Tag Archives: Africa

#FeesMustFall and the Gendering of Student Protests in ZA

I just came across this video (11 min) and I thought it was a great example of how gender can be bent to classify race and class as much as sex. In it, the current national protests of South African students over higher education reform is explained and documented from the students’ perspectives. Several of the students bring up some important issues often raised in gender/development studies, though the students never make the link explicitly. Gender and development scholars often talk about gender or gendering a population beyond the sexual male/female dichotomy.
In this case, race is gendered in the sense that these highly mobilized black students with an important and identifiable grievance have been labeled by the ZA government as non-threatening and that the issue will soon be resolved; in this way they are “feminized” and denied important agency and respectability by the government.
This is the public position of the government, “oh, this is nothing” while on the ground, the government has deployed the national police and authorized them to use Apartheid era tactics to dispel them including tear gas, beatings, and setting student property on fire (most recently a student car was hit with a petrol bomb by police that was parked on the UCT campus near a protest site).
It really is a fascinating video and it shows a lot of footage of nonviolent peace protesting by student movements. Here it is: 

Why Gender Studies?

Girls in ZambiaI was at a regional political science conference a couple years ago presenting a paper I wrote on the signing of the 2013 peace agreement in the DR-Congo. My paper focused on highlighting the failures of the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement and outlined how these failures could be sidestepped in the new agreement. When it came time for the moderator to ask me questions and offer critiques he said, “You mentioned women several times in this paper. You kept saying women need to be involved in the process. Why? Why is it so important to you that women get involved?” He was not being ironic. He was legitimately questioning my decision to include Congolese women in the peace process. In that moment I felt a shift in my interests and worldview. Everything changed. There I was, standing in a glitzy hotel conference room next to the table of other presenters (all men), facing the moderator–a man who had achieved the highest level of education possible and was tenured at a well-known institution. Looking past the moderator, I scanned the room and saw that I was the only female present. My task, if I chose to accept: explain to a room full of college educated men why women matter.

For me, Gender Studies is about bringing a voice to the voiceless. This goes so far beyond just being a voice for women. In many of the topics I study that cross political science and peace studies, it is children who are voiceless. Minorities, the oppressed, the lower classes, refugees–the structures of society often inherently limit their agency and stifle their voices. Adopting a gendered lens allows you to see the world from a new perspective, one that amplifies the voices of these otherwise voiceless groups. This perspective can be a powerful tool for examining the complexities of a political issue, often leading us to find new policy recommendations that actually stand a chance at bettering society. If my own colleagues cannot understand the merit of giving women a voice, then the outlook may seem bleak. However, in Gender Studies I find hope–hope for equality, hope for change, and hope for deeper understanding.

See the original story featured on the Notre Dame Gender Studies Program website HERE.

Taxicab Confessions

On Sunday morning I took a cab from my home in Mowbray to downtown Cape Town. With no traffic, this is usually about a 15 minute drive. I take taxis all the time and the ride usually goes the same way each time. The driver asks me where I’m going, I tell them. Do you have a meter? No? Set rate? How much? I get in and we start driving. About two minutes into the ride either I or the driver start the usual small talk–weather, how long have I been in Cape Town, where am I from, why am I here. I’ve even gotten better at talking out of my ass when it comes to rugby–Stormers, Cheetahs, Springboks, All Blacks, I can name a few teams and hang with them for 15 minutes as they tell me the latest rugby news. Sometimes we talk about my work, sometimes we don’t talk at all. It just depends on the driver.

On Sunday the drive started the same….but the conversation quickly got serious. How long have you been in Cape Town? Why are you here? Oh, you study politics? You’re doing a project on democracy? What do you think of South Africa’s democracy? Is it fair here? Keep in mind, I’m from here you know–born and raised–so I know about this country. Let me tell you about it….

Before I knew what was happening, my driver took off on a whirlwind explanation of his experiences living as a coloured man in first apartheid and now post-apartheid South Africa. Together we had the most candid, interesting, open 15 minute discussion about South African politics. We pulled up to my destination and he stopped the meter, put the car in park, and kept talking for almost 10 minutes. I encouraged him to keep his passion for democracy and politics alive and he smiled, waved, and told me to do the same. Once I got out of the car I quickly tried to write down as much as possible of what he said so I could share it. While this transcript is not the exact words he used, it is true to his style of speaking and the sentiments he expressed:

On the African National Congress (ANC), which is the current ruling party of South Africa:
You stop any black man on the street anywhere in this country and they will tell you how the ANC has done them wrong. They made promises they didn’t keep. They did this; they did that. They’re fed up with the ANC. Fed up. But mark me– come election time, they will all vote for the ANC to a man. To a man! Because for them, they think only a black can be in charge. To them, this is a black country and the blacks must be in charge. They won’t vote for someone who will actually make the changes that need to happen because they will only vote the color of their skin.

