Thursday, 31 May 2007

Don't be afraid to discuss racial issues

In the book Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa, Maharaj cites his father’s comment that “the Englishman would stab you in the back while embracing you”, while on the other hand, “(t)he Afrikaner … was transparent about his hatred, so when you engaged with the Afrikaner, he would punch you in the nose up front”. Apart from wondering whether such perceptions are important or can be proven – this led me to consider whether, through the widespread aversion to openly discussing race issues in South Africa, we aren’t stabbing each other in the back.

We are all influenced by racism. As a block white people were put into – and made used to - a dominant position over others over an extended period of time. Black people lost opportunities, own lives or lives of loved ones, resources and basic rights over that same period. Furthermore, as Steve Biko famously noted, black people internalized ideas and distortions about themselves and others.

The space for talking about race in South Africa has shrunk. There seems to be some kind of whitelash against that. It’s as if, for some, discrimination and racial inequality disappeared in April 2004. For such people, the day we christened ourselves “the rainbow nation” was an end point - rather than “a start” and reflecting an aspiration and something to strive for. Some also think, and crazily so, that discussing racial issues is the major concern - the bigger problem - as compared to the feelings and experiences (and perceptions, if you like) of many people of discrimination, inequality and marginalization.

I would like to make the following points about racial matters:

1. Many white folk think that discussion of race is just about them – about their behaviours, conduct and practices. Actually, it is as much about ourselves as black people; it is about dealing with our own issues, complexes, reactions and responses to power relations so that we can move beyond them. It is about the barriers we face at all levels and addressing them openly; for those who have become middle class, successful and affluent, the focus may be on unresolved trauma from past suffering. At another level (at the second level??), it is an issue that affects us all. So, to those whites inclined to muzzle free expression on this issue, I say: don’t be so self-centred to want to prevent others from speaking about race.

2. Discussing and debating racial inequality and racism is not about blame. Many white people, but blacks also, think talking about race issues means remaining in the blame frame. Yet, as Margaret Legum is wont to say, nobody came down the birth canal a racist. Social circumstances and influences, rather than something inherent in any person, shape discriminatory attitudes and the use/abuse of racially-conferred power. In other words, the emphasis should not be on past-related blame; it should fall instead on present understanding, on being aware and on working out what to do from here on. It should revolve around helping us understand how as persons we come across to others and, wherever relevant, to affirm transformed, positive relations between people.

3. We should discuss race precisely because we (or most of us) want to strive for excellence and to see our country moving from good to great. I am all too aware of how impoverished social relations – and seeing the world through racial lenses – hobble South Africa. If this country can remove the barriers and impediments on its people, it can fly.

4. We want to discuss and sort out racial issues because unaddressed racist or discriminatory views and practices undermine quality debate. If we drive the issue of race underground, it pops up – not always at the most appropriate times. And so, some South Africa debates sink to nonsensical levels. At a time when we are discussing measures to address the legacy of the substantial losses endured by black people over decades, a predominantly white political party is likely to jump up and complain about "the race card" or racism in reverse. Nonsensical, if you ask me. In other cases, good ideas and interesting policy suggestions are simply dumped because they were punted by white persons – this at a time when South Africa needs as many people as possible to keep depositing into the bank of innovative ideas that are so sorely needed if we are to find the breakthroughs that we need on so many fronts

I would like to make a couple of references that I hope would throw further light on the issues involved - and perhaps underline the relevance of continuing to bring the question of race to the fore.

The issue of race is not just a South African issue. In a recent Star article entitled Citizens, but still a dead people walking (May 28), reference is made to the lack of national reconciliation between mainstream white society and the Aborigines in Australia. The story is that – despite government spending on programmes for Aborigines – the divide remains mainly because the official government line is to focus on practical measures whereas Aboriginals want recognition of what happened and “healing for past injustice”. In 2000, 250000 Aboriginals marched in Sydney demanding some kind of an apology, but to date have received none.

