Battling my own ignorance

I know that I’m coming late to the conversation that began when black pupils at Pretoria High School for Girls spoke out about the racist rules that dictated how they could ‘acceptably’ wear their hair. There several reasons for this silence.

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PICTURED: A brief summary of how my dad got a job in this country in the first place.

The one that I believe is most important to share with you is that in the past few years I’ve come to understand that it just isn’t my place to have a loud, important opinion over another’s lived experience of race. I am the white, upper-middle class child of Irish immigrants. I went to nice, expensive private school and lived in a big house and did five years at varsity without taking out a single student loan. I have had a good life (mostly) and a big part of the reason why that is – as I have mentioned before – has to do with the colour of my family’s skin.

Black people do not need my thoughts on anything. I cannot ‘help’ by inserting my (laughably pretentious) opinions of what it is to live in a black skin in the modern world, or to try and tell others what they should feel and why. Quite simply, that is not my story. If I tried to own it, if I tried to convince myself or others that I have the right to tell it, I would be committing the same crime that this article post is trying to make visible. I would be claiming ownership of an experience, a way of living that I am becoming more aware of, but will never understand with the kind of comprehension that comes with living with it day after day after day. I would be saying implicitly that those who do have that comprehension are still somehow incapable of telling their own stories.

So instead I will simply share my own story, explain to you the one thought that comes to mind when I read the news. I will tell you what I have come to realise after the last few days, and hope that it at least helps you consider things a different way.

It was a single, simple thought, but still one I had never had before yesterday, and one I urge everyone who doesn’t ‘get’ why the issue of black hair is so discussed or politicised to consider.

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Yesterday I was in my car when there was a brief news report on my favourite radio station regarding the protests against the policies at Pretoria Girls’ and other other institutions. As the bulletin ended and a song came on, I found myself reflecting on my own experiences with dress code policies in school.

I didn’t go to the Pretoria High School for Girls, but a private Christian school in west Joburg. We had pretty stringent rules and dress code policies too, and I got told off about my hair more than once. It was too obviously dyed, or not tied up with the ‘proper’ colour of hair band, or left loose even when it was 1 cm longer (GASP!) than the acceptable length of loose hair as decided by Principal BossyPants. 

What I suspected then, and what I believe wholeheartedly now, is that these rules are stupid and pointless and were more about falling in line with bureaucratic whims than about improving anyone’s education. But that is not the single thought that I believe I need to share with you.

Instead, my epiphany was this: 

When I thought back to all the lectures I received about my hair, something stood out – the issue was never about my hair itself, even though my mane is as peculiar and as stubbornly Irish as I am. Teacher’s lectures were always aimed at something I had done to my hair – dyed it, styled it, left it unrestrained…

Because in my case, my hair itself wasn’t the issue, the issue came in with what I did to it. 

If this seems like a glaringly obvious point to you, just bear with me, because yesterday for the first time I considered that that is not what black girls are told their whole lives.

all lives matter cartoon

When teachers at Pretoria High, or any other school, tell black girls and young women that they have to “”do something” with their hair, that it needs to be braided to a certain thickness or relaxed or shortened or whatever in order to not be “a bird’s nest” what are they actually saying?

I believe that they are telling those kids the exact opposite of what I was told by people in authority. They are saying to their pupils that their hair, simply because it exists naturally in a way different to mine, is somehow unacceptable. That the way it grows it is inherently not neat enough, not clean enough, not good enough to be seen, so black girls need to ‘fix’ it in order to be tolerated. Hearing that now at 26 would crush me, but to a 13-year-old girl who is still figuring herself and the world out? I don’t need to have gone through that myself to say loudly that THAT should not be tolerated.

Untitled

Do you think people are reading too much into the situation? Would you like to interrupt me in a loud voice to point out that for God’s sake it’s just hair, and it’s ridiculous to take silly school rules and make them into an arena for some sort of racism debate? Because an awful lot of recent history would disagree.

As a politics lecturer at university once told me, the personal is political. Human beings do not exist in a vacuum: the way we live, the values we have, the languages that we speak and even the clothes we wear are all as a result of what has come before. Is it really so hard to believe that this is true about a school’s dress code rules? The rules of a school that was previously all white, in a country where whiteness was seen as so important and valuable that there were literally laws against racial mixing? There are echoes of our awful history everywhere, in every facet of human life to one degree or another – our responsibility now is to try to see them for what they really are, and then change them.

To those who disagree with people who say this issue is important – don’t be so quick to disbelieve someone’s experiences because you haven’t had them yourself. 

To all those who have been fighting battles that were invisible to me for years – I’m sorry, for all of it, and I will try and be better.”Whoever learned, until they had shivered in fear at their ignorance?”

And to the brave women at Pretoria HS and elsewhere – I am so proud of you. I have no right to walk beside you on this journey, but please know that I’m happy to stand somewhere out of your way but in solidarity.

No pregnancy for profit here

CSG/pregnancy infographic

An infographic explaining the benefits of the Child Support Grant

One of the most critised social support programmes in South Africa is the Child Support Grant (CSG). Persistent rumours since its introduction have claimed that women, particularly adolescent women, are falling pregnant more often in order to claim a higher monthly amount from the government.

But recent research conducted by the University of Witwaterstrand refutes this common myth, instead suggesting that women who receive these grants after their first pregnancy will actually wait longer before second pregnancy than the women who do not.

CSGs were first introduced in 1998, initially aimed at supporting very young children, but can now be claimed for children up until the age of 18. In 2015, the monthly amount per child was R330.

The research was conducted by Dr Molly Rosenberg, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University, in an area of rural Mpumalanga between the years 1993 0 2003. Amongst the 4 845 female primary caregivers included in the study, half received the grant after the birth of their first child and half did not.

The data gathered from her research was unexpected: the women who did receive the grants waited, on average, 30 months longer than women who did not receive the grant for a second pregnancy.

