The Shallow Lies Of Normalcy In South Africa

In 1976, the uprisings in Soweto helped usher in the high-tide of anti-apartheid protests in South Africa. Andrew Nash, an associate professor of political thought at the University of Cape Town, was a graduate student in the now-defunct Department of Political Philosophy at Stellenbosch University. A prestigious institution, located in the quaint hinterland of the Cape Winelands, where high-ranking individuals with close ties to the National Party (NP) - apartheid’s one-time guardians – had tea with academics and students on a regular basis.

In the conversations that he sat in on, as he later recollected in an article published by a Cape Town newspaper in 2009, Nash picked up on a popular refrain; a manner of seeing the nation-wide protests that suggested that apartheid itself was not at fault. “They made it sound as if the NP government and not the black majority were the victims of injustice” he writes. “They complained in effect that those protesting against apartheid were responsible for perpetuating it, by forcing the government to continue shooting protesters in the streets, breaking up marches and funerals, detaining leaders, banning organisations and the like, and thus preventing the government from getting back to what it really wanted to do: building new schools and houses, providing electricity, removing apartheid laws. If only the nation-wide uprising could be halted, they thought, we could get back to normal.”

What they missed of course, because of their unshakeable faith in white-minority rule, was that apartheid resembled nothing of a normal society. The entire project would have to be abolished or, as Nash says, it would have to be “imposed by mounting and ever more brutal and lawless repression, aimed at wider parts of South African society”. The NP settled for the latter and the negotiated settlement which led to the first democratic elections in 1994 was in part, necessitated by the need “to make the continuation of capitalism ‘normal’ again” after years of bloodshed. A compromise which in some respects  meant that Big Capital would be allowed to go back to business as usual by opening up its ranks to black people in the name of redistribution.

The massacre of thirty-four striking workers last week in a firestorm of bullets after clashing with police near a platinum mine 100km North West of Johannesburg speaks to the ‘new’ South Africa’s intensely uncomfortable schizophrenic existence – caught somewhere between a scream and a lullaby.  The deaths, which resulted in President Jacob Zuma sanctioning a week of official mourning with flags flying at half mast, occurred when 3 000 miners - rock drill operators - decided to stage a wildcat strike demanding an increase to their monthly wage from R4000 ($481.38) to R12 000 ($1 444.47). The CEO of the company in question, Lonmin, an entity listed on the stock exchange in London and in Johannesburg, earned upwards of two million dollars last year. Has there ever been a status quo more morally obscene?

However, there is more to the chain of events that led to last week’s tragic shooting, one of the worst post-1994 South Africa has witnessed. According to a report which appeared in the Guardian, some the leaders of the Nation Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had become too friendly with the cartel of mine bosses. So much so they “allegedly accepted wage settlements that tied workers into years of meagre increases” turning the wage-bargaining into a fixed dice game in which the house could never lose. By doing so they allowed the no-nonsense upstart, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), to call them on their bluff and usurp its position with the rock drill operators.

So where does South Africa go from here? The workers and the mine bosses are at a stalemate and some 259 miners are in jail awaiting trial; will things ever get back to ‘normal’? No one can say for certain but one thing is for sure, as Nash said, albeit in a different context, “too many supposedly deep truths about the place of the markets in human life have been exposed as shallow lies, and too many people are being made to suffer the consequences for them simply to believe them again.”


Introducing OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 List

Celebrating African Women Laying the Groundwork for the Future

It would not be hyperbole to consider the individuals we're honoring for OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 list as architects of the future.

This is to say that these women are building infrastructure, both literally and metaphorically, for future generations in Africa and in the Diaspora. And they are doing so intentionally, reaching back, laterally, and forward to bridge gaps and make sure the steps they built—and not without hard work, mines of microaggressions, and challenges—are sturdy enough for the next ascent.

In short, the women on this year's list are laying the groundwork for other women to follow. It's what late author and American novelist Toni Morrison would call your "real job."

"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."