The Centre for the Study of Violence claims that crime is reracialising society, which may be taken to mean that crime is giving racism new life and impetus in society. We have always had crime in South Africa – what is striking now is the levels of violence and brutality in so much of it. In the 50s, gangsters would injure and kill each other and they would carry out robberies at warehouses and businesses; ordinary people were affected mainly through pick pocketing or being caught in the crossfire. Today unnecessary violence is almost ever-present in crime. We may well ask: is the level of violence linked to the perpetrators’ (both black and white) experiences of growing up in a brutal and violent racist society, and to the dehumanization that has taken place?

There is also reracialisation in the form of “racial profiling” around crime. In our fear, it is easy to stereotype large groups of people, and in South Africa today young black men bear the brunt. They often suffer a new form of prejudice and discrimination at the hands of people in the upmarket malls and the suburbs – unfairly so, given that all population groups are involved in crime and only a tiny minority of any population are criminals.

It is not just black people who are keen on probing the extent to which race still bedevils society. Recently commentators such as Theresa Oakley-Smith (see Anger brewing among blacks in The Star, May 15) and Bryan Rostron (see Joining the dots between alarm systems, scavengers and SUVs in Business Day, May 9) have surfaced their concern. Rostron comments on life in the suburbs and how black people are viewed; he laments the pervasive habit of “appraising people from the colour of their skin, not as an individual, but as an incarnation of an aggregate …”

I believe that there is only one human race and I shun the idea of “races”. At the same time, I believe the phenomenon of racism is all too real. I further hold that cultural differences and diversity (something essential and valuable for the survival of the human race) have often been poisoned by perverse power relations and by unjust economic arrangements. Taking the view that there is only one race – the human race – allows us to understand our ultimate inter-dependence in striving for a better society, better social cohesion and positive inter-group relations.

Finally, I believe our society is not so fragile that we cannot afford to open up discussion on racial injustice and unresolved racial issues. Despite fierce debates and occasional clashes, there are strong bonds between people of different backgrounds. (This is the case even in conservative rural areas; there are always real human linkages between the hard dividing lines.) The social capital in South Africa, although eroded, is not depleted. Our robust debates, spats and constant sparring are like family life; despite the “fights” and heated arguments, South Africans know they belong together and remain united on many major issues, and as we face the world. This is what leads me to believe that we have no need to be terrified about mention of the R word; that on balance, we are strong enough to embrace, rather than flee from, debate on racial issues.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Qunta wrong to attack Gordimer

Passing judgement without reading the book? Or is Qunta's intervention an example of venting rage on an arbitrarily chosen target and reducing rational discussion of important issues to diatribe and noise? Guest contributor Karen Lazar responds to Christine Qunta's recent newspaper piece, "Author's a colonial construction."

In putting herself in cosy public alliance with Ronald Suresh Roberts in her comment article, "Author's a colonial construction" (The Star, May 9) on the basis of inaccuracy and misreading, Christine Qunta calls her own comments into question. She perpetuates the misrepresentations of the writings and social vision of Nadine Gordimer.

One of Qunta's most outrageous claims is that Gordimer and her "friends in the white liberal elite" were irritated by Roberts because he is "one of those natives who does not know his place".

This sort of portraiture merely reinforces the biographer's aggrieved self-marketing. Moreover, this is a rank distortion of the complexities of the breaches of trust which played out in the publication of No Cold Kitchen.

Qunta implicitly claims - wholly mysteriously - to share with Roberts a knowledge of "Gordimer as she really is", all the while citing her pieces out of context and embarrassingly selectively.

Since Qunta cannot know Gordimer but can only generalise speciously about her, this "comment" is as "unscientific" as that which Qunta lays at the author's door.

Qunta's biggest error is to grant herself the right to pass judgment on Gordimer on the basis of Roberts' book, rather than on Gordimer's books; the three to four pages of which she has read are hardly an adequate platform from which to make racially inflected sideswipes.

The tortured longevity and brutalities arising out of the faultlines of colonialism and apartheid have occupied none other than Gordimer for six decades, with a scrupulous, humane, and self-scrutinising pen: across 13 novels, hundreds of short stories and hundreds of critical essays and addresses. The white liberalism Qunta lumps Gordimer in, has also been one of her subjects of critique and enquiry.

Qunta would do well to do some substantial independent research next time before turning her boredom into journalistic diatribe.

