Context- I believe that context is important in everything and this poem was written after the #FeesMustFall protest in 2015. This was the first time I had witnessed a protest but it also took me a while to publish this poem because I was fearful of the reaction I would get from it.
Up until this point, I have had this fear of voicing out exactly how it is that I feel.
This all because I didn’t want to be attacked for my views.
Because I didn’t want to be put in a position where I will have to explain our pain.
Because I knew it would cause a stir.
But what is a stir compared to the whirl storm that we have been encountering?
So yes, I will speak up and out and into your very mind and soul!
But remember this, if what I am about to say offends you,
Then you need to ask yourself why it hits home.
There is a problem, hell, there has always been a problem.
Do not for one moment think that our silence meant that we were at peace.
Our voices were never lost; we just gained more power over it.
So much so, that our voices have now been dubbed as violent.
If you think we have been making a noise then you are yet to hear us roar!
Siyamthanda Stone said that, “The beauty is that we have realised how powerful we are when others have failed to acknowledge that we are powerful in the first place.”
So let me delve into the issues that I’m battling to grapple with.
How is it that Steve Biko in an interview spoke about how when they were protesting, the police and police dogs were sent to ‘contain’ them?
And now the same thing is happening in our universities today.
How is it okay that we have been dodging bullets, running away from pepper spray ,tear gas and stun grenades?
That we are being arrested all because we want free, quality, de-colonised Higher Education?
How is it okay that after everything that has happened we were expected to write exams as if this space is conducive to study in?
How is it that people found and find it so easy to distance themselves from a movement they would benefit from?
How were we called violent, how were we called violent, when defending ourselves with stones while simultaneously being shot at with rubber and buckshot bullets?
Why are we not focused on how management has victimised students?
How management has taken out an interdict on students!
How students have been excluded!
How management has threatened staff members that are part of the Concerned Staff Group!
How the Communication division fed and continues to feed other students and the public nothing but lies and propaganda!
On how the police was sent to contain a situation that didn’t need to be contained!
How management stood and watched while workers and students were being shot at!
How the varsity claims not to have money and then proceeds to install cameras all around campus!
How they turned the library and exam venues into prison camps!
How they were able to hire private security… But they don’t have money, right?
This is the very reality that we are staring in the face.
Every single day.
Carrying our Black Skin as if it were a burden.
And yes, this is the appropriate time to be touched in case you were wondering.
If you are touched then you can stop listening to or reading this poem because that was just the introduction.
So let us move onto this issue of comfort as you seem to believe that comfort and transformation belong in the same sentence.
You believe that comfort and revolution belong in the same sentence.
You believe comfort and the struggle belong in the same sentence.
How do you feel uncomfortable with the so-called vandalism around campus?
But most importantly how you want us to prioritise making you feel comfortable?
But how do you think we can make you feel comfortable in an uncomfortable situation?
Discomfort is something we have experienced from our very first breath.
Our history tells that story of people’s lived experiences.
And to those who have remained neutral throughout all of this, whatever neutral means to you…
‘If you are neutral in times of injustice then you have already sided with the oppressor’
And maybe it’s not a case of you siding with the oppressor, but rather becoming the oppressor yourself.
Lisolethu Dlova agrees and says that, “Now is not the time to be neutral because our aim is not to make you comfortable.”
You should feel uncomfortable because this situation is uncomfortable.
So my dear, we cannot make you feel comfortable because that’s not a situation that we have had the luxury of experiencing.
And yes I said ‘dear’ to upset you because your pretentious smile upsets us more.
And stop telling us this is not a race issue.
We do not have the luxury of choosing when we want to be Black.
We cannot push our race aside and act as if it doesn’t exist just to please you.
So when you say that you are colour blind, I am left with no option but to believe that your cones in your eyes are damaged i.e. that you are medically colour blind.
Just because you see colour, it does not make you racist, it makes you racially aware!
Gorata Chengeta said that, “We cannot wait for you to get comfortable with the problem of race.”
Another issue you don’t seem to understand is the issue of decolonisation and the importance of decolonisation.
Someone, a Black person, said that we don’t have African scholars.
