Let Us Preserve This Love. Let Us Maintain This Rage.

I released the following statement following the #QueerLivesMatter protest in June of this year, as a means of breaking silences and speaking my truth. It altered the trajectory of my life:

Comrades, friends,

Today I write because I know that silence is the cement in the walls that fortify injustice. And today it is solidarity and duty and pride that moves my pen.

Last week Thursday, the 3rd of June, I attended a march to the Constitutional Court organized by the Wits SRC and Activate Wits, supported by a number of student organisations, political formations and progressive school councils. The march came after a spate of escalating Hate Crimes against the Queer community, including the recent brutal Queerphobic murders of Lonwabo Jack, Andile Lulu Nthulela, Nathaniel Skokgoane Mbhele and Sphamandla Khoza.

The memorandum handed over to the Constitutional Court carried 11 demands – including the criminalization of street harassment, the protection and formal legalization of the sex work industry and a call for the government to immediately provide a report detailing what it has done to combat Hate Crimes and GBV. It also calls on the Department of Higher Education and Training to mandate all institutions to formulate a GBV policy and calls on the State to mandate all businesses to run workshops on consent, sexual harassment, assault and abuse. The memorandum acknowledges that issues of Queerphobia and Patriarchy exist at the level of Basic Education as well and calls for schools to be held accountable for failure to address these matters appropriately.

The memorandum further calls for the urgent adoption and implementation of the Hate Crimes Bill, currently being held up for a vote in Parliament on account of delay by the Constitutional Court – which follows years of delay by Parliament itself. The State is bound to uphold the Equality Clause in the Constitution, which bars it from discriminating “directly or indirectly against anyone” on the grounds of sexual orientation. The Bill would be a means to actualise and protect that Constitutional recognition of Queer rights. The continuing delay is indicative of a damning lack of political will from the State in the face of an escalating assault of Queerphobic hate crimes. The priorities of the State are warped by Patriarchy and Queerphobia, manifesting in a lethargic attitude towards the protection of Queer rights.

In his Letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr Martin Luther King Jr – so tragically whitewashed after his demise – wrote, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Student leader Kanakana Mudzanani reminded us during this year’s protests against student debt and financial exclusion, “Not to act, is to act.” The choice being put forward to the State is to act, with urgency – or deny Justice to the Queer community, betraying the Constitutional promise of Equality.   

As the newly re-elected Chairperson of the Wits Student Forum, the embryo of the Wits Student Parliament, I currently lead the body mandated to hold to account the SRC – the PYA-led SRC that houses a contradiction in its politics, through its direct link to the same ruling party that stands in the way of free, quality, decolonised education for all. It is no secret that I have my differences with the Wits SRC. However, last week Thursday’s march sent a clear message from the ground – as the student movement, as those who seek justice for the Queer community, we must speak with a united voice. When we march for Queer liberation, we must be militant and we must march arm-in-arm, regardless of where upon the rainbow our t-shirt colours sit.

Comrades, my participation in student activism began in the year of #FeesMustFall and for the first time since, I have decided to don the regalia of a political party. I am a member of the Socialist Youth Movement, the recently-relaunched youth wing of the Workers and Socialist Party – a Revolutionary Marxist party which labours to unite the struggles of workers, marginalized and dispossessed communities, students and the youth behind a common socialist programme. As SYM, we share the demands put forward in the memorandum and stand firmly in defense of the rights of Queer people to exist and to do so proudly, freely and without fear. We also affirm the rights of Queer people to resist – to fight back against Queerphobia that is violent and institutionalised.

We know that Queer people are often marginalized on account of sexual identity and pushed into socio-economic precarity and poverty. Many Queer people – Queer People of Colour, working class Queer people – have nowhere to run away to and are made homeless by a Capitalist order which manufactures homelessness. Queer people are also often separated from any sort of generational inheritance and discriminated against by the Capitalist class, in which power is concentrated, during job applications. The poison of Queerphobia acts through the machine of Capital. We must dare to imagine another, fundamentally more just world. A world in which self-actualization – in which Pride – is not strangled by the constraints of Capital.

I am also a long-standing member of the Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee. We, too, affirm our commitment to Queer liberation at home and around the world – and we echo the demands in the memorandum. We understand that struggle is linked across borders. The same Apartheid Israel which subjects Palestinians to routine, racist violence also blackmails Queer Palestinians, getting them to spy on their families and communities. Queer Palestinians are not somehow exempt from the indiscriminate racist violence of the Israeli state either. The bombs dropped upon homes in Gaza do not knock on the door first to enquire about sexuality. Israel is by no means a friend of Queer people. To assert the opposite is to deny the reality that Queer Palestinian people are indeed people – to sub-humanise them, as the Zionist State does. That same settler-colonial Apartheid State then pinkwashes its image – instrumentalising Queer people to divert attention away from its Crimes against Humanity and subsequently presenting itself as a bastion of Queer rights in the Middle East.

