “A separate process is being conducted together with Project W pertaining to allegations about them.”

The win-a-car raffle that Project W was running during their election campaign was cancelled because of the investigation. “Project W had to be guided about the appropriate University procedures to follow in this regard and they are now addressing the gaps in the process,” said Dube.

“We feel the university has protected Project W for fraud,”

Shaeera Kalla brought up the missing funds during an election rally at Education Campus where she openly confronted Project W about the missing funds, asking “Where is the money?”

SHOWING INITIATIVE: Project W's Jamie Mighti stands with a flyer with information about the win-a-car initiative at the Project W office.
SHOWING INITIATIVE: Project W’s Jamie Mighti stands with a flyer with information about the win-a-car initiative at the Project W office. Photo: Reuven Blignaut

Wits Vuvuzela contacted Shaeera Kalla, acting president of the current SRC. She said that the SRC had made inquiries about the missing money since January. The fifty thousand rand was raised by Project W last year for a raffle to win an iPad. Kalla said that this money was supposed to go to the Humanitarian fund but she has yet to see the money deposited into the fund.

Kalla said that the money has not been accounted for by Project W and upon asking the party about the funds they refused to respond to her.

“We feel the university has protected Project W for fraud,” said Kalla.

Jamie Mighti a prominent member of Project W, was not available for comment at the time of publishing.

Cool kid on campus: Karabo Mokoena

Originally published by Wits Vuvuzela on 24 July 2015

Karabo Mokoena is a 21 year Environmental Science student at Wits who is trying to change perceptions about black women’s natural hair and empower Africa at the same time. She is the CEO of a company called Nalane ea Afrika (African heritage) which produces natural hair care products for anyone who wants to manage their hair better.

EMPOWERING AFRICA: Karabo Mokoena is a Wits student making waves with her hair product Nalane ea Afrika. Photo: Lwazi Mazibuko
EMPOWERING AFRICA: Karabo Mokoena is a Wits student making waves with her hair product Nalane ea Afrika. Photo: Lwazi Mazibuko

Why did you start Nalane ea Afrika?

“It was that thing of, I’ve never seen MY hair. Having my hair natural means that, it’s my hair in its natural state, in its unique state… When we were little we would be forced to relax our hair and in those days, it was so painful. You would always burn from the relaxer and we want to prevent a lot of parents from having doing that to their kids because now we have the resources to change that.”

What is different about your product?

“One of the things that we strive for in the company is to only use African products. Everything that we use must be African. Even if we buy our oils, all our raw materials must be African. We even want the people who are giving us the raw materials to process them in Africa. So we want to empower Africa as a whole.”

How do you juggle the management of Nalane ea Afrika with your studies?

“My role right now is basically running the company, it’s still very small. The company I dedicate to during weekends. When I’m at school, I’m at school. I have my school time and then in between, even in between lectures, I’ll look at my e-mails to see what we need to do. I haven’t neglected my studies, I’m doing very well.”

How has your degree help you create the product?

“It helped in the sense that I did chemistry first year level, so that helped me understand when I was doing the research behind which products to use, which raw materials to use and if they would mix. I had a bit of background in that, so does my sister.”

Do you think that black girls at Wits are becoming more comfortable with their hair?

“I think so, I don’t think I could say yes or no. I only come on campus to do school and then I leave. So the people that I see – I see a lot of people with natural hair.”

What is the most important thing you want to achieve with your product?

“We’re going through a time where people are so conscious especially black women and I think the thing about having natural hair is seeing your true self. So I would like to achieve changing the mentality that – you being your natural self – is not right. That you can’t manage your hair because it looks unruly or it looks untidy. There’s so many hair styles you can do with your natural hair and I just want people to love themselves the way that they are.”

Tsotsis stalk Witsies on Enoch Sontonga

Originally published by Wits Vuvuzela on 24 July 2015

Criminal activity on Enoch Sontonga has been an issue for Wits University campus control for a while, the recent increase in muggings has prompted action from the university.

It’s a quiet Friday afternoon on Enoch Sontonga Avenue commuters are steadily making their way home from work. Two women are walking, comfortably enough to have an intense conversation between them. As they make way for a man in blue overalls to pass them by, he snatches one of the women’s bags!

Her companion runs into on-coming traffic out of fear and the jogging man continues to run on steadily with his stolen goods. He ducks through a hole in the gate of a park and out of sight. His victim stands still, wide-eyed, her hands over her mouth – bagless. It’s another day on Enoch Sontonga.

