January 7, 2011

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House

Filed under: poetry,testimonies — newritings @ 11:35 pm

by Audre Lorde

From Sister Outsider, The Crossing Press Feminist Series (1984)

I agreed to take part in a New York University Institute for the Humanities conference a year ago, with the understanding that I would be commenting upon papers dealing with the role of difference within the lives of American
women: difference of race, sexuality, class, and age. The absence of these considerations weakens any feminist discussion of the personal and the political.

It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminists and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable. To read this program is to assume that lesbian and Black women have nothing to say about existentialism, the erotic, women’s culture and silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality and power. And what does it mean in personal and political terms when even the two Black women who did present here were literally found at the last hour? What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.

The absence of any consideration of lesbian consciousness or the consciousness of Third World women leaves a serious gap within this conference and within the papers presented here. For example, in a paper on material relationships between women, I was conscious of an either/or model of nurturing which totally dismissed my knowledge as a Black lesbian. In this paper there was no examination of mutuality between women, no systems of shared support, no interdependence as exists between lesbians and women-identified women. Yet it is only in the patriarchal model of nurturance that women “who attempt to emancipate themselves pay perhaps too high a price for the results,” as this paper states.

For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is rediscovered. It is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal world. Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women.

Interdependency between women is the way to a freedom which allows the I to be, not in order to be used, but in order to be creative. This is a difference between the passive be and the active being.

Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.

Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.

As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older — know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.

Poor women and women of Color know there is a difference between the daily manifestations of marital slavery and prostitution because it is our daughters who line 42nd Street. If white American feminist theory need not deal with the differences between us, and the resulting difference in our oppressions, then how do you deal with the fact that the women who clean your houses and tend your children while you attend conferences on feminist theory are, for the most part, poor women and women of Color? What is the theory behind racist feminism?

In a world of possibility for us all, our personal visions help lay the groundwork for political action. The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.

Why weren’t other women of Color found to participate in this conference? Why were two phone calls to me considered a consultation? Am I the only possible source of names of Black feminists? And although the Black panelist’s paper ends on an important and powerful connection of love between women, what about interracial cooperation between feminists who don’t love each other?

In academic feminist circles, the answer to these questions is often, “We did not know who to ask.” But that is the same evasion of responsibility, the same cop-out, that keeps Black women’s art out of women’s exhibitions, Black women’s work out of most feminist publications except for the occasional “Special Third World Women’s Issue,” and Black women’s texts off your reading lists. But as Adrienne Rich pointed out in a recent talk, white feminists have educated themselves about such an enormous amount over the past ten years, how come you haven’t also educated yourselves about Black women and the differences between us — white and Black — when it is key to our survival as a movement?

Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women — in the face of tremendous resistance — as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.

Simone de Beauvoir once said: “It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting.”

Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.

Prospero, you are the master of, feminist and lesbian
Lying is your trademark.
And you have lied so much to me
(lied about the world, lied about me)
that you have ended by imposing on me
an image of myself.
underdeveloped, you brand me, inferior,
That ís the way you have forced me to see myself
I detest that image! What’s more, it’s a lie!
But now I know you, you old cancer,
and I know myself as well.
– Caliban, in Aime Cesaire’s “The Tempest”


why Wikileaks must matter to all activists

Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 7:12 pm

The other day, I looked out for what Transparency International was saying officially about Wikileaks, and was not surprised. I found nothing.
I did look wider on the net and found Transparency Russia begging for Wikileaks to reveal something about their country…but truly speaking I l have lamented the paucity of debate and any real interest in some parts of the world. Where there has been some discussion, it has been about what can be called nitpicking or the fall-outs about the exposures, the lies and half truths of so called US intelligence. I think what Wikileaks signifies is a far greater problem, we have less control over our own lives, and states and governments have amassed too much information about peoples, individuals and their organizations. Little wonder corporations like Mastercard and Amazon, can at wink and a nod, jump sky high to undermine a civil society organization like Wikileaks when the US government says so. How different is this from Google buckling to China to control the internet? Where are those groups now that protested Google’s actions? Why are we not launching any campaigns against Mastercard and Amazon?

bradley and julian

I also checked out South African newspapers and found them lacking in coverage on what WIkileaks has to offer. Why? Is it the tabloidization of our papers? Or is it the fear of US or other governmental retaliation?
For now I think we must talk about solidarity with WIkleaks, Julian Assange and many other activists. In this regards I want us to support on particular US soldier who really needs our support. He has mine. This young man must be protected by the Geneva conventions as he was a combatant in a war, real and with wider moral implications: a war of truth and justice against greed, and injustice. He is truly a prisoner of conscience. I really hope that civil society groups mobiise around people like young Bradley Manning, because we if do not fight to keep our space open, the ruling classes will close in on us, as they are doing already. justice in on our side, but we must organise to ensure that the people win back our freedoms that have been increasingly privatised…This is what one journal wrote about him:The 22 year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks has never been convicted of that crime, and yet he has spent seven months in solitary confinement under horrific conditions.
Manning has spent the last five months detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia—before that he spent two months in a military jail in Kuwait, all the while facing conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and even torture. Manning was charged with the unauthorized use and disclosure of U.S. classified information.¨
Now, I want to end by listing some discussions that have taken place over the last few weeks on an alternative media list.

a) The first article was by Mark Weinberg of the Right to Know Campaign and moderator of the group.
Sent: 13 December 2010 07:21 AM
Subject: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars

Right2Know Statement: what Wikileaks teaches us about SA’s Secrecy Bill
Thursday, 09 December 2010 14:34
Make fewer secrets, less often…
The leaking of secret diplomatic correspondence by Wikileaks serves as a warning to all who wish to hide information from the public. As the South African Parliament considers passing the draconian Protection of Information Bill (POIB), they should stop and consider the lesson of Wikileaks: Technological developments with a democratic impulse have forever undermined the ability of states to keep secrets as they have in the past
The keeping of secrets is a precarious business requiring increasing human and financial resources. The POIB will have significant financial implications for all spheres of government that the current Bill does not cater for.
As the Right2Know Campaign fights the battle against the Secrecy Bill that would shroud our society in darkness, we take note of another Wikileaks lesson: Governments which mire themselves in secrecy can quickly become enemies to their own people. There can be no doubt that publishing much of the information on Wikileaks is in the public interest even if it is not in the interests of governments. It is for this reason that we continue to demand that the scope and definitions of South Africa ‘s Secrecy Bill must be narrow in their remit.
The US government and their allies have attempted to frame these leaks as a criminal act. The Right2Know Campaign firmly believes that an institution like Wikileaks is an inevitable response to a system that is overcome by dark and embarrassing secrets. If governments wish to condemn Wikileaks to oblivion, they can best do so by making fewer secrets, less often. In short, they can adopt the sort of open and transparent governance demanded by the South African constitution.
The Right2Know Campaign draws inspiration from the courage and dedication of the team that built and maintains the Wikileaks service. As long as there are people like them committed to exposing the wrongdoing of governments and businesses, no securocratic laws can stop the free flow of information.

Mark Weinberg

Mobile: +27 74 1036704
Tel: +27 21 447 5770
Fax: +27 21 447 5884

B) This was then followed by an email from me, calling for some action in support of wikileaks
Sent: Monday, December 13, 2010 6:52 PM
To: mark weinberg; Mashilo M. Boloka
Subject: Re: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars and the need for some protest

Hi all

I really think we must have a small demonstration to show our support for the struggles waged on our behalf globally as exemplified by the attacks on wikileaks.
i heard there were protests in many capitals but joburg was not mentioned. if not a demo, then a simple statement of solidarity

I hope I have not missed any emails where this was suggested.

In solidarity

Hassen Lorgat

C. Two emails later follow asking for the relevance of the wikileaks struggle to the freedom of expression struggles in South Africa. They are dated 15 December, and read thus:
From: [] On Behalf Of A Arko-Cobbah
Sent: miércoles, 15 de diciembre de 2010 07:05 a.m.
Subject: Fwd: RE: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars and the need for some protest

I tend to agree with you. Are we saying that if one violates the law by leaking and distributing, world-wide, classified documents, possibly, obtained through espionage to court, perhaps, cheap popularity, do we have to clap for him? I hope you see this to be entirely different from our fight against media restrictions being contemplated by our government.

>>> “Phelisa Nkomo” 12/14/2010 3:17 AM >>>
Dear Colleagues,
At the risk of sounding ignorant, why should we support this? I would rather appear ignorant than pretend to understand. How does this undermines media freedom? Please help

Ms Phelisa Nkomo
National Advocacy Programme Manager
Black Sash
Tel 021 686 6952
Mobile 072 613 3577
No 3 Caledonian Str,
Mowbray, Cape Town
Making Human Rights Real