An estimated 10 million South African children benefit from the Child Support Grant photo: Cathy Draper

An estimated 10 million South African children benefit from the Child Support Grant photo: Cathy Draper

Rosenberg and her colleagues believe that this could be because of a number of reasons. Firstly, the grant is used to gain access to health care, including family planning, which reduces the chance of an unwanted pregnancy. Secondly, while R330 is enough money to divert the worst effects of poverty, it is not a large enough financial incentive to cause women to have multiple children. And thirdly, the grant gives women a small measure of economic independence from men, meaning that they feel less pressured into sexual acts or less susceptible to sexual assault.

Cover letter for an introvert

I’ve thought, more than once, that life would be a whole lot easier if we we approached forming new friendships and relationships the way we approach other big life decisions – it seems silly that we find our best friends and soul-mates after just a few minutes of conversation in a pub, but won’t hire someone to wash our socks until we’ve seen a multi-page CV and heard glowing recommendations from 3 former employers.

I think introverts like me, particularly, get the short end of the stick in social situations. We’re not so good at the social ease thing, and maybe handing out our CVs with cover letters like the one would make us seem less ‘socially awkward’ or ‘stabby’ as we sometimes appear.


introverts

From: me

The awkward girl standing in the corner

Studying her drink intently and not speaking to anyone

 

To: you

The normal person over there

With the fully developed social skills

 

Re: Cover letter for an introvert (Ref: 0H-GOD-H3LP-M3)

Dear sir/madam

Congratulations! This cover letter serves as notice of my aspirations to socially interact with you!

Therefore, please consider this letter and the attached CV as my formal application for the post of new friend/pleasant acquaintance/fantastic girlfriend/tolerated neighbour in your company*.

I’m sure that as you read this letter, you are asking yourself “why the heck AM I reading this letter?? Isn’t this from that weird girl who I met earlier in a public space/the elevator/through a mutual associate? The one who stuttered over her words/seemed unnecessarily nervous when I looked at her/had her mouth uncomfortably full of food when I attempted to engage her in polite conversation/silently fled from my presence for no apparent reason?”

Source: 9gag.com

Source: 9gag.com

And my reply would be “yes”, those would all be perfectly accurate examples of things I have done the first time that I met a new person. But let me assure you that I was not being intentionally rude, nor am I mentally unsound in any way (well…). I am simply an introvert, which means that I’m not so good at the social interaction thing until I’ve had a few tries, and even then I need to balance it out with quiet time alone. Let me assure you though, that I am certainly qualified enough to fill the aforementioned position. Let me share just a few of my positive attributes with you:

  • Introverts are known for being much more empathetic than our silence-challenged counterparts (extroverts). This, combined with our famous reluctance (some would say inability) to talk, mean that I will happily listen to whatever you have to say about any given topic.
  • I spend a lot of time thinking, so I am able to give you insightful(ish) opinions on your problems.
  • I have a large collection of worthy books, movies and other media, painstakingly acquired throughout my years of preferring to spend Saturday nights alone.
  • I have a mortal fear of conflict and confrontation, and will probably never ever interrupt you.
  • Whenever you want to hang out, there’s a really good chance that I’ve got no other plans and so can make it.

When considering the above benefits of having a relationship with me, you’ll note that they seem to far outweigh any of my negative attributes! For the sake of informed consent, however, I feel you should know what some of those drawbacks are:

  • I am not good with meeting new people, particularly when they are in large, terrifying groups.
  • While I do enjoy spending time with other humans, such interaction can be draining and after a while I need to recharge by being alone.
  • I am only outgoing and overtly friendly (and therefore a good wingwoman) if I am very, very drunk. And then I run the risk of chundering on your intended, which is going to hurt your chances somewhat.
  • No clubs. Absolutely. No. Freaking. Clubs. They are less fun then a trip to a dentist to me, people who don’t hear me normally sure as hell won’t hear me when we’re in a room designed to cause us partial deafness, and the thought of a whole bunch of strangers watching my awkward dance moves is the stuff of my nightmares. I really cannot stress this enough. NO CLUBS!
  • My designated spot at any and all social gatherings is by the snack table, where I will only be sociable with our host’s pets.

 

Thank you for taking the time to consider my application. I look forward to your response and can be reached via phone, email, snail mail, messenger pigeon, smoke signals and powerful telepathic thought. My physical address is:

In my pajamas

Tucked in bed

In my house

Alone

 

Kindest regards,

That introvert, who really does try.


 

So to all my fellow introverts – don’t worry, you’re not alone and psychologists have said some very nice things about our personality type!

And for everyone else – who is potentially looking to add a new introvert to their lives, or those who have had introverts for years and just want to care for them well – understand us, that we don’t want to be “fixed” because there’s nothing “broken” about us. Learn to love us despite the quirkiness, because you can be sure that we love you, despite your big mouths. And finally, that I’m seriously serious about the club thing.

 

*’company’ has 2 definitions: firstly, an actual place of business where one could be expected to send a cover letter along with an application, and secondly to be in someone’s presence or in fellowship with them. God, I’m punny.

 

‘Bah, Humbug!’ or “How I learned to stop worrying and have a Merry Christmas’

“‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,

The wallets were empty, and spouse fought against spouse…”

 

So it’s that time of year again – the time when we all get fat on too-rich food, receive gifts we’ll never use, and sing songs about having a ‘White Christmas’ in a part of the world that has an average temperature of around 30°C in December. Add to that that Jesus wasn’t even born in December, and the festive season starts to look more than just a little stupid.

Now, before you all start yelling “Grinch!” and chasing me with sharpened candy canes, just hear me out ok. I’m a Joburger, and in preparation of C-day I recently made the journey that my people are famous for – the other Great Trek – the car ride from Johannesburg down to the coast. At one of the far too few pit-stops we made, as I stood in the never-ending line of women who needed to relieve themselves, I was reminded of something:

A few years ago, while I was still in high school, my youthful, bright eyes came across some articles written by the CNN reporter Anderson Cooper for the American magazine Details. Because I only had one friend at the time (thanks Roxy!), I had the time to read them all. One that stuck with me was Just Say No to New Year’s Eve, in which Cooper laments how hard we all try to make New Year’s Eve a night of epicness, and how it always falls short of our expectations.