DANGER DRIVE: The recent increase in criminal activities on Enoch Sontonga Avenue has prompted Wits University to up the level of security on the busy road. Enoch Sontonga Avenue runs along the Strurrock Park sports precinct, parallel to the Enoch Sontonga memorial park. Photo: Rafieka Williams
DANGER DRIVE: The recent increase in criminal activities on Enoch Sontonga Avenue has prompted Wits University to up the level of security on the busy road. Enoch Sontonga Avenue runs along the Strurrock Park sports precinct, parallel to the Enoch Sontonga memorial park. Photo: Rafieka Williams

The safety issues on Enoch Sontonga, which lies just outside the university campus, have recently been brought to the attention of Wits University due to the mugging of a number of people, students and staff members alike.

Lemy Rantsatsi, a first year student at Wits said she was robbed this year around 12:30 in the day, while she was on her way home. “They just grabbed me and took my stuff and jumped over the wall at the bridge,” she said.

According to Rantsatsi there was no security around at the time and she continues to walk on the road because the taxi fare home is too expensive considering that she stays close by.

Wits University campus control responds

Robert Kemp from Campus Control said that the university had been aware of the dangers of the area for some time now. “We have a patrol on the stretch of road up to the Raikes Road Gate,” he said. The patrol members who are intended to patrol in these places wear black uniforms with blue reflector jackets and can be seen along any of the routes described.

He also said that the university intends to increase patrols in the area and has requested SAPS intervention.

Kemp added, “Students should avoid walking along Enoch Sontonga after dark if possible, motorists should be careful when using this stretch of road, particularly when stationary at traffic lights. Keep doors locked and windows closed and valuables out of site and locked in the boot.  Do not use cell phones in public view.”

The road runs along the West Campus entrance of the University as well as the Sturrock Park sports precinct.

Marikana miners and family reflect on commission experiences

Article originally published on May 11, 2015 by Wits Vuvuzela, written by 

As the public awaits President Jacob Zuma’s release of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry report, miners and family members affected by the events of Marikana get a chance to share their experiences of the Commission.

MARIKANA ADVOCATE Advocate George Bizos, was among the attendees at the ‘Commissioning the present’ conference this passed weekend. Photo: Tendai Dube
MARIKANA ADVOCATE Advocate George Bizos, was among the attendees at the ‘Commissioning the present’ conference this passed weekend. Photo: Tendai Dube

Veteran lawyer and anti-apartheid activist, George Bizos, implored lawyers and organisations to pressure government to accept civil liability for the women and children of the victims of Marikana.

Bizos was speaking at the closure of the Commissioning the Present conference at Wits University on Saturday. The three day conference was organised by Social Economic Rights Institute (SERI) and the Wits History Workshop and took place from May 7-9.

“It gives voice to the victims of the massacre and their families – a group of people who were almost completely left out of the Commission’s work and narrative.”

Dr Julian Brown, a politics lecturer at Wits, and one of the organisers of the event, said the conference had hoped to “bring the voices of academics, lawyers, the families of the deceased, and the miners themselves into conversation with each other, so that we can learn from our different insights”.

Brown added that the conference would “interrogate the ways in which stories about the Marikana massacre have been constructed by the state and other public players – in particular, by the Commission of Inquiry”.

The Marikana Commission of Inquiry, headed by Judge Ian Farlam, was set up to investigate the events of Marikana (which led to the deaths of 44 people, 70 injuries and 250 arrests).

Stuart Wilson, executive director at SERI said the conference was important because, “It gives voice to the victims of the massacre and their families – a group of people who were almost completely left out of the Commission’s work and narrative.”

Unsatisfactory treatment during the Marikana commission of inquiry

A panel of miners and family members of deceased miners were given a platform to share their first hand experiences.

“I know that wasn’t done in order to find out the truth, it was done in order to persecute us.”

From their accounts, it was clear that there is a general belief that police were treated with greater dignity and respect during the Marikana Commission.

“I know that wasn’t done in order to find out the truth, it was done in order to persecute us,” said one of the panellists.

Nathabang Ntsenyeno broke down in tears as she spoke about how she watched her husband being killed in a video that was shown at the Commission. She added that the Commission was unsympathetic towards her, specifically pointed to the use of the term “uneducated” in reference to her and others at the Commission.

Nomasonto Gadlela explained how miners were repeatedly asked the same questions to the point where they felt intimidated.

Bringing together academia and lived experiences 

The conference also hosted academics who presented their work on Marikana.

The scholarly works dealt with topics such as – the lived experiences of men and women in Marikana; the social conditions in which the strike, and then the massacre took place; the role of Lonmin and mining capital, and the role of the police, to name a few.

Something that resonated from the scholarly works to the lived experiences of those affected was the reality of the lives of women in Marikana. Many women in the community have been forced to work in the Lonmin mines after losing their husbands because they have no other form of income or ways of supporting their families.

This has left many of these women feeling as if they are “a laughing stock” but they do it out of desperation, explained Nomfanelo Jali.

President Jacob Zuma has received Judge Farlam’s report and released a statement on May 10 indicating that he would release it publicly “in due course”.