Colonialism itself has a damning history with Queerphobia on this continent. The Queerphobic laws on the books in African nations were put there by European colonialists. Dismantling that institutionalized Queerphobia and Patriarchy is part of our decolonial mission, for all those battling Colonialism – from Azania to Palestine. As those who seek Justice, we share enemies – it is imperative that we unite our struggles against Colonialism, Apartheid, Capitalism, Patriarchy and Queerphobia. And that we unite them across borders.

Comrades, today I write also in a very personal capacity. I write, on an intimate level, as myself.

And some while ago I realized that while I closeted my sexuality, while I closeted who I am capable of loving, I also closeted a part of my rage. I write this today because I know that Queer Pride is made necessary when Queerphobia, violent Queerphobia remains on the rise. As a means of normalization and defiance. I write this because I am proud, because – as I discovered when I exercised my right to openly leave Islam – I cannot bare the suffocation of closets. I write this today to say something that I have never said before in the public square – that I am unapologetically bisexual.

I know that while I was expressing solidarity for this struggle against Queerphobia as an activist, I was also dealing with an internal struggle, coming to terms with my own sexuality – the reality of being able to not just admire and desire, but to love another man. An internal struggle that wrestled then defied the Queerphobic Love Laws of conservative society. As the products of that internal struggle are externalized, as I make my sexuality public knowledge, there is a likelihood that I will receive backlash. The bigoted religious conservatism too commonplace and institutionalized within the Indian Muslim community where I grew up is not exactly kind to Queer people.

When I made the personal choice to abandon faith, I did experience backlash, violent backlash. An ambush, beatings, ostracisation, precarity, death threats, psychological trauma. Many in the Queer community have faced similar circumstances. And many, as we know too well, have faced much, much worse. But we must not be cowered into silence and renounce our truth in the face of backlash from bigots and Queerphobes. Together, we must fight it if it dares to rear its ugly head.

Comrades, in the 1960s, our Queer counterparts at Stonewall Inn were suffering in the heart of American Empire. They were economically disenfranchised, ostracized, brutalized, arrested and even murdered by the same racist, bloodthirsty pigs who continue to steal Black Lives in that country today. By June 1969, they had enough. They could no longer wait for Patriarchal white men in power – within a racist, Queerphobic, Capitalist State – to save them. So they picked up bricks – and fought back. They took aim at the police force which incubated, orchestrated and executed racist, Queerphobic violence. Stonewall was the birth of Pride and it began when bricks filled the streets around the Inn with symphonies of shattered glass. Closets are indeed suffocating and again Fanon comes to mind. If we can no longer breathe, we will revolt.

While we know that this Capitalist State is deeply imperfect and violent, and sometimes we must undertake radical action in fighting back against it, the transition to political Democracy has provided us with other mechanisms through which we can seek justice for the Queer community. The adoption of the Hate Crimes Bill – ensuring that the explicit Constitutional recognition of Queer rights is not a string of empty words – is one such mechanism.

Comrades, as we push for the adoption and implementation of this Bill, as we march onwards towards Queer liberation, let the spirit of those who threw bricks at Stonewall live in us.

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Love and Rage in the Public Square: a Poem on Solidarity

Love and Rage in the Public Square

Like spider webs entangled,

our struggles are connected.

I revolt when you are strangled,

when you are maimed or you are mangled.

A Revolutionary Ubuntu:

I revolt because you are,

for I am because we are.


Our solidarity is a radical love

in the public square.

And love and rage

may seem a strange pair,

but for how long were we expected to quietly despair?


To quietly despair while black lives are brutally stolen,

in a racist police reality;

while genocides and femicides,

ecosides and epistemicides

march forward with impunity;

while neo-colonial powers plunder

in a twisted capitalist normality;

while storms of ice and thunder

greet those who are forced onto the streets,

yet still with corpses at their feet,

the elite will repeat

the lie that the system serves the people.


Hand in hand those oppressors stand

over an Empire so grand upon stolen land.

Truth. Justice. Freedom.

To the fascists, contraband.


How shall we meet them?


Assata taught us, ‘love is contraband in hell,

‘cause love is an acid that eats through bars.’

And deep in our hearts we know too well

–  this battle may leave us seared with scars.


But we will fight it anyway.


We will ‘tremble with indignation,’

as Che said.

Pledge to never look away

from subjugation or the dead.


And despite everything they inflict upon us,

the sepsis of fear they seek to infect upon us,

they will not escape our rage.


The words will leap from our pages,

abolish the bondage of poverty wages,

coat the doors of their hopeless cages

with an acid that eats through bars.


For if our radical love in the public square is to rise,

then those who step on our throats we must despise,

because one cannot declare the subject of one’s love,

while tolerating an assault upon it from above.


Raees Noorbhai

Dip Days

Dip Days

Struggling to rise from the dead,

beneath a bedsheet made of lead,

a slow torture returns,

as the mindscape starts to burn

and you toss and you turn

until the Darkness adjourns

– long enough for you to stand.

 

Like the land, your energy was stolen

No comforting sunshine, no hours golden.

A ritual Sisyphean affair,

against the gravity of despair.

And at times it is too much to bear,

but you must endure.

 

On the days when your totality is colonised

by depression and anxiety,

endure those dip days for a possibility:

tomorrow shall bring with it a better world,

beyond this white man settler colonial world,

this patriarchal, queerphobic world

and this ruthless cut-throat capitalist world.

 

When the dip day is done and you retire to bed,

and insomnia brings with it a new dread,

find comfort in the knowledge,

never forget to acknowledge

that every storm passes.

 

Raees Noorbhai

We the Midwives: a Poem on the Normalised Crisis of Homelessness at our Universities

We the Midwives

Suffering student sleeping in a library,

head anchored to a desk

by the burdens of the black child

– skin with too much melanin,

a criminal complexion

in a status quo

where poor plus black

still equals hooligan.

 

Suffering student sleeping in a library,

limp at the centre

of a solar system of sorrows,

a star spiralling, swirling, burning

as she makes her bed between bookshelves

– shacking up until the morning,

among the daisies of discomfort.

 

Demonised while dreaming,

the racist smile beaming,

while Capital keeps steaming

and our morgues are teeming.

 

This we cannot tolerate.

The dynamite in the foundations

must now detonate.

And the defenders of the Order

will surely retaliate.

 

They will say we do not understand

economic reality,

as if the fault is ours

that the sediment of Capital

has settled in their minds

and colonised their normality.

 

They will reject the existence of our scars

casting us as strangers to pain and fright,

because they refuse to learn

to truly listen

– those eyes that hold the stars

have also held the night.

 

They will say, they will say, they will say

that we are fools

for declaring that we needn’t live

under their unjust Rule.

 

They will say, they will say, they will say

that we are naive,

because in the depths of this night,

we still believe…

 

We cannot afford to silently mourn

– We the midwives must deliver the Dawn.

 

Raees Noorbhai

Letter of Resignation from the Position of Amnesty International Wits Chairperson

I had served as the chairperson of the Amnesty International chapter at Wits University from October 2015 to May 2018, when I resigned from my position in protest. My letter of resignation is reproduced below:

Comrades,

Most of you are now aware of the fact that five members of the Amnesty International Wits Executive Committee, including a majority of the Core Committee, have chosen to step down from our positions. After the two and a half years I’ve dedicated to Amnesty Wits in my capacity as Chairperson, I owe an explanation to you all for what surely seems like a sudden resignation.

When I first joined Amnesty International Wits, at the beginning of my first year in 2015, I did so because I sought a structure through which to organise concrete opposition to the myriad injustices of the status quo. I was first elected to the office of Chairperson in October of 2015, at the beginning of the #FeesMustFall protests for free, quality, decolonised education. #FeesMustFall demonstrated the necessity of political organisation beyond partisan lines for the realisation of progressive ideals. It also demonstrated the necessity of politics – the rejection of Francis Fukuyama’s notion that History had ended when the Soviet Union fell and that all issues thereafter would be addressed within the constraints of Neoliberal Capitalism. During my term as chairperson, this principle of engaging politics – of owing allegiance to no one political party, religious faction or ethnicity, but nonetheless advancing a political solidarity with the oppressed and dispossessed at home and around the world – motivated our activism on a wide range of Human Rights issues.

For more than a year after I took office, the national office, Amnesty International South Africa (AISA), was virtually absent from the activities of the Wits chapter. Our structures and our mode of organising therefore emerged organically, largely without the assistance or interference of higher structures. This afforded us a substantial degree of autonomy to define our struggle against injustice. However, the recognition of the fact that the national office was dysfunctional led to an influx of new staff members, including a new Executive Director, in early 2017. This was also the beginning of the integration of the six university chapters across the country into the activities of AISA. Naturally, this integration required us to reckon with the identity crisis that has plagued Amnesty International for years.

Amnesty International is an organisation with a dual identity. On the one hand, it is an organisation which has produced credible, independent reporting on instances of Human Rights abuse for decades and which intends to continue doing so. On the other hand, Amnesty International fancies itself a movement. For a moment, this notion of a movement seemed tenable, at least within the structures of Amnesty Wits. We adopted successive progressive positions, on issues both domestic and international. We relied upon the research conducted by a number of organisations, as well as the testimonies and experiences of activists on the ground. In line with these principles, we backed the movement for free education, issued a call for free sanitary pads, unapologetically defended religious freedom, and extended the project of solidarity beyond the borders drawn by the bloody hand of colonialism. We addressed War Crimes in Yemen and Syria, campaigned against the systemic oppression of the Male Guardianship System and the Kafala System in Saudi Arabia, backed protests against the Genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar and continuously reaffirmed our solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israel’s Apartheid regime. However, it soon became apparent how starkly we had deviated from the norms of Amnesty International.

The contradictions between the two facets of this dual identity were brought into sharp perspective by a memorandum sent by AISA to the university chapters, during the build up to Israeli Apartheid Week 2018. The memorandum was a gag order, which barred us from using several hashtags, including #FreePalestine, #BoycottIsrael and #FreeAllChildPrisoners. In addition, we were told that we cannot call for the abolition of Israel’s military court system or for the end to the Occupation of Palestinian land. We were even barred from characterising Israel’s systematic subjugation of the Palestinians as Apartheid – a conclusion that has been reached by the UN Special Rapporteur  on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories and the UN Commission for the Elimination of Racial discrimination, along with countless veteran anti-Apartheid activists. Naturally, we were also barred from calling for BDS against this Apartheid State.

This call to inaction has been repeatedly justified by the fact that Amnesty has not yet conducted its own research on Israeli Apartheid. The notion that the oldest and largest Human Rights organisation in the world hasn’t had the time or resources to formulate a position, in the 70 years since the Nakba and the 50 years since the beginning of the Occupation, is genuinely laughable. Either there is a lack of political will, or they are discrediting activists on the ground (along with a wealth of research by other organisations), or they are incompetent. Whatever the reason may be, they are prioritising Brand Amnesty above the duty of solidarity.

This alienation from the people on the ground is unfortunately unsurprising, given the fact that Amnesty, until relatively recently, implemented a policy which barred activists and researchers from working on their home countries. Brand Amnesty is predicated upon the myth of absolute objectivity – the notion that the subjectivities of status quo doctrine are tantamount to impartiality. As student activists, we saw this most strikingly when our organisation refused to act on our testimonies concerning police brutality during #FeesMustFall. According to our own organisation, our involvement in the movement for free education rendered our testimony on police brutality invalid. We were not sufficiently ‘impartial’ about the tear gas in our lungs or the rubber bullets ricocheting off the bodies of our fellow students. That Amnesty has effectively ignored the call by Palestinian civil society for BDS, as a non-violent means of solidarity by the International Community, is therefore not out character. The truth is, at a policy level, Amnesty takes a masturbatory approach to solidarity, prioritising itself above the struggles it claims to represent.

As AISA’s memorandum makes clear, Amnesty International does not take a position on military occupation, nor does Amnesty International take a position on self determination. As we discovered when they refused to back a campaign calling for the withdrawal of American support for Saudi Arabia’s murderous war in Yemen, Amnesty International does not take a position on wars. Amnesty International, at an institutional level, does not understand that “no position” is a position too, that it is always the ruling powers which benefit from the conversion of solidarity into neutrality. It is this ethos of neutrality in the face of injustice which has unfortunately corroded the spirit of progressive internationalism once espoused by Amnesty Wits.

In response to the memorandum, a vote was held of the executive of Amnesty Wits on Israeli Apartheid, with a majority voting in favour of maintaining our stance – that Israel is an Apartheid State, which deserves to be held accountable through BDS, much like the Apartheid regime in South Africa had been. However, the breakdown in the ethos of solidarity was palpable and the conflict over this issue had rendered the executive structure dysfunctional and toxic. The manner in which AISA was brought in to ‘resolve this conflict’ only deepened the divide. Eventually, it became near impossible to advance the mandate of actualising Human Rights through the executive structure, which had become preoccupied with whataboutery and had increasingly become a mouthpiece for AISA. The suggestion was also put forward that, at the beginning of each year, the new executive should disregard the historical positions taken by the chapter. Put simply, there can be no standing positions. AISA (or any functioning organisation) doesn’t periodically wipe out their organisational history in this manner – and thus the Sisyphean task of wiping our positions away at the beginning of each year only allows for the insertion of AISA’s agenda into the activities of the student chapters. Of course, I have made mistakes and the positions taken during my term are not above criticism. The need to critically engage with them in the spirit of advancing the project of solidarity is paramount. However, an evolving praxis is clearly not what is being suggested. Instead, what is being suggested is a wide-ranging watering down of our positions, with the aim of bringing the “problem child” of Amnesty Wits into line.

It is also noteworthy that the positions imposed upon us had not been deliberated upon at a congress of the membership, nor have the senior national leaders been elected. They have effectively been deployed by the International Secretariat in London, which continues to fund (and thus control) AISA. At AISA’s AGM, the focus is solidly upon the unilateral conveyance of the organisation’s goals by the executive members. There is therefore no real means through which the majority of the membership can effect policy change at a national level. Despite its assertions to the contrary, Amnesty International is not a mass democratic movement. It is a caricature of a Neoliberal corporate structure.

This, of course, is not a problem unique to Amnesty International, but an issue which has plagued many organisations in the corporate “NGO Sector”. Much has been said, by writers like Arundhati Roy, on the trappings of the so-called Rights Discourse. Even within Amnesty, there has been debate on whether Human Rights are an issue of legality or morality, on whether it is an end in itself or a means for the realisation of social and economic justice. I have found myself squarely in the latter camp. If the rights discourse acknowledges that education, healthcare, housing and dignity are indeed Human Rights, but fails to advocate for the socialist policies – free education, free universal healthcare and state-provided housing – necessary to actualise those rights, it has become an impotent body of platitudes. If it pretends as if Human Rights simply disappear, instead of being actively withheld or taken away, it fails to confront oppressive state and corporate actors. It is also crucial for any meaningful discourse on Human Rights to confront the systemic desecration of those Human Rights by Capital. However, we cannot do so for as long as we adopt a ‘Violations Approach’ to the issue – an approach that fails to act decisively on oppression that is structural.

