‘We are the trans people who have loved RMF even when it did not love us’


It was as early as April 2015, just a month after the inception of RMF, that what is now known as the Trans Collective flagged the issue of a rigid loyalty to patriarchy, cisnormativity, heteronormativity and the gender binary within the space. In our founding statement we made it clear that ‘we recognise that colonization has had a severe impact on how we perceive gender and gender expression and thus we are reclaiming our space in the globalised decolonisation movement and calling for our narrative to be instructive going forward’.

However, we had been coerced to construct a smaller decolonial enclave that would run parallel to RMF because of what had become apparent as a gulf in consciousness of many, particularly black cishet men, organisers where the understanding of the colony and how it operates did not connect with an understanding of patriarchy, heteronormativity and gender essentialism as colonially demarcated powers.

Often times, there was an outright refusal to acknowledge that the condition of being a womxn, queer, trans, disabled and so forth is not incidental to blackness but that these conditions are collateral to blackness. So suffocating is this, that we have had to submarine from active membership. We refuse to avail our bodies and psyches for the violence that has infiltrated the decolonial project through patriarchy, cisnormativity, heteronormativity and the gender binary.

Our role has now evolved into speaking back to RMF and keeping it accountable to its commitment to intersectionality precisely because it is positioned as a black decolonial space. We are black, queer and trans simultaneously. These are not severable and we deserve to be freed from their colonial baggage simultaneously too.

Following a year of literally wrestling with patriarchy and trans antagonism in the shadows of running from stun grenades, tear gas, jail cells and private security, the Trans Collective has decided to give content to what has been popularly known as ‘radical black feminist militancy’.

On the occasion of the well-attended RMF exhibition, RMF aligned trans people once again put themselves on the line by physically disrupting the cishetero patriarchy within the movement generally and the erasure and tokenism in the exhibition particularly.

First, the Trans Collective demanded that the organising committee remove all the images, videos and texts of and by trans people. As it turns out that only 3 out of more than 1000 images that ended up making it onto the exhibition roll featured a trans person’s face somewhere on them. This is truly disgrace on the exhibition selection committee and particularly those ‘black intersectional feminist’ cis womxn who sat on it for the purpose of ensuring due representation. Even more damning is that it is clear the RMF and the exhibition’s idea of intersectional representation has the faces of 4 or 5 black cis womxn repeated in a spectacular show of false inclusivity.

It is disingenuous to include trans people in a public gallery when you have made no effort to include them in the private. It is a lie to include trans people when the world is watching, but to erase and antagonise them when the world is no longer cares. We have reached the peak of our disillusionment with RMF’s trans exclusion and erasure. We are done with the arrogant cis hetero patriarchy of black men. We will no longer tolerate the complicity of black cis womxn in our erasure.

We are fed up with RMF being ‘intersectional’ being used as public persuasion rhetoric.

We are saying down with faux inclusivity – RMF make it clear, to the world, that we are not welcome here. RMF will not tokenise our presence as if they ever treasured us as part of their movement. We will not have our bodies, faces, names, and voices used as bait for public applause. We are tired of being expected to put our bodies on the line for people who refuse to do the same for us.

Secondly, in a bid to actualise our disgruntlement, a small group of us manoeuvred our way through the crowd, naked and decorated in red paint, grabbed the microphone from the cisgender man who was addressing the crowd outside. We proceeded to enter the exhibition venue and blocked all entrances with our naked and adorned bodies. One of the placards which we placed on top of our bodies read “Go on, jump over us one more time”, making a reference to how trans people in RMF and other fallist movements have been walked over during the last year.

As we lay at the entrances, the crowd festivities outside were continuing. At this point, one of us rose up, interrupted the speaker, took the loudhailer and proceeded to call out the patriarchy, the trans-antagonism, sexual violence that has come to be unchecked within RMF. Furthermore we called out the fact that we have had our bodies and psyches on the line in fallist movements, but are continually erased in narratives by cisgender people. The statement ended by cautioning the attendees that anyone who would enter through the blockaded doors to see the exhibition would be stepping over trans bodies and that they would have to reconcile themselves with the implication that they valued the content of the exhibition more than the trans bodies on the floor and their plight.

We then took the continuing activities outside as an instruction to actualise the work that was being done by our bodies and blockading by communicating our erasure on the exhibition content. We replaced the images with placards which told a truer story of RMF. A story of trans erasure, trans antagonism, unabated sexual assault and complicity. We left other images with marks of red paint as a display of our presence. We may not have been included in the exhibition role in a meaningful way, but it must be clear to all viewers of the exhibition that raging trans people had been in that space.