Karen Lazar

For my review of Roberts' biography of Gordimer, No Cold Kitchen, visit See also the letter by the Minister of Defence, M. Lekota, entitled Which Gordimer is Qunta talking about?, The Star, 17 May 2007. FM.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Celebrating the people of Africa

The 25 May is Africa Day. As this day is celebrated, I would urge/dare you to do one or more of the following:

- Spend 5 minutes or more reflecting on something great about the continent.
- Buy some music from Africa: what about getting the music of Angelique Kidjo, a compilation album from Richard Nwambe or the album Africa, The Essential Album which features the sounds of Salif Keita, Baba Maal and Fela Kuti?
- Grab a bite of something from elsewhere in Africa – find a place near you that serves authentic food from another country or, if you you have no alternative, purchase a heat-and-eat “Moroccan” meal from Woolworths.
- Buy a book by someone who writes in a riveting way about people, “place” and lifestyles in a part of Africa that is unfamiliar to you.
- Contact the Johannesburg-based Film Resource Unit - which aims to nurture an audience for African film - and borrow one of their titles.

Africa is a place teeming with diverse people, it is a festival of different cultures and it boasts abundant colour, vibrancy, sounds and unique ways of looking at the world. It has immense cultural, spiritual and social wealth. But beyond this, you may ask, what are the signs of progress, future-orientation and dynamism in Africa?

Looking at the continent these days, one can see many changes that bode well for the future. We can note:
- The new institutions - for example the African Union and the African Parliament - as well as reinvigorated regional bodies.
- The Nepad initiative - although this programme has lost out on promised development funds from G8 countries as the West’s interest became diverted by 9/11 and the Iraq war.
- Despite the conflict zones, the sustained peace in most regions and democracy is alive and thriving in most countries.
- A new sense of hope, stoked in no small way by South Africa’s liberation and the efforts of South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki to fire up a regeneration.

Of course, the hope is not grounded enough in - or sufficiently backed up by - actions, activities and programmes on the ground. There are not enough breakthroughs in terms of the way countries use their resources, govern themselves, refresh their national leadership and find ways to build sustainable and vibrant economies.

What is different is the better quality of interaction and relationships between countries in Africa. Countries are hooking up better with each other in mediation efforts, peacekeeping missions, engagement with the G8 and in developing tariff-free economic zones.

Through the Peer Review Mechanism, countries are seeking to develop a shared language about what good practice in government is and beginning to evaluate each other’s performance in terms of stated commitment to certain principles.

By and large, government leaders and office bearers in different countries will today be holding stiff ceremonies marked by solemn speeches. To be sure, such pious commemorations do not sit well with many people.

Nevertheless, this day provides much to think about and celebrate. For example, every day, millions of ordinary people on the continent wake up and begin carving out a living for themselves and their families. They till their fields, make crafts and artifacts, engage in micro-selling, go to formal and informal jobs, assist each other, engage in community activities and care for their children. Through these endeavours, they take forward their quest for a life lived in dignity. They don’t have the luxury of skepticism and fatalism – in fact, for many, if they gave in to pessimism they would be dead.

I celebrate Africa Day mainly as a way of saluting the resilience and determination of the mass of ordinary folk who inhabit the continent. I believe we honour these people by continuing to build, by working with what we have and by taking small actions to make Africa a better place.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Name changes, yes, but more sensitivity and wisdom needed

What's in a name? Does the debacle around name changes contribute to nation building or is it a symptom of the fragmentation of South African society, asks Terry Grove, a guest writer for the blog.

Almost daily there are reports in either the print or electronic media about impending name changes to streets, towns or buildings. Newspapers have spawned articles and their letter pages attests to the public’s interest in the often heated and very emotional subject. Many South Africans are working themselves into a frenzy about this.

Some are mounting challenges in the Constitutional court – Louis Trichardt vs Makhado – and still others are prepared to take up arms to defend what they see as an attack on what they hold dear, as in KwaZulu-Natal.

There have already been protest marches against the renaming of Mangosuthu Highway and Princess Magogo Stadium and unless agreement is reached, the province will be plunged into renewed violence. This is particularly disturbing in the light of the more than 20 000 people that have already died in the province alone due to political intolerance.

