The current protests in South Africa has an eerie familiarity to it – it is the same kind of energy as the 2016 Fees Must Fall protests. In 2016, many of us assumed it was the worst protest in so-called democratic South Africa, and that it could not possibly get any worse, but here we are. Siyaya noba kubi once again. The overwhelming number of people seen marching the streets of South Africa – seem to be Black women with calls of: “Noba Besidubula”, we cannot pretend any longer, the vast majority of people affected by incidents of gender-based violence are Black women.
The protest on September 4, 2019 from CTICC to Parliament was a vicious reminder of how differently women are treated based on racial bias. A white woman, bursts into ‘hysterical’ tears due to the state of the country, women being raped and police seem to attempt to de-escalate the situation. However, when Black women from the same protest cry out – the police proceed to slam barricades into them. This is not an accident.
We cannot afford to be blind to seeing these issues arise in South Africa, without viewing it through an intersectional feminism lens. South Africa with its history of oppression of Black people, sex workers, poor people, queer people and women is not the so-called “Rainbow Nation” ‘TarTar’ Madiba would have liked us to pretend it is. South Africa is a crisis in-waiting.
As convoluted and terrifying as it may be for everyone in South Africa – once you consider those people who meet at various intersections of what South Africa feeds off of – you are suddenly thrusted into a new pool of vulnerable and endangered people like a wounded animal. Many are essentially waiting for when it happens to them, it is not a matter of if gender-based violence will happen to them but when?
We have to examine the class, gender, race, sexuality intersections to engage the crises we face as a nation. We cannot pretend that everyone is being targeted in the same way and these issues are the same for all. It is not – we have to be cognizant in order to make sure those who are especially vulnerable are protected at all costs.
Black, queer women from the Cape Flats are more likely to be tormented than white, heterosexual women from Durbanville. This does not exclude anyone, it does not say it will not or does not happen to others too. It does and will continue to. We have to protect those without high walls, alarm systems, security, gated communities, those without their own transport, those who are less likely to have smartphones with applications that track their whereabouts.
What we need to do is hold space for healing for those who are more vulnerable, we need to start believing victims of gender-based violence without expecting them to make us believe them. We need men to start leading the marches and to call out their peers. We need Government to step up and not tell us about charters drawn up in November of 2018 – what shall we do in the meanwhile? Throw copies of the charter at our abusers and hope they disappear? We need the privileged to step up and use their privilege and power as men, as white people, as heterosexuals to change the narrative.
Black women do not have the luxury of serenity.
We need to be ashamed of where we are as a country. We need answers. We need a state of emergency.
Nadine Dirks is a communications and advocacy associate, and an intersectional feminist. She is also a social justice, and sexual reproductive health and rights advocate – with a focus on Black Consciousness.