We must, however, state unequivocally that our disruptive intervention at the RMF exhibition should not under any circumstances be construed as a rejection of RMF or a departure away from decolonisation. We maintain that decolonisation is necessary for a reclamation of our humanity as black queer trans people. Our intervention is an act of black love. It is a commitment towards making RMF the fallist space of our dreams. It forms part of the journey towards the ‘logical conclusion’ of the decolonisation project. There will be no Azania if black men simply fall into the throne of the white man without any comprehensive reorganisation of power along all axis of the white supremacist, imperialist, abliest, capitalist cisheteropatriarchy. To our minds this interpretation is line with this commitments that RMF has made in its mission statement to in March 2015:

We want to state that while this movement emerged as a response to racism at UCT, we recognise that experiences of oppression on this campus are intersectional and we aim to adopt an approach that is cognisant of this going forward. An intersectional approach to our blackness takes into account that we are not only defined by our blackness, but that some of us are also defined by our gender, our sexuality, our able-bodiedness, our mental health, and our class, among other things. We all have certain oppressions and certain privileges and this must inform our organising so that we do not silence groups among us, and so that no one should have to choose between their struggles. Our movement endeavours to make this a reality in our struggle for decolonisation.”

Furthermore, we want to be clear that each and everyone of the trans people who put a stop to the RMF exhibition was entitled to. Trans people have an equal stake in the Rhodes Must Fall movement. We have contributed to building the movement from scratch and we will never hesitate to reconfigure it to be in accordance with our needs and wants as trans people and with the tenets of the decolonisation project. We are the trans people who have given Rhodes Must Fall the revolutionary language of ‘womxn’, ‘non-binary’, and ‘trans*’.

We are the trans people who lobbied tirelessly for the inclusion of black radical feminism as one of the three pillars of the movement, alongside Pan Afrikanism and Black Consciousness. We are the trans bodies who had invested their time conceptualising and running the Intersectionality Audit Committee. We are the trans people who spent hours at Azania enriching the movement with knowledge about the difference between sex, gender and sexual orientation, gender essentialism, intersectionality, feminism and patriarchy.

We are the trans people who have time and time again allowed the violence of being probed, violated, exposed in order to grow and enrich the movement – at the expense of our psyches and bodies. We are the trans people who have spent time tolerating trans misogynoir and transphobia in order to facilitate the learning and growth of individuals in the movement. We are the trans people who have put our bodies on the line for all black people at RMF, only to have to face the same oppressor, merely with a different name, alone while organizing under the banner of the Queer Revolution and the Alternative Inclusive Cape Town Pride. We are the trans people who stripped naked at Azania house with cis women when cishet men were victim blaming a rape survivor, yet were erased the next day.

We are the trans people who have loved RMF even when it did not love us.

Aluta Continua

[Statement issued by UCT Trans Collective]

SEE: Rhodes Must Fall exhibition vandalised


Mandela Table Mountain Monument controversy

South Africa has had its fair share of Mandela scandals involving the misappropriation of the Mandela name to raise funds. This latest attempt on crowdfunding site Indiegogo smacks of opportunism and presents a monstrous eyesore and blot on our national heritage. Hands off Table Mountain and Madiba is all I can say.


South Africa’s Dignity Wars – The Brett Murray Painting

DIGNITY AND indignation have a common etymologic root. When people speak of “Dignity” they often mean “Dig-ME-ty” as in the popular Whitney Houston anthem which goes: They can’t take away my dignity… because the greatest love of all is happening to ME.” We often reserve the right to become indignant, not realising that common law defines dignity in a very different way. Dignity or dignitas implies restraint, not indignation, the very opposite of the sentiments expressed in the “greatest love of all.”

The only restraints on freedom of expression (including love) in our constitution inserted, excuse the pun, by our constitutional assembly, refer to hate speech, incitement to violence and advocacy of war. Although we may become indignant about a particular work of art, how is an artwork which has no life to speak of in the real sense of the word, an affront on human dignity, which as the song says, cannot be taken away?

Brett Murray’s controversial print-work, The Spear, may portray our president in an undignified fashion, and we may have every right to become indignant at the sight of our president’s exposed genitalia, but how does this affect our rights and freedoms in terms of their intrinsic humanness – their basis not in things or objects, but our fundamental human condition?

