One of my favourite poems by a South African poet, ‘Swartjie Bartman’ by Lesedi Thwala, is about women’s experience of street harassment, particularly black women. It is powerfully written, and makes reference to Saartjie Baartman, a Khoikhoi woman put on display for entertainment in England and France during the 1810s due to her large buttocks. She was displayed in several circuses, and wealthy customers could pay for private demonstrations in their homes, with their guests allowed to touch her. Thwala’s poem is about the sexual objectification of black women’s bodies, particularly by white men, drawing parallels with the ways in which Baartman’s body was perceived.
‘Swartjie Bartman’ by Lesedi Thwala
Jinne, hoekom het julle swartjies sulke mooi boude?
You hideously hiss and hoot while your
Tongue turbulently twirls twixt your teeth and your
Bulge bulbously bulges between your legs
Claiming that I should take it as a compliment
and be an accomplice and acquiesce you
a slice of the sjokolade-koek
because I am too beautiful for a black girl
and therefore should not be wearing a doek
en ek moet bly ommie-hoek
so that jou vrou en kinders don’t see
that you do not play by die boek
want swart en wit moet nooit meng nie
maar jy wil nou kroek
and I should know that my behind is all I am good for
en glad nie meer as dit ooit soek
ag nee! My skin is too dark
my English isn’t sharp
and my hair is so coarse!
But my butt…
My butt does wonders for you, of course!
So you drive past dark alleys hoping I will be there
So you can feed your fetid fetish and hope and wish that Oom Hans
Of Tant Sallie don’t see you met ‘n swartjie in jou bakkie
En as jy my sien,
You slow down and slobber
And flash me a twee-honderd-rand noot
And scream: “Kom vat meisietjie, gaan koop vir jou brood”
And you disclose your disgust
At my disapproval and drive past, while people stare at you aghast
Want jy kry dit nie man!
Dis duidelik dat ek is jou Swartjie Bartman
You can find out more about Lesedi Thwala here, where you can also hear the poet give a reading of ‘Swartjie Bartman’.
Women stand in small groups, sometimes even alone, silently holding placards: “REJECT SLUMS, SQUATTERS, GROUP AREAS BILLS” and “RELEASE OR CHARGE ALL DETAINEES”. People pass and stare, sometimes yelling angrily, or spit on them, or even driving up on the pavement to try and run them over. It’s the 1950s. The South African government is pushing one law after another through Parliament (more than 25 in that decade alone), with the aim of expanding the reach of white supremacy into every aspect of the lives of South Africans.
Four women stand in front of a room of the country’s most powerful people, silently holding pieces of paper which read “#1in3” and “Remember Khwezi”. People stare, and eventually the women are shoved out the door. It is 2016. The results of South Africa’s local elections are being announced to South Africa and the political elite, and four black women remind us that despite numerous allegations of sexual violence against him, our President has managed to dodge conviction while one of his accusers has to go into exile.
I’ve worked my way through several novels since the start of this year, and unfortunately they have all been somewhat lacklustre. They haven’t been bad exactly, just not particularly good. Finally, I have finished a rather epic tome that was wonderful, so here is a review. In addition, at the end I share a quick review of two short stories I read this week which I absolutely loved. Continue reading
A few years ago, I was at a writers’ conference for women. We were from different disciplines and what brought us together was an awareness that academia – much like the rest of the world – was still an old boys’ club. At dinner one evening, at a table of about ten women, we talked about our work and interests. Inevitably, our conversation turned to sexual violence, and it became apparent very quickly that pretty much every woman at that table had survived childhood sexual violence. We came from different sub-Saharan countries, and also different class and race backgrounds, and yet we could all attest to the reality that we had grown up in a world where our bodies were public property, and that as children, the feeling of being physically unsafe – particularly from older men – was a daily experience.
Here is a a highly recommended personal account of a woman writing on this topic: Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence
For my favourite fiction books of the year, go here.
I have always enjoyed reading non-fiction, particularly history books, memoirs, biographies and socio-political analysis. These are my favourite five from 2015 (in no particular order).
Rape: A South African Nightmare by Pumla Gqola
Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend by Arianna Stassinopoulos
The Dressing Station by Jonathan Kaplan
Goodbye Sarajevo by Akta Reid and Hana Schofield
Seminary Boy by John Cornwell
It’s coming up to Women’s Month in South Africa (August), where we get to listen to pointless speeches by officials promising that, this time, something will be done about sexism and misogyny in South Africa. We also get to watch private businesses try to make us forget that Women’s Day in South Africa commemorates the courage and resistance of women, particularly black women, and try to cash in by selling us more crap we don’t need while portraying Women’s Day as some sort of mixture of Mothers’ Day and Valentines’ Day.
Marie Claire decided to cash in early this year, and got 18 block-headed (but perhaps well-meaning) celebrities to sell some magazines and model some clothing by Dumond and Fabiani. Oh, and the celebrities were men. Their glorified photo shoot was sold thus:
“To honour women’s month in August, we invited 18 local celebrities to walk in our shoes – literally. As they learned to balance and strike a pose through their discomfort, the shoes became a representation of the experience of being a woman. And with each (sometimes painful) step, the men found a new understanding, appreciation and empathy for women.”
Oh, where does one start?
In March 2014, I started tracking my reading for the first time. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time, but had never quite managed to get it together which is rather odd given my tendency to be a compulsive list maker. Here are five books that I read for the first time in 2014, and a brief review of each (no spoilers). All five of them are highly recommended.
Daughters Who Walk This Path by Yejide Kilanko
The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo
Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda
Bom Boy by Yewande Omotoso
Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie