The official statement.
Over the past three weeks, there has been a national and international uproar about what has now come to be known as “the tipgate scandal” – a scandal that has existed more in people’s heads and media headlines, than in actual reality. NTOKOZO QWABE seeks to set the record straight.
All of this was sparked by a political note passed over to a white waitress, Ashleigh Schultz, by two black activists at Obz Cafe in Cape Town reading: “WE WILL GIVE TIP WHEN YOU RETURN THE LAND.” As accused number one, I have deliberately decided not to engage the plethora of media requests that have followed since because I did not see the value of entering into protracted media battles about this incident. This was driven by my own previous experiences in which the media showed more interest in furthering its own preconceived narratives than discerning facts.
However, events over the past three weeks have unfolded in a manner I could have least expected.
My name has been dragged in both national and international media platforms. I have been called a “racist”, a “criminal”, a “bully”, a “dick”, among other scathing names. On return to Oxford, I was summoned to the office of the Senior Dean at my college – in order to discuss my “health and safety within the college, and Oxford more generally” – following a flow of death threats and safety hazards directed at violating my bodily integrity. These death threats have intensified after Oxford rejected a petition signed by thousands to have me expelled from the university, and a plethora of expulsion requests lodged with the university Proctors. A counter-petition to keep me at Oxford was started but I advised that it be closed down within a few hours because I did not want to participate in the back and forth squabbles. Many people have since indicated their intention to lodge cases of hate speech against me at the South African Human Rights Commission. Various online platforms have been opened to plot my “expulsion”/ “fall”.
What amazes me about this whole storm is that very little of it is based on events as they occurred in actual reality.
The media reporting has been riddled with factual inaccuracies, distortions and blatant lies. I have tried to get my uncensored views out there via my Facebook as I normally do when misrepresented by the media but my accounts have been repeatedly reported to, and blocked by Facebook. One account has now been permanently (and illegally) disabled by Facebook without reason, while the other one (opened thereafter) continues to be reported and blocked. I am currently banned for seven days as I write this. The censorship has been as alarming. So too is the absence of condemnation from those who have repeatedly accused me -and others in the student movement I am part of – of being anti-free speech. Yet again, we have been reminded that there is, in reality, no freedom of speech in a black body – just what (white) people in power allow. It is within this context that I have taken to this platform to air my unedited views and reflections. I feel compelled to set a few things straight about the incident that sparked tipgate.
On the note being written by “RMF leader – Ntokozo Qwabe” and trans erasure
It is simply not true that the political note on the bill was written by “Rhodes Must Fall leader – Ntokozo Qwabe”.
Firstly, the Rhodes Must Fall movement (RMF) both at the University of Cape Town and at the University of Oxford is an unstructured movement that has neither “leaders” nor a permanent membership. The movement does not, and cannot be expected to take responsibility for actions carried out by every person who might have – either through public engagement or organising – identified with it from time to time. To the extent of my involvement in this saga, I was not acting in an RMF capacity, and definitely not as its “leader”. Secondly, as a simple reading of the post which ignited this whole furore shows, the political act was in fact by a non-binary transgender black activist who had accompanied me. While I am happy to take full responsibility for the act, and fully endorse it, the erasure of the trans black activist from the narrative -both from those who have denounced the act, as well as those who have praised is as a legitimate political act – has been concerning.
I hope that one day, hopefully soon, they get to narrate and put out their own version of events on this story.
Sadly, I am not surprised that, in seeking to craft an inaccurate representation of me, the media has totally ignored the explicit indication in the post that gave rise to tipgate, that the act was not mine.
As the Trans Collective has pointed out, one of the ways in which trans invisibility and erasure has taken place in the current student movement, and in similar movements of the past, has been through the media’s obsession over certain – mostly cisgender, heterosexual and male personalities within the movement – a trend some of us, including myself, have unfortunately pandered to, and will have to take responsibility for going forward.
