By Lerato Mlambo (@Leighratoh)
Reflecting on the patriarchal and homophobic moments that gave pause for concern during the Fees Must Fall protests, Lerato Mlambo asks us to find ways in which we can undertake a revolution such that we ensure that we are able to rid ourselves of these societal ills where all can be liberated.
The past three weeks have been of significant victories for the black South African student. It has always been purported that the so called born-free generation either lives an injustice free life or lacks the necessary political consciousness to challenge the injustices. Events leading to October 2015 have proved that this generation is born free from patience and the fear of demanding a decent life for themselves, their parents and children yet to be born.
The Fees Must Fall movement has inspired a vibrant revolutionary spirit among marginalised youth. I do not know how many times I have either heard, read or said the word “revolution” during this past week. Easily, the idea of a revolution inspires fearlessness to some people while it engenders a sense of fear for people like me.
The revolution has always been life threatening to me for as long as I have been aware of my skin colour, gender and sexual orientation in relation to the status quo. There is very little hope for a black queer woman during the revolution. The popular idea of a burn down everything revolution will only be survived by the cis-gender heterosexual black man.
I understand the urgency of revolting but I want to tell the black man to delay it. I want this revolution delayed not because I care about deconstructing structures and burning down buildings but because I value lives more. Intersectionality matters even in times of the revolution. During this order, we have not proved to be a tolerant society. A society that will protect everyone during times of war. We are a violent, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic and patriarchal society. This will not change during anarchy.
There is no glamour in war. I am scared of the opportunism that comes with the violence of revolutions. The never ending coups, tribalism, xenophobia and homophobia. I am scared of the sexual violence, the recruitment of child soldiers and the displacement of persons. I am most scared of the possibility that we may not be able to rebuild because forces always take over well-meaning movements to profit from the disorder.
I do not trust the black men in the Fees Must Fall movement to keep their focus on decolonialisation and deconstruction and to protect us women at the same time. Not when the same men raise their one hand in a fist calling for the revolution while they inappropriately touch female protesters with the other. When we whistle for fees to fall some of them are whistling for the attention of women. A friend of mine went to the protest to march for free quality education but ended up dealing with cat calling instead. Many female students have raised safety issues during occupation of universities as some shared the space with alleged rapists.
Women are often in the forefront of revolutions but they become the oppressed when the dust settles. We have had to ask very difficult questions about why female student leaders who had the legitimacy to lead were not as prominent as some of their male colleagues. We were then accused of dividing students (mostly by men) for questioning patriarchal motives. Some of our male student leaders comfortably write that white women like Ruth First took the spotlight away from black female leaders during the liberation movement. While that may be somewhat true in another universe, the truth in this one is that black men are the ones hogging the spotlight. So how do we trust the black men to protect women when they cannot even respect democratic processes which allow women to lead?
We are young people. We are supposed to use our reality to challenge preconceived ideas. Holding on to the fact that revolutions have always been a blood bath in the streets is not enough. The idea of what it means to revolt was conceived long before many of us were even born. Life has become more complex but we still stick to that idea. We must ask ourselves if it is still appropriate to copy and paste revolutionary ideas from dead leaders who thought it appropriate for their time is the best for everyone today. We must also ask ourselves if the martyred leaders would not have changed their minds if they were still alive today.
During this time we must also question what it means being radical in South Africa today. If we define radicalism by the number of injured bodies after a protest because that is what 1976 was, then we have a problem. Stirring violence in the pursuit of martyrdom is self-serving and dangerous for any movement.
While history is good for lessons, we cannot use the brutality of past revolutions to benchmark the success of ours. I am certain that as young people we can find new ways of avoiding bloody streets during our revolution.