The ruling party sends out mixed messages regarding nation building and reconciliation when it comes to name changes. On the one hand you have them bending over backwards to accommodate everyone with the National anthem and retention of the Springbok emblem for the national rugby team.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika has been ruined for quite a number of us. What was wrong with having it translated into 11 languages? Not that I am arguing for it to be sung in all eleven languages. This after all is supposed to be a democracy and surely the people can choose in which language they want to sing the Anthem. Instead we have a badly cobbled, mish-mash of a national anthem that jars when sung.

What is evident is that the ruling party is not reading and interpreting the signs around the very sensitive issue of name changes correctly. Unpalatable decisions are sometimes foisted on the nation with scant regard to the long term damage. There is a pretense at consultation and inclusivity. How many citizens know how the South African Geographical Names Council works? We do not even know who serves on that committee and how they came to be elected.

That there should be street, place and building name changes, there is no doubt. But the whole process should be handled with more sensitivity, insight and consideration. Of course, we do not want the villains (of all stripes) of the past and present to be immortalized. But we certainly want the heroes and heroines of all camps, colours and creeds to be honoured. This is part of nation building.

We are also mindful that the mistakes and injustices of the past should not be repeated. In the bad old days, so called ‘black spots’ were excised and maps redrawn. These were not only name changes, people were forcibly removed from places like Sophiatown and District Six and the towns were renamed Triomf and Zonnebloem. People are still bearing the emotional scars and pain of the forced removals and having place names wiped off the national map.

Then there is the name of our country the Republic of South Africa. Why do we not have a referendum about changing the name of our country? At present it denotes a location or direction but certainly does not do justice to us as a nation. We have many examples of painless country name changes in our immediate vicinity, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi and Zambia to name just a few.

Is the nation building project being abandoned for short term political gains?

Terry Grove

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Time to do something about Zim

It is now high time we did something about Zim. With hyperinflation, iron-fist action by police and the apparent free rein of mysterious "third force"-type squads, it is time we say "enough is enough".

I have heard the arguments that go some way to helping us understand the tolerance of many South Africans to the situation up there.

I even relate to some of these viewpoints. Remember Bob (the man that fought bravely in the Rhodesian liberation war) who in 1980 inaugurated the new country with that other Bob (Marley) whose music was a veritable soundtrack to anti-colonisation and anti-oppression struggles everywhere. That inauguration was a golden moment, one hard to remember now. Recall also that many promises were made to Mugabe by the West - how they would assist with loads of dollars and pounds (especially pounds, given who the colonising party was) to help the new state, inter alia with land reform. Of course (and this is what shapes the South African government's official view) the West reneged. The upshot was major fiscal problems (by then Zimbabwe, counting on the injection of these "reparation" or transitional funds, had begun to roll out major social delivery programmes). When the cutbacks on social spending began (as they had to, and as the World Bank and IMF dictated), civil society organisations and trade unions - responding to community and worker discontent - began to organise and mobilise against the government. The MDC was thus born out of such realities obtaining in the second decade of Zim independence. While the story is only complete if we also grapple with aspects such as the Matabeleland Massacre, the dictator-style control of Zanu PF, and the scandalous "farms-for-pals" practice (none imposed by, or linked to, macro pressures), we must take seriously this reference to the role of key Western governments and the ultra-powerful global bodies in Zimbabwe's crisis.

But valid as these perspectives are, it is now time to say "enough" to the way that that troubled country is run and to the battering of human rights there. We cannot remain stuck in the mode of "understanding" Mugabe. He has failed utterly as a leader and has absolutely no vision about where to take his country from here. Leaders seldom get ideal situations; they are supposed to provide insight, inspiration and a capacity to unite people precisely at a time of greatest hardship and adversity. Furthermore, Mugabe has overseen a string of injustices and human rights abuses - and the list of violations will grow the longer he remains in power. Thus I say: as valid as the understanding of the historical context is, millions of ordinary people are suffering in the present, and the imperative is to end the distress and torment sooner rather than later.