There is a constant attempt being made to obfuscate the issues the movement raises by focusing on particular personalities and assassinating their character. Indeed, there has been a constant singling out of myself in particular to convey the message that I am somehow a “hysterical”, “intimidating” and “aggressive” person. This has been going on for months now, and reached its zenith at the beginning of this year when the Sunday Times and other British media outlets attempted to align me with ISIL – by suggesting that a Facebook post I had put up refusing to change my profile picture to the French flag following the Paris attacks last year somehow indicated that I was sympathetic to the terrorist group. In actual reality however, it was less an expression of solidarity with ISIL that drove me to my position, but more the global buffoonery of using a symbol of historical French imperial and colonial terrorism and genocide to express an anti-terrorist position. I still stand by that sentiment.
The purpose of these misrepresentations of character has apparently been to create a nonexistent impression that I am some “bully” – after which ideas articulated by the movement I am part of are to be supposedly delegitimised. I am not a bit shaken by this obfuscation, and nor is the movement I am part of. We are well aware of the historical and racist trend of white people branding liberation movements constituted by people of colour as “terrorist”, and are not at all surprised that it is now our time to face this music.
The trend is not new.
Even white people’s black darling Nelson Mandela, whose status as the voice and God of all black people before the altar of whiteness dwindles by the day as frustrated young black people challenge the wrongly sanitised, if not deified, representation of his legacy in South Afrika, was once branded by white western establishments as a terrorist for resisting the apartheid government. Ours is a mission to continue delivering our message despite all this until the substance of the issues we are raising is addressed.
On the “RMF group bullying and intimidation of a poor white waitress”
It is not true that there was “a mob” of RMF people shouting, “We want the land!” to a poor white waitress – whom they bullied and intimidated. The so-called “RMF group” was just the trans black activist and myself. I am not quite sure how two tiny black bodies came to constitute a whole threatening group capable of bullying someone? Again, this media lie must be seen for what it is – an ongoing attempt at demonisation by depicting those who are associated with the student movement as “threatening”, “violent” and “fascist”. This is exactly why we have repeatedly been compared to the Taliban and to ISIL , and been branded as terrorists in mainstream South Afrikan, British and other global media platforms. None of us are moved by this.
In fact, the constant, conniving media slander has been a grave travesty for those of us committed to the constitutional principle of media and press freedom.
What media houses need to realise is that nobody wins when this freedom is constantly abused in the manner it has repeatedly been in (mis)representing the student movement. If anything, these abuses further delegitimise the important project of media freedom in the eyes of ordinary citizens, and open it to undue attack from opportunists whose mission is to wield power free from the kind of open contestation and debate that is supposed to shape a vibrant constitutional democracy.
As indicated at the impromptu presser I held at a dinner organised by my leader Gugu Selela and other comrades in Johannesburg two weeks or so ago, a crucial conversation is needed about the responsibility of the media to report in ways that guard and protect the long term project of media freedom in South Afrika, and perhaps globally. This, however, is a conversation for another day.
On the act being “rude’, “spiteful” and a moment of being “a dick”
The act was not “rude”, “spiteful” or a moment of being “a dick” as many have suggested. As activists involved in the student movement, we are not interested in the politics of dickism. We are not dickists. Far from being a reactionary moment of spite, the political act was an outcome of lengthy political discussion the trans black activist and I had been having about what it means to exist in a trans black body in a South Afrikan context where black people are a landless, dispossessed and impoverished mass. As was generously explained to Ashleigh and her colleagues, the note was not about her but about disrupting whiteness in a Cape Town restaurant space that remains largely inaccessible to black people, in a city where filthy white wealth exists alongside depressing black poverty. As I made it explicit in the post that birthed this whole scandal, the act was unambiguously about tabling the issue of land and wealth (which still lie in the hands of a white minority) in that white space – seeing that South Afrika had been celebrating “Freedom Day” just the day before.
The suggestion that this was a moment of spite directed at “bullying” Ashleigh is as nonsensical as the suggestion that she cried. It would seem that many missed or deliberately ignored the figurative use of the words “crying” and “white tears” to denote the white fragility and discomfort displayed by Ashleigh and her colleagues in response to the political act. It should have been obvious from the post that I used these words figuratively and not literally from my indication that other white people in the restaurant “also annoyed us with their white tears”. Did people really think all these other people in that restaurant were literally crying? Wow! As a matter of fact, Ashleigh did NOT cry.
Many journalists who have actually contacted Obz Cafe have asked me many a time about this, and all I have said in response is, “Duh, no one said she actually cried in the first place – go and read what I actually posted.” Had other journalists been doing more than policing my Facebook pages for news, maybe this would have been clearer. In any event, even if Ashleigh had literally cried, we would have to have a serious conversation about what it means for a white person to cry when black people table the important and outstanding issue of land and wealth in South Afrika today.
On the act being “racist”
The act was not “racist”.
Firstly, there is no way that I can be “racist” as some of my best friends are white.
Secondly, one of the ways in which racism entrenches itself in modern society is in the erroneous belief in the myth of black racism against white people – sometimes called “reverse racism”. As one of my favourite writers, TO Molefe, outlines here, the concept of black racism, as I would say “female sexism”, is “the fictional invention of disingenuous people who care neither for reality nor what is just”. An example of this illusionary concept in motion is this cartoon here lamenting both what happened with Ashleigh and Matthew Theunissen referring to black people as “kaffirs” in a Facebook post as “racist hate speech”. This treatment of the two incidents as being the same is further validated by pieces from supposed academics like this one from Professor Jonathan Jansen. Thankfully, Professor Jansen’s recent retirement as Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the University of Free State should be a final nail in the coffin to his ongoing irrelevance to our public discourse on racism.
Aside from pointing out the fun I am going to have representing myself before the South African Human Rights Commission – being a supposed “Oxford law graduate” and all should these allegations of hate speech against me become something more than meaningless white rants and asinine pastimes of aged academics, I need to get a few things out of the way about the way we understand racism in South Afrika, and our disappointing failure to develop a coherent theory of racism over the past few decades.
There is this myopic view, sometimes validated by certain liberal understandings, which reduces racism to exchanges of unkind words between people of varying melanin content. Thus, our political acts calling for the return of plundered land and wealth from white people are equated with white people calling us “kaffirs” as the cartoon and piece from Jansen above do. This view must be seen for what it is – an attempt to water down what actual racism is, and to stifle efforts towards dismantling it. Indeed, once “black people can be racist too”, racism in all its viciousness becomes a frivolity– something that is anything and everything. We are then, as a result, clouded from seeing how actual racism as a system of oppression continues unabated in social, political, economic and other institutions of power.
Racism as a phenomenon did not emerge in words, and does not exist in its continuity in words either. In fact, words have always been almost irrelevant except so far as they validate systemic violations shaped by historically skewed distributions of power. A useful piece on understanding this, which is compulsory reading for anyone genuinely interested in understanding racism, is this brilliant “note on race and racism” by TO Molefe. The reason why words like “nigger”, “kaffir” and all other such terms that dehumanise black people came to be offensive wasn’t because they were nasty words. It was because they were words used to categorise people, treat them as non-human, and exploit them because they were non-beings. This is why simply ceasing to use these words without addressing the exploitative social conditions they accompanied is futile and will never end racism. This is also why those who have applied themselves to thinking about racism as a phenomenon resist any notion of it that ignores its ideological and material genesis in the white supremacist processes of slavery, apartheid colonialism and ongoing neo-colonialism that have come to shape how global power is currently organised. I insist that black acts directed at challenging the racist white kyriarchal system that is an outcome of these processes cannot be equated with “racism” – as if relations between black people and white people within this unjust system are symmetrical.
