Sisters in activism  

Combatting performative activism, one activist at a time.  

To celebrate Women’s Month, the Sesi Fellowship and Skill Hub facilitated specialist training for aspiring activists, with the hopes of increasing their level of active citizenship. 

The Generation Equality Fellowship ran over two days, August 5 and 6 at the Bannister Hotel in Braamfontein.  

Generation Equality Fellowship volunteers and trainees at the end of the last session on Saturday, August 5. Photo: Nonhlanhla Mathebula

Project lead, Mpho Rachidi, said Sesi – which translates to ‘sister’ – is focused on sisterhood so they had to ensure that the fellowship catered for women. “[We] wanted the girls to take the skills that they learnt here and implement them in the spaces that they’d find themselves in,” she said. 

When participants were selected, they “looked for beginner to intermediate activists or those who have had exposure to the space but need guidance as to how else they can contribute,” said Rachidi. 

There were various team building exercises and presentations around defining activism and its various forms, personal growth and community development, and the different roles one could occupy as an activist.  

Sesi project lead and manager, Sinoxolo Cakata, said learning about “the different qualities required to become an impactful activist” could help combat performative activism – a term A.F Thimsen described as applying to “instances of shallow or self-serving support of social justice causes”. Performative activists “only talk about the issue when it’s trending and not do anything about it,” said Cakata. 

She created a campaigning activity for the budding activists in which they had to create a hypothetical social justice campaign. Each group had to figure out the role that each member would play in ensuring their campaign’s longevity in relation to their educational background, experiences, skills, and interests.  

One group was given a topic on conscious consumerism, and they came up with a campaign on sustainable fashion in which they would hold fashion retailers accountable for child labour, inhumane working environments and other unethical practices. Each person’s role was determined according to the degree they were pursuing in that a law student would oversee the legal department for instance. 

Third-year Wits law student, Tshegofatso Modiba, told Wits Vuvuzela: “I [applied for] this programme because I wanted to find my own form of activism.” By the end of the day, she discovered that her favourite form was artistic activism (where artists create pieces that evoke emotion and inspire social change). 

Rachidi said more young women “need to use their voice”, and their future projects will be developed with this in mind.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Sesi volunteer, Sibongile Radebe, facilitating a training session. Photo: Nonhlanhla Mathebula

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Queerness is not synonymous with activism 

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are tired of being assumed as change makers in binary spaces that exclude their queerness. 

While queerness is now visible in old and new media in society, members of the Activate Wits (LGBTQIA+ student society) argued that there is still much more work that can be done to cater to their needs. This was the central theme in the very first Queer Lekgotla, on Monday, August 7. 

The discussion was held at Solomon Mahlangu House (SH6). According to the student society’s advertisement, Queer Lekgotla was held in order “to engage in meaningful discussions concerning the needs and concerns of the queer community [at Wits].”  

Sihle Mazibu, former chairperson of Activate explained how queerness and activism should not be treated as synonyms. “Activism is tiring, activism is draining, and you will find yourself [pouring from an empty cup].   

Our job as queer people is to simply take up space,” she said.  

However, she recognised that it’s unfortunate that queer people must carry the burden of being “changemakers” in circles they normally frequent at.  

The rainbow flag detail on the Activate Wits blazer from behind the refreshments counter. Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe

Meanwhile, panelist and Activate deputy chairperson Zandile Ndlovu said that during her high school years, she saw varsity as a space that would accommodate how she identifies. “I remember seeing somebody with pink hair kissing another person with pink hair” she said, adding that she remembers saying to herself, “I want to be you.” Yet her first experience from first year reflected the opposite of that.  

Ndlovu was surprised by how queerness was politicised in university. Referring to how straight identifying student leaders used it in a way that would help them appear as progressive, yet still excluding the people they claim to represent. 

Ndlovu said that when she would attend events that facilitate spaces for queer people, there would be straight women speaking there.” I was like… I am not sure if this is [how it is supposed to be],” she said. This is until she found Activate, a society she calls, “home”. 

Wits alumnus and fellow panellist, Moeketsi Koahela shared his experience of being an employee while being queer. For him, the workplace made him realise “activism is not for everyone, the struggle is not for everyone. I think it is a calling. 

“Not all of us have to go to the streets and picket, there is much more that can be done in terms of policy making,” he said. 

Koahela encouraged the attendees to start asking themselves, “What is my role?” because not all of them have to burn tyres. “Some of us are good in the boardroom and that is where we will be trying to find solutions from”.  

In closing, students were encouraged to find a type of activism that spoke to them as individuals —   and that they should wear queerness as an identity that speaks to who they are, and not as tools meant to fix the world. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Friends and members of Activate Wits that were in attendance at Queer Lekgotla (From left to right: Noma Sibanda, Sipho Mcani, Ayanda Ntuli, Lesego Makinita, Siyanda Madlokazi, Onkokame Seepamore) . Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe

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Wits students tackle social inequality in healthcare through new society

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Health sciences students launched a new society dedicated to creating awareness about inequalities in healthcare. Photo: Provided.

Wits health science students launched the Student Advocates for Health society (StAH) at the Parktown campus last night. The society reflects the awareness of these students of the  socio-economic factors affecting the quality of healthcare in South Africa.

The idea for the organisation came about when a group of students doing shifts at a local hospital were outraged by a poster indicating that some patients were denied HIV treatment.

“We saw the social inequality and did not know how to do anything about it.  We [health science students] don’t know what’s happening in the world, we don’t know what politics mean.  This organisation is to inform students about the realities of what is happening in hospitals,” said one of the founders, Ndumiso Mathebula, 4th year MBBCh.

The society plans to facilitate opportunities for students to work with organisations like Section27, Doctors Without Borders, the Wits Citizenship Community Outreach, the Wits Transformation Office and the Treatment Action Campaign . Students will learn different skills of advocacy, said Mathebula.

Empowered students

Neo Mkhaba, 4th year MBBCh and StAH media officer, said as advocates, health science students would be empowered to “identify problems and come up with solutions that are comprehensive and sustainable.”

“We need more people to step into the darkness, because someone has to turn on the light.”

Joseph Tewson, anatomy honours, said: “I get very excited when things happen on campus.  We are a very laid-back generation.  We need more of this on campus.  We need more people to step into the darkness, because someone has to turn on the light.”

Lesnè Pucjlowski, 3rd year MBBCh was keen on standing up for her patients, “I’m really just interested in standing up for my patients’ human rights.  Our patients are important and their needs are important and I am happy that StAH will give me the opportunity to be proactive.”

Cybil Mulundi, 4th year MBBCh, wants to implement what she learns at StAH in her future career: “I am here to learn how doctors can make patients more aware of their human rights and make sure they are not taken advantage of.”

Monique Losper, 4th year MBBCh, added: “I would like to find out how to create a better relationship between doctors and patients in our careers going forward. I am expecting StAH to help enhance awareness of rights and responsibilities so that patients can receive good healthcare.”

The organisers used the event to commemorate the youth of 1976, who died for what they believed in, said Mkhaba.  The same spirit of activism should be carried by this generation, but it should not be destructive, emphasised Mathebula.  In the past, people had to destroy to get their freedom, he told Wits Vuvuzela.

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EDITORIAL: A little closer to home

Last week, Wits was a hot bed of student action during Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). Scores of students took to the library lawns and media platforms to fight for their cause. This fight was, for many, a fight for human rights.

One cannot deny the legitimacy of this cause. No matter what side people are on, we understand the contestation and the need to bring issues of human rights to light.

The principle of human rights activism, as we interpret it, is to stand against the violation of human rights in any and all situations. But why is it that human rights violations on our doorstep fade in the shadow of international causes?
Last week, Wits Vuvuzela published a story about the torture of homeless people by police outside the Methodist church in Braamfontein. This without a doubt is a gross violation of human rights, but the reaction was muted. No questions were asked and no support was shown for the victims.

[pullquote]Activism should not be something that happens in shifts, there should be no “off” days for activists. [/pullquote]
Yet some Witsies were quick to take to the Twitter streets to complain about “misleading” IAW coverage in Wits Vuvuzela.

Activism should not be something that happens in shifts, there should be no “off” days for activists. While it is inevitable that people will feel closer to certain causes, it is problematic to ignore or hold in a lesser regard other issues of human rights violations, particularly those that are happening on our doorstep.

Where were our human rights activists when the Marikana miners were gunned down? Better yet, where were our human rights activists when our students were being sexually harassed?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Our lives begin to end the day we keep quiet about things that matter”. When the people who should say something say nothing, humanity slowly whittles away and before we know it, it’s “okay” to disregard certain rights and certain people as being less important.

[pullquote align=”right”]When we can, we must make some noise, raise our voices above oppression and ultimately be the change that we want to see in the world.[/pullquote]
If all human rights are fundamentally equal and important, then the homeless people brutalised by the police in Braamfontein should garner the same support and raise the same level of passion between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian activists on campus.

Wits has always been a site of activism. The likes of Nelson Mandela and Ruth First paved the road to democracy on this very ground. They fought for us all, none more important than the other. If it had not been for them, we would not be here today.

We owe it to them, ourselves and future generations to ensure that human rights are afforded to everyone. When we can, we must make some noise, raise our voices above oppression and ultimately be the change that we want to see in the world.