Of course, although I plead for us to stop being so passive and noncommittal, I do recognise that there are limits to what we can do, especially given that Zimbabwe has a democratically elected government. As South Africans, we are generally not advocates of effecting regime change in other people's countries. As government has said repeatedly since 1994, we have no fantasies of being the continents' bully boys, the USA of Africa, nor the Sheriff of the SADCC region. Consequently, it would be folly to campaign for our government to launch some spectacular military invasion.

But we can act; we can "be there" for the people of Zimbabwe; we can ensure that we do not - by our neutrality and disinterest - help to prolong Bad Bob's stay.

I believe we should support the progressive and democratic forces and the people of Zim. There should be regular on-site visits from SA - so that we undermine attempts to filter news and to cast a blanket of secrecy over the actions of Mugabe's stormtroopers. Such visits should be ongoing and should involve different groups - civil society, the "tripartite" alliance, parliamentarians, faith groups, etc.

Through such actions, ordinary Zimbabweans should get to know that their neighbours in the region care and that they are not forgotten. The ruling party and government in Zimbabwe will be made aware that other people are on hand to see for themselves what is happening and to disseminate accurate information.

In addition, such delegations should, wherever possible, work to create a conducive climate for reasonable and truthful deliberation in Zimbabwe about a way forward. Delegations from SA could encourage dialogue between key groups in Zimbabwe about a credible, realistic and meaningful change process that involves all stakeholders. We should be acting as a catalyst for real engagement, and - using our own experience of democratic and inclusive consultations of major political change - tackle and expose excuses by any party opposed to such a negotiated solution.

Put differently, South Africans must have a presence (there), and through such a presence be a voice of reason and a source of moral support to democratic groups seeking an urgent and decisive way forward out of the crisis. It is to be hoped that having good emissaries visiting Zimbabwe would reduce the space for the Zimbabwean government to act brutally and provide some protection for civil society groups who are organising for change. Also, being there will be a mechanism for giving South Africans up-to-date feedback - lest we have forgetful spells - about the harsh and repressive realities of Zimbabwean life.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Lets get greater value from the name-change process

Is there any chance we can approach the name-change process with a bit more creativity and imagination?

The phenomenon of changes to street names, as well as renaming of urban jurisdictions and key landmarks, is gathering momentum and may be with us for some time still. It is part of a process in which black populations are making urban spaces less alienating. Through this process they (/we) are recreating their relationship to the world around them (/us). While not denying the friction that flares up and the possibility of political mishandling of the process, the new names increase our sense of being in Africa and help to make us more in touch with ourselves as a country.

In the end, names touch on (as the urban specialist might say) the highly contested but critical questions of space, place and identity - and their interrelationship.

But can we do the thing in a way that we gets much more value out of the process? For example, can we not use the name-change process as a springboard for getting communities to engage, interact and dialogue with each other?

Ask any individual what their name means to them and where it comes from, and – more than likely – you will immediately find yourself on a deep level of discussion. Scale this up, and you can see the potential for engagement between communities and between generations. What could we achieve if we didn’t just put the new signage up and carry on as if nothing has happened – if we instead continued to talk about these names, why they are important, and how the renaming links to the future we are trying to build? Of course, an inclusive discussion would look at pre-existing names also (and, by the way, the majority of street names will remain unchanged), at which of these names are important to certain communities and the nature of affirmation received by such communities from certain "old" names.

Of course it is difficult to get effective and meaningful inter-community discussion going in a land where different population groups still live parallel lives in cities and towns. It is also tricky because – in the lead-up to adoption of the new names – adversarialism, negativity and mobilization of ethnic fears have been the order of the day, especially in major cities. But when the dust has settled in a particular town or city, can we not use television and radio, particularly community orientated broadcasting stations, to openly share the stories, past experiences and hopes for the future that are associated with these names?

I have also wondered why towns don’t do more to tell the rest of South Africa that they have undergone a name change. Until I worked in the southern part of Limpopo in the last two years, I had no idea that Naboomspuit had become Mookgopong, Potgietersrus had become Makopane and Nylstroom had become Modimolle. My reasoning is: why adopt a new name if you are not proud enough to want to broadcast it from the rooftops? Why don’t the towns invest a little money and get the message out provincially or nationally?

