Monday, October 17, 2016

Sold Into Marriage

I wrote this poem back in 2011 for the young woman my mother once was and for the thousands of young women who went/go through ukuthwalwa. It was first published by Cheryl Roberts in a publication called Sparkling Women.

Sold Into Marriage

Four hands
Money stacks
Hands shake
Deal's made
She's sold
He's old
It's dark

Water Spills
Dress rips
She screams
She kicks
They tug
They tie
It's dark

He strips
Fear seeps
Legs part
He thrusts
She cries
Then dies
It's dark

Belly grows
Waist thickens
She glows
He's sickened
It shows
She's crippled
It's dark

She births
He leaves
She begs
We all
Look away
She withers
It's dark

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Ramblings of a Former Prude

My earliest memories of my mother are of her being a disciplinarian and a quiet force who commanded respect without saying much. She was, and still is, a woman of very few words so when she speaks out one knows that it isn’t for the sake of speaking out. She means every word. I would like to think I am like her in the sense that I rarely say what I don’t mean – except for when I am joking, of course.
Of my two siblings, I am the one who spent most of my growing years with my mother. She had them when she was much younger and had to get help raising them. She had me when she was 34 and was a little more stable work-wise. Naturally, for a long time, I was the closest to her. People in the two townships where I grew up still know her as Mama ka Nozuko (my name). This still warms my near-30 heart. “What does this have to do with being sexually liberated doe??” *Hilton sister voice*

(Image: Onele Liwani)

So while walking back from church with my mother one day, a 5/6 year old me urgently had to pee. With no bathroom in site and a little shrub at the far corner of the field we had to cross between the section where the church was and where our house was, she told me to squat there and relieve myself. In what I now know to have been pure curiosity, I peeked underneath me to see where the pee stream was coming from. My vagina! I must have stayed like that for a while, in awe and full of questions about my body and how it worked – entranced. “Yheey, uzijonga ntoni? Nyusa ipanty sihambe” my mother’s stern words broke the spell. I quickly did as told and walked silently next to her, feeling both ashamed and confused. Why was it so wrong to look there? Why was I told to never let a boy touch me there or to tell her if a man touched me there? Was I going to get a hiding when we got home?
I am glad to report that I didn’t get a hiding that day but I believe that experience is one of the reasons I have had a weird relationship with sex and my body. If it wasn’t my mother, it was my primary school teacher who thought she was helping us keep our bodies in shape but was actually fat shaming little girls and then much later it was learning in church that masturbation was a sin punishable with eternity in the lake of fire (This was not good news to a 14 year old who was secretly watching Emmanuelle on e-TV at 23:30 every Saturday. I will one day write about how the Emmanuelle series became trash when they cast Krista Allen as Emmanuelle but asikho lapho!).
So yeah, because I grew up in church and in a community where slut and body shaming were a thing, I started internalizing these ideas. I wanted to be seen as pure, a good girl, desirable… - and this was, of course, related to my sexual behaviour. It vexes me now when I think about the years in church when I tortured myself wondering if I was holy and pure enough to please God or my future husband. I mean, the fuck?! I wasn’t even having this evil sex and I still did not feel adequate. I remember when I finally did have sex , and in chorus, left church ( No! the dick wasn’t that bomb, bbz- I was just done) it took a while to think of sex as something I should enjoy. For a long time, it was a means to solidify weak relationships and a way to prove I was not the boring prude people I grew up with thought I was. And even when I did enjoy it, I was afraid to share those experiences because you are a slut mos if you enjoy sex, akere?

Two weeks ago, I went to a sex talk for queer black girls that I really wanted to give a miss because I thought …1) I am not queer …and 2) How was I, with my lit new-people anxiety problems, going to talk about BDSM??! Thankfully, I went, and of course I was my awkward self for a while before I started taking part. I learned so much on the day (mostly about how freaky some of my friends are) and it was a great thing listening to women who did not have the religious baggage I have. I now appreciate the importance of spaces like that where women can talk about these things. I mean, where else can women talk about taking care of their vaginas? How are we supposed to take care of them when we don’t know what they look like? Imagine! So, you are the one with the vagina but your male partner is the only one who gets to see it? How, Sway??

So ja ke, then came my mid 20’s where I was now surer of myself and had emptied myself of my inherited sexual prejudices against my own damn self, most of my body image issues and religion-induced shame. As we all know one cannot remain empty – unlearning one thing means there needs to be new learning. My journey of unlearning meant I had to interrogate my entire belief system. I had to call myself out every time I low key deemed people who had one night stands hoes. Also, life finds a way of bringing us to our knees and we find ourselves being the girls we used to judge.*insert Michael Jordan crying face* All I’m saying is, when you’re in a different city for a festival and everyone’s melanin is popping…. (I already repent of this line).
I am very fortunate to be alive at a time when women have a little more freedom than when my mother was a young woman – back when vaginas were just womb exits for babies and just there of the pleasure of men. One day I will talk about not being able to deal with how thin the line between plus-size body celebration and the fact that it is just our turn to be reduced to hyper sexualized little (big) things. For now, I am happy to be seeing more women like in the media I consume and knowing there are a lot more body appreciation campaigns that will hopefully lead to less girls being afraid of their own damn vaginas.