“A friend of mine” Cooper writes “who works the door at a big Manhattan nightclub always tries to take New Year’s Eve off.

‘It’s amateur night,’ he explains. ‘All these people who never go out try way too hard to have fun. As the hours go by, they begin to realize this party isn’t going to be the best ever, this night is going to end, and this next year won’t be all that better than the last one. So they drink or take another pill, and that’s when it gets really messy.’ … The truth is the parties and promises never quite live up to expectations.”

As I stood in that line, considering deep existential crises in order to distract from the possibility of my bladder exploding, I wondered if the same thought could be extended from just New Year’s Eve to the entire holiday season – this time of year is for the birds!

 

Particularly if you're Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Particularly if you’re Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Source: The Oatmeal

 

Firstly, Christmas time often means travel time – which as anyone knows, means a lot more opportunity for death or untold doom arising from car wrecks/plane crashes/death by exploding cookie dough. Worse than simply dying though, this time of year is when we all go on our long, tedious death-marches to holiday destinations. This action holds a particular type of horror for me though, because I’m a Vaalie*. And as any South African knows, Vaalies are notorious for leaving the crowded, smelly, wonderful city in droves this time of year and heading to the beach for some time off. Tumbleweeds frolic the city streets back home while innocent men, women and children are jammed unceremoniously into their cars for the long, hot, and extremely uncomfortable ride down to spend their off time at overpriced coastal hotels, while also incurring the hatred and wrath of the locals by buying all the food in the grocery stores and introducing the ‘we’re all bastards’ method of driving to their peaceful coastal roads.

A few days ago, on my personal hell-ride of said pilgrimage, we stopped at one petrol station and attempted to enjoy our overly warm padkos* picnic-style on the only patch of grass we could find, which happened to lie between a parking lot on one side and the busy highway on the other. As I chewed my rubbery cheese and stale bread, all I saw around me were sweaty, moody parents bossing around children straight-jacketed by the confines of car travel (and understandably miserable about it), as they were forced to stop in some sleepy, backwater town that is rightly ignored by the rest of country at all other times of year. I dare anyone who encounters such a despondent scene themselves to not feel psychologically uncomfortable about the cause of it.

The second reason Christmas is so overrated is a bit more universal: the cost of it all. In my family, my mother has a strict tradition of doing Secret Santa every year, where each family member buys one present for one other (randomly selected) person, ensuring that the cost and benefit of the holiday is spread out equally in a reasonable manner. But even besides the (mostly) useless gifts (people have a tenancy to be so overwhelmed by advertising at this time of year that they find themselves thinking thoughts like “I think what my mostly blind Grandma really needs this year is a high-def television”), the amount of money blown on a single day is enormous. I went Christmas shopping with a friend last week, a fellow student, and watched in astonishment as she was forced to drop R800 in one go – a ridiculous portion of which was spent on special Christmas napkins (R35 for 12), and the frightfully overpriced ‘deluxe’ Christmas crackers (at a ridiculous R250 for six).

 

I don't know about you guys, but that's way over my crack budget.

I don’t know about you guys, but that’s waaaay over my crack budget.

Added to the creation of a whole new cache of merchandise to spend money on at Christmas, I’ve recently heard murmurings that grocery shops also take the time to spread a little festive cheer by subtly raising the prices of foodstuffs like cream and custard, because what holiday table would be complete without these things? While the age of Marxism is dead, I wish good ol’ Karl was still around to help me come up with a cheer against this sort of thing that we could chant together outside of such establishments, probably while drinking vodka.

Thirdly, the worst thing about this time of year is how we feel compelled to cram in as much quality time with loved ones and acquaintances as possible into a span of a few weeks, probably as a result of the guilt we feel at not really spending time with them for the other 50 weeks of the year. And as great as families are, this amount of ‘bonding’ time together, combined with the consumption of large amounts of alcohol and any underlying family issues makes for even more stress, and the possibility of Uncle Dave being taken to the emergency room with the neck of grandad’s bottle of gin sticking into the side of his head.

Also, because EVERYONE is doing this, we often end up spending time with other’s guilty-bonding-time people, which doesn’t help with the stress levels, but probably does help make up a good portion of many an alcohol company’s festive season profits. The friend earlier who spent all that money? R300 of that was on random people’s gifts (I’m talking her boyfriend’s step-brother’s something something…). As a result, the holidays can become a days-long example of those parties where you sit awkwardly, fidgeting constantly and avoiding making eye-contact with the other guests, made even worse by the fact that you end up feeling conscience-stricken about not enjoying it.

 

Pictured: insincerity (Source: The Oatmeal)

Pictured on the left: insincerity. Pictured on the right: awesomeness (Source: The Oatmeal)

 

So I put it to you: how do all these things add up to a great time? We become so obsessed with travelling to the perfect vacation spot, spending all our money on the perfect Christmas gifts and merchandise and fulfilling our conscience-mandated hours of family time that we never actually have a holiday. Vacations are about relaxation, not completing a list of tasks of our ‘to-do’ lists.

I guess in summary what I’m saying is:

“Bah! Humbug!”

 

No, not really… In all honesty, if you want to join me in the Expedition of the Vaalies , that’s ok. And if you want to spend a chunk of money on others and yourself to make the season a little more joyful, that’s ok too. And who knows, maybe Christmas time is the perfect time to make some effort to be friendly to the strangers around you – like timidly offering the person standing near you at the snack table the soggy pretzels.

What I’m trying to say is that the trappings of Christmas shouldn’t trap you into hating Christmas time. Remember the important things: the ones you love, an opportunity to recover from the year behind and time to prepare for the year ahead. Because when I look around at my own life and family, I realise that time seems to go by far too quickly – and that I should use this time to take stock more effectively.