See, that’s why I appreciate the United States. In the U.S. you have Republican and you have Democrat. It’s about the politics. It’s about the issues. It’s not about blacks voting black and whites voting white and coloureds voting coloured. How is that right? How is that progress?

And the thing is, the blacks think this land is black. Look back in the history– the original inhabitants of this land were the Khoisan, a coloured people. Their skin was a shade lighter than mine and a shade darker than yours (pointing at me in the rearview mirror). When the blacks came down from Central Africa with their cattle they were able to overpower the Khoisan and take the land away from they. Wiped them out completely. The blacks are immigrants to this land like all the rest of us. It’s all there in the history. But do they teach that history? No.

On post-apartheid South Africa:
I am a coloured man and I am 50 years old. So I lived through apartheid, I remember it. I lived through the “old” South Africa and I am living now in the “new”. Let me tell you this– the “new” South Africa is NOT better than the “old”. It’s not better. I remember when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I remember it; I was there. He stood there at City Hall (pointing in the direction of City Hall). He stood there and he said, verbatim: “Friends, comrades, and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy, and freedom for all. Fellow South Africans, he said. See, we are all the same. Freedom for all he said. He said we should look to the future, not to the past, and that we are all one nation. The Rainbow Nation. That’s what he said and that’s what we believed. Where is that South Africa he promised? It’s not here. I will tell you plainly– it is not here.

On democracy in South Africa:
There is no democracy here. Not in South Africa. What does “democracy” mean? Simple. It’s one word. It’s fairness. What is fair here? What is fair for the coloured man? We feel forgotten in this “new” nation. What am I here? A second-class citizen? A third-class citizen? People think the issues are black and white. It’s always black against white and the coloured man gets left out. My son can’t even get a job because he’s not white but he’s not black enough. His skin is fairer than mine, you see. I even tried to get him a job at a factory where I knew the manager personally. Personally! He told me to my face that my son wasn’t black enough. The job had to go to a black boy. Not my son. Not my son with his fair skin and green eyes. Where is the fairness there? Jobs should be given out on merit, not skin color.

On the future of being coloured in South Africa:
Maybe not in my lifetime, but there will be a day when South Africa is ruled by the coloured man. It can’t be any other way. Today, white women are marrying black men. Black men are marrying white women. What is the result? Coloured children. The future of South Africa is a coloured future. The problem is, these mixed couples are not sharing their language and their culture with their mixed children. It’s a shame because so much language and culture is getting lost. I blame the parents. They know this stuff and they do not pass it to their children. We will have a nation of coloured people who don’t know who they are.

You can watch Mandela’s entire speech made from the balcony of City Hall on the day of his release from prison here:


Rhodes Fell?

There is a large school group here at UCT today. School groups often come by to take tours of campus and use the facilities. The group today looks to be around middle school age. When I walked up the steps of Jameson Hall to get to the library, they were all assembled on the stairs looking out toward the city. I thought maybe they were getting ready to take a picture, but that wasn’t the case. From the steps of Jameson Hall, you can look out on the University down to where the statue of Rhodes once stood, down past the rugby fields, into the neighborhoods of Rondebosch and Rosebank. Beyond that lies the townships–where thousands of black and coloured families were forced to relocate, and where most still live. In a very real way, from the steps of Jameson Hall you can see the physical manifestation of colonialism, racism, and attempted reconciliation played out on the urban geography of Cape Town.

Jameson Hall

Jameson Hall

As I walked up the steps, I heard the teacher ask the young students to discuss the Rhodes statue. He asked them: “What does the statute represent to YOU?” Some of the students slowly raised their hands and I paused on the steps as I heard them say in small, strong voices words like: apartheidracismhatepoweranger. Symbols are powerful. Some legacies carry long shadows that can morph and change over time. Did Rhodes really “fall” with the removal of his statue? The answer is very clearly no. In fact, even though his statue is removed, the shadow of Rhodes is still felt and seen by all. Literally. Someone painted this on the steps where his statue once stood. It is a powerful reminder that even though the statue is gone, Rhodes is not forgotten.


The shadow of Rhodes still stretches down from the plinth where he sat.


A fitting tribute? CJ waz here!

What do you think about the legacy of CJ Rhodes?

My First Published Book Review!

Shameless self-promotion alert: I’m published again!!

The April 2015 edition of the Gendered Perspectives on International Development Resource Bulletin is finally available online and it features a book review from yours truly. Read it HERE.