Furthermore, small towns should be far more creative in selecting names. Focusing only on honouring a handful of struggle titans in the renaming process – as some towns have done – is devoid of imagination. It also leads to strange results. For example, until recently when the Johannesburg International Airport was named after him, Oliver Tambo – the man whose extraordinary leadership was key to keeping the struggle ethically and tactically on track – was almost completely neglected in the renaming process. And Miriam Makeba has received the short end of the stick: she is acknowledged only through a side street in Newtown – completely underplaying her telling impact in terms of communicating the moods, feelings and aspirations of the anti-apartheid cause to a world audience in the exile years.

There are 285 municipalities (each with numerous roads and streets, including the ones in local residential areas) in South Africa. As names are reviewed, there are numerous opportunities for ensuring we salute more equitably and effectively the hard-core political stalwarts of the struggle. There is equally sufficient scope for acknowledging various other categories of people who contributed to the birth of freedom, boosted community resilience and/or inspired people through their achievements despite the odds.

Maybe – just maybe – we can use the renaming process to salvage a sense of shared history from the ruins of the past. That is, provided we keep open the lines of communication on why these name changes are important, what the new names mean and why they might play a role in healing the nation.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Is Zille another Tony or will she do a better job?

So, Helen Zille has beaten the contenders and ascended to the DA throne. One or two of my women friends - when I asked them whether Zille’s win was a coup for women - say she is like Tony Leon in many ways. One of them referred to her as “a clone” of Leon, which I think is a bit harsh. But I can see where they are coming from. Zille styles herself as being as hard as nails, and takes a tough aggressive line on many matters. Which is why the cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (aka Zapiro) has nicknamed her Godzille.

At the same time, I believe Zille is different from Tony in some (important) ways. Leon could never understand that the official opposition role is not about hating the ruling party. Of course you must be passionate, but constantly foaming at the mouth is not an indispensable requirement of the opposition role. Being an effective opposition party may be much more about compelling alternatives (facts), substantiation (data) and cogent criticism of flawed government programmes that have negative impacts on the largest segments of the public (incisive). In SA, where millions of people have an emotional attachment to the ruling party, and where racial patterns define support for political parties, it makes even more sense to get off the emotive wagon. In this sense, Helen Zille appears to be different.

Zille is different also in that she not only demonstrates “reaching out” to other communities (by her use of different languages); she also appears to be less likely to make crass rejections of policies such as Employment Equity. She has the good sense to know that such policies are the flicker of hope to many black people, although of course for millions (the unemployed, for example) such policies are a mirage.

What does Zille stand for with regard to women’s rights and gender? Zille generally does not want to be drawn on this issue. In one of her interviews on the day of her election to the top position, all she would say was that women can be whatever they want to be (what does this mean?) and that women “are taking their rightful place” in all spheres of society.

While we are used to the spectacle of men competing to see who can pee farthest, one would have thought Zille and Patricia de Lille would show greater willingness and ability to work co-operatively. But no, Zille seems to be very competitive in relation to de Lille. The game seems to be: Who will be queen of the (opposition) castle? But many of us don’t care who is more loved by the media. The point really is to be effective and to take actions that lead to the country’s improvement and advancement.

In relation to her role in the Cape Town government, Zille has outfoxed the ANC in building a coalition. As mayor, she brought stability to the Metro government. But for the rest, she has not moved far out of the starting blocks. She has not (yet) rolled back the huge and specific problems of Cape Town: high inequality, rampant gangs in poor communities, constantly burgeoning informal settlements, the racial control structure of tourism and the arts and poor race relations between the people of Cape Town. For her, the jury is still out with regard to her performance on the burning urban issues in the piece of land she governs.

Even though I don’t think she is an inspirational leader (in the light of the fact that SA needs breakthrough ideas), Zille should be congratulated on snatching the DA leadership. Politics is a tough and rough game and she had the gumption to win. I remain very open to seeing what she can do.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Motsei's unique take on the Zuma rape trial

A review of The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court: Reflections on the Rape Trial of Jacob Zuma, by Mmastshilo Motsei.