 

*Vaalie (slang): a derogatory term for tourists from the inland of South Africa, often refers to people from Johannesburg. However, it is not as derogatory as some of the terms I could use for the people I encounter in inland traffic.

*padkos: food taken along to be consumed during a long trip. Literally translates to “road food”

IN-DEPTH: Trading in Spaces

For all the regular readers of my blog, you’ve probably noticed me complaining about our huge in-depth project for my honours degree. Well, I survived! And here is the final product – an in-depth look at legal and illegal trading in the suburb of Yeoville. 

 

by Robyn Kirk

The streets of Yeoville are a buyer’s paradise – not only is there a sprawling, vivid green market with hundreds of stalls showing off their wares and services, but outside the market there are hawkers selling sweets and vegetables, second-hand clothes and cheap nail polish.

The market traders are legal but the street traders are breaking the law, creating a tension between the two forms of sellers in one of the oldest suburbs in the city.

FORMAL SALE: The market was built to replace hawking, but is too small to accommodate traders that have spilled into the streets. Photo: Robyn Kirk

FORMAL SALE: The market was built to replace hawking, but is too small to accommodate traders that have spilled into the streets. Photo: Robyn Kirk

aking up an entire city block between Hunter and Raleigh streets stands the Yeoville Market, a large building painted a vivid green both inside and out. Home to over 200 stalls, it sells varied goods: food stalls – mini-restaurants really – waft tantalising smells throughout the day. Clothing-design stalls display handmade dresses and brightly patterned fabrics, their owners curled over Singer sewing machines. Not far away, in a different section, more Western clothing is sold – an array of luminous tekkies (sneakers), and shirts emblazoned with slogans. On one, “London” is scrawled over a British flag, while another reads “Thug Life”.

Every stall is cramped with as much stock as the traders can fit in. The fresh produce and grocery stalls in particular have shelves stuffed with both expected and unexpected goods: there are bananas and onions, red cans of Lucky Star fish and large plastic bottles of vegetable oil. But there are also goods from the rest of the continent: dried fish, boxes of instant fufu, two kinds of yam, plantain chips and, in one stall, a six-pack of Bavaria Beer jostles packets of maize meal for space on the shelf.

The traders outside the market, trading on street corners or on pavements outside shop fronts, stand in stark contrast. These hawkers sell from simple stalls – boxes in most cases, or crudely constructed stands made of wood. They sell only a handful of goods: small towers of potatoes or tomatoes, secondhand clothes, or perhaps a handful of Chappies bubblegum mixed in with a cheap brand of suckers. Here and there a woman cooks mealies for sale over a brazier crafted from an old tin can and some wire mesh.

All the hawkers outside the market carry the minimum of stock – whatever can easily be packed up if a quick getaway is called for. In Yeoville, this contrast represents the Johannesburg struggle – how to make a living legally in a situation where most people are forced to hustle outside the system to live from hand to mouth.

Problematic police and public reaction

The South African National Traders Retail Alliance (Santra) is considering legal action after the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) attempted to confiscate the stock from hawkers at the Baragwanath taxi rank in Soweto on October 12 2014. What made this event different from other such police actions was the public response. According to witnesses and Santra, members of the public (including taxi drivers, pedestrians and traders) reacted to the swoop by preventing the JMPD trucks carrying the stock away by trapping the officers and their vehicles.

Eventually police reinforcements were called in and five people were arrested. This incident highlights tensions between legal and illegal forms of trading in Johannesburg. While some areas, like the CBD and the Bara taxi rank, allow for legal street trading, it is still illegal in most parts of the city. Yeoville is situated east of Johannesburg, one of the oldest suburbs. Originally white, then mixed (in 1990 the population was 81% white), it has become almost exclusively black since democracy. In 2011, it was estimated to be 98% black.  Yeoville is now also an entry point to the country for people from all over the African continent, including Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Ghana. On the streets people speak in French, Shona (a dominant language in Zimbabwe), Swahili and Portuguese.

Although Yeoville was and still is classified as a residential suburb, sales people are everywhere – in the Yeoville Market certainly, but also on practically every street corner.  All traders, however, are not equal. The market is a legitimate trading space under official management by the City of Joburg, with house rules, a rent system and organised security and cleaning.

The hawkers on the street, however, are seen as “pests”, according to Santra spokesperson Edmund Elias, blocking movement on the streets, breaking the city’s bylaws and often forced to move by the JMPD.

All trading on the streets is illegal under the City of Joburg’s bylaws, which specify that an area defined legally as “residential” cannot house street traders. Of the estimated 8 000 hawkers found in the inner city, Santra estimates 500 are in Yeoville, although a walk through the streets makes it seem this number must be much higher.

“Traders are sometimes desperate,” explains Elias. “The people who become traders on the street are a wide variety – unskilled, semi-skilled and retrenched people, and also people who just want to be their own boss. The slow rate of economic growth [in South Africa] means that, for many, this is the only entry point into the economy. You also need to understand that urbanisation means people from other parts of South Africa and from the rest of the continent are streaming into the city, and there simply aren’t enough jobs for them.”

Elias believes there is room in Yeoville for both the Yeoville Market and street traders: “A market is a destination where people go for specific items [while street trading] is just when you walk past the item, you see it and you buy it. This is more impulse shopping.”

FRESH STOCK: Traders buy spinach arriving outside the market. Photo: Robyn Kirk

FRESH STOCK: Traders buy spinach arriving outside the market. Photo: Robyn Kirk

A legitimate space – the Yeoville Market

Yeoville Market is near the centre of the suburb and was started in late 1999 as an alternative to street trading. The city built it in the hope that all hawkers would be able to move off the streets, which would bring them within the law. It contains 212 stalls which provide a number of goods (like vegetables, clothes and cosmetics) and services (like hairdressing and shoe repairs) to the Yeoville community. Only 5% of the stalls are run by South Africans, with the other 95% being owned by people from other African countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. It employs a full-time manager to oversee the building, along with a support staff, which includes six on-duty security guards.