Black people cannot be racist against white people in a society whose institutions remain fundamentally imperialist, colonialist and white supremacist. This is why many of us insist that we are not willing to talk about “black racism” at least until the process of decolonisation has been completed globally, and racial historical wrongs have been repaired. I believe that this is what all those of us who claim to be committed to justice should commit to. It is no doubt a mammoth task but small steps have already been, and continue to be, taken. It is exactly in honour of this commitment that Oxford’s Oriel College, responding to our ongoing activism, recently committed to setting aside money for reparatory scholarships for Afrikans , from which Cecil Rhodes looted the money he “donated” to them. It is to this commitment that students at Jesus College at Cambridge University recently voted to give the looted bronze cockerel in its college back to Nigeria . This commitment is the reason why a United Nations expert working group recently recommended that America should pay reparations for slavery in this United Nations Decade for People of African Descent. It is only through reversing and or repairing historical wrongs in these ways that we can build a truly just society where those who live the consequences of these wrongs can heal and build a dignified future. It is my honest belief that we will only dismantle racism, sexism, and all other forms of domination when we do this hard work instead of wasting our energies pandering to fictions of “racism against whites”, “sexism against men” and all other such nonexistent phenomena.
On the question of class
This incident was not about class, and the bullying of an innocent white worker. That it has been made about class has mostly been a result of an inability to comprehend that the political act was not about Ashleigh or the fact of her being a waitress. As a person who has worked first as a “trolley boy”, then as a till packer and lastly as a cashier at a supermarket for a substantial period of time, where I was reliant on tips from customers, tips, I should add, that were nowhere close to what Ashleigh gets in a restaurant – they were usually more like anything from 10c to R2, if anything at all. I know exactly what it means to be in a position of “an exploited worker”. Of course this is something I had to think about before endorsing this as a political act. Far from being the unthinking, privileged and elitist asshole which the media has made me out to be, I am very much aware of the kinds of exploitation working class people experience.
I have existed in a position far worse than Ashleigh for most of my life myself. But, for the umpteenth time, none of what happened was about Ashleigh.
And it has been hilarious seeing white people create the illusion of her as an exploited white worker to justify the ridiculous amounts of money they have poured her way since. As a working class, black person born during apartheid who still lives in an apartheid “homeland” in Northern KwaZulu-Natal and in an apartheid “township” when in the city (because so called “democracy” has changed little for me and my people), and who had to fund my studies doing supermarket work as outlined above, I refuse to be lectured by white people about class. It has indeed been laughable to see classic, white Marxist slogans like, “This boy needs readings on class.” I don’t need readings on class, white people! I live class. Most black people do.
This whole class furore speaks to the insufficiency of class analysis in our particular context, and in other contexts more generally where the means of production have historically lied with the coloniser. The idea that Ashleigh is some vulnerable, exploited, working class person needs to be closely interrogated, and in fact speaks to the irrationality of whiteness’ image of who forms part of the exploited working class and who does not. In the context of South Afrikan society, Ashleigh is actually way more privileged than most black working class people. This is why, as RMF activist Wanelisa Xaba points out here , Ashleigh could boast about going to “take a hot bath” (something many black South Afrikans can only dream of) after the incident. Her wages from that restaurant are far better than what most working class black South Afrikans live on, most of whom form part of the 53.8% surviving on under R779 ($50.2) per month, and the 36% or so broadly unemployed according to recent data. The false image of Ashley as embodying what it means to be an impoverished and vulnerable working class person in South Afrika today is as ridiculous as the branding of myself as an entitled rich bourgeoisie black South Afrikan.
Branding me as “bourgeois” by virtue of being at Oxford, and having been at a restaurant I could only afford using fieldwork money, actually forms part of a broader trend that seeks to brand many of the students involved in the student movement as “spoilt black bourgeois kids” who should be “using the opportunities they have instead of protesting” against injustice at our universities. In reality, however, this is not the case as most of those involved do not come from middle class families, even if very few may come from middle income contexts -something that is not necessarily a determinant of one’s class position. The latter point is exactly why many so called “middle class” black people in South Afrika today are actually not even middle class at all – but more like working class people sustaining middle income lives through access to debt.