When injustice becomes stitched into the fabric of society, when it becomes enshrined within dominant structures, then the task of those who seek justice must involve resistance to those structures. Instead, Amnesty International has chosen to function as the conscience of the status quo, lobbying the powerful and repeatedly demonstrating a half-baked commitment to justice. Now that the vapid, impotent tropes of liberalism are extending their suffocating tentacles into the lower structures, I can no longer fulfil the duty of solidarity while serving as Chairperson of Amnesty Wits. At a time when some of the most powerful nation states in the world are being led down a dark road by brazen fascists, I can no longer dedicate my political energies to an organisation which insists upon the fiction of a post-ideological world. I will continue to support those Amnesty campaigns which tackle legitimate instances of injustice, such as the #WorthBleedingFor campaign for free pads. However, I cannot withhold or water down my support from just struggles at the whims of an alienated international structure. I can no longer have my activism mired by the impotency of a liberal internationalism that sits within the status quo and prioritises its own brand above the duty of solidarity. I can no longer serve the agenda of Amnesty International. It is therefore with a heavy heart, but a clear resolve, that I choose to step down in protest as Chairperson of Amnesty International Wits.

A luta continua,

Raees Noorbhai

We Revolt Because You Are: In Solidarity with Ahed Tamimi

IMG-20180124-WA0021

The I Am Ahed Exhibition will run until the 21st of March at the Constitution Hill Women’s Jail [Graphic: Brigitte Cavé]

On Wednesday, the 31st of January 2018, the I Am Ahed exhibition was launched at the old Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. The exhibition features a series of photographs taken by Haim Schwarczenberg, who documented the Friday protests in the Occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. The launch of the exhibition coincided with the 17th birthday of Ahed Tamimi, who is being detained and trialled by an Israeli military court for resisting the Occupation and slapping an Israeli soldier. Transcribed below is the speech that I gave, in my capacity as Chairperson of Amnesty International Wits, at the exhibition launch. It has been lightly edited for clarity.

Who is Ahed Tamimi? If you were to ask Israeli media outlets, they would tell you that she is a provocateur, a trouble-maker, even a terrorist. If you were to ask Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the US, he would tell you that she is a fabrication, created by a Palestinian effort to discredit the IDF as they aid the ‘noble’ work of colonising Palestine. The truth, however, is immediately apparent to anyone who looks upon her case without the distortions of Hasbara propaganda.

Ahed Tamimi is a child, whose only crime is refusing to bow to an illegal Occupation. She is being put on trial by a kangaroo court for the same reason women were once held in this jail – because they were not passive in the face of Apartheid. Ahed Tamimi is a hero, who is being shackled by a state which seeks to subjugate her.

The extent of this subjugation is difficult to overstate. As the chairperson of an Amnesty International chapter, I have been asked which human rights have been violated in Ahed’s case. Indeed, the easier and more apt question is: Which of Ahed’s fundamental human rights have not been trampled upon by Israeli Apartheid? Israel has entirely disregarded all of Ahed’s rights – from her right to a fair trial, to her free movement, free assembly and free expression, to the right to education, healthcare and even water. Put simply, Israel has robbed Ahed of her right to live out her childhood unhindered by the suffocation of Occupation.

This is neither incidental nor accidental. Ahed’s trial is worthy of our attention not because it is out of the ordinary, but precisely because this is what passes as normal under an Apartheid regime. Ahed is one of more than 350 Palestinian children currently being detained by Israel. She is one of more than 8000 Palestinian children detained since the turn of the century. When Palestinian children are not considered children at all – when they are seen as ‘terrorists in training’ – it speaks volumes about Israel’s attempt to dehumanise them. It exposes the reality that we must recognise – Israel systematically desecrates the rights of Palestinians precisely because Israel sees the Palestinians as less than human.

As South Africans, we are not unfamiliar with the unjust realities of institutionalised racism. As a nation, we have confronted the tactics of banning orders and administrative detention before. It is the reason that these halls remained barred – as a reminder and a promise to never forget. If we are to honour this memory, we must vocalise our support for the liberation of Palestine, as others vocalised their support for the liberation of our country from the subjugation of Apartheid.

Now is the time for us to extend beyond our borders an ethic of radical Ubuntu: “We struggle because you are struggling. We revolt because you are. And we will resist anyone who denies your right to live freely on your land.”

That is why we are here today – to celebrate the resistance of Ahed Tamimi, and to reaffirm our solidarity with all children being detained by Israel. To them we say: We see your struggle, we adopt it as our own, and we will continue to call for your immediate and unconditional release. We are also here to send a message to the State of Israel: The world is watching. We will not look away. We will not lower our voices. The noise of resistance will not dissipate. From here, it will only grow louder.

