Applicant PRP 14635

Dear Applicant PRP 14635

We see you’ve tried to apply to exist in this country,

but somewhere in between crossing crocodile infested waters

Walking for days

And losing all you had

You’ve become just another number.

What did you think?

That you could come to a country that upholds human rights and just start anew?

Not quite.

See, here, you are just another refugee.

What more could you be?

Yes, we have laws and regulations

Our policies are made for people,

but you don’t fit that category

you’re just a refugee

and here, that is all you will ever be.

Perhaps you should never have left

There is nothing for you here.

We work with numbers Sir,

and you are just one too many.

So Applicant PRP 14635

Thank you for your time

but wait,

I’ve just realised,

You’re in the wrong line.

Theatre Review: When swallows cry

The following article was written for SECTION27 and first appeared in the Daily Maverick. 

When Swallows Cry is a trilogy of immigration stories. Set in three different countries, the play gives a moving and honest depiction of the lives of immigrants, and explores the spaces that immigrants occupy and the spaces that they are denied access to. The narratives present many uncomfortable truths, which are particularly glaring for someone like myself who is the child of an immigrant and knows first-hand what it is like to be shunted from queue to queue, and made to feel so small. In one moment, you’re watching three actors, and the next you are watching an uncle, a brother, a cousin. For some of us, the narratives are unfortunately very familiar.

Despite the seriousness of the issue, Mike van Graan still adds (in a way only he knows how to) humour. Perhaps a necessary coping mechanism, as we try to navigate the prejudice that we either experience or perpetuate. It is incredibly uncomfortable to listen to a migration officer refer to a black man as a monkey, but this is the brutal violent reality that many immigrants face in a quest for a new start.

Now more than ever it is time to start problematising and deconstructing what it means to identify someone as an immigrant. What makes some immigrants and what makes others expats? But most important, we need to start thinking about what it means to be at the mercy of policies that are designed specifically to control immigrants, rather than to support them.

The harsh reality that most immigrants face is that in recent weeks the world has reeled in shock and horror, in light of President Donald Trump’s statements about building a wall to keep Mexican immigrants out of America. At the mention of a physical manifestation of xenophobia, a form of division that people who aren’t immigrants will also have to endure, the world was up in arms.

In the past few days, safe spaces have become infinitely smaller as the American government has actively started to deny Muslims access to the country, under the Muslim ban. In a matter of minutes, people who have contributed to economies and built nations have had their dignity stripped from them. They have become alien in spaces of comfort that they built for the very people who are now fuelled by fear, and view them as the “other”.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that this rhetoric of “othering” is nothing new. In almost every country, immigrants face hurdles at every turn while they attempt a start a new life, or escape the horrors of war and genocide. Although most people are sympathetic to the struggles of refugees and asylum seekers, it seems proximity changes everything. We are forced to believe in this invisible power that immigrants have to disrupt our lives, to change what we perceive as ordinary, but in reality, refugees and asylum seekers are vulnerable, often helpless, and have very little power to be able to effect immediate and large changes.

Christiaan Schoombie, Mpho Osei Tutu and Warren Masemola give sterling performances, switching easily into their different roles and the energy they give to their performances shows how talented the seasoned actors are. They are each sensitive to the roles they portray and for the most part show an understanding of the broader issues. Immigrants are not just statistics, they are living, breathing human beings that cannot and should not be whittled down to a visa in a passport.

Masemola gives a larger than life performance as the commandant in Kenya, he is domineering, an unlikely intellectual. The commandant is fearless in his discussions around the horrors of slavery, oppression, as well as the relationship between developing countries and the First World – which always leaves the developing countries wanting. At least three times the commandant tells the audience about the logic of the “white man” who bought us poverty, and then another white man comes to tell us he will save us from poverty.

It is through the commandant’s scathing analysis of the social and political issues in developing countries that he forces the audience to think about the deeper issues, behind questions of belonging, occupying spaces as well as choice. For most immigrants, choice is a luxury. And despite what options are available to potentially start a better life, there is only one constant choice: are you going back or not?

Masemola then goes on to portray a desperate immigrant from Somalia who has been denied access to America, despite having been given a visa. For a moment, Masemola gives a face to the struggles that immigrants all over the world face. He gives a heartfelt and harrowing account of the desperation that shapes the decisions that immigrants are faced with.

Where there is a chance that immigrants can find themselves on the right side of policies, even that is not a guarantee of a new start. It is through the character of Amir that we come to understand this more clearly in Van Graan’s play. We see Amir, an immigrant from Somalia, detained and held for questioning at an airport in America. Amir is made to answer questions about whether or not he plans on carrying out terrorist attacks in America; he is asked if he knows a warlord with whom he shares a name, and again and again, Amir says, “I have a visa, I already answered these questions when I applied”.

While Van Graan’s play is set in Kenya, America and Australia, it is not difficult for South African audiences to locate themselves in the wider narrative of xenophobic violence and dysfunctional policies. Although there is little mention of South Africa, the two references to the country are rooted in violence and murder. Violence against the other has become so normalised and so entrenched in our society that the shock value of xenophobic deaths only lasts a few weeks before things settle down and we all carry on with our lives.

While Van Graan allows the audience to laugh, the humour is such that it forces one to confront the ugly truth of how we treat immigrants in the spaces that we occupy. While we laugh, we are forced to think about the social implications of movement, space and at the very core of it all, humanity and what that means. What does it mean for a man from Somalia to be seen as a threat because he has the same name as a warlord? What does it mean for someone who is afraid and desperate for safety to hear that they are someone to be feared, that they are a threat to someone else’s safety? What does it mean to be an immigrant?

Perhaps this is the time to reimagine the immigrant. Perhaps this is the time to do away with our fears of the other. In a time when we are all suffering, maybe it is time to band together and to find a way out of it together. We cannot and must not wait for walls to be built, before we rally to bring them down. We must not let unfounded fears dictate how we will live the rest of our lives – at the core of it all, we must choose humanity and love.

When Swallows Cry is an incredible show, it is exceptionally well written, every detail is well thought out, from the supporting multimedia to the stage lighting. It is a worthwhile show to see, you will cry, you will hurt, but more than anything else, you will learn and hopefully understand that immigration is more than just the evacuation and occupation of spaces, it is a story of sacrifices made in the hope of a better life. It is the story of broken families, endless longing, constant goodbyes and not enough welcoming arms.

 

 

A tribute to Dimakatso Tsiane.

 

Dimakatso Tsiane during one of the marches by the #BopheloHouse94, In the Free State

A Tribute to Dimakatso Tsiane

Yesterday afternoon we heard of the passing of one of the #BopheloHouse94. Mamma Maki Tsiane from Henneman passed away on Saturday afternoon, just weeks after we celebrated the acquittal and withdrawal of the charges against the #BopheloHouse94.

Over 18 months and eight court appearances, I had come to know Mama Maki. She sat in the second row in the court and when I looked up during court proceedings, it was always her gentle face that I would see first. Sometimes the picture of exhaustion, sometimes quiet determination, but always, always the picture of perfect patience. Mamma Maki endured the injustice of being criminalized for saving lives with a quiet resolve. She left her family every few months to show up for court appearances, she was never late, and when the CHW’s took to the streets of Bloemfontein she was always at the forefront, undeterred by her age. In fact she spent her last birthday amongst the other accused sitting in Court G, for the eighth time. But there wasn’t a single trace of bitterness in her face. Instead Mama Maki was dressed to the nines, if anyone had met her in the street they would never have believed that this regal woman was an alleged criminal.

Mama Maki’s death is bittersweet. On the one hand I am so grateful that she died a free woman and vindicated in her quest for justice. But at the same time, I am angry that she had to spend the last 18 months unable to do what she loved- help people. I am angry that the wheels of justice turned so slowly, and I find myself questioning if I did enough? Was there anything I could have done to have made the justice she deserved come faster? Could I have found a way to have spared her having to be away from her family for days at a time to be in court? Could I have done more?

Probably not.

And if this life is more about what we give that what we receive, then perhaps our encounter was more about what she could do. If that’s the case, then I cannot begin to explain how lucky I was to have met her. From Mama Maki I have learnt patience, perseverance and courage. But more than anything, I have learnt to never stop running until you reach the end, Nomatter how long it takes.

I have gone back and forth in my mind trying to find some comfort in Mama Maki’s passing and I guess it will be this- That she saw it through till the very end, She never faltered and although her circumstances should have hardened her, she remained gentle throughout. Not just for herself but for anyone else who will seek justice.

Rest easy Mamma Maki, you will always be remembered for your selfless struggle towards justice. I will miss your gentle smile and your quiet determination. And wherever you are, if you could sing “Asoze saphel’amandla” (We will never give up) just one more time, we would sing it with you and remember that we may have a long way to go, but at least you walked us this far and have given us the strength to continue. As they say, if I have seen further than others, it is only because I stood on the shoulders of giants.
We are, because you were.

You can read the final judgement in the #BopheloHouse94 here:
http://section27.org.za/…/u…/2016/11/Judgment-17.11.2016.pdf

Not just 94: #SayTheirNames

The following article first appeared in the Daily Maverick for SECTION27.

NOT JUST 94: #SayTheirNames

 It has been 28 days, and still nobody knows how we got here. Not the Minister, not the Premier. Apparently nobody knows how over 100 people lost their lives while they were in the care of people who took the Hippocratic oath and the Nightingale pledge.

While we go back and forth to try and figure that out, we must never forget that these people were not just a number. They lived full lives, they had families, they belonged and they were loved.

Below are a few words from their family members who got an opportunity to talk about their final experiences with their loved ones.

 Not Just 94: #SayHerName Nokuthula Sweetness Funane

“My father was killed in Thembisa during the ANC and Inkatha wars, his body was left outside his Mothers gate. And now my aunt has died. My Grandmothers words were “I have lost two children to this ANC, and not once have they come to account”

“In a meeting with the Department an official said to me ‘Did you think your aunt was never going to die?’’

-Brenda (Niece)

Not just 94: #SayHisName Solly Nathaniel Mashigo

“Minister Motsoaledi, I have been waiting to meet you, to look you in the eyes and tell you this. I found my brothers body, in a butchery, without eyes. His body was stacked between the corpses of other men and women. My brother, who was mentally unwell for 24 years, ended up in a butchery that I knew from my childhood”

“We went to see my brother every day. Minister, you are black like us. What if it was your brother or your sister, how would you feel? ”

-Phumzile Mirriam Motsegwa (Sister)

Not just 94: #SayHisName Christopher Makhoba

“Someone came to the house to ask me if this was where Christopher lived, and the next day, we got a phone call saying Christopher died”

“Stop comparing the deaths of our loved ones to Marikana, our loved ones were not armed, when they were killed, they were not a threat, they fought with no-one”

“The man who spoke before me is better off, at least he saw where his son was lying. I found my brother’s body at the gate of an old disused hall”

“Who will I sing to now?”

“Minister, Premier, you owe us nothing. We don’t want your platinum, diamonds or silver. We just want answers”

-Elizabeth Phangela (Sister)

Not just 94: #SayHisName Jeremiah Lucky Modise

“I just wanted to bring Jeremiah home for his 50th Birthday”

“Mr Motsoaledi, do you know where I went to fetch my son’s body? My God”

“ All I wanted was my son’s body, and I drove so far just to find him”

-Kgomotjo Modise (Mother)

Not Just 94: #SayHisName Happy Makhubo

“My brother was also bleeding profusely when I was told that he had died. I asked the undertaker, ‘he is bleeding so much, what are we going to do?’ ”

-(Brother)

Not Just 94: #SayHerName  Virgina Machpelah

“My sister did everything right, she didn’t smoke, she didn’t drink and she would give of her last to someone who needed it more, and you would expect someone like that to die with dignity. Not in the way she did”

“We will fight because, there is no ways that black and poor people are going to be treated this way”

“Then again in South Africa you have rights, but really you don’t. You get told you have this law, this law and this law to protect you, but really you don’t”

“Dr Manamela must never walk in the halls of a hospital. She must be struck off the roll and it must be said next to her name, that she must never be in a position to care for people”

-Christine Nxumalo (Sister)

Not just 94 : #SayHisName Sphiwe Nkumande

“My Grandmother died before she found her son”

“When we saw him they said that he had been dead for two weeks. We later found that he had died in July and we were only informed in September”

“When we found him his body was burnt all the way down the front. His body was so badly decomposed, the flesh was falling off his bones”

“ His death certificate lists the cause of death as:  ‘still investigating’”

-Niece

Not Just 94: #SayHisName David Mabati

“When I went to try and open a case about my uncles cause of death, the police said to me ‘we are having a farewell for one of our colleagues, come back tomorrow or on Monday”

“The NGO’s are calling me now asking for his death certificate. I want to know from you Minister and Premier, what do I do?”