The question to ask therefore is this: Do we, as black working class people, become “bourgeois black kids” merely by going to the UCTs and Oxfords of this world? While having no land, no property, no assets, and no meaningful possessions whatsoever other than that we are working towards the pieces of paper this system chooses to name “degrees”?
One myth, sometimes perpetrated by black people who think they are the only “true blacks”, is that us going to the same schools and universities as white people often on scholarships is an automatic signature of privilege, a pointer to substantive equality, and a permanent gag that deprives us of all authority to speak on our collective black pain. This position is illogical.
As Shandu notes in his piece on tipgate, most blacks who go to these white schools and universities have come from the dungeons. Many have to survive the everyday violence of white supremacy – being told that they have to tie their hair in particular ways; that they can’t wear cultural symbols; that they can’t speak their languages in the classroom; that they basically have to leave their blackness outside the gates of these institutions.
We might be going to the same universities with white people, but we did not get here the same way, and are not here on the same terms.
Even here at Oxford, I cringe when attempts are made to batch us all into the “excessively privileged” category – ignoring our variant race, class and other positionalities. But then I remember that this is exactly how whiteness repeatedly violates us. It renders our pain invisible by taking us from the dungeons it has created for us, clothing us in fancy suits, admitting us to its institutions, and hiding that underneath all that, we have nothing. We enter these institutions willingly, hoping for a better future. In the end, we serve the ends of whiteness by allowing it to hide the scars we bring with us to these spaces. The scars of not only ourselves but the broken communities from which we originate. This is why once we are there, we are not supposed to talk about black pain. We are not supposed to talk about our reality as landless, dispossessed and marginalised. We are supposed to be “good blacks”. It is exactly this facade that we are challenging.
On “using” human beings as “objects of political protest” and the notion of “extreme identity politics”
One critique of tipgate from those who sympathise with the cause has been that even though the message was legitimate, a human being, in this case Ashleigh, should never be used as “an object of political protest”. I am not convinced by this argument. Often, we make ourselves “objects of political protest” because we wrongly personalise political acts that are directed at making structural critiques of the society we exist in. This is why, as cisgender heterosexual men, our egos are unnecessarily bruised when womxn protest against an issue of patriarchy by depriving us of bae benefits for a period. These political protests aren’t ever about us, but we make them so because we like to make ourselves -and our dicks- the centre of womxn’s existence. The same applies to white people. The reason why Ashleigh was uncomfortable was because she made the whole affair about her when it wasn’t. We need to start learning to deal with political protest less egotistically.
Considering the amount of violence white supremacy, patriarchy and other forms of dominance inflict on their recipients, we should be mature enough to know that people will protest against them, and that this will often not feel nice. We should be fine with that (I mean all Ashleigh and her colleagues did was read a political note for God’s sake! It’s not like they were made to consume our urine like black workers were made to by white students at the University of Free State a few years ago .
There are those who call this clarion call for maturity in responding to political struggles “identity politics of the extreme type”. One white liberal columnist – who I should really stop reading except only when looking for a chuckle – has gone to the lengths of dubbing me “the Napoleon of identity politics”. This is nonsensical. We need to dismantle the myth that politics is only “extreme identity politics” when people with identities that have been rendered invisible assert their marginal identities and challenge the structures of power that facilitates their marginality. Most, if not all, politics is identity politics. It is identity politics that you, as a white person, are born into a system ordered as such that you sit at the top of the hierarchy just by virtue being white. It was identity politics when your ancestors branded ours as non-human and looted them so you could enjoy the privileges you do today. The legal and structural mechanisms that secured your position at the top of the hierarchy, and that continue to protect that privilege today, are identity politics. We need to confront the fact that this whole world is built on centuries of extreme structural identity politics that have ensured that the world’s top 1% (who are mostly white, male and from the global north) have as much wealth as the bottom 50% (who are mostly black, brown, womxn, and from the global south), and resulted in the corrupt white kyriarchal system we are now resisting.
