Image via TONL.

The Curious But Violent Case of the Coconut

Dear, fellow Africans, please remove the word "coconut" from your vocabulary, unless you're referring to the actual nut.

Having to take a minibus taxi in Johannesburg is always a daunting task. In a country where there are eleven official languages, Zulu taxi drivers in Jo'burg seem to expect everyone to speak Zulu. This, to them, is a mark of being true black South Africans. Now imagine me, rocking one of my many funky hairstyles, glasses and quirky sense of style, asking one of the drivers where a particular taxi is going. I have had them look at me from head-to-toe with disdain, click their tongues in disgust and some ignore me altogether. I kid you not. And what I have come to know is that to many people, I am read as trying to look and sound like something I am not—a white person. Worse still, many have told me mockingly that I consider myself better than them; this private school, English-speaking, strangely-dressed coconut. For the longest time, it's stung.

Growing up, I was the black kid that that was always ostracized because I was markedly different. I listened to Coldplay, Imagine Dragons and classical opera (I was doing the most I know) and spoke with English with an accent. I ate pap with a fork instead of using my hands and always had my nose in a book instead of playing outside with the other kids in my neighborhood. Because of this, I was (and still am) called a "coconut" which feels like a deliberate stripping away of my blackness.

A coconut is a black person who is said to be black on the outside but white on the inside. In essence, while one may look like a black person on the outside, one is inherently a white person. And because blackness is seen to be equivalent to "Africaness," without the one, you cannot be the other. Unlike biracial kids whose blackness is constantly questioned because of their mixed heritage, the blackness of South African black kids is challenged on the basis of their personalities, behaviours, interests and quirks.

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The Daily Nightmare of Being a South African Woman Shows No Signs of Ending

Rape, kidnapping and murder are routine in a society where women's lives are devalued.

My apartment is a five-minute walk from The University of the Witwatersrand campus. About every hundred meters, I look over my shoulder to ensure that I am not being followed by a man or a slow-moving vehicle. One time, I stopped walking and waited for a man walking behind me to pass. As I did that, he bent down to tie his shoelace. And because I was paranoid already, I mistook him for having stopped because he wanted to harm me. The fear that I had felt in that moment and the resulting silliness I felt when I realised what he had been doing, was overwhelming. By the time I arrived at my apartment, I was in tears.

Every South African woman can relate to this reality in some way or another. And they have a reason.

About every eight hours, a woman dies in South Africa. Half of these women die at the hands of their partners, those they trust the most. One in three women is raped, but due to underreporting, experts estimate that the reality is closer to one in two. These alarming statistics show no signs of slowing down at all. There has not been a single day, save when I have deliberately stayed off of social media, where I have not retweeted or shared a post of a missing young woman who has probably fallen victim to yet another abduction perhaps to supply the black market with organs, because of muti or to be trafficked into prostitution.

Last year, I wrote an article that attempted to explain why women had chosen to champion the #MenareTrash movement in response to the surge in rape, femicide and sexual assault in the country at that time. Unsurprisingly, instead of focusing on the fact that a young woman, Karabo Mokoena, had been murdered by her boyfriend and subsequently burnt, instead of being appalled that a pregnant woman had been gang-raped in a taxi in front of her three-year old child, the conversation revolved around nursing the bruised egos of men. #NotAllMen followed and detracted from the purpose of the #MenAreTrash movement in much the same way #AllLivesMatter detracted from #BlackLivesMatter.

This year, Karabo Mokoena's boyfriend, Sandile Mantsoe, was sentenced to 32 years in prison for her murder. He deserved life, in my opinion. During his sentencing, and in a gesture that epitomised his lack of remorse, he smiled. That's right; he smiled.

Recently, Zolile Khumalo, a young woman studying at the Mangosuthu University of Technology, was shot dead by her ex-boyfriend, Thabani MzoloThabani Mzolo, in her room at residence in full view of her roommate. He then handed himself over to the police. As he left the courtroom, he imitated the pulling of a trigger with both his hands. He is reported to have claimed that he wished that Khumalo had not died before he could forgive her for leaving him.

Another woman, Mihle Sibembe, was ironed (yes ironed) by her boyfriend Thomazile Gawula and sustained burns to her face, thighs and stomach. If that wasn't enough (in South Africa it never is), Sibembe's boyfriend proceeded to stuff her underneath his bed, like one would some dirty laundry or a pair of shoes, believing that she was dead.