D, Ann Eveleth is a wide ranging reply to Arko-Cobbah and Phelisa, touches on US hegemony and role of the media and civil society organizations:
. From: Ann Eveleth
To: A Arko-Cobbah ;
Sent: Wed, December 15, 2010 5:38:20 PM
Subject: RE: RE: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars and the need for some protest
Dear Phelisa, Albert and others in SA’s “alternative” media community,
Firstly, I thought you might find this link interesting, and maybe it will answer some of your questions about “why”, Phelisa.
Secondly, in answer to your question Albert: “Are we saying that if one violates the law by leaking and distributing, world-wide, classified documents, possibly, obtained through espionage to court, perhaps, cheap popularity, do we have to clap for him?”
1) Which laws have Wikileaks violated? Even the entire U$ InJustice Department is still scratching its head after 2 weeks trying to find a law they can use to charge Assange with violating (and I want to separate the question of Wikileaks from the other charges of sexual misconduct which have not even yet been brought against Assange in Sweden, of which I am personally very suspicious there is a strong link to U$ efforts to get hold of him, but which none of us can know until that matter plays out). There is a basic principle in law that if a reasonable person could not have known that such a law existed banning their actions, they could not be held accountable for breaking it. While ignorance of the law is not by itself a defence, there has to be a limitation on this to the extent that if even an entire department of government cannot find such a law, no ordinary person can be expected to know about said law.

2) It is the first and most important job of “journalists” to uncover and expose injustices that the powerful seek to hide from the rest of us. Real journalism has a long-forgotten history of seeking out such information as the powerful governments and corporations would like to remain hidden. Perhaps it is because we have been forced to lower our expectations of journalism so far, for so long, that most of us have forgotten that this real journalism once existed. To suggest that journalists are bound to obey the dictates of the powerful when they claim a particular piece of information is “classified”, and to respect such “classification” is to define the role of journalists in a highly constrained role as mere public relations puppets of the elite. That IS, in fact, what most journalist today DO, but this does not mean that it has anything to do with journalism.

3) What is “Espionage”, except the failure of a person so convicted to obey the dictates of narrow nationalist “patriotism”, or the mandate to see the protection of the interests of one nationally defined set of elites against other peoples in the world as the highest principle, overriding questions of justice and humanity. From everything I have seen, there is little chance the U$ government will succeed in convicting Assange, an Australian citizen, with failure to obey Amerikkkan patriotism. (Despite the calls for assassination, execution, etc such intellectual scions as Sarah Palin, who have castigated him as being “Un-American”, lol!) They may, however, succeed in convicting U$ Army Private Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have copied the material from military servers, with espionage. But there are 2 questions involved in even this possibility – the first, yes, as a member of the U$ security forces, he was legally responsible to the notion that he should be so patriotic as to not share the information. The second, however, is the question of justice – there are many, many, many members of the US armed forced who have been drawn into the illegal U$ occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan who have developed outrage over being used by their government for such actions – there are entire organisations of them now, like Veterans Against the Wars, etc. In rejecting these unjust actions, they have chosen to align themselves to a greater humanity beyond mere patriotism to the U$. If Manning’s actions prove to have been so inspired, should the response of those who seek justice in the world be to condemn him, or to celebrate his courage? Put another way, should those few white SAfricans who resisted conscription into the apartheid army be considered traitors, or heroes?

4) Is Wikileaks as an organisation, seeking mere “cheap popularity”? Is Assange? Who knows? I am personally so fundamentally opposed to individuals seeking their own “Coca Cola Pop Star” status by feeding off (and consuming) the energy of those battling the system that I could say it has come to redefine my beliefs about what change is/is not possible through our struggles in response to that prominent challenge, and I certainly watch Assange as an individual with scepticism simply for the fact that he has gained this sort of celebrity status. BUT, I also know that sometimes people do gain this kind of status not because they have sought it, but simply because what they are actually DOING has propelled them onto the historical stage at a particular moment, in the course of battle. I reckon it will be some time before we have enough evidence to truly judge Assange’s character in light of this question. But, this is NOT about Assange, nor any other single individual. It is about Wikileaks, and about journalism, and about imperialism, and about “official secrets”, and about Internet Freedom. What we do know is that
a) Wikileaks has provided the world with an unprecedented glimpse into the world of U$ diplomacy/spying operations around the world, following on earlier provisions of vast amounts of information about current, highly controversial, U$ military occupations;
b) by doing so through the internet, Wikileaks has opened new possibilities for the encouragement of Whistleblowers (these are the good guys who see injustice and want it to be known) to know that their information can get out, even if the mainstream corporate media outlets (ie, those who are NOT “alternative” media) refuse to publish,
c) Wikileaks has reinvigorated the very idea that real journalism – ie, digging for the truth and getting it out even if it will not help one’s career among the elites – can still, or possibly once again, exist; d) Wikileaks has demonstrated that the internet offers more and more of us who are not part of the elite power structures, the chance to engage in the wide dissemination of information;
e) Wikileaks has inadvertently cast a huge spotlight on the way this new medium of information sharing is indeed still controlled by these very corporate interests that the idea of “alternative media” seeks to circumvent;
f) the current “cyberwar” related to this last exposure has now put the question to all of us who are concerned with questions of freedom of expression (and not the narrow protection of elite journalism) as to how will we respond to this new form of corporate domination now, and into the future? Because if we do not respond NOW, it will likely be too late very soon, and we will have played our part in meekly accepting that access to information into the coming CENTURIES will be controlled by corporate entities that will never be subject to democratic accountability.

5) Albert: “I hope you see this to be entirely different from our fight against media restrictions being contemplated by our government.” ???? If you think having the SA Govt control your access to information is a bad thing, at least you can potentially vote them out of office (or find other ways to get them out). If you let these political questions of what can and cannot be published be settled by the likes of Amazon, Paypal, Microsoft, Apple, Halliburton.well, then I am not sure what you actually mean by “alternative” media? And let’s not forget that behind these corporate controllers of the so-called “information superhighway” right now stands the U$ government. So are you saying “let’s protect our turf from control by the SA Govt, but let the U$ government and its corporate sponsors make all the decisions for us about what we can and cannot publish? Not to mention how this has even been extended into a question of controlling what people can and cannot READ, with all those who work for the U$ government in its various departments, and even university students, being warned that they may lose and/or not get jobs if they are found to have read or discussed the wikileaks material in the privacy of their own homes. If you are not worried about that, I am worried about what it would take for you to be worried…
In struggle,
Ann Eveleth

F) on the 17 December I reply thus: >>> hassen lorgat 12/17/2010 10:46 AM >>>
I think the comrade Evelyn hit the nail on the head and I thank her for contributing. There are many reasons for supporting WIkiLeaks namely
a) Governments have far too many secrets which they keep away from us, the people who elected them. I am not surprised that many governments led by the only global super power are truly pissed off because they indiscreet comments made in the shadows have been exposed. And it must be exposed if our votes, and democracies are to hold any sway.
b) some governments – imperial powers like the world?s only superpower the USA has way too much power and information on other countries and their own citizens. how do you think they got it? throught rule of law or asking nicely? think again, bribery, corruption, force, torture all. National media must have an agenda that takes people (at the centre of development, and in our case Africa and South Africa)As a brief aside I argued in response to cde Cronin?(No left cover needed) that when we have repressive media laws and practices within our nation state (whatever is left of it) it merely empowers external media agencies. I said that ?One unintended consequence of the bill, if it goes through, will be that media agencies with global links will run exposés of our body politic and thus the likes of the BBC, will once again be seen as authoritative, as the onerous obligations placed on national journalists will not apply to someone far away receiving confidential information.? this brings me to my third point
c) That media and media is globally owned and controlled. The Wiki projects and philosophies are aimed at empowering activists and world citizens to fight back and have real voice.
d) we must then see Wikileaks as a whistleblower, leaking, or making transparent what the powerful are saying about others (friends and foe alike) to maintain their hold of power. Ann Eveleth is correct to say, that these Leaks must encourage other whistleblowers (who by the way in SA have had a torrid time, which will be made worse by restrictive media laws and actions by the powerful on cartoonists , writers, and ordinary folk who want to keep those in power on their toes. THis power, that is being exposed is the same POWER that maintains and sustains poverty and inequality. It is our task to use information, political organising and other organisational skills to fight for a more just society, here and internationally.

in solidarity

The cables are believed to include withering US assessments of Mr Brown’s personality and prospects of staying in power.
They may also show the low regard of the White House for Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with America. Nor does David Cameron escape from criticism.
Mr Mandela, who stepped down as President in 1999, condemned George Bush over the Iraq War, suggesting the US President had ignored the United Nations’ calls for restraint because the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan was black.
He also called Tony Blair the ‘foreign minister of the United States’ for supporting Mr Bush over Iraq.

Read more:

G) on the same day this reply is received from Arko-Cobbah:
From: A Arko-Cobbah
Sent: Fri, December 17, 2010 1:55:36 PM
Subject: Fwd: Re: RE: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars and the need for some protest
Eveleth, Hassen etc.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against Wikileads per se. My concern is that there are certain leaks, which if not handled with care, especially, with regard to the timing of their leaks, can do more harm than good. A typical example is the comment made by our International Affairs minister about ” the crazy old man”. Whereas one can concede that to be an apt description of Comrade (is it Foe?) Mugabe, the entire world, led by South Africa, is literally pleading with the crazy old man to relinquish power because of the so many years of adversity that Zimbabwe has faced. He is the problem, arguably, one may say. It is also known that there is nothing the world can do to free Zimbabwe from his grips apart from diplomacy. Any other option will worsen the situation. Imagine South Africa going back to the crazy old man to plead for sanity to prevail after styling him crazy. Diplomacy, by definition, means skills and tact in dealing with people which, by implication, may even include manipulation and… The world was able to get Charles Taylor to relinquish power had he not been made to believe that he would be protected. The Prime Minister of Zim is on record of assuring the crazy old man of exit package, including being free from persecution for human rights abuses, if he would relinquish power. I wonder how South Africa will approach the crazy old man to plead with him again. Meanwhile the people of Zim keep on suffering, perhaps, until the world sing Mugabe’s Requiem and no one knows when. Much as we enjoy reading those leaks (and I enjoy them so much) as they ridicule America’s hegemonic ambitions, we should also be wary as to the harm they may cause in terms of human suffering and diplomacy. Every student of Rights to Access of Information legislation knows that not “every” information should be put in the public domain, at least, not at the inopportune time. That is my stance! Who ever said democracy is not complicated?

H) O n 21 December, a quiet activist time in SA, I reply to the group pointing out interalia how El Pais in Spain is dedicating pages to the Leaks whilst SA papers are scant in comparison:

—– Forwarded Message —-
From: hassen lorgat
To: A Arko-Cobbah ;
Sent: Tue, December 21, 2010 4:05:09 PM
Subject: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks…our media are they interested?
I think Prof S Zunes (WikiLeaks Cables on Western Sahara Show Role of Ideology in State Department, makes some good points regarding Wikileaks in the above story. for one, these are not surprising, for scholars of struggle, and those participating in them, and they not necessarily correct. Importantly, he argues that ¨Over the years, as part of my academic research, I have spent many hours at the National Archives poring over diplomatic cables of the kind recently released by WikiLeaks. The only difference is that rather than being released after a 30+ year waiting period — when the principals involved are presumably dead or in retirement and the countries in question have very different governments in power — the WikiLeaks are a lot more recent, more relevant and, in some cases, more embarrassing as a result.¨

The question for me, is to see how we use the current information for our struggles, learning and organising but equally importantly making sure that governments do not have too much information on people, individuals and groups.

Secondly, I want to know why are media are not covering these exposures, fully. El Pais, dedicates at least 5 of its front pages to the dominance of the USA and its attempts at keeping its global influence by hook or by crook. If we contrast this with our media, how much coverages do we get? about whom, our neighbours or what is says about Malema, Madiba etc. There is more to the leaks than that. THe other day 20 Dec, the said paper had a leak about a Mossad chief Amos Yadlin, saying that ¨we will be happy if Hamas takes Gaza¨, which coincided with government views to treat Gaza as a hostile territory. That was 2007. It begs the question are we interested? is our media interested? are they covering up or not covering?
Hassen Lorgat

January 4, 2011


Filed under: manifesto — newritings @ 9:38 am

I found this tribute written in a magazine I use to write for. I thought I will share it with you. If you want to write to the Abu Asvat Institute, contact the Secretary Mr Jerry Waja:

Dr Asvat
for the people

LEARN and TEACH, number 1, 1989

Tribute of Dr Asvat.

A great man is dead. Murdered. Shot dead in cold blood.His name was Dr Abu-Baker Asvat — and his death has left a great pain and sadness in the hearts of all who knew him. It is not often that you find somebody who believes that his people come first, above everything. Above politics. Above money. Above himself, even. Dr Asvat was one such person. He gave his whole life to the care of his people — the sick, the disabled, the homeless, the squatters, and the poor.

Dr Asvat — known as Abu to his friends — was a true doctor. Often, he gave medical treatment to his patients for free. Sometimes, he dug deep into his own pockets to help poor people with food and accommodation. Always, he gave his time — at all hours of the night and day.


Dr Asvat was murdered by an unknown gunman on 27 January this year. He was killed while working at his surgery in Rockville, Soweto.

Immediately, messages of grief started to pour in.

The National Medical and Dental Association (Namda) wrote: “His assassination is a tragic loss to all the people of South Africa.” The Health Workers’ Association (HWA) said: “South Africa has lost a true son of the soil. But through his death, a new commitment will be born among all health workers.”

At a memorial service in Soweto, the President of COSATU, Elijah Barayi said: “Dr Asvat’s memory will live on in the minds of the people. Dr Asvat cared for our families and our children. Acts of violence like his murder will not destroy our wish to be free.”

But even sadder were the words of the doctor’s patients. One patient said: “Dr Asvat could not hurt a fly. He was like a father to the hundreds of people he served.”

Another old pensioner added: “The killers thought they were killing the doctor, but they did not know that they were really killing a people that is already down on its knees. His death has left us dead too.”


Dr Asvat’s long-time friend and nurse, Ma Albertina Sisulu, also wept. But she could not talk about her grief — she is a banned person and newspapers cannot report her words.

For many years, Ma Sisulu and Dr Asvat worked together nursing the sick and the needy and giving comfort to the poor. Some people thought this was a strange friendship because Dr Asvat and Ma Sisulu belonged to different political organisations.

Dr Asvat was a member of the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO). Albertina Sisulu is one of the presidents of the United Democratic Front (UDF). But their different political beliefs did not matter to them. For them, the most important thing was to serve the community in the way they knew best — with generous love and care.

Ma Sisulu was at the clinic when the doctor was murdered. She was the first person to rush to his side after the shooting.

It was not the first attack on the doctor’s life. Two years ago, two knifemen tried to kill him. The doctor fought off his attackers and he was cut on the mouth. A few months later, he was attacked again, this time by a right-wing gunman. Luckily, the doctor was able to stop him.

Afterwards, Dr Asvat said: “It was the closest I have come to looking at death in the face. But it will not stop me from serving the community.”


Serving the community is something that Dr Asvat had been doing for a long time. After he got his degree in medicine in Pakistan, he came back home to Vrededorp where he worked as a doctor. When the government destroyed Vrededorp fifteen years ago, he moved his clinic to Rockville.

In 1979, he joined AZAPO. He became the Secretary of Health for this organisation. He was also a founder member of the Health Workers Association (HWA).

But Dr Asvat was not only interested in health matters. He was the chairperson of the People’s Education Committee in Lenasia. He was also president of the Crescents Cricket Club and vicepresident of the Cricket Association of the Transvaal.

With so much to do, Dr Asvat still found time to be a family man. He was married and had three children. As Namda  wrote: “Abu was a family man committed to his community and people, a man who gave his life for the poor and the have-nots of this land.” Dr Asvat’s good work was rewarded when the Indicator newspaper chose him as the winner of their Human Rights Award in 1988. The Star newspaper nominated him for The Star of the Community1 award in 1988.


Dr Abu-Baker Asvat was laid to rest at Avalon cemetery, under a bridge between Lenasia and Soweto. Six thousand people from all corners of the country and all walks of life came to pay their respects.

Together, Muslims and non-Muslims, nuns and priests, nurses and doctors, blacks and whites, AZAPO and UDF members, COSATU and NACTU officials, bowed their heads in tribute to this great man. They were united in grief and sorrow.

Even in death, Dr Asvat brought people together. He was a bridge-builder— and the finest tribute we can pay him would be to build on the foundations that he so bravely and lovingly laid.


grief— sadness or sorrow

commitment — a person with commitment believes strongly in something and works hard for it

generous — a generous person is somebody who gives a lot

a founder member — one of the first members to start an organisation

Why I write…

Filed under: testimonies — newritings @ 9:28 am

Gaele Sobott November 2010

I didn’t sit down one day and say I am going to write for this or that reason. Why I write is probably a lifetime process. Little bits of the answer are always changing. I need to go back to my earliest writing, actually I think it is more about stories. I’ve always loved listening to and reading stories.

I was born in Yallourn, Victoria, Australia – an open-cut, brown-coal mine. The town was built especially by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria to house their employees. My father drove Euclid trucks. He was a member of the Eureka Youth League and a union delegate on the labour council. We travelled a lot. My parents moved from town to town looking for work and better opportunities. I think I was five when my father started explaining Communism and Capitalism to me. It was during one long trip from Yarram to Melbourne, we’d got as far as Traralgon when Father Christmas drove by in a horse and cart and threw some lollies into the car. I don’t know which were more delicious those sweets or those big words I was rolling around in my mouth.