For the past three years, Sabatha Mekuto has been the manager appointed by the City.  A young man from Soweto, he explains passionately that he walks around the grounds several times a day, interacts with stall owners and is responsible for the functioning of the market.

There is strict organisation in the market, he says: each trader signs a lease before setting up and is subject to a number of house rules. Every stall owner pays rent, and this ranges from R60 to R300 a month, depending on the location and size of the stall.

Mekuto has been in discussion with the eight-member committee of existing traders, his line manager and the managing director at the City of Joburg, about increasing the number of stalls. But the space within the building will only allow for a maximum of five new, rather small stands. When he took over from his predecessor in 2011, he also inherited a waiting list for spaces in the market. This list, which started in 2005, now contains approximately 4 000 names.

Mekuto admits the opportunity to trade there is hard to come by. One reason is the difficulty in evicting people. “I’ve only ever got rid of two people,” he says. “One for fighting, which is against house rules, and one woman who got a job outside the market and never came in to work.” The second reason is that once traders are established in the market, they are reluctant to leave.

“…once people get a space in the market they don’t want to go,’ Mekuto says. “I’ve even heard rumours that some stall owners do so well that they hire someone else to work here for them and they [the owners] sit around at home, or go to other jobs on the outside. But we don’t work with rumours here, and what can I do without proof?”

Sebastian Zaremba has been trading in the market since 2000 and is a member of the market committee. From Mexico originally, he is the only Caucasian in the market. He has a slight build and a well-maintained moustache and is always wearing a blue, knitted hat with a yellow stripe. He owns a stall on the outer edges of the market, selling mostly imported foodstuffs like rice, cooked fish and fufu. He started out selling tea and coffee to people who would pass the Yeoville Market on their early morning commute, and with the money this created was able to expand his goods to include Thai rice, roasted peanuts and semolina.

“I was fortunate to put my name on the waiting list, and to be allocated a stall in the market,” he says. “But other people are only [trading] on the street because they need to make a living, they have to survive. It’s hand-to-mouth, we must appreciate that and also respect that.”

At the same time, Zaremba believes the majority of street traders are only there because they do not want to follow the rules and pay the market rent. He also believes the illegal traders create a bustle in the streets that can lead to an increase in crime.

“I like the market, I like my neighbours, I like my colleagues in the market, we’re like one big family,” Zaremba says. “We help each other, and we succeed. I do feel it’s unfair to those in the market if people sell the same goods for less on the street.”

Selling on the streets in order to survive 

One of those traders can be found close by, also on Raleigh Street, but a five-minute walk away from the market. Nolicent Ntete and his wife Brita are Zimbabweans, and have lived in Yeoville for five years. Together they sell vegetables outside a discount grocery store. From 8am until the Yeoville Market closes at 8.30 at night, you can find one or both of them sitting a couple of metres from the store entrance. Nolicent usually wears a brightly coloured shirt and Brita a wide-brimmed straw hat to shade her face.

They sit on empty plastic crates behind a stall made from a piece of wood balanced on stacked tomato boxes. Small piles of tomatoes and potatoes are arranged neatly next to hand-knotted bags of chumaulia, a spinach-like plant popular in Zimbabwe. Sometimes they get chillies for a good price and will sell those as well. To their left, a woman sells shoes (mostly sandals during summer) placed neatly on a square of material laid out on the pavement. Brita chats amiably with customers and passers-by. Nolicent spends much of the day chopping the chumaulia, which they buy in big bunches and chop to sell in smaller quantities.

“There is too much problems selling here [on the street],” Nolicent says. “The metro [police] come, when the rain is falling we get wet, and when the sun shines like now we can’t go to the shade. When the police come, they take our stock and it’s too expensive to get back. When they write a ticket, it’s going to be R1 500 to get it back. I just leave it because that’s too much money, I can’t [get] that money. I will only make that much extra after two weeks.

“I left Zimbabwe because the situation was bad there, everyone knows how it is there,” Nolicent explains, when asked why he trades illegally. “My children are in Zim, I’ve got two daughters, one is seven and one is two. I send money home at the month-end, I make sure I send something home for my kids to eat. My mother will take care of them, but she needs to pay.”

Every day when Nolicent and his wife trade on the street, they break at least five of the City of Joburg bylaws, mostly the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality Street Trading By-laws of 2004. These include selling in a space which could block pedestrian movement, trading outside the entrance to a public building (which also sells the same type of goods), being there without written permission from the city council and, finally, from a position closer than five metres to a road intersection.

PASSING TRADE: Police are struggling to enforce bylaws that prohibit hawking. Photo: Robyn Kirk

PASSING TRADE: Police are struggling to enforce bylaws that prohibit hawking. Photo: Robyn Kirk

According to press statements by councillor Ruby Mathang, a member of the mayoral committee for economic development, talks started in June this year between informal trader organisations such as Santra, Centre for Urbanism and Built Environmental Studies (CUBES) and Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri) to find a way to accommodate informal traders throughout the city. However, in all talks so far, both the city and organisations involved have made it clear that they are only concerned with legal traders.

“Bylaw enforcement [against illegal trading] in the city is continuing to take place to ensure that the inner city does not become chaotic. This remains vital in managing the inner city and serving as a deterrent against illegal trading and crime,” says Virgil James, a communications specialist for the City of Joburg.

In another press statement, Mathang adds: “The City embraces its hawkers – we want to make life easier and more stable for those who trade legally because we want a commercially viable and dynamic informal trading sector in a clean and welcoming environment.”

This means that, while there is some progress towards improving the situation for street traders, it is aimed at aiding legal hawkers and will not necessarily aid those who break bylaws in the course of their trading.