-Sizo Mabati (Nephew)

Not Just 94: #SayHerName Sophie Molefe

“My mother begged for help, she asked that Sophie be taken to a place where she would be safe because we were unable to care for her, and they told us they would help us- we waited for that help until Sophie died”

-Dora Molefe (Sister)

Not Just 94: #SayHisName Billy Maboe

“On my birthday the phone rang and my son spoke he said ‘Pappa where are you, when are you going to fetch me, I am in Haras.. Haraskraal’ and then a voice in the background said “Hamanskraal” and the call was dropped”

“When Billy came out of the kitchen, he was trembling. I turned to my nephew and I said- ‘I see death here’ “

“When I found Billy, he was stinking, he was filthy, he was in the same clothes that he left Life Esidimeni in and he was so hungry”

“I had travelled to the hospital with the intention to anoint Billy and give him the holy sacrament. I never got to give him that service, because my son had died on that very day at 2:30PM”

-Reverend Maboe (Father)

Not just 94: #SayHisName  Aaron Vuyo Nqondwana

“I have loved my Son more than any ordinary family could have”

“My Son was lying in the middle drawer of the mortuary, bleeding profusely from the mouth with a ball of cotton wool in his mouth”

“If you can phone me, Mr Makhura, Mr Motsoaledi and say ‘this is what killed your son’ I think I may be able to rest”

“I would like to be excused, so that I can go home and receive my Son’s body, so that I can bury him tomorrow”

-Christopher Nqondwana (Father)

Not just 94: #SayHisName Sizwe Hlatshwayo

“How do I heal? tell me. When my son died you brought me a food parcel. What will you do with a food parcel when you have lost your loved ones? ”

“We didn’t send our children to Esidimeni because we didn’t love them. No, we sent them because we did not have the means to look after them”

“Sizwe spent years at Waverly, and not once did I ever hear that he was unwell. He was removed from Waverly, and in six months he had to be hospitalised and he died the very next day”

-(Mother)

#BopheloHouse94

You were the whispers of that revolution.

Will the accused please stand?

And so you did. Eight times over.

against injustice

against inequality

against the law they say.

So while we gather for you,

Still you stand.

You’ve stood this long,

 before anyone asked you to stand.

#BopheloHouse94

After the flames

The following piece was produced in my capacity as a Journalist at SECTION27 for the rebuild Vuwani Campaign. 

Vuwani: How we tried to save our schools

It all started with a rumour.

There were a group of disgruntled people who were planning on burning the local schools.

In a village as small as Kuruleni, news spreads fast. Yes, it was just a rumour. But the community weren’t taking any chances.

“We were scared, but there was nothing to else to do but to protect the school,” said SGB (School Governing Body) chair Tinstwalo Tlhabela.

As the evening fell Tintswalo joined other mothers, fathers, grandmothers and children headed to Kuruleni High School.

If anybody was going to try and burn down their school, they would have to get through them first.

7PM. 8PM.

At 9PM though, the rumour turned out to be true.

In the distance Kuruleni primary school was ablaze.

Eye witnesses say that all they saw was a blue car speeding away from the primary school. By the time the community was able to make their way to primary school. Two of the classrooms were engulfed in flames and there was nothing much to be done. But for hours the community members ran backwards and forwards to the nearby water tank. By the morning, they had been able to stop the fire from spreading, but it was too late for two classrooms. What was once a colourful Grade R classroom was now the picture of  melted steel, Cracked windows, blackened bricks and charred planks.

“They burnt my desk”

Xiluva Baloyi comes bouncing through the school gate in her oversized blue school shirt and grey pants. She heads straight to the circle of other students who have gathered at the primary school to talk about what happened.

Being one of the smallest, she weaves in and out of the circle sometimes listening, other times using her foot to draw in the sand.

15-year-old Shaun Thlabela, was one of the many  children who had joined the adults in keeping guard at Kuruleni High school. “By the time we got here. There was too much fire,” he explains. There is a clearing, through which one can see the primary school clearly. On foot however, it is at least a distance of about 2KM’s.

A little while later, Xiluva comes running to her mother with a book in her hand. “Oh this is your brother’s book,” Her mom says.

“Yes I know. but I want mine, they burnt my book, my file and my desk,” Xiluva says softly.

Most of the conversations in the circle are light hearted, the children are playfully teasing each other, but  the atmosphere turns slightly more serious when Nkateko Maphophe who is in Grade 12 Kuruleni Secondary says “We haven’t been to school for three months”

The children are all quiet now. There is nothing left to say. It was never about them.

Education cannot wait

When the community embarked on protests after an unfavourable high court bid decision with regards to municipal demarcations. It was the children who were in the line of fire. At least 25 schools were burnt down, and thousands of children were left educationally destitute. For weeks they were bore the brunt of political squabbles that had nothing to do with them.