In fact, I would contend that we engage in identity politics everyday as we seek to exercise power over others but only choose to cry about these politics when the wheel is reversed and marginalised people stand up for themselves. Hence, even as a cisgender heterosexual male activist in the student movement, I am engaging in identity politics when I refuse to check myself when womxn, queer and non-binary bodies in that space stand up for themselves and assert that my actions are perpetuating the same logics of the kyriarchal white supremacist system the student movement is fighting by thinking that the shape of the genitals I was born with should determine the amount of power and voice I hold in the student movement. I therefore have little interest in hearing people cry about “extreme identity politics” in a world already shaped by the very extreme identity politics of the white kyriarchal system that ensures that power in this world is devolved along identity lines.
On black people’s attachment to whiteness
As pointed out in this exchange with Mbali Phala, my biggest disappointment in this whole scandal has been its revelation of just how much we, as black people, are attached to whiteness.
Some black people have even gone to the lengths of asking me to “apologise” for this whole scandal. Imagine! We are yet to get our apology and reparations from white people for hundreds of years of slavery, colonisation and apartheid but we must apologise for wanting back our land and wealth stolen as a result of these processes? Wow!
A similar wow goes to all the black people who have clothed their defence of whiteness under pseudo-rational rhetoric like: “This act is a violation of our common class struggle across racial lines.” Really, black people? In which South Afrika are you fighting the same struggle as the so-called “white working class”? The notion of a “common working class” constituted by “both black and white” is an ahistorical imagination that – while fitting well with the Mandelaesque “non-racialist” narrative we have been fed since 1994 – holds little water in the actual conditions of our society. As a matter of historical fact, there has never been a “common working class” in our context, and indeed in the context of other settler colonies with a similar history.
The settler colonial state always distinguished between the white working class and the rest – establishing programmes and interventions specifically directed at alleviating the “white poor”. The so-called white working class has thus always enjoyed a degree of class immunity by virtue of its skin colour. This has not changed in any significant way, and the aftermath of this whole tipgate scandal has exposed that.
What we have seen in the aftermath of tipgate adequately answers the critique that, by confronting white people as a collective in our challenge against white supremacy, we are potentially engaging in a dematerialised analysis of race. The ridiculous amount of money raised has reminded us that even the most poor white person still has the very material currency of whiteness. Just by virtue of being white, Ashleigh was a waitress in a cafe one day, and woke up being in a position to open her own the next. Just by virtue of being white! Whiteness is, as Ta-Nehisi Coates reminds us , a currency that “confers knowable, quantifiable privileges, regardless of class”. In our context, it enables one access to networks of power, privilege and capital for no other reason other than their whiteness. This is partly why, despite affirmative action, Black Economic Empowerment and other such measures, white people in South Afrika are in a better position than they were two decades ago. They not only still own the land and wealth but they also sit at the top of the hierarchy in managerial and other senior posts, and thus still have the largest say on who has social mobility and who doesn’t.
It would be parody of the worst kind to suggest that we are fighting a colourless “common working class struggle” in South Afrika today. Simply asserting our solidarity with them without a viable analysis of how race and class interlink will see us continue being sold out by the white working class, and the left which represents it. In fact, globally, no viable class solidarity and unity will ever be possible without sorting out the historical antagonisms the white left has always had against black people. Otherwise we open ourselves to the white working class/left continuing to throw us under the bus as it always has. Just as we continue being thrown under the bus by Bernie Sanders and most of the global white left on the question of black reparations .
On taking on a powerless “small person”
Many have used tipgate as “an example” that the student movement has “consistently taken on the small man” and hasn’t taken the fight to “people in positions of power”. These critics have clearly not been following our activism. As we indicated at the Oxford Union during this debate, those of us involved in the student movement abroad are very clear about what we are doing in Europe.