It is revealing to find the president declaiming on his own image or likeness in public. Doing so merely perpetuates the notion that what we mean by dignity is dig-ME-ty, and that what is occuring is essentially an issue related to vanity, not human rights or frailty. [ Mike Van Graan, former head of the struggle-era Community Arts Project, appears to concur]. Public figures must learn to roll with the punches — but to take the portrait serously, even though it may be in extremely bad taste, is to risk reification, (see Gillian Schutte contrarian view on Big Dick-ness and the President’s Penis) worse still it reduces the artwork, and all artworks for that matter, into nothing more than literal or figurative representations, in the process denying the rights of citizens to interpret (and reinterpret) what they see.{Here is one attempt at reinterpreting the work by remixing it with a popular open source graphic tool, Gimp. Yes, Gimp is the sadist’s tool of choice, go figure.]

Censoring Brett Murray in this way is thus bound to backfire by turning into censorship of the body politic. Imagine laws being formulated on what can and cannot be portrayed in an artwork? We are all left the poorer for the resulting strictures and insistence on dignitas and gravitas whenever the office of the president is mentioned, as playwrite Zakes Mda puts it “as a person whose work was banned by the previous oppressors I’m against censorship even for those works that are not to my taste.” South Africa’s dignity wars thus risk turning the ANC into an advocate of the same right-wing politics which saw the banning of Ronnie Harrison’s 1961 Black Christ by the National Party government.

The Presidency should thus avoid drawing itself into public visual arts debates, debates which are best left to artists and art lovers. Doing so merely perpetuates the idea that South Africa is essentially leaderless and without the necessary “cojones” to rise above the challenge.

Is Ed Young a Satanist?

Latest attempt at publicity

THE pretentious white-boy from Welkom who arrived on the Cape Town art scene during a millennial slump, had very little to show for himself except a big mouth. Young quickly made a name as an infamous rude-boy, whose method of operation was the hackneyed “art attack” involving one or more victims. (As one of his “victims” I believe I can report about such nefarious activities). Not content with sacrificing aesthetics and profit, Young took to bully boy stunts and conning the media into participating in what he called “conceptual art”. In reality Young disliked everything he saw. As columnist Suzy Bell who “bought” Bruce Gordon after being approached by Young in a scheme relates: “The problem with Ed is, he isn’t an artist. Not like Wayne Barker who was rude, had attitude but at the end of the day, produced the goods.”

With little to show for his visual arts degree purchased from Michaelis, Young was forced out of desperation into producing futile and sterile acts. Young even struck up a weird relationship with Ronald Suresh Roberts at the height of the scandal involving Robert’s defamation case against the Sunday Times. Whilst Roberts was being pilloried and depicted as a carpetbagger with his head up our second President’s behind, Ed chose to support Robert’s freedom to be unlikable.

Ed "Belzebub" Young's business card

ART: Bull to Picasso’s Cows

PICASSO’s bulls reminds me of another bull story — apparently the same Marilyn Martin responsible for this years ground-breaking exhibition, curated a boycott-breaking show in Pinochet’s fascist Chile during the reign of apartheid president PW Botha no less. Amazing really how things have changed in the world of cultural fertilizer and South Africans are free, politically-speaking, to smell the visual delights, of arguably the world’s greatist Spanish artist, courtesy of, you guessed right, the French government.

The astonishing images can be found at Examples of Abstract Art from the University of Calgary.

Personally I could never figure out why historians go on about Picasso’s line drawing without discussing his depiction of women — a supreme mysogenist or just somebody too pissed to worry about the finer details of the female nude? I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

CULTURE: African Universality challenged by Picasso Criticism

IF IT were not for the seething acrimony of contemporary South African art criticism, the debate over Picasso’s alleged appropriation of African art forms — the accusation of theft leveled by Sandile Memela and the subsequent belligerent reportage by Donaldson — would have probably descended into polite satire — the culture of the absurd.

Instead of upbraiding the Pretoria News for its initial opinion piece, which had slammed Memela’s remarks for being: ‘more sad and pathetic than disturbing because they reveal an Afrocentrism clutching so desperately for something that it can claim as all its own.’ Memela chose rather to roast Donaldson’s admittedly egregious banter with yet another statement that inflamed the conservatives.

‘The voices that must have the final word are white. There is no room for the political and cultural critique by independent African voices on this contentious subject,’ Memela protested, in what one can only presume to be a sneaky piece of polemic calculated to bait former racists and cultural imperialists alike, but as it turned out, the imperialists and conservatives were right, having swallowed the hook, they would now witness the truth behind the Africanist position on Picasso, before the eyes of the world, or so it seems.