This is a great Bulletin published several times a year that is run out of Michigan State University by the Center for Gender in Global Context (GenCen). The Bulletin is a great, go-to resource for all things gender and development. In each edition, the editors compile lists and reviews of some of the most recent research, books, articles, upcoming conferences, calls for papers, and many other forms of media that all explore the myriad issues related to gender and international development.

defyingFor my part, I reviewed a great book by Albrecht Schnabel and Anara Tabyshalieva titled Defying Victimhood: Women and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding (United Nations University Press, 2012). This book provides a great overview of the current scholarship exploring women and their roles in the post-conflict peacebuilding process. The book is ideal for scholars interested in entering the world of gender and conflict, but it is written in a way that even the lay person can enjoy it. Each chapter is written by a different author or set of authors with various academic backgrounds and geographic areas of focus. While the layout of the book is useful in guiding the reader through the literature, you don’t necessarily have to rad the book cover to cover. Pick a chapter that interests you and dive in!

If you want more recommendations of books on gender and development, gender and conflict, or gender and peacebuilding, just ask! And if YOU have recommendations for me, leave a reply below! 


Just waiting for a train… any train…

mowbrayI live in the Mowbray neighborhood of Cape Town, which sits between Rondebosch (University of Cape Town) and Observatory (fun nightlife area, popular with college kids). My house sits a stones throw away from the Mowbray Station, which consists of two parts: 1) major bus interchange and 2) metro station. While I have never had occasion to take the bus, I frequently take the metro train from Mowbray Station to Cape Town Civic Station downtown. Mowbray sits on the Southern Line, which runs from Cape Town down along the shores of False Bay to Simon’s Town and back again. The train tracks are built right into the beach. I got to see them last weekend when I went down to Simon’s Town. Check out that view!

train tracks train view

I’ve received varied responses when people find out I take the metro alone. One woman called me adventurous. Another said I was bold. One person even said I was reckless. After pressing some of these people further, I came to find that most had never actually taken the metro themselves; they just knew it to be a dark, dangerous netherworld where the only passengers are “poor” people (let’s get serious, they can couch it in whatever language they want, but they mean black people. Black people take the train). This is the first myth I can now officially bust: all varieties of people take the metro in Cape Town—women with little children, Afrikaner businessmen, school kids in uniforms, young guys wearing big headphones, old men toting fishing gear, families, couples holding hands, individuals, Indians, Blacks, Whites, men, women, and yes, some obviously poor people.

train interior

Interior of the Cape Town Metro

Let me clear the air a bit more for anyone interested in traveling to and around Cape Town. The metro is perfectly safe. I have never once been concerned for my safety and I almost always travel alone. It’s cheap (roughly US$1.00); it’s relatively clean (no better or worse than Paris…. much MUCH worse than Japan), and it’s convenient. I get on at Mowbray and four stops and roughly 12 minutes later I get off at Cape Town. I’ve taken the train in rush hour (where people are packed in and there is standing room only) and I’ve taken it where I am the only passenger in my car. To be completely transparent, I have never taken the metro at night. I only take it during the day. I once flirted with the idea of taking the metro at night from Cape Town back to Mowbray (around 8:30pm), but after only 5 minutes waiting on the platform I was convinced that taking a taxi would be worth it. The crowds at night are heavier and more rowdy on the platform, especially on the weekends. If I hadn’t had some shopping bags I maybe would have chanced it, but why take a chance when a taxi is only about US$7?

I took this picture from the train in India back in 2008. Now that is some serious fog!

I took this picture from a train in India back in 2008. Now that is some serious fog!

There is one thing to keep in mind though if one is considering a journey by train: the train does not always arrive on time…if it arrives at all. For someone like me who is used to commuting every day using the Japanese metro system, the Cape Town system was quite a shock…. to say the absolute least. Trains in Cape Town are often late. If a train timetable says the train will arrive at 11:39, that might mean 11:39, it might mean 11:45, or it might mean 12:20…. and you have NO way to know how late a train will be, so you’ve got to expect it will be on time and just build in enough time to “roll with it” (pun intended). The first time a train was late, a voice came over the intercom and announced the train’s late arrival was due to fog. This made complete sense as you could barely see your hand in front of your face! I remembered taking delayed trains in India when it was exceptionally foggy, so I didn’t mind. And the train arrived within 10 minutes of the scheduled arrival time.

No train

Still waiting………

However, sometimes trains are late for no apparent reason! For example, last weekend I ran to catch a train into town that was due to arrive at Mowbray Station at 2:38. It was a clear, cloudless sunny day. At 2:39 a voice came over the intercom, “Very sorry, this train is delayed….. something something something. Very sorry.” No other explanation given. Five minutes go by… then ten… then fifteen. Twenty, are you kidding me?! By now I am annoyed. I stand on “my” end of the platform (all the blacks seem to have an unspoken rule whereby they don’t come close to me on the platform. If I approach them, it’s fine, but they do not approach me, or sit by me on the train if they can help it. Honestly, it’s discomforting. It reminds me of the culturally enforced “bubble” I was trapped in when I commuted in Japan—everyone looks, no on touches or approaches or speaks to you, but I digress). As I paced back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, I keep waiting. 25 minutes. Wow. I may as well have walked into town! But I’ve already paid for the ticket so I’m now determined to take this damn train. Meanwhile, trains heading to Simon’s Town come and go.

The train finally arrives!!!

The train finally arrives!!!

Pacing over to a where a young black man was standing, I leaned in and asked, “Do you think this train is EVER coming?” He shrugged, smiled, and said, “Yes…. maybe?” Just then we heard the sound of a train…. it was coming from the wrong direction!! This train consisted of an engine and two flattop cars toting a heavy cargo of rusty train tracks. Groaning, I watched the tracks go by and said, “They are probably going to build a new track!” The young guy burst out laughing and said, “Precisely. See, this is the problem when you have to rely on other people.” We sighed together and kept waiting. FINALLY, at 3:20 our train arrived, only 44 minutes late. Gotta love Africa time!

Today was an entirely new experience. I ran to catch the 11:39 train to go into town for a bit of exploring. I was running late so clutching my sides I sprinted into the tiny station only to find that both the ticket windows were closed. Looking around frantically, I went to an older black lady and said, “The train is coming, where can I buy a ticket?” She looked at me curiously and said, “The window is open. Go there.” And she pointed to the two obviously closed windows. “No,” I said, “They are closed.” “No,” she said, “Open.” I look again. She looks again. “Huh,” she said and walks away. Huh. Also, the train didn’t come. I just walked home. It’s just was not worth it today.

What the hell is load shedding?!

load sheddingWhen I first arrived in Cape Town, it seemed as if all anybody could talk about was load shedding. My housemates talked about it while making weekend plans, faculty talked about it in the halls when discussing exams, you can download the “UCT load shedding app”, and signs like this (–>) are posted up all over campus detailing how one can prepare for and survive load shedding. I wandered around in a daze for the first week thinking to myself, “What the HELL is load shedding?!”

Well, according to the Internet, load shedding is: “the action to reduce the load on something, especially the interruption of an electricity supply to avoid excessive load on the generating plant.” The City of Cape Town explains it this way: “Load shedding is a measure of last resort to prevent the collapse of the power system country-wide. When there is insufficient power station capacity to supply the demand (load) from all the customers, the electricity system becomes unbalanced, which can cause it to trip out country-wide (a blackout), and which could take days to restore.”


Essentially, load shedding is scheduled blackouts, set up on a rotating sector system (I live in sector 15). To relieve stress on the electricity generators, the City of Cape Town has designed a load shedding system, especially needed in the winter months, to protect the generators from becoming overloaded. They explain: “By switching off parts of the network in a planned and controlled manner, the system remains stable throughout the day, and the impact is spread over a wider base of customers. Load shedding schedules are drawn up in advance to describe the plan for switching off parts of the network in sequence during the days that load shedding is necessary.”

What does this mean? It means the power goes out. A lot. In my first two weeks, the power went out in my house and stayed out for several hours at least five times (could be more, but I was gone). Everyone seemed prepared for this but me. On one of my first nights (before I knew what load shedding was), I was walking back from dinner and I thought to myself, “Man, it’s so dark! This is a busy street, why are all the street lights off?” When I saw that even the stoplight was out I realized it must be a power outage. Up ahead, a trio of people crossed the street wearing headlamp flashlights. Clearly, they knew the power was scheduled to be out! I had to figure out what was going on. That’s when I finally got serious and looked up load shedding. In this cool time lapse video you can see what the city center looks like during and after load shedding:

Power also goes out on campus. This week, I was in the office working when the power went out. No power means no Internet, which means no productivity for me. To make things worse, before the power went out I had been working really hard and I kept putting off using the bathroom. So I had to feel my way into the pitch-black bathroom, using the dinky light on the end of my keychain to see what I was doing. And of course, when there is no light, you immediately assume the worst and think that someone is lurking outside the stall waiting to stab you. Not. Fun.

I’m learning that the load shedding system is quite controversial among South Africans. For example, it was in the news recently that the process of determining whom exactly goes without power, and for how long, is a subject of constant debate between the primary power company, Eskom, and the government (see the cartoon below). In May, the City was pleading with Eskom to have areas including Manenberg, Ottery, and Hanover Park exempt from load shedding due to increases in gang violence. One mayoral committee member explained, “The metro police gang and drug task team has indicated that working under circumstances with severe gang violence is challenging enough as it is, but that the loss of street lights at night during serious gang violence makes it virtually impossible to work” (see the article here).


People blame the city, they blame the ANC (African National Congress), they blame Africa, they blame the world, but no matter who is to blame, load shedding is going to continue to be a permanent fixture of my experiences here in Cape Town. No matter what I am doing–working in the office, making dinner, commuting home–for the rest of my time here I better get used to people saying, “You better hurry, power’s about to go out.” Also, I should really buy some candles…