We are here to take back the unjustly attained wealth plundered from our ancestors. We have been consistent in our message that the student movement is, essentially, about the land and wealth question. It is in honour of this message that a member of the student movement at Wits University, Panashe Chigumadzi, wrote this article entitled “we don’t want white apologies, we want our land back.”.
Where were these critics accusing us of “taking on the small person” during this protest where we forced authorities from Oriel College to sit down with us in the rain, and successfully petitioned them to pay back the money looted from Afrikans by Rhodes through reparatory scholarships for Afrikans?
Where were these critics when comrades at South Afrikan universities tabled the land and wealth question during the Fees Must Fall movement by asking that education be decommodified and decolonised – resulting in the President of the country declaring a moratorium on all fee increments across our universities this year? Where were these critics when our comrades at Harvard reclaimed the dignity of black people by forcing Harvard Law School to remove its shield as the school’s symbol owing to its association with slavery?
The indubitable fact is that the global student movement has been confronting the so-called “powers that be”. We just believe that while we are at it, it is valuable to live our decolonial politics by taking the conversation to everyday public spaces – including our classrooms, communities, restaurants, shopping centres and all other sites of public presence. Tipgate therefore forms part of an ongoing deliberate attempt to re-politicise the public space and raise consciousness regarding how unjust the society we exist in is. It was never some petty notion of “playing the small person” or other such dogma.
On the act being “sexist”
Typically, there have been many white feminists who have made this an issue of patriarchy and sexism -because you know, if it involves a white woman and a black man, it has to be sexist because white women’s tears!. Even accepting the inaccurate premise that the note was about Ashleigh, I am still waiting for a cogent argument as to how exactly it is that a note written by a trans black activist to a cisgender white woman about the land question is “sexist”? I will await a response from white feminists who are devoted to their cause.
On the raising of over R150 000 for Ashleigh, and the DA’s irrelevance to black people
Much has been written on the ridiculous amount of money raised for Ashleigh following tipgate, and I do not wish to repeat the impressive arguments calling out the irrationality of what followed. The only part I think many have not delved into enough is the fact that this whole fundraising campaign was started by Democratic Alliance (DA) member, perpetual defender of whiteness and Spokesperson for the Western Cape Social Development MEC, Sihle Ngobese. That a member of the DA started this whole hysteria should not surprise us, and should point us to the well entrenched irrelevance of the DA to the lives of black people in Cape Town, and the Western Cape more generally. Sihle and his fellow white DA comrades are quick to raise exorbitant amounts of money for white people, but show little responsiveness to the violence and pain of black life in the slums of Cape Town – where black people live in abject poverty, and are exposed to the elements of brutal Cape winters yearly.
In fact, just the day before tipgate, I had spent the “Freedom Day” holiday in the township of Khayelitsha with comrades from RMF UCT and the Pan Afrikanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA). We had gathered to cook for over 100 elderly people who, for the past month or so, have been brutalised, criminalised and left destitute by our government – having travelled all the way to Cape Town from the Eastern Cape to stage a sit in outside Parliament demanding their outstanding pension benefits . They spent the first few days sleeping on the pavements outside Parliament despite the early Cape winter, and have spent the rest of their stay in a church near Parliament. We posted about our visits to these elders all the time when I was in Cape Town with little attention. Where were Sihle and his white DA comrades to raise money for these destitute old black people stranded in a city under the DA’s watch? None of our numerous posts about these elders elicited anger and outrage because, unlike Ashleigh, they are not white. Because we are desensitised to violence on black bodies and only see discomfort when it comes in white skin.