My parents always emphasised not only the importance of education but that everyone had a right to it. My father read books to me every night before I went to sleep. The Triantiwontigongolope by C.J. Dennis was one of my favourite poems. He’d recite poems by Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson – a young drover drowning in a flooded river, second class passengers waiting on a railway platform. He also made up stories about three kangaroos, Hoppy Skippy and Jumpy. I absolutely devoured fairy tales. I read every fairy tale in the local library and then searched for more. My German grandmother delighted in telling me stories from Der Struwelpeter, particularly the one about Little Suck-a-Thumb. As I sat thumb in mouth she would whisper watch out for the tailor with his giant scissors! He’s coming to cut off your thumbs! She’d tell me about the tricks that Max und Moritz got up to. There was a rebelliousness about those boys that appealed and I loved the way they taunted the tailor. Schneider, schneider, meck, meck meck! (It seems Germans have a thing about tailors?). She would tell me about her time in the orphanage, about the Black Forest, about the adventures of the little church mouse that sat framed in a glass cabinet amongst her crockery. There was an intriguing darkness and an almost grotesque humour to her stories. I did the rounds of all the church denominations. There were only Christian churches around country Victoria in those days. I loved the Bible stories and they gave out free books. My father wasn’t too keen on God but I went anyway. As I got older he plied me with books of short stories by Gorky and John Steinbeck. He gave me Grapes of Wrath, Frank Hardy’s Power without Glory, Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and a little yellow hard-cover book about Paul Robeson in Peeksville. I was too young to understand the full implications of these works but they did well and truly satisfy and develop my love of stories that expressed the pain of oppression and the gritty reality of everyday lives. This was reinforced by the records my parents played; Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, Paul Robeson songs, Tennessee Ernie Ford Sixteen Tons, about life in the mines Johnny Cash, Bitter Tears. I was particularly touched by Paul Robeson’s rendition of traditional spirituals which moved me at a very basic emotional level beyond the language of books.

I thrived on the stories that surrounded me. My uncles talked amongst each other about the depression years, hardship in the bush, work, life in inner city Melbourne. One was an ambulance man during WWII in New Guinea and was very much against war. He was awarded bravery medals which he dismissed as rubbish! One uncle deserted from the army up in Queensland. Towards the end of his life he found it more comfortable to walk backwards. One uncle was an SP bookie and always on the run from one thing or another. Neighbours, farmers, my mother talking to people when she was shopping, the stories just kept flowing in. It was almost as if I was an invisible presence floating sponge-like absorbing and collecting personal testimonies as to what life was about. Every piece I collected was a highly-prized jewel.

My first writing consisted of my personal thoughts and emotional reactions to the events around me. I always had a pad or exercise book that I kept in my bedroom. I took notes gleaned from other people’s conversations and wrote vignettes of real and imagined characters. I also drew sketches and cartoons of people. I never kept a diary. I still have an aversion to writing the day-to-day personal details of my own life. At school I loved writing English and History essays especially when we had the choice of writing in the first-person narrative. I got pleasure from imaging the characters, their voice, their circumstances and their historical and social context. I wrote for the school magazine. In the seventies I was reading books of all kinds but The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee were the two I treasured. I think travel has influenced my writing greatly in varied ways. I went to Greece in 1976 where I lived for two years. I’d write short pieces based on what Greek friends told me and my experiences with them. Some had been imprisoned for their activities against the Regime of the Colonels and only just released. They taught me a lot about Greek politics and culture. Wherever we went there were always animated discussions. They were particularly into the Rebetika revival of the time. Apart from the lyrics, the music had it’s own emotive story to tell. In 1978 I followed my parents to Botswana. There I met and married the father of my two eldest children and became a citizen of the country. This was one of the most formative periods of my writing and my life. I hungrily absorbed the oral traditions; the myths and proverbs that were so much a part of everyday life. I learnt through osmosis by going to weddings, funerals, barbecues, working, partying, having children, making friends, visiting relatives in South Africa. I was a white woman married to a black man during the Apartheid era so there were many interesting and sometimes challenging personal experiences but more importantly it was a time of huge political change with the Rhodesian army making incursions into Botswana in the north, Internal Settlement and eventual independence of Zimbabwe. The resistance to Apartheid was growing and becoming more and more effective but also the response of the South African regime was more and more brutal. It was impossible to live in Botswana then and not be part of that change; not to respond to the harsh injustices going on around me.