“I like selling on the streets, because here I get quick money,” says Nolicent. “In the market it is a big mess, and you have to pay rent.” He doesn’t plan to stay in South Africa for much longer. He says in his home language, Shona: “Ndiri kuda kuZim muma kore anotera [I want to go back to Zim in the next two years], I want to take care of my children.”

“I don’t want to trade on the streets forever,” adds Brita. “I want a job. A real job.”

Because of the growing number of street traders in Johannesburg, Santra is in the process of talking to City of Joburg officials to find resolution. “There is a so-called process of engagement, which started in June or May of this year,” says Elias. “They were supposed to call us last month [September] but they haven’t yet. We want Yeoville designated as a mixed-usage area so that street trading is legally allowed there, not as a residential area where it isn’t.”

Santra also wants more street trading rights across Johannesburg. “We’ve requested that the city has a database of traders so we have an accurate number of traders that we can keep updated. The City says there are 2 000 legal spaces that can be made available [for legal street trading], but there are 8000 people. We’d like designated legal trading areas with security and cleaning services, for this we’d want the traders to pay between R10 to R30 a day.”

Until the city and organisations reach an agreement, however, the Yeoville Market is the only place in the suburb where traders can sell their goods legally. This means that 212 people can feed their families without fear of legal repercussions, while the hundreds of other traders in the area, like Nolicent and Brita, must break the law in order to survive.

Some thoughts on Disney princesses

It’s funny how, in every Disney movie, there’s always a part where the princess serenades some small, fluffy woodland creatures during a musical number.

And it’s funnier still how the animals seem to thoroughly enjoy the experience, rather than following natural instinct and savagely attacking the stupid human. Who, for some strange reason, thought she was in a petting zoo, rather than oh I don’t know, in the middle of a fucking forest with wild animals.

In fact, forget about mattresses and peas – if a situation ever arises in your life where you need to figure out who the princess is, stick her in a room with some ducklings, a baby raccoon and a honey badger and give her the sheet music to Dancing in the Rain.

If she comes out with all her fingers still attached and without rabies, you’ve got your girl.

You’re welcome.

More equal than others

The famous quote from George Orwell's Animal Farm

The famous quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm

 

South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a Gini coefficient of 65.0 in 2011 (the Gini Coefficient being a measurement of the space between a nation’s richest and poorest citizens, a rating of zero would mean complete equality between these two groups). I’ve known this for a long time (thank you BA education – I have very few marketable skills from my time with you, but dammit at least I can think).

My country’s disparity makes a lot of sense in our historical context if one considers that the policy of apartheid’s entire aim was to benefit a small group of people (the white minority) at the cost of a large majority (non-whites). It’s therefore pretty logical to assume that this inequality, while technically illegal 20 years into our democracy, has not been completely eroded. Our democracy, after all, was negotiated into being and when revolution finally came, it lacked the implementation of many of the socialist ideals originally envisioned by anti-apartheid activists before the 1990s.

Again, I know all this, and while it’s not right and needs to be changed, it makes a sort of (unjust) sense, and can be understood.

Of late, though, I’ve become increasingly more aware of  a new form of injustice that I just can’t seem to understand the root of. For all of you who have lived under a rock for these past few weeks, it’s been an interesting time in the news: firstly the Oscar Pistorius trial wrapped up on October 21 for the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. Secondly Xolile Mngeni, a man convicted of being part of the killing of Anni Dewani in 2010, died in prison of a brain tumour on October 18, even after being recommended (and denied) for medical parole. And thirdly on Sunday night (October 26) Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates Captain Senzo Meyiwa was shot dead outside his girlfriend’s house in Vosloorus, Gauteng. In all three cases I have noticed an alarming trend emerging in these cases – all animals are equal, but in these examples some people seem to be more equal than the rest of South Africa.

PREEMPTIVE DISCLAIMER: before people start raging in the comments section that I'm referring to these people as 'animals' (first person to label me a racist gets 10 points), it's not an attack, it's an extended metaphor - google it.

PREEMPTIVE DISCLAIMER: before people start raging in the comments section that I’m referring to these people as ‘animals’ (first person to label me a racist gets 10 points), it’s not an attack, it’s an extended metaphor for Orwell’s book – google it. Or better yet, read it.

In Pistorius’s case…

Once Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide and reckless endangerment, his attorney (Barry Roux) structured his argument for sentencing around using Pistorius’s disability as a strong mitigating factor. The argument went along the lines that because of Pistorius’s “condition”, the South African prison system could not adequately take care of him if he were to be incarcerated. 

While raising concerns of the state of SA prisons generally, and the treatment of prisoners with special needs in particular is a noble cause, I took exception to Roux’s whole argument. There are a number of disabled prisoners within the South African system who didn’t have their circumstances considered at all in their jailing. In fact, the Wits Justice Project published a story last year detailing the case of ‘Prisoner A’ Ronnie Fakude, a paraplegic who became both ill and suffered injury during his time in prison, and yet had his ability to walk questioned by a doctor (and wife of a director of that prison – no conflict of interest there I’m sure) who also wanted him returned to a normal cell. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure Good Citizen Roux hasn’t rushed to knock on his door (sorry, barred cell) to offer to fight his struggles as a disabled person in the system.

 

As an aside: this has nothing to do with the over-all arch of this blog post, but I want to take a moment to rant about the Oscar trial

Throughout the court case, I found myself increasingly disgusted with the whole ‘disablity’ card played. “Oh, he suffers from an anxiety disorder brought about from him being disabled and therefore reacted the way he did” “Oh, he CAN’T go to prison, don’t you know he’s disabled?”. As a disabled person myself, I’m actually rather offended. Yes, disabilities are hard, and they mean both he and I can’t do everything able-bodied people can do. But from my side: I don’t want to be treated like I’m made of glass, I don’t want my actions excused or justified by the fact that I’m a little different from others. Having Moebius is a part of me, but it doesn’t define me or my actions. To use a physical defect in such a way is too make the disabled less human, less capable and less accountable for our actions. That’s not the equality that I’m looking for. 

