This is an abbreviated version of the keynote speech delivered by Sarita Ranchod at the Canon Collins Trust Annual Alumni Dinner in June 2019 before some of southern Africa’s most prominent and brilliant postgraduate scholars. Sarita is the Director of Under the Rainbow, a social justice organisation that advances women and girls’ rights, operating locally, regionally and globally, with a particular interest in sexual and gender-based violence.
It’s easy to get caught up in societal notions of what progress is. About ‘who is doing well’ and what that means. The fancy salary and the fast car are some trappings of “success”, but are they really what we should value? Do they make us freer? The danger for us as scholars, is that as we rise in life, earn more, and become more educated; we become part of the system that supports the rise in inequality. We become part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Someone once said: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.” But what if we opted to drive a modest car, or use public transport? Would it signal failure not to make a spectacle of our ‘wealth’? We would be opting out of being a cog in the wheels of a system based on exploitation, because there is nothing just about capitalism.
When we speak of decolonisation; when we work to undo apartheid’s evils, can we hope to do so inside of capitalism? The same applies to ending patriarchy – because these systems require each other to function. Decolonial, radical, intersectional, Black feminisms cannot realise their goals within a system deliberately designed to benefit the few, at the cost of the many. Unless that social system is undone, any change we effect would simply be changing the complexion and gender of that system.
For some of us, our mother was, or still is – a domestic worker. And it may well be that our mother, the domestic worker – is the reason we are in ‘higher’ education. For us, the injustice of knowing that our siblings, friends and community have no option but to go to township schools that look and feel like Bantu education, stings. They are sentenced, seemingly forever, to an education system that continues to train them to be the labouring class. It is the sting of being exceptional – that it isn’t fair that only the few – those who can rise above the violence of their circumstances – make it. We don’t want to continue to be the exceptions, who achieve, despite the odds. We want to live in a society in which all children receive the best quality of education possible – the best opportunities to live, grow, thrive, love, learn – without exception.
Global neo-liberal, capitalist hegemony will not take us to this other world we dream of, because it disconnects us from each other by creating hierarchies that in this country continue to be ‘raced’, classed and gendered. We need to break down those systems that make it okay for some of us to have two or three flushing toilets in our homes; water inside our homes; literally on tap, while others have to walk often-risky distances to a communal toilet, or tap, shared with dozens of households, that may or may not be working, or clean. Is this dignity? Freedom?
This current system presupposes the benefits of capitalism, and the benefits of changing the complexion of power and patriarchy, will trickle down to the have nots. This is neither true nor just.
Is it just that we live in a society where domestic workers and farm workers, most often women, are excluded from minimum wage legislation? Excluded from workplace compensation when injured, or killed, on the job? Is it fair for us to have a sub-class of workers – mostly women – who are denied employment protection and treated differently?
Where I live, my rubbish gets picked up every Thursday. We recycle, and another truck collects my recycling, also on a Thursday. Like clockwork. Dependable. Consistent. Predictable. Service delivery.
In the local informal settlement, two kilometres away, there is no refuse collection or functioning sanitation system. My neighbourhood Facebook page contains complaints about the filth that runs down from the informal settlement and township, into ‘our’ streets. And when there are efforts to do something about the situation, some argue providing basic services would only attract more of ‘them’ to the area. These are people who think people from the Eastern Cape, living in Cape Town are ‘refugees’, who need to go back to where they came from. Sounds like Bantustan thinking to me.
I’m struck how so many ‘haves’ never consider that people who live in the informal settlement do not have the service provision we take for granted. Instead they vilify the poor for being poor, and for not disposing of their faecal matter or their rubbish in a way that does not upset ‘our’ sensibilities.
We cannot ignore the structural violence that underpins our lives; that predetermines the possibilities for those who do not get to be the exceptions. Taking our flushing toilets for granted; our water on tap, inside our homes, is the result of systems that exclude; systems built on the backs of slavery, colonialism, apartheid and capitalism – benefitting the few, not the many.
There can never really be justice, dignity and freedom inside of capitalism. Capitalist accumulation can never really be separated out from apartheid, patriarchy and colonialism. So I wish to leave you with a challenge that I hope will stay with you – What are we building? And for whom?
Many of us today, are in Higher Education because of the sacrifices others made, to ensure we had the best they could give us. I’m willing to bet more men had access to opportunities when their families had to make the call about which child would go to school, and which child would be sacrificed to raise the other children, or to work in a low level occupation, to put others through their education. I encourage you to viscerally feel these real, everyday injustices – how the personal is indeed the political.
I am, because of the sacrifices made by those who came before me.
As scholar activists therefore, in voicing our resistance – we need to use our privilege – whether that privilege was earned through our efforts, or whether that privilege was handed down as a birth-right. We need to ensure all children live and grow up in a world in which they are safe, free, and have the choice of opportunity to determine the path of their lives, unconstrained by their sex, ‘race’, gender, colour, class, ability or sexuality. Another world is possible. It’s up to us to create it. No one is coming to rescue us. In the words of June Jordan, in her poem, ‘For South African Women’: We are the ones we have been waiting for.