We need to ask ourselves why those who live on my Facebook pages for headlines and philanthropic causes only chose Ashleigh’s case to present as global headlines and a fundraising drive in the midst of the many posts I put up about everyday occasions of black pain when I was in Cape Town. Where were people with their fundraising initiatives when, just a few days before tipgate, we posted widely about the black grandmother who was humiliated and reduced to actual tears at Pick n Pay with her grandson over a broken slab of chocolate? Where was the outrage and fundraising over our many posts about the Shorprite Cashier who was forced to continue serving customers while literally crying because she was ill? What about other previous cases like the black workers who were made to drink urine by white students at UFS? Or the taxi driver urinated on by a white guy from the balcony of the racist, sexist, queerphobic, transphobic and ableist Tiger Tiger nightclub, whose reopening progressive students in Cape Town are trying to push against as I write this? Rebecca Davis, in this piece, aptly captures the many other horrific incidents of everyday violence on black bodies that have elicited little or no local and international outrage because nobody cares about black suffering. We should be ashamed, as opposed to being proud, of the exorbitant amount of money raised for Ashleigh in the aftermath of tipgate. It is confirmation that we are a society that is fundamentally ill.
On the ANC government condemning and criminalising the incident
The ANC government’s response to tipgate via its Western Cape Spokesperson condemning the incident as “borderline criminal” should sadly not surprise us. This ANC government has been criminalising black bodies challenging their marginalisation within this unjust post 1994 society. It is under this ANC government that miners demanding decent wages and better working conditions were criminalised and butchered in the Marikana massacre in 2012. It is under this ANC government that black students protesting for the decolonisation and decommodification of education at our universities have consistently been criminalised, jailed and brutalised by state police. It is under this ANC government that womxn protesting against rape culture at the university currently known as Rhodes were criminalised and arrested quicker than most rapists ever are. It is under this ANC government that students are being gunned down by state police at the University of Fort Hare as I write this. It is under this ANC government that a mass of black poor families are currently stranded and exposed to the elements of winter following their criminalisation and mass eviction from their homes at Hammanskraal.
What does all this mean going forward?
It is an open secret that many young black people have become disillusioned with this ANC government following its failure to alleviate the black condition in the past two decades since the purported end of formal apartheid colonialism. Not only are we no longer able to put up with the ongoing nonchalant lack of integrity displayed in the immoral and unethical lengths to which this ANC government has been prepared to go in its unconscionable defence of a man who has repeatedly violated his constitutional oath of office, we are also disgruntled by its unwavering commitment to anti-black policy positions that have buffered unjustly attained white privilege and maintained white monopoly capitalism at the expense of black people over the past two decades. That the ANC Spokesperson considers land restitution and redistribution to have “taken place” in South Afrika shows just how confused and out of touch with black reality this ANC government really is. As we know, this government has, owing mostly to its botched “willing buyer, willing seller” policy over the past two decades since taking office in 1994, failed to meet even its own mediocre land reform targets – currently having only transferred under 10%, many place the figure at a meagre 7%, of the 30% of land that it promised to transfer back to black people by 2025.
Thus, 22 years on, not even 10% of the promised land has been taken back.
It is instructive that only the EFF and the BLF – two political formations constituted and led by young people – have issued statements that make any sense on tipgate. Perhaps we are seeing what TO Molefe meant when, in his Seven Things To Tell Young Black South Afrikans he said: “The older generation (and the movements and structures they founded) no longer has the appetite to fight for the justice you deserve. You have to fight for it, and you have to convince others around you of these incontrovertible truths”.
In conclusion – with Thomas Sankara’s words
It is perhaps appropriate to conclude with the following words from Thomas Sankara, which fellow RMF activist, Dr Simukai Chigudu, always reminds me of whenever I am branded by the media as ‘mad’ for my activism:
“You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.”
What Sankara is reminding us is that we cannot change an abnormal society by means that are totally “normal” to it. A degree of what will seem like ‘madness’ is needed. I, and I think many other activists involved in the student movement, am done being ‘normal’ in an abnormal society. We live in the most unequal society in the world – but one that is ultimately an outcome of a global inequality that has become untenable under this global neoliberal capitalist system. To be normal in these extremely abnormal conditions would in fact be to be abnormal, and to sell out the cause of justice. It is in this context that I hope tipgate, and other past and future actions of those involved in the student movement must be understood.
A note to media: I will not be engaging any media requests about tipgate following this statement. Or maybe I will – but only when we have the land back.