Those Rising Fists: A Poem on Resistance and Resilience in the Face of Depression

[Agnes Cecile]

Those Rising Fists

Like flowers blooming

from cracks in the concrete

a turbulent revolt is looming

as slowly, they rise

 

In the mire of the night

they close

a rose

clenching finger-petals tight

and as darkness stalks the light

they rage, they fight,

they rise


Now the storm winds they roar

and the roots dig into the core

Depression

– a dead weight almost too much to bear

as they beat against the heavy air


In defiance of demise,

in revolt, they rise


They will not wither,

in the cold or the howling winds

Even in this despair’s weather

they rise


For those rising fists

are at their strongest

and those soaring voices

at their loudest

when the arms are trembling

and the voices are shaking

but still,

stubbornly,

they rise.


Raees Noorbhai 

When injustice is built into the framework of the order, the only way to live nobly is to live in a state of revolt. For some of us, however, this personalisation of perpetual revolt is not a choice. For many, the dawn of each day carries with it a certain darkness. The mere act of living becomes an act of defiance against the paradoxical gravity of emptiness. For while we rage against the injustice around us, confronting the cold machinery of tyranny, a struggle persists within us. To battle the dead weight of depression while seeking to dismantle the structures of oppression is to wage a war on two fronts. 

Indeed, countless words upon countless pages cannot so eloquently speak of this struggle as the patches where the paper has hardened and the ink has run. However, there is a measure of solace and redemption in the breaking of silences. To speak one’s truth is an act of resistance in a world where the existence of this internal war is too frequently erased. This poem, therefore, bears witness to the gruelling battle against depression and honours the bravery of those who continue to march onward through the night.

Had They Been There: The White Middle Class Meets the Radical Politics of a Certain Messianic Nazarene

It was a pleasant afternoon, ordinary enough by the standards of false tranquillity in Johannesburg’s Northern suburbs, when the scarcely-possible happened. In an absurd turn of events, the sort usually constrained to the pages of science fiction, a wormhole opened for a moment at Tashas in Rosebank, transporting a group of white, upper-middle class South Africans across space and time to a particularly tumultuous First Century Jerusalem.

Upon arrival, they complained (but we must forgive them, for this is their second nature), about all the potholes, before running into a messenger for Camel-through-a-Needle’s-Eye Witness News (CNEWN, a local news outlet). The messenger rambled on in Aramaic to the strangely-dressed people. Fortunately, among the travellers was Christina, who had studied the obscure language during her time at university (before, as she is fond of saying, “they ruined the place”). Listening through the interpreter’s ear, they were informed about a certain Levantine Jewish radical who was disrupting the day-to-day lives of the Jerusalem elite.

The man, they were told, was part of a violent minority that, instead of engaging ‘rationally’ and following bureaucratic processes, chose to express its discontent by entering the city and defying, even mocking, the power structures. They were told of how he entered the Temple of Jerusalem, drove out all who traded there, and violently overturned the tables of the dove merchants and money changers [1] . The radical, reported CNEWN, was a self-declared champion of the poor [2] who came from a modest, lower-class family in rural Judea. He detested the Roman Occupiers and those among his own Jewish people who’d grown scandalously wealthy through collusion with Rome. Having arrived only ten minutes earlier, the travellers had no understanding of the complex socio-politics that underlined his actions. They  made no attempt to sympathise with why this radical was angry, for locating an argument within socio-politics and attempting to understand context was never really their forté. So their responses came quickly and rather recklessly:

“I mean, if he really wanted all people to gain access to the Temple, why would he try to destroy it?”

“Don’t the money changers and pigeon [sic] merchants have rights too? Why would he violate their rights when fighting for his own? Did he have to drive out the traders to make his point? Clearly, he’s lost the plot.”

“Couldn’t he protest peacefully? There’s a difference between a protest and a riot, you know? It’s time we call him what he is: a hooligan bent on anarchy.”

“He’s a free-loader. Nothing comes for free hey. He just hates those who have because he’s too lazy to educate himself and become successful. Typical. Why does he want to visit the temple without paying for the sacrifices? How is the temple supposed to run without those fees?”

As they stumbled around later that night, searching desperately for a Starbucks in the streets of First Century Palestine, a messenger brought another CNEWN bulletin, alerting them that the radical, along with 12 accomplices (some of whom were armed and violently resisted arrest [3]), had been apprehended by the authorities. The leader had been detained, and was to be tortured and executed by crucifixion.  Again, the paternalistic responses came quickly from the travellers:

“What? There were only 13 of them? This just serves to show that they’re a radical minority, just as CNEWN has been reporting. The vast majority, the silent majority of people in Jerusalem just want to go back to their daily lives. I’m sure if asked, 77%, at least, would vote to just have things the way they were.”

“It’s called Law and Order. The sooner these hooligans learn to respect that, the better.” 

Within the next week, the Roman Authorities posted a notice in the public square and on the gates of Jerusalem’s Temple:

“Earlier today, the treasonous radical and blasphemer, Yeshua of Nazareth, was crucified upon a hill in Golgotha. It is with great regret that we’ve been forced to take these necessary measures needed to ensure the safety and security of our territory and citizenry.”

Some of our travellers remarked at the terrible necessity of violence to control anarchy, while others openly boasted. The radical, unrecognisable because his strange name and dark skin were untouched by the bleach of Eurocentric whitewashing, was not human to them. So they refused to speak of him as one, to place themselves within his shoes, or upon his crucifix. As they continued to echo one another’s sentiments, space-time snapped back into place, transporting them once again into the sanctuary of their present, the polished tables and airy milieu of Tashas in Rosebank.

Unfortunately, their minds, being tragically linear and hostile towards complexity, were incapable of containing a radical distortion of space-time. Their leap into the past, then, was instantaneously jettisoned, and they retained no memory of it at all. So they finished their meals, climbed into their luxurious sedans and listened to Talk Radio 702 as they coasted back into their gated communities.  Without hesitation, they receded into the perverse normalcy of an outrageously unequal world…

On Mondays, they began their weeks by driving their children to a private school, wondering aloud along the way at why the homeless on the streets couldn’t “just get a job”. On Friday evenings, they ended their weeks by meeting once again at a high-end restaurant to discuss the formulaic pleasures of suburban life. On Sundays, however, many of them went to Church and prayed, kneeling at the foot of that radical – a man whose crucifixion they had cheered and whose torture they had justified, because even when confronted with the struggle of their own Messiah, they could never bring themselves to sympathise with the dispossessed.

Note: Seeing as I may be accused of fabricating these Biblical events, the references to the New Testament are reproduced here:

[1] Mathew 21:12

[2] Luke 6:20-21, Luke 4:16-19

[3] John 18:10

Red Flags, Red Berets and the Ballot Coup: Free Education and the Wits SRC Election

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(Photo: Delwyn Verasamy, Mail and Guardian)

Wits is alive with the tumultuous energy of struggle song, while political regalia dots the campus with patches of yellow, and patches of red. With the SRC election less than a week away, the campus which birthed Fees Must Fall last October is set to elect its next set of student representatives. At this crucial juncture in South African student history, this year’s SRC election is far more significant than a mere exercise in political posturing. Its outcome will shape the future of the student movement and the strategy that will be implemented in the battle for free education. This year’s election, therefore, demands the undivided attention of us all.

Three parties are set to face off next week. The incumbent party, holding thirteen out of fifteen seats in the current SRC, is the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) – a coalition of the ANC Youth League, SASCO, the Young Communists League and the Muslim Students Association. They are being challenged by the Wits EFF Students’ Command and Project W. No party in the field is perfect. However, this should not render them equally ineffectual in the eyes of the student body. Some are better, some are worse, and others are, if we are to be honest, an embarrassment.

To get the embarrassment out of the way, let’s deal with Project W. Project W is a cynical experiment in solipsism, built upon the fallacious notion that a university’s SRC can be apolitical in a political world. Their stunning refusal to engage the complexities of the socio-political space is matched only by their masochistic impulse to lead with this idea of an apolitical campus when publicly squaring off with their opponents. The party patronises students by assuming that we are equally incapable and unwilling to tackle political complexity. Given the role of politics on campus – and indeed, the role of campuses in politics – over the decades, Project W is as ahistorical as they are apolitical. Their neutrality in political situations of moral urgency serves to bolster oppressive power structures and inflate the confidence of the ruling class. Engaging the country’s socio-politics is crucial, extraordinarily so in the context of the movement for free education. Project W is hence extraordinarily irrelevant, even by their own standards. Their conspicuous absence during Fees Must Fall is a sobering reminder that, were they to win this election, their line will jeopardise the future of the student movement. Project W is a galaxy of fallacies that aggregated from a cloud of delusion and apathy. They are a non-option.

The choice is hence between the PYA and the Wits EFF. The EFFSC has abandoned its distaste for the official political space (a distaste that one may argue is justified, given that their party was collectively punished last year and barred from running) and is now a serious contender. The campaign they have implemented balances Bikoist ideology with the consideration of basic issues that directly impact students. (It is noteworthy that this exposes another flaw in the Project W line, for one needn’t be apolitical to aid students in graduating). Echoing the process which drafted the Freedom Charter – amongst the most radical leftist documents in our nation’s history – the EFF has crowd-sourced their election manifesto, compiling it from the suggestions of the students whom they wish to represent. The party’s propensity for political disruption, a core tenet of effective protest, is indubitable – something indispensible in a battle against a system that stifles momentum through bureaucracy and delay. The EFF has therefore built a base from which they hope to claim the majority of the SRC from the PYA. Come next week, the Fighters’ Student Command is hoping to execute a Ballot Coup.