And that's what inspired us in the curation of this year's list. Our honorees use various mediums to get the job done—DJ's, fashion designers, historians, anthropologists, and even venture capitalists—but each with the mission to clear the road ahead for generations to come. Incredible African women like Eden Ghebreselassie, a marketing lead at ESPN who created a non-profit to fight energy poverty in Eritrea; or Baratang Miya, who is quite literally building technology clubs for disadvantaged youth in South Africa.

There are the builds that aren't physically tangible—movements that inspire women to show up confidently in their skin, like Enam Asiama's quest to normalize plus-sized bodies and Frédérique (Freddie) Harrel's push for Black and African women to embrace the kink and curl of their hair.

And then there are those who use their words to build power, to take control of the narrative, and to usher in true inclusion and equity. Journalists, (sisters Nikki and Lola Ogunnaike), a novelist (Oyinkan Braithwaite), a media maven (Yolisa Phahle), and a number of historians (Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Leïla Sy) to name a few.

In a time of uncertainty in the world, there's assuredness in the mission to bring up our people. We know this moment of global challenge won't last. It is why we are moving forward to share this labor of love with you, our trusted and loyal audience. We hope that this list serves as a beacon for you during this moment—insurance that future generations will be alright. And we have our honorees to thank for securing that future.


The annual OkayAfrica 100 Women List is our effort to acknowledge and uplift African women, not only as a resource that has and will continue to enrich the world we live in, but as a group that deserves to be recognized, reinforced and treasured on a global scale. In the spirit of building infrastructure, this year's list will go beyond the month of March (Women's History Month in America) and close in September during Women's Month in South Africa.

100 women 2020

Burna Boy 'African Giant' money cover art by Sajjad.

The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs

We comb through the Nigerian star's hit-filled discography to select 20 essential songs from the African Giant.

Since bursting onto the scene in 2012 with his chart-topping single, "Like to Party," and the subsequent release of his debut album, L.I.F.E - Leaving an Impact for eternity, Burna Boy has continued to prove time and again that he is a force to be reckoned with.

The African Giant has, over the years, built a remarkable musical identity around the ardent blend of dancehall, hip-hop, reggae, R&B, and afropop to create a game-changing genre he calls afro-fusion. The result has been top tier singles, phenomenal collaborations, and global stardom—with several accolades under his belt which include a Grammy nomination and African Giant earning a spot on many publications' best albums of 2019.

We thought to delve into his hit-filled discography to bring you The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs.

This list is in no particular order.

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief
Photo courtesy of Upile Chisala.

Join Upile Chisala For Soothing Readings of Her Latest Works

Malawian poet Upile Chisala is set to deliver readings from her three poetry collections on Instagram Live.

Malawian poet Upile Chisala is set to deliver readings of her latest works of poetry on Instagram Live this week.

On the 8th of April, she'll be hosting a session where she'll read from her first two works Soft Magic and Nectar while the session on the 9th of April will include a reading from her latest work titled A Fire Like You. Both sessions will take place at 8 PM (SAST).

Keep reading... Show less
Justice Mukheli. Courtesy of Black Major/Bongeziwe Mabandla.

Interview: Bongeziwe Mabandla's New Album Is a Calm Meditation On Relationships

We speak with the South African artist about his captivating new album, iimini, love cycles, and the unexpected influence of Bon Iver.

"I've been playing at home for so many years and pretending to be having shows in my living room, and today it's actually happening," Bongeziwe Mabandla says, smiling out at me from my cellphone as I watch him play songs on Instagram Live, guitar close to his chest.

Two weekends ago, Mabandla was meant to be celebrating the release of his third album, iimini, at the Untitled Basement in Braamfontein in Joburg, which would no doubt have been packed with some of the many fans the musician has made since his debut release, Umlilo, in 2012. With South Africa joining many other parts of the world in a lockdown, those dates were cancelled and Mabandla, like many other artists, took to social media to still play some tracks from the album. The songs on iimini are about the life and death of a relationship—songs that are finding their way into the hearts of fans around the world, some of whom, now stuck in isolation, may be having to confront the ups and downs of love, with nowhere to hide.

The day before his Instagram Live mini-show, Mabandla spoke to OkayAfrica on lockdown from his home in Newtown about the lessons he's learned from making the album, his new-found love for Bon Iver, and how he's going to be spending his time over the next few weeks.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox