My commute to work takes 45 minutes. I take the bus, find a seat at the back and listen to one of my favourite podcasts, ‘Inkululeko’. The podcast is by a former political activist, Professor Kuhle, she grew up in South Africa back when things were miserable. However, I’ve been told that things were even worse before her time. I discovered this podcast when I took a course in health economics while studying medicine. Dr Londiwe used Prof. K’s episode describing how the infamous pandemic of 2020 forced citizens across the globe to revolt against the economic system of capitalism because it prioritised profits over people. Dr Londiwe said that that point in history was fundamental to note in understanding how South Africa transformed itself. And went from being ranked as one of the most dangerous countries in the world, outranking countries at war, to ranking second after Iceland in the Global Peace Index in 2047.
As I look outside my window, it’s difficult to imagine the country that this once was. I’ve heard stories of how it would be a normal sight to see individuals living on the pavements. You could never tell from the beautifully delicate flowers that bloom out of the cracks in the concrete that there were once human beings whose suffering was normalised and overlooked by passers-by. I was horrified when I heard that in Cape Town, the former governing party of the city weaponised the law to make being indigent a crime. The South Africa that I live in would never allow that. The law can no longer be corrupted to perpetuate social inequality.
When I was young and naïve, I never believed my great-great-aunt, mama Nceba, when she told me about the 2010s. She was one of the most fascinating people I knew. An avid reader and a brilliant storyteller. You would find Fanon in the kitchen, Ngcukaitobi on her rug, Achebe on her sofa and Nneka Arimah on the bed. I used to think to myself that she had read so much that her mind had undone and the line between reality and fantasy had blurred for her. That was before I grew up and found out that she wasn’t just my eccentric relative. Everything she had said about South Africa and the injustices that people experienced was true.
Today’s episode on the podcast is about her. The woman that left South Africa in 2019 after completing her undergraduate studies because she didn’t want to live in a country where it wasn’t safe to go to the post office, even if it was right next to a police station.
I’m ten minutes into my commute, and the episode is beginning as we travel along the highway that was placed in a position that explicitly illustrated the spatial inequality that existed in South Africa. The highway placed between the areas that were once called Sandton and Alexandra. “Welcome to today’s podcast, today we will commemorate the memory of mama Nceba, an individual that radicalised the nation and forced us to acknowledge the damage that had been done to society since the 1650s. A woman that made South Africans truly question what it means to be human and why we ought to make kindness the cornerstone of every interaction in a society. It seems so simple, be kind to everyone. Purely because we share the experience of existing as humans, ‘fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases.”
We’re halfway, and this is my favourite stop in my journey, there are preschoolers who are always beaming with that child-like joy you can find in people their age. Ever since the installation of closed-circuit television systems across the country and the opening of national police universities; to retrain existing officers and induct entrants to the new law enforcement system, there was a welcome change in the crime rates. Resulting in young children, women, persons with disabilities and the elderly moving freely without being vulnerable to being victims of unlawful acts. Of course, crime was legally acknowledged as being directly related to how many South Africans were living below the upper-bound poverty line. Therefore, there were committees formed by the executive to work towards improving the standard of living of struggling citizens.
“Whilst doing research for today’s podcast, I met with people that had known mama Nceba, and it came up a few times that she decided to come back to South Africa and continue with her academics in the arts and social sciences because she would read the 1996 version of the constitution every evening. And the section that moved her was chapter 2, section 10: human dignity. ‘Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected’ she was infuriated that what she viewed as one of the most important provisions made in the supreme law was not being met. Women were being killed and raped, children were going missing, and the majority of the population was struggling to make ends meet whilst the minority was hoarding the resources of the country. Police were unfit and undermining victims, there was no adequate access to health care, the education system was in shambles, workers were being exploited, and politicians were misappropriating funds. So, she wrote a book that set our world on fire. Her writing led to riots, a fury for justice and equality. A burning need for systems of oppression based on race, gender, sexuality and ability to be dismantled, and it happened.’’
I’m almost at the hospital, and I can’t help but be filled with pride that the blood of a revolutionary runs through my veins. I live in a safe country with a reputable health system, access to justice, safety and equality. I’ve arrived. “Thank you, mama, for reminding us that the most important investment is in the recognition of human dignity and the realisation of human rights. That’s all for today, thank you for tuning in.’’
Sesetu Homolmisa – Humanities Graduate
Her time at university made Sesetu realise that she needed to take a break from the conventional course of life and take some time for herself. Life and the harsh realities that many individuals have to endure have disillusioned the humanities graduate. Just because life is the way it is and we’re all programmed to mindlessly accept or tolerate injustices as we try to get by. Time living abroad has taught her that the world is a mess and she should find little pockets of joys by eating, reading, writing, listening to music and trying to be the best version of herself.