In Mngeni’s case… 

Xolile Mngeni was found guilty a few years ago for his part of the murder of Anni Dewani, allegedly arranged by her husband, during their honeymoon in the country in November 2010. During his trial, it was discovered that he had a brain tumour. Although he was recommended for medical parole after his sentencing, he was denied for this in July, three months before he died.

The issue of medical parole is a serious one, and I could understand if it was given very grudgingly across the board, but the problem is that in the past it’s been granted to people in far less of a serious situation than Mngeni’s was. Anyone remember dear Schabir Shaik‘s ‘serious illness’ and medical parole? Which was serious enough to get him out of his 15-year jail sentence, but not serious enough to stop him from allegedly beating the crap out of people while golfing. More than once.

Maria Busi Tshabalala, secretary general of the National Freedom Party Youth Movement said it best when she also referenced Animal Farm and said “Xolile Mngeni’s biggest crime was not to have killed or participated in the murder of Anni Dewani, but it was his poverty background and the fact that he or his family were not politically connected.”

 

In Meyiwa’s case… 

I think I should start this one carefully – a young life was lost, a great talent is no longer with us, and my deepest condolences go out to his fans and loved ones, who will now need to find a way to keep living life without him. That is a tragedy, and we shouldn’t be insensitive about it…

At the same time though, this country is full of tragedies. One that keeps sticking in my mind as I write this is the rape and murder of three girls under the age of six in Diepsloot last year. Anelisa Mkhonto (5), Yonalisa Mali (2) and Zandile Mali (3) were their names – you’ll need to look hard on news sites before you find them, underneath more stories of Meyiwa’s death, and updates on the Dewani trial. When you do though, you’ll learn that Ntokozo Hadebe was found guilty of their murders today, and will probably be sentenced tomorrow. According to News24, the youngest girl was still in nappies at the time of her death.

Spare a thought, please, for the horror that they must have experienced – how scared were they? Did they cry for their mother during the rape of tiny bodies? Who of the sisters died first, and did the other one even understand what that meant? It should be noted that, unlike Meyiwa’s case, the police offered no reward of R250 000 to find their killer.

 

What these news stories have taught me, is there seems to be two sets of rules here: one for you and me – the average citizens of this country who just have to go day by day and hope for the best, and a second set for those who are rich, famous or have friends in the right places. That’s not the country that I want to live in.

IN-DEPTH: Day 20 “Pick me! Pick me! I’m employable!” and periodic bouts of Tourettes Syndrome

So today was not one very focused on in-depth work (I can hear my lecturer’s gasps of horror even as I type this). A few weeks ago Jo-Anne Richards circulated the information that Primedia was looking for applications for a year-long internship, working between 702 and Voice of Wits (VoW). Today was the interview process, so Anazi, Luke and myself set off at the crack of dawn (well, 7:30am, but that’s early enough dammit!) on our great adventure into Sandown. Luke was worried about bringing in his folk’s car to the area and finding parking, so we went via the Gautrain instead.

Best moment of that trip – at one point I lost my balance on an escalator, and a kind gentleman with beautiful eyes and curly hair helped steady me. As he walked away, I said to Anazi that I thought he was cute – which would have been really smooth and cool, except for the fact that he was still close enough to hear me… Apparently he looked back and smiled at it all, but I still made us wait around for a few minutes before we followed in his direction. I suppose that at least I brought joy to my friends and helped relieve the nervousness for a bit? Still, not going to be winning any ‘Miss Debonair of the Year’ awards me thinks.

This statue shall soon be erected at Sandton Gautrain station as a monument to this day...

This statue shall soon be erected at Sandton Gautrain station as a monument to this day…

Once we got there, there was a bit of waiting around before the process began. Basically we started with a personality test – you’ll be happy to know that I successfully avoided the temptation to scrawl “I’M TOTALLY A PSYCHOPATH!” across it and instead answered as truthfully as possible. Then it was the general knowledge test. For years, YEARS I’ve known that I should really memorise all of South Africa’s Premiers, because that question has come up in what feels like every test I’ve taken since I was 12 – Geography, History, assessment tests to get into schools and universities… Never quite get round to it unfortunately, and that hurt me today when I was asked to name both the Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal ones. Nothing says ‘hire me! I’ll be a wonderful jouranlist!” like leaving general knowledge questions blank.

Interview itself was pretty good (for me, anyway), I always hate how interviews are conducted by a panel – especially when they’re all lined up behind a desk and you’re forced to sit right in front of them in a chair. I can’t help but be reminded of old school firing squads, except in interviews you don’t have the advantage of a blindfold and your arms being tied behind your back to prevent fidgeting. This one felt a little less daunting though, we sat around a comfortable table, everyone was very friendly and laughed at my jokes, and I was even allowed to drink coffee.

Anazi went first, then me and Luke brought up the rear. We took a leisurely stroll back to the station and started on the real work again.

This is where the Tourettes became apparent. I’m still, still struggling to get permission to film in the Joburg Market to film, which is a problem because I actually wanted to START AND FINISH that last bit of shoot tomorrow morning. I’ve emailed and called about five times each day (with responses ranging from “he’s not here” to “he’s not here again today” to “he’ll be back tomorrow” to “sure let me put you through… *this call has been disconnected*” to a few rings of the phone and another disconnection. Tomorrow I’m going to door stop in the morning and not leave until I talk to someone/get physically thrown out by security. I WANT THAT SHOT!

Final lap….

IN-DEPTH: Day 19 – Not just eyeballed, but earlobed, nostrilled and even navelled

Behold! A book!

Behold! A book! The bookiest book in the whole of Bookdom!