South African men: you need to start calling each other out when you see any woman being harassed by other men. You need to call each other out, friend or stranger, for catcalling women. Don't make it your business to not get involved because, guess what, you're just as bad as that cat-caller. It's called being complicit. Stop being friends with rapists, sexual assaulters and murderers. It's not enough to be "a nice guy." In fact, that's BS. I'd like to see how your exalted 'niceness' stops a bullet or a woman from being kidnapped. And to the proud patriarchs, since you're all so keen on defining your masculinity through your ability to protect, why don't you actually start protecting for once because man, oh man, like Nayyirah Waheed says: "All the women in me are tired."

My friends laugh when I tell them that even when it comes to the closest males in my life, I trust them as far as I can throw them. But I am not joking. I am always hyper-aware, cautious to the point of paranoia and fearful to the point of debilitation. Will this ever change? Will we ever matter? I am becoming tremendously disheartened. We're doomed if we're single, doomed if we're not. We're doomed if we stay in relationships and doomed if we choose to leave. We're doomed if we stay locked up in our homes and doomed when we venture outside.

Koleka Putuma's words haunt me every day as I walk to and from my apartment to campus: "I don't want to die with my hands up or my legs open."


Dear Kanye West: Why stop at slavery? Let's talk about how South Africans chose Apartheid.

An open letter to Kanye West from a South African

I live in South Africa, in the city of Johannesburg to be specific. And while I've never stepped foot in the United States, never attended a Kanye West concert or spotted him strolling down the street with his entourage, I have met him in other forms. I have met him in my white South African colleagues who believe that people like me choose to be poor. We choose to be domestic workers, gardeners and car guards. We choose to live in shacks made out of scrap materials that get washed away because of periodic floods.We choose to live like animals. We choose to live undignified lives filled with immeasurable strife.

You see, my white colleagues have the luxury of privilege. Privilege is a funny thing. Like a horse wearing blinkers, all privilege sees is a woman washing dishes because surely that is her only aspiration in life. Privilege sits pretty, comfortable and self-righteous when black students are being shot at by police for fighting for their right to affordable tertiary education. Privilege says 'I can do it better' but never actually gets to doing anything at all.

See Kanye, I have met you already. You are privilege, and so yes, you get to choose. But what you refuse to acknowledge is that the rest of us don't.

I don't shy away from controversy. I espouse the notion of free thought because Aristotle once said that it is the mark of an educated man to entertain a thought without accepting it. I've learnt that there are real repercussions to something as routine as thinking because more often than not, our thoughts encourage action. And because of that, I espouse humanity above all else.

Kanye's recent comments and thoughts are not unique. They are not original and neither are they free.

A few weeks ago, South Africa laid to rest Mam' Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. She was a radical stalwart who fought alongside many other comrades in the struggle against the murderous and segregationist Apartheid regime. If she could have chosen a life that did not involve being woken up at all hours of the day by the police, forcibly removed from her home, taken away from her children, tortured, raped and then betrayed by the very people for whom she fought to liberate, I am sure she would have chosen differently. Her late ex-husband, the iconic Nelson Mandela, went through much the same. He sat for close to three decades in a cell on an island, working endlessly in a lime quarry because he believed that the black man ought to be equal to the white man. If he'd had the opportunity, I'm sure he would not have chosen that fate for himself. What of Hector Pieterson, the 13-year-old boy who died in the Soweto uprisings of 1976 fighting for the right to learn in a language he could actually understand? Would he not have chosen differently had he had the choice?

Apartheid was a white supremacist system that I can assure you, was not a result of black people choosing indignity, displacement, dehumanisation and death. It still saddens me to this day, that there are many black South Africans that died not knowing that Apartheid, by law, would eventually be abolished. They worked tirelessly for a freedom they did not even live to realise. While Apartheid lasted for forty decades and slavery, four centuries, an alarming sentiment seems to be emerging in light of Kanye's comments: surely if black people 'allowed' slavery to continue for a whole 400 years, it was only because black people had chosen to be enslaved for that long. We illogically conclude that black people were just too nonchalant, too lazy to free themselves. We ask why black people had the audacity to permit slavery to go on for centuries instead of questioning why slavery happened in the first place. Why the fuck are we not asking ourselves why Europeans chose to pillage, rape and murder entire nations all in the name of "discovery and exploration?"

Kanye's recent comments and thoughts are not unique. They are not original and neither are they free. Perhaps that's the most painfully ironic part to all this. In his attempt to be a revolutionary free thinker, he has only managed to become a copy of the original manuscript written eons ago that sought to produce mindsets just like his.

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