Monday, July 25, 2016

When Boys Don't Cry, Women Mourn by Fezile Kanju

When boys don't cry, women mourn

It might be hard to imagine but the church my parents lead was the first ever church for the Ceko site of our village. My parents were probably the first and only couple to go places together and have their entire family together at one place other than at a funeral before the year 2000. Church on Sundays was one of the events that saw my family together. On one of these Sundays, my father walked into church as usual, carrying his white garden chair and positioned it next to the grass mat where all of us, the Sunday school kids were seated. Church started and so did drawings on the soil and washing off dust with saliva amongst us who were seated on the mat. I cannot tell you how many hymns had been sung when one child yelled out "baba Kanju, you are sitting on Abraham!". It was long enough for one of the women to quickly lift up this 8 year old or something boy as if he were an infant dropped from his mother's back. Only then did Abraham start to cry. Church seemed shorter on that day. Perhaps it was because i have no recollection of the long closing prayer that often stood in the way of my mother's Sunday lunch. I remember arriving at Abraham's home and my father introduced himself and confessed to the child's parent that he had hurt the boy's foot but assured them there was no need for him to be taken to the clinic. I don't remember my father telling the parents that Abraham did not cry, that he sat there hymn after hymn in pain and silence.

On our way back home and at home, my parents with some of the women from church kept asking why the boy did not cry. Why did he not scream out "baba Kanju, you are sitting on my foot" ?This is how Abraham got his first pair of shoes. My father went back to Abraham's home and asked if he could go with him to buy him shoes. With the shoes, the chair would no longer hurt that much.

I don't know why little boys don't cry but I do know that when little boys don't cry, women mourn. I was reminded of Abraham when I went to Timergara, in the khyber Pakhtunkhwa province last month. Unlike the heat in Islamabad, Timergara's forty something degrees celsius heat sends men, young and old to the grey Indus river. This is where a group of young boys in their early teens were swimming when one of them was swept away with the river's unassuming tides. The boys did not cry. They went home and told no one of what had happened. It was only at Iftah time that the boy's family asked of his whereabouts that they learnt of what had happened. The boy's mother works at one of the hospitals with some of my colleagues. She was doing her evening shift when she was given the news. She became numb and now she mourns.

Fezile Kanju is a friend of mine working in Afganistan. She is an activist and a love of african jazz.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Second May Twenty Sixteen

This morning I woke up and all the pain
I've ever felt had jammed in the middle of my throat
Every breath and blink had to be calculated twice
You're not here.
You're not here.

What replaces us is a set of worn doors with chipped gloss
Tightly shut.
Yet the songs you whistled find me at my most vulnerable and
sheets of barb wire themselves around my throat
You're not here.
You're not here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Cape of No Hope

"...I refuse! I refuse to believe that the only way black people can be free is if they die"

There are days when my skin feels thick and I have retorts for all the side-ways bullshit I hear and see in this city. There are also days when I wake up feeling everything - the burden of the single bread-winner mother in Philippi, the black man who's always fighting to be a respectable father and being called a boy at work, and the black boy who has a better chance becoming a skollie and dying at 19 than getting a junior position at a marketing agency.

I was born in Cape Town in 1986 to displaced, unmarried parents. To both of them this place was never home - it was the place where they made peanuts to send back home. My mother put her pain in a suitcase and traveled from the Eastern Cape to fulfill her first-born duties - she had to make money so the 8 siblings after her would eat. My father, who is actually only a story to me, was in this city guarding the doors of the Sales House buildings. They did not come here by choice. Neither am I.
This mother city is my home city in the sense that I was born in NY 89, Gugulethu but I have never felt proud to be from here like my hood mates who took pride in being a Cape-borner. I do not see how I could be proud when having food on the table and clothes on my back meant my mother would cross the city in a 6am train in order to make sure madam would not be mad and "hang like washing" (her words) on a 17h45 train from Diep River to get home to children she could not really be there for. It is in this city that even when I qualified for work I had to suffer oppresion from whites (and sometimes coloureds) in the work place. It is here that speaking out against oppression meant you'd lose your bread, sit elok'shini and eat your activism. I don't remember a time when I was as care-free as white kids my age and even today as someone who works and should be able to afford her life, I have the task of making sure there's food at my mother's house and helping my siblings (and the rest of what we call black tax and laugh about) and I know a lot of my friends who aren't from here who must always make decisions between food for the month and going home. For others this decision is as simple as signing a leave form.
Even the few times where we force matters and eat out with our hard earned cash there will be white people who act like you are breathing from their mothers' oxygen tanks - like you are a thorn on their side.
Kanti, when will be be free na?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016



I am polished china, a field of sunflowers in full bloom
I am the bluest, quietest waters on an island
I am easy Sunday morning, two sugars and a little milk
All things desirable

I am 3am hiccups between sobs, a perfumed leper
I am barbwire on soft skin. Skinned knees
I am repercussion of infidelity and a calabash of fermented pain
I am all of this

I am “what will people say?”, “that is too good for me”
I am the vine that bares no fruit, atonement for everyone’s sin
I am hard cover, shattered inside
I am splinter meets flesh

I am baby steps and leaps of faith
I am funny girlfriend and awkward hugs
I am unfinished books and thorn on racist sides
I am all of this