Photography by Sebonelo Sibanyoni

Genealogies of Loss and Biographies of Violence of the Deliberately Silenced and Preferably Unheard

“So, the beginning of this was a wom(x)n and she had just come back from burying the dead.”

– Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

“Nothing mattered much. Nothing much mattered. And the less it mattered the less it mattered. It was never important enough. Because Worse Things had happened. In the country that she came from, poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of peace, Worse Things kept happening.”

– Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

There is a harrowing wail ebbing from the pit of my stomach and I do not know how to silence it. There is a crippling terror that has a hold of my body and I do not know how to settle it. There is a war being raged against the most vulnerable in this country and we are the only ones counting the lives lost and mourning for them. Violence is our nation’s anthem, and “text me when you get home” the national prayer of the femme and preferably unheard. That incoming message we wait in bated breath for; “made it home okay” our not always guaranteed amen.  Nkosi mayishe iAfrika.

Some weeks back I was walking home after work, my only company the darkness and my singing out loud voice, and my only audience the high walls and electric fences of Craighall Park. A car pulled up some way in front of me on the dimly lit street and a figure got out of the passenger seat, my steps began to slow and runrunrunrunrunrunrun buzzed in my head. I stood hesitant configuring emergency exit strategies in my head, doing higher grade equations of survival. It was only after I had removed my earphones, recognized the voice calling out baby and the shape of the figure’s head through the darkness that my heart began to slow as I realized it was my partner and not some stranger come to steal me away in the night. Before this realization, however, “I was the only witness to this event; my body its memory. My body its memory: to share a memory is to put a body into words” (Ahmed, 2017, pg. 23).

What words figure the femme body in the tapestry of South Africa’s violent patriarchal national imagination? What possibilities of language do we have to talk about our lives and embodied experience that do not flow from fear’s family tree? Stranger danger a constant noose around our necks. There is nothing sacred about the mathematics of being made through gender, especially when one is being made ‘girl’, what Sara Ahmed calls in Living a Feminist Life “girling”. Becoming a girl here is about how you experience your body in relation to space; “a body in touch with the world, a body that is not at ease in the world; a body that fidgets and moves around. Things don’t seem right” (Ahmed, 2017, pg. 23).  Often when engaging with the politics of gender and gendering, we speak about them as theoretical abstractions that exist outside of our embodied experience and psyches. We dilute and make sterile with academic trick-speak the chaotic, confusing and tearing asunder affective geographies of being orientated in the world through your body; how you are seen and not seen, however, without your consent.

It is imperative to pay heed to the varying complexities that intersect when talking about Femicide within this country. One of which is how we cannot separate South Africa’s pandemic of Femicide, from the country’s biographies of violence and genealogies of loss; call him colonialism and call him apartheid. Especially when one takes into account that those who are often survivors or victims of it are poor Black femmes across the spectrum. Nor can we ignore the fact that the ripples of anger and outrage reach further when some measure of privilege be it racial, socio-economic or institutional, form the winds that carry them. Our notions of the Stranger embedded in Stranger Danger are also highly codified by these violent histories, as Ahmed says “… some bodies become dangerous, others endangered… violence becomes instructions when it is accompanied by a narrative” (2017, pg. 24). Our socio-historical and political instructive narrative is one of white capitalist hetero-patriarchal supremacy. We bodies that have been made bags heavy with the past. Body bags weighted by biographies of violence, with wounds of shame that have seeped into the sentence of our self-articulation.

Somewhere down the line, a brutal Black patriarchy came to replace a brutal white patriarchy, and we; the femme, Trans and queer were still left out in the hunting ground, prey for snatching. What are the radical possibilities of liberation and creation of a Black masculinity that does the intentional work of refusing to articulate itself in wounded attachment to a racially gendered masculinist historical order? One that chooses rather, to queer the creations of Black masculinity, and one that ultimately ponders “when, beneath the black mask, a human being begins to make himself felt one cannot escape a certain awful wonder as to what kind of human being it is.” (Baldwin, 1955: n.a). We often talk about a new day coming, close your eyes can you hear her? I used to think I knew what this meant and looked like but now I accept with a defeated humility and exhaustion that I in fact, have no idea. All that I do know is that these histories that have birthed such violence and pain are not Infallible Fathers and perhaps Disavowal as a tool of dismantling may be the beginning of their end.

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