The title for this blog post is taken from The Fifth Elephant, one of the Discworld novels by Sir Terry Pratchett. It comes up from the conversation between Ankh-Morpork’s despot-in-residence Lord Vetinari and the-recently-and-inadvisably-promoted-to-Captain Fred Colon:

 

‘I see. The number of internal disciplinary charges you have laid against your men—’ and here the Patrician picked up a much thicker document— ‘seems somewhat excessive. I see no fewer than one hundred and seventy-three offences of eyeballing, earlobing and nostrilling, for example.’

‘Sah!’

‘Nostrilling, acting captain?’

‘Sah!’

‘Oh. And I see, ah yes, one charge of “making his arm fall off in an insubordinate way” laid against Constable Shoe [a zombie]. Commander Vimes has always given me glowing reports about this officer.’

”e’s a nasty piece of work, sah! You can’t trust the dead ones!’

‘Nor, it would seem, most of the live ones.’

 

While in much-better-as-Sergeant Colon’s case it was indeed somewhat an excessive description, I believe for me recounting how I felt today in Yeoville it is completely apt. Today Tendai and I went in early, because I needed footage of the woman I filmed cutting a tomato, to actually buy the tomato from Noli and his wife (the magic of video – nothing actually has to be filmed in order for the end product to be in order!).

She ran a little late, so while we waited I got my camera out and tried to take a couple of stills that TJ and I discussed yesterday. The whole time I stood on that pavement, both when taking photos and later filming, I could sense what felt like 100 eyes (and nostrils and earlobes and even navels) on me. And it wasn’t even just that they were looking at me – it filled me with fear because I felt like they were casing me out to see how worth it it would be to try to mug me. We’ve been warned numerous times by a few people that the street on which Noli sells is notorious for muggings and pick-pocketing, and honestly there were a number of dodgy-looking characters around.

After my stuff was done, we then went to Rockey Street because Tendai wanted to take some stills of a street scene. There, too, we felt ill at ease and constantly on alert… If I survive the next two weeks (and believe me, that is a big IF) I’d love to do a blog about how this experience of working in Yeoville has forced me to think even more about white privilege and how we’ve responded to a mostly black area, how we think and feel when exposed to that. Meh, totally writing it on my ‘to do’ list – the one I’ve had since I was about four.

My main concerns now are 1) finishing up my feature. And by that I mean actually doing my feature, which is pretty well-written in my head, but I’m not sure that the lecturers will be okay with me handing in a decapitated crown on Friday. And 2) doing the last bit of filming that needs to be done in Joburg Market – once again the guy I need to talk to was not in the office when I called today, and I’m feeling a tad flustered about getting permission as soon as possible so that I can do that shooting on Thursday – the last day we can actually use the equipment.

And in other news…

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last couple of years – I can’t believe the first thing you’re doing on the outside is reading my blog! Seriously, what’s wrong with you? – Oscar Pistorius was sentenced today for the Valentine’s Day 2013 death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. For the first conviction of culpable homicide, he received a prison sentence of five years, and on the second charge of reckless endangerment in the use of a firearm, he received a suspended sentence of three years.

I can’t help wondering what the heck journalists are going to do now that it’s probably all over (barring an appeal, which may or may not happen). No more channel dedicated solely to the trial, no more waiting outside a Pretoria courtroom with cameras locked and loaded, no more desperately trying to spell the name ‘Thokozile Matilda Masipa’… and for the rest of us no more sitting in front of the TV during working hours, justifying ourselves by saying we’re staying abreast on current events. ‘Tis an end of an era!

IN-DEPTH: Day 18 “Little did I know that that was the highlight of my morning”

“Everyone! Assume the brace position! This plane is going DOWN!”

Well no, not really. Our moral bodies aren’t actually in danger, just our minds, souls and potential happiness.

So today we met with Zaheer again, and he freaked us all out a bit. He’s good at what he does, and I value that we have him to guide us and give us advice, but after we all spoke to him earlier I think we all went into DEFCON 1 [my nerdy friend Luke has confirmed that this is the most urgent DEFCON level]  mode. On the car ride into Yeoville, there was only the sound of silent panic, and the crunchiness of bites being taken by those of us eating our feelings (I’m sorry I ate all your snack, Anazi).

I think I’m mostly fine (even though I don’t feel fine, at all), but Zaheer is very sold on starting my video at Joburg Market, because it’s the most useful beginning to tell the story of my tomato. That’s great as an idea, and I agree with him, but getting permission to film there is proving freaking difficult! My e-mails have not been responded to, every time I call James is out of the office, and I’m running out of time because the equipment is being taken back out of circulation by the department on Friday (that’s another fight I’m looking forward to witnessing. Carol, Judy and Dinesh desperately tugging on one end of the camera, as myself or some other poor Honours student is clinging onto the other end, sobbing and screaming “NO! PLEASE! HAVE MERCY! I JUST NEED ONE MORE CUTAWAY! DON’T DO IT! NOOOOO!”).

Zel is probably the most stressed of us all – Zaheer says her video just isn’t interesting enough and needs to be completely changed. I don’t know what she’s going to do, but I’m hoping to have most of my footage done in the next few days so we can focus on just helping her. This afternoon we came back to the department and I finally got the time to talk to TJ about the shots that will be included in my feature. He’s been pretty helpful, and made suggestions that I just hadn’t considered before. Taking photos is difficult in Yeoville though, because people either freak out when you point a camera at them (and I am NOT getting stabbed over this) or asked to be paid – again, not a chance! I’ve already made the ‘Hi mom and dad, I love you so SO much and coincidentally am out of money’ phone call once this month.

Off the rumour mill: there may only be three macs for to be shared during editing. Between 17 classmates and 4 groups. In the period of a week that we will be editing. Again, this is not confirmed, but someone told me that today, and I really, really really really REALLY hope it’s not true/is sorted out soon, because if not we’re buggered.

Ending with something happy – this is some graffiti I found in the street today:

Sex is nice

Hope it’s made you smile, because I certainly got a chuckle from it 🙂 Onwards!