Despite the fact that the Government delivered mobile classrooms in an effort to resume schooling, the schools are empty as teachers and principals are afraid to go back to school. Some parents have also refused to allow the children to go back to school until the Municipal demarcation issue has been resolved.

A school principal who chose not reveal his identity, said that he was unable to reason with the parents to allow the children to go back to school “It looks like I am on the side of the Government to them,” he explained.

The lines have been drawn, and the children stuck in the middle continue to suffer.

Some learners have been fortunate enough to move to other schools where they can continue learning. But for those without the resources, their only option is to wait.

40 years ago, during apartheid Education could not wait.

After all the lessons learnt and lives lost during the Soweto uprisings, why are we here again?How do we celebrate that day, and still deny thousands of Children access to qaulity education. People were in the streets, so that these kids wouldnt have to be.

Vuwani and Kuruleni are not just small villages in the outskirts of Limpopo. They are South Africa, they are the picture of how education can change a community, but at the same time they are the picture of how being denied an education can keep us from moving forward as a country.

 

 

 

We’ve got schools to build, and I need money #Vuwani

I’ll get straight to the point, I’m asking you for money.

But it’s not for me.

A few weeks ago, we watched over 20 schools in Vuwani Limpopo being destroyed during protest action. Estimated damages were at 500 million and thousands of learners were forced to stay at home for over two weeks.

In this time the learners lost valuable teaching time that they will not get back, and will likely set them back as they prepare for their June exams.

The thing about these children, is that this was another odd stacked against them. Since 2011, thousands of kids in Limpopo have gone without textbooks due to shortages. For years these children have gone without proper sanitation or infrastructure. In essence, the system has always been against them.

In 2016, 22 years in deemocracy a whole generation of children are being subjected to an inferior education. Did we not have this conversation in 1976 Fam?

You’ve heard this before. We all have. So why are we here? Why are we here?

In the recent textbooks Judgment handed down at the supreme court of appeal, Judge Navsa J said: “Education must be seen as the key driver of economic transformation

For me, there are two words that resonate. Education and Economic.

It baffles me that people think that we can talk about an equitable, inclusive and prosperous economy without talking about quality basic education. Don’t tell me what the rand is doing if you can’t tell me where the money for textbooks is. Don’t tell me about Billion rand construction sites, if you can’t build schools.  because you are doing it wrong. Education is Economy.

So what am I asking?

That you do what you can, where you can.

If you can lay bricks, bring them. If  you have desks and chairs, bring them. If you have books, bring them. If you can make South Africa better- Do it.

More than anything else, I am asking you to care about the fact that thousands of poor, black marginalized children are  being denied an opportunity at upward social mobility.

Where would you be, if you never had the opportunity to go to school or someone to give  you a break, when opportunity was all you needed?

And while your thinking about that, take a moment to think about yourself and what you are doing to make this country work? It’s not enough to “feel bad” and to “wish you could do more”. In fact, it’s not about you:

It’s about Thabo Rasemana who doesn’t want any other child in Limpopo  to go through what he has been through.

It’s about Johannes Nkuna, who  told me that he is “fighting for my younger brothers and sisters because they are still coming,”

And if we are committed to building this country, there better be schools for the coming generations. And that job starts now, we have to start with Vuwani.

I’ll be honest. In my time as an activist or rather in my time as Nomatter Ndebele (I.e the rest of my life) I will turn to many of you for help because I can’t do it alone.  I can preach the gospel every day, I can go to Limpopo and bring you the stories, however there is only so much I can do. But together, WE can do so much  more, and it’s time to play your part.  Help rebuild #Vuwani.

And, I know that on most days, me and activism are an inconvenience. Its annoying to listen to me going on and on about education and the kids in Limpopo. But can you imagine how much more inconvenient it is to not be able to go to school. To not be able to get an education and to never be able to move you family, community or country forward?

So forgive me if I am impossibly persistent, and unreasonably expectant.  I’m terribly sorry for the inconvenience, it happens when you are trying to build a country.

If you want to get on the right of history-Please make a donation of any amount  to the #Vuwani fund

through this link: http://bit.ly/242Qs5E

If you would like to help through other means, drop me an email and lets make it happen.

Tag, you’re it.

 

burning

#Rebuild Vuwani: A school in Limpopo Vuwani on fire after community protests. Photo: SECTION27