One can only commiserate with all those high-brow cocktail party-goers, those exhibition schlebs munching on pretzels while ineffectual cultural workers still slouch on the sidelines.

Regardless of cultural status, one still seeks common ground, and believing in the slow dance away from polarization. Yet again the public is enthralled by a debate of extremities — the neat binary opposition of the exclusive Africanist position vs vi die-hard Europhiles. An invariable extremism of tastes, a frenzy of aesthetic desires that see fit to ostracize certain Africans on the assumption that race is the determining factor in our identity as a nation; race and race alone is what will conclude this visual arts debate, thereby cementing the new African Renaissance and Globalism with a new flavour of pap, untouched by white hands?

For Memela, Africa can only be defined by what it is not. Africa can never be European, it must stand apart, and be purified like some dark continent only accessible to its original inhabitants. For Donaldson, the European Continent will always be the omega point of cultural discourse, while Africa must stand alone, like a poor, half-sister forever at the cocktail bar of discourse.

Memela on the other hand presumes that his own people are synonymous with the first peoples of our land, the Khoekhoe, the !Kung San, the Griqua; furthermore, that the ‘birthplace of humankind” is also the “cradle of civilization and only ‘African intellectuals’ may debate these issues. Donaldson moreover falls into the trap of a patronising snideness, an effete familiarity that can only bread contempt for the position of “white critics” on the sub-continent.

Turning Mamela’s attack upon Donaldson, in on itself however, may be considered a little disingenuous; it opens us all up to accusations of Eurocentricism and the harshest attack of all, of simply ‘being white’ regardless of ones skin tone. The very same kinds of attacks leveled at Memela by the conservatives, and now thrown about, in a circus of ritual absurdity that has begun to characterize popular debate in South Africa. One must therefore find another means of waging intellectual assault, perhaps the notion of universality spoken about by white intellectuals like Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel?

If the juxtaposition of Memela’s use of the term ‘African’ (in contradistinction to the use of the term ‘whites’ ) our own semantically starched trap, were not bad enough, Donaldson’s use of a simple phrase without any universal appeal, except perhaps to his own mother, has snowballed into a literal form of xenophobism, a negro-centric attack against so-called white Africans of European descent.

This kind of intellectual sparring inevitably results in hate speech, of the insidious kind outlawed by our constitution. It is pointless going back to that time when racists of all hues could launch verbal barbs with a flick of the wrist, without forethought or fear of censure. It is even less advantageous for pale critics and ebony-coloured bureaucrats to deploy the arguments of racists, in the attempt perhaps to better themselves and others, uplifting nothing except the hated ideology of the past.

Luke Human 1970-2005 An Artistic Existence

THERE is an existence worth contemplating and it is the existence of an artist. No ordinary artist, Luke Human embodied that capricious spirit of outrage against a system that denied the most fundamental human right – the right not to give a damn about anything, except being yourself. Luke was more than anything in the world, himself. His art was second nature and for what it’s worth, I could not bring myself to simply mollify his journey into “figurative expressionism” since so many figurative expressionists fall into a psychiatric ward of self-examination and fail to return with the goods.

If there was a failing it was that Luke was more of an artist, than a producer of artwork. As such, it is worth assessing what being an artist like Luke Human must have been. For one there was no sign of pretension and braggadocio which marks so many art-school graduates these days. No attempt to render likeable, easily digestible, commodity fetishes. Absolutely nothing of the decorative or banal. No, what Luke possessed was an uncanny ability to render portraits of ones own inner turmoil, the strife and crisis of ego we experience on a daily basis.

After sitting for one such portrait on New Years Eve in 2002, in his studio above Wellington Fruit Growers, I was amazed to see my features extracted like some rare inner monologue, and redrawn to perfection in the nether regions of Luke Human-ness. Today I would love to know if anything came from these preliminary sketches, that were bound to wash-up at various galleries, and always marketed as the act of sheer and utter raving lunacy, the life of an artist whose portfolio of work must have included a fair amount of studies of young girls from Bishopscourt and Constantia.

I hate to sound trite or trivial, but the very thing which gave Luke his stormy impulsive personality turned out to be his finally undoing. With no formal schooling as such, he turned to a variety of distractions to compensate. Among these were his drug-taking and liberality, mixed with an equal volley of understatement and self-praise, that issued forth from many incantations into the night. I dare say that he was eventually done in by one of the many skollies and criminal types that must have provided Luke with a daily pharmacological sustenance for this, his most artistic of folly’s.

Cape Town, 22-09-2005