Although The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court is not yet selling like hot cakes and there are signs that the book suffers from being hurried through the publishing process, this is a very important book. It is clear that Motsei is a compelling voice and has a unique perspective on what is happening in South Africa.

The punchiest part of the book is in the earlier pages where, under the heading 'Zuma, moral regeneration and sexual violence', she almost addresses Zuma directly. One can almost hear her saying: You were the voice and figurehead of the Moral Regeneration Movement, for heaven’s sake. You also know that Zulu culture expects you to act like a father and protector to this person. And did you not consider what would happen if your multitude of male supporters opted for condomless sex because they followed your strange logic of “a slim chance” of getting the virus? Motsei goes on to argue that Zuma’s actions reflect thoughts, attitudes and practices that exist in broader society. In this regard, the Zuma trial represented – for her and the nation – a kind of a life shock; it was time for all South Africans to reflect on our part, or our collusion in, the processes of moral decay.

The text swings between the actual court case (its actors and its impact) to context. This context is the global manifestations of patriarchy as well as South Africa's transformation challenges. So if you are going to read this book, prepare for a rollercoaster ride, with diversions and surprise digressions.

Motsei’s describes a world of horror that women live in, one in which they are relentlessly haunted by violence, pain and discrimination. From birth to the grave, women face violence and hardship as a consequence of being female.

She points out that if children survive sex-selection abortion, they go on to face child abuse, genital mutilation, trafficking and forced marriages. “Once they reach adulthood, they are faced with unequal access to …. opportunities, sexual harassment, marital rape, STDs predisposing them to HIV, and possible death resulting in complications from childbirth. If they survive sex slavery and terrorism and reach old age, they are scorned for no longer being receptacles of men’s sexual desires. If their husbands die first, they may be accused of witchcraft or suffer abuse as widows.”

This may be laying it on a bit thick (not all women in all contexts experience all of these afflictions), but she succeeds in driving home the picture: it is rough out there for women, with females being infinitely more at risk than men.

Motsei probes some of these unjust practices against women, how they work and the beliefs that underpin them. There is a chapter setting out in fairly gory detail phenomena such as infanticide, dowry deaths, female mutilation, and honour killings.

She furthermore draws out the double standards and mixed expectations faced by women. Traditionalists view women as good (emphasizing their mother role, however); at the same time, they are viewed as evil temptresses that must be controlled. Referring to the root of many of the violent practices against women, she notes: “The women is the bearer of cross of morality, while the man is allowed to sow his wild seeds as widely as his organ can reach while (in many cultures) expecting to marry a women whose body is regarded as 'pure'".

According to Motsei, violence against women takes particular forms in times of war. In this sense, militarism is bad news for women. She draws the link between the penis and the gun - and notes that men seem out of control on both fronts. And so she asks: “(I)magine racist South Africa invading Botswana, penetrating ANC camps with a cocked machine gun but second before ejaculating a spray of bullets stopped to ask the question: is it okay if I ejaculate into you?” She wonders whether this explains “why we are living on the edge expecting to be wiped out by erect weapons of mass destruction poised at the point of no return but with no option but to ejaculate”.

Motsei condemns the singing of the freedom song “Umshini wam” (my machine gun) as irresponsible in the context of the country’s gun control problems and immense sexual violence challenges.

The book does not recap details of the court case as such; its business is the wider implications for gender justice and morality that flow from the trial.

Motsei reserves high praise for Khwezi (not her real name), the complainant in the rape case, for proceeding with a rape charge against one of the most powerful persons in South Africa. In Kanga, Motsei is less concerned with the legalities of consent (during the sex act in question) and more preoccupied with moral culpability. She holds Zuma accountable for having had sex with “a women young enough to be his daughter who is not only HIV positive but who, because of historical and cultural reasons, holds him in awe”. As a father figure to Khwezi, she notes, Zuma had a moral duty “to exercise control over his sexual urges” and he should be aware that tradition “encourages … non biological parents to take communal responsibility for the material, psychological and moral well-being of every child in their community”.