I found African literature for the first time in the Botswana Book Centre. Bessie Head’s Collector of Treasures and Mhudi by Sol Plaatje. I immersed myself in these books. Mhudi remains one of my favourites. Staffrider was first published in 1978. The magazine had a non-racial, non-elitist publishing policy. Writers who weren’t getting the chance to publish under Apartheid were published. It was the kind of writing I loved. There was this sense of knowing the characters, walking with them through their day-to-day existence, learning about their lives. I was also really impressed by the lino prints especially those by Bongiwe Dhlomo. I sent Staffrider a story called The Hill based on the tales I’d heard about the lovers who went up Kgale hill and disappeared. It was published in 1985. That was one of the major highlights of my writing life. Staffrider gave me the encouragement I needed to become a published writer. Then the South Africa Apartheid regime began its attacks on Gaborone. In response I wrote a short story called Hide them Under the Bed. It was published in Staffrider in 1986. I still feel a need to write more about these events. I haven’t written it out of my system yet.

When my children were at primary school in Gaborone I realised they were reading books from England with English contexts relevant to English people. In 1986 Halley’s Comet was passing over Botswana. I went to a parents-teachers evening at the school and was both saddened and angered to see the teacher, an English woman, had put a big banner up across the front of the classroom. It read, ‘ The Bushmen don’t know what Halley’s Comet is but we do!’ I wanted to apologise to all the peoples, all the civilisations who have observed and named this comet over the ages, hundreds and hundreds of years before that Englishman called Halley. I decided to write children’s stories relevant to Botswana. The first story I wrote, The Magic Pool, drew on general mythology associated with rivers and water holes and was published by Heinemann Junior African Writers Series. I published more children’s books with them and other publishers including Baobab Press in Zimbabwe. I enrolled for an arts degree at the University of Botswana. That’s where I really learnt not only about African literature and history, and Shakespeare for that matter, but also about rigour. I gained a solid understanding of the principles of research, of analytical and literary crafting skills. It was about this time that I began to read books by women writers. Any woman writer I could find. I read heaps. The University library had the journals of Anais Nin so I read every one of those and I read all of Alice Walker’s books. I loved her. I loved Toni Morrison too. Then I did a Ph.D. on twentieth century black South African women writers. This also affected what and how I write. Meeting these women writers whom I absolutely admired, interviewing them, discussing their writing and their thoughts on life was fantastic. Their courage, their humour, their ability to survive the pain of Apartheid and live and create with dignity has created a lasting impression on me. Juby Mayet, Fatima Dike, Jayapraga Reddy, Miriam Tladi, Gladys Thomas, Nise Malange, Ellen Kutswayo, Gcina Mhlope and so many more. I also learnt from reading the works (translated into English) of early women writers who published in their own languages particularly Lota Kakaza ‘s Intyatyambo Yomzi (1913) and uThandiwe wa kwa Gcaleka (1914), Violet Dube’s Wozanazo:Izindaba Zika Phoshozwayo (1935), Natalie Nxumalo’s, Ubude Abuphangwa (1936). I liked the way Kakaza and Nxumalo used (Xhosa and Zulu) myths, idioms and proverbs in what are largely autobiographical works. I also learnt from Dube’s short stories which successfully transport Zulu oral tales into written form while, as I read it, also occasionally making tongue-in-cheek allegoric commentaries. I published a collection of short stories, Colour Me Blue, with Heinemann African Writers Series in 1995 which reflects my understanding of oral traditions, the history and everyday life in Botswana and South Africa during the 1980s and early 90s.

My life has taken many twists and turns. I lived in England, France, spent time in Algeria and now live in Australia. Even though I have always sought out oral tales, myths, legends, proverbs, idioms, I am not an oral story teller. I am a writer. I enjoy the distance, the time to craft, the protection from immediacy that writing provides. I am constantly observing, listening, watching. I write to translate the musicality of language onto the page to represent characters and communities through the colloquialisms, the swear words, the idioms, myths but also through their actions. I write to represent the way people relate to each other and to the world we live in. There is a lot to celebrate about human beings including humour, compassion, versatility and ingenuity and there is a lot to celebrate in the natural world we inhabit. I write to fight injustice. I write because I believe in the power of the metaphor and imagination to bring about positive change. I write because I enjoy writing.


My latest book, My Longest Round: The Life Story of Wally Carr is a biographical account of the Australian and Commonwealth champion Aboriginal boxer who held over twelve titles, from featherweight to heavyweight. He fought the 15 rounders and over 101 professional bouts. This book took me on an amazing journey in understanding humanity: Aboriginal, rural, working-class urban, boxing and sporting, male and so much more of what it is that makes a community in Australia. I wrote this book because I believed Wally had not received the recognition due to him, because I wanted to contribute to the fight against the injustices perpetuated against Aboriginal people in Australia and because Wally had a story to tell! Nothing pleases me more than telling a story that should be told and isn’t being told.

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