What, then, justifies the urgency of ousting the old guard? The incumbent PYA is aligned with the ANC, and hence a contradiction lies at the core of their organisational identity. Luthuli House provides the party with funding, support, and the occasional order to pacify student populations and halt protests. At times, it seems the PYA has inherited the arrogance of its parent organisation. When the Wits council debated the overhaul of IT infrastructure on campus, a project that will cost over half a billion rand, this SRC supported the move without consulting the student body, failing to account for the fact that it’s absurd to spend a nine-digit figure on improving wifi access on a campus where students don’t have accommodation or food. Moreover, red flags must be raised over the PYA’s decision to halt the university shut down last year before an insourcing commitment had been won. When a party intends to exploit the pain of exploited workers, only to dispose of them afterwards, students must respond in kind and dispose of that party. The workers are not a periphery concern – betraying them is inexcusable.

All of that said, I do not wish to discredit everything the Alliance has achieved. Nor am I implying that there aren’t committed comrades within the PYA who are invaluable to the student movement. It is possible to be more nuanced.  Yes, the PYA-led SRC played a crucial role in halting this year’s fee increase, galvanising students and driving free education to the top of the agenda. However, the PYA-led SRC was also crucial in the dissolution of student unity and the obstruction of that very agenda. The breakdown of trust between a university’s SRC and its students crippled last year’s movement for free education and squandered the momentum that we had gathered. We cannot allow for this to be repeated.

The SRC is the sole body with an official popular mandate. Tremendous legitimacy is lent to the movement if its leadership is elected by students, for students. However, we cannot have an SRC led by a PYA that can prioritise its partisan alliances over workers and the cry for free education. We should not accept an SRC that implores students to celebrate a non-increase within a broken status quo, while refusing to address the core of the problem because it involves confronting their superiors at Luthuli House. To allow the ANC to speak through a PYA SRC is to allow the establishment to dictate the terms of a movement that was forged in opposition to its failures.

Soon, it will become necessary to indict the ANC government and hold it accountable in a concrete way. At the moment, it seems the PYA would rather pander to xenophobia and punish innocent immigrant shopkeepers than do so.  We cannot allow the SRC to be turned into a fundraising office while the structural inequality is left unaddressed. Last year’s failures are proof that we cannot trust the ANC to march on itself. Moving forward, we need a student leadership that is not tied to the agenda of the ruling party. What is needed now is student unity – a unity that is difficult to forge while this conflict of interest is alive within our elected structures. The PYA can be part of the new SRC, but if it’s unity we want, it is best if they do not lead it. If they do, we need to disabuse them of their loyalty to their parent party, or organise beyond the official structure of the SRC. However, achieving either of these will be no easy task. Ideally, we need an alternative.

At this election, therefore, I will cast my vote in favour of the party with the largest base among workers, a party that didn’t evaporate after the marginal concession of a 0% increase was won. It is also the party whose iconoclasm has animated our national politics and that is unafraid to articulate the rage of the black child against an ANC that is corrupt and failing to redress inequality. When I walk into that voting booth, I shall strike my pen across the boxes next to the red berets.

The reason for doing so is simple: if the EFF wins a majority in the SRC, effectively counterbalanced by a smaller contingent of PYA members, we will place ourselves within a dispensation wherein student unity can be rebuilt without the risk of the ruling party completely derailing it. The ANC is not the only threat to the forging of a united student front, but it is quite possibly the greatest one we face. If we overcome it, we can prompt a surge in momentum that will once again transform us into a formidable force – a force that must prise open the doors of higher education, with urgency.

Oh When We Were Free: An Ode to Freedom of Thought

Freedom, Ann Fogarty

Oh when we were free
to let our thoughts roam
– throw certainty to sea
and plant musings in the mind’s loam.

Oh when we had liberty,
when we had not knotted tongues
to declare the lies of authority
that beat the air from our tired lungs.

Oh when we shunned banality,
when our brains were more than cells,
holding the prisoner of rationality
in nine circles of Dante’s Hell.

Oh, when fetters of fire failed to bind
– the heretic’s truth, under boot and fist.
When the marching orders from the mind
blasphemed bravely: Resist.

Yet unto liberation, powerless we are not,
for ours are first the fetters
and ours are first the knots.
Ours is first the apathy
that our certainty begot.

So victorious must we emerge from this internal war,
before our minds are truly free to wander once more.


Raees Noorbhai

Rebellion is a fire, sparked by the friction between a freedom which dwells deep within us, and a world which abhors it. This poem is an ode to that internal freedom – and a recognition of our power to suffocate it for fear of burning our hands. It is a song of longing, superimposed upon the passage of time, expressed in the language of nostalgia. Nostalgia for a past that perhaps never did exist, but nostalgia nonetheless. It is that internal freedom’s cry of loss, against a world in which conformist society and zealous authorities, religious or otherwise, deem it criminal to think for yourself. In the final stanzas, the poem morphs into a plea to abandon dogma, and embrace the liberating uncertainties of our existence. It becomes an appeal to seize the future and fashion it in the likeness of this idealized past – a past in which we were free. Free to champion heresies. Free to flirt with blasphemy. Free to fearlessly tell our truth.