For the rest, Motsei uses The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court as a vehicle to deliver a wide range of insights and pithy observations. For example:

·- She calls for a “national cleansing campaign” to deal with the rapes that occurred during the liberation war. As far as she is concerned, this issue is still haunting the nation.
·- The role of women as healers is not recognized enough in South Africa. She argues that, arising from her research, women are the ones who talk to the spirits during rituals and, in Venda, Tswana, Pedi and Sotho cultures, speak to ancestors on behalf of the community.
·- She warns that putting women in leadership roles in itself is not enough. Such moves need to be complemented by a mindset that values alternative ways of leading including “intuitive thinking … (and) collaboration not competition”
·- She lambasts religion for the role it plays in the oppression of women. She slams the religious view that “a good women is not only submissive and peaceful but also willing to sacrifice herself and her life for others” and takes strong exception to the biblical notion that paints single women as “immoral concubines”, “harlots” and seducers of men.
·- She sides with the view that culture, especially when treated as something static, often aids and abets women's oppression.
·- She rails against the view that “women ask for rape by the way they dress” and links this to a wider tendency to blame the oppressed for the consequences of their oppression.
·- She calls for a review of the relationship between white and black women, questioning the leading role played by white women in policy development and knowledge production in the quest to end gender violence. She is leery of approaches and paradigms that regard “white culture as the main event and relegate indigenous wisdom to the fringes”. With respect to research into masculinity, she wonders how such studies will represent black men and deal with the imperative of rebuilding the black family when “most of the subjects are black men from the ghetto and villages responding to … questions posed by white scholars”.
·- Her concern for young black young men is palpable. Drawing from her research in Alexandra township, she notes that many of them struggle with shunning a life of crime especially when they get an impression, from their observations of adult behaviour and widespread reports about corruption, that “everyone is doing it”.
·- Regarding crime, Motsei says there is a certain futility in dealing with crime by only focusing on putting more criminals behind bars. What is needed as much as nailing and jailing baddies, she argues, is a focus “on an internal process to build people’s capacities to live their lives in best possible economic, cultural and spiritual ways in order to render crime unnecessary”. In this regard, urgent attention should be paid to “healing the moral and spiritual wounds in our communities”.

Towards the end of the book, Motsei turns her attention to the justice system. She is highly critical of the way the justice system works. Motsei wants a justice system that would bring about healing of individuals, families and communities and advocates incorporating such concepts from indigenous justice and law into our legal system.

She also questions the use of experts in court cases. She wonders why traditional leaders or African elders were not subpoenaed to verify Zuma’s interpretation of Zulu culture and sex. She also questions the courts' reliance on psychologists with good academic training but who may have gaps in terms of crossing language barriers and relating to traditional cultural norms.

Motsei as a commentator packs a powerful punch, but she is also a humanist and a spiritualist. Although scathing in her criticism of Zuma, she does not go for the jugular. She writes that she is not implacably opposed to him becoming president(of the country) because she still harbours a hope that he will find his inner light and a capacity to “lead with truth”. Despite her perturbed mood, she spurns apathy and exhorts us to look to the future and not be disillusioned as a result of “one man’s inability to act appropriately as an elder and a leader”.

But I need to alert you: The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court is not an easy read. Motsei is neither linear in her writing nor does she miss any opportunity to digress. It is not always easy for the reader to keep up with the conceptual leaps and diversions. Also, Kanga could have benefited from tighter editing. On the one hand, Motsei will always write in the way she does, making numerous cross-references and giving expression to her belief in the connectedness of all things. In this regard, it would be counter-productive for publishers to go to extremes in enforcing conformity, particularly since Motsei's writing is unique precisely because she continuously interrelates various dimensions - the cultural, spiritual, political, gender and the psychosocial - in her social-change commentary.

On the other hand, in a book as complex as this, some 'pulling together' would have increased the sense of wholeness, of unity and coherence. For example, although this was done in one or two instances, the reader could have been provided with better clues as to what Motsei was attempting to do with chapters or major subsections. The writer could also have been induced to indulge us readers with some kind of summative section at the beginning or tail-end of the book, one which looked at the entire contents and which responded to the question, "So what am I saying?"

But one gets the impression the publishers wanted the book to hit the streets fast, while memories of that famous court case was still very fresh.

Nevertheless, I strongly recommend this book; reading it will deepen your understanding of South Africa and the big social change challenges it faces.