And Siviwe Mhlana responded by saying that, “Just because you don’t learn about African scholars, it does not mean that they don’t exist.”
We cannot privilege knowledge coming from Western cultures and traditions.
Cultures and traditions that have made us believe that being Black is not enough.
That being Black is a sin.
That being Black means that you are already a criminal from birth.
This has in turn forced us to fight for every breath that we take.
To fight for our human dignity.
To fight for the right to be considered as a human being on our very own land.
Now the problem with our education system and the reason why we need to de-colonise it is imperative.
The content we are being taught is Western-centred.
We are learning about what Plato thinks of justice.
What Thomas Hobbes thinks of political philosophy.
We are learning about what Kenneth Waltz thinks of Neo-realism and structural realism in connection to international relations.
We are learning about what John Locke thinks the state of nature is.
What Jeremy Bentham believes utilitarianism is.
What Immanuel Kant’s belief is on the principle of supreme morality.
All Western-centred theorists being taught in Azanian institutions.
But we are not taught that Dr Cheikh Diop founded that Black Egypt was responsible for the rise of the Mediterranean inclusive of Greece and Rome.
We don’t learn about how Dr John Henri Clarke challenged White academic historians and attributed their reluctance to acknowledge the historical contributions of Black people, as part of the systemic and racist suppression and distortion of African history.
Of how Dr Marimba Ani methodically debunked the belief that Western civilisation was the best, most constructive society ever built and she instead pointed out its inherent destructive tendencies.
That Dr Amos Wilson discredited the myth that Black people are inherently criminals.
Not what Chinua Achebe thinks of culture, colonialism, feminism and masculinity.
We don’t have a shortage of African writers, we just don’t recognize the writers we already have.
Now we have been told how we should fight the system.
That we should engage in robust debate in order to reach conclusions that satisfy everyone.
You see the problem is that you cannot give people a scope, or rules or guidelines, as to how they should respond to the injustices that they are constantly facing because that very scope and rules and guidelines are created by the same people who have caused the injustices in the first place!
Yabona ke, niyasiqela!
Let me echo what Ntokozo Qwabe said, “You want us to call for change in a nice manner but the time for “nicety” has surpassed us all.”
And somebody asked Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh how far this so-called violence would go.
And he said, “As far as management lets it go.”
If management is able to deal with problems effectively then there won’t be a need to be violent, whatever they define violent as.
Because evidently our Black skin is violent enough
Nisipethe kakubi maan!
But you have said that we have transformed.
But somehow this idea of transformation is misconstrued.
It’s misconstrued in schools in where Black girls are told to tame their Afro’s.
Where Black people are told to go build their shacks.
Where some schools haven’t had any Black administrators for years.
Where Black people are expected to learn and speak English in order to be successful.
Where we are expected to applaud you for this transformation that you claimed we have achieved simply because our Vice Chancellor is Black.
And I would tackle the gender issue but that’s reserved for another angry poem.
I say angry because that’s the emotion Black people seem to be inherently and intrinsically linked with.
So we will protest and shout and be angry and upset because those are the actions and emotions that you evoke out of us.
And just a reminder.
You do not have to be directly affected by something in order to care about the cause.
We have been told not to obsess with the pigmentation of our skin.
Whereas that very pigmentation has led us to where we are at this very moment.
We have been told that we need to get into the culture of debating issues.
But we are tired of debating and having to convince people there is a problem to begin with.
We are tired of having to explain ourselves and our stance.
Yes, we weren’t alive during Apartheid but those people have our ancestors’ blood on their hands!
Those people oppressed and enslaved many people.
And we are tired of those scarlet hands reaching out towards us acting like they want to help us.
We will not be deceived.
The land and free education will be received.
Asijiki, sizohlala apha noba kutheni!
We can no longer use our valuable breaths to teach you things that can be self-taught
Our breaths are our lives
And Hiwot says ,”Nobody should treat a life as carelessly as this.”
Feature image taken by Charissa Cassels, inspired by Thenjiwe Mswane who said, “If you believe women can’t lead the movement, then history is moving faster than your consciousness.”