Over the last few years, beginning with the very first Fees Must Fall protests, this country taught me that using your voice is one of the most dangerous things, especially if you have the nerve to be black, a woman and queer all at the same time. It has been apparent time and again that black women and queer people are always the first to heed any call to protest and the response is always unnecessarily brutal. It was with this conditioning that I woke on Thursday morning, stomach clutching with anxiety as I prepared to join thousands of other Cape Town citizens in the march for our lives.I’m still not sure why I decided that this particular protest would be my first or if I even had a choice, it felt like the only thing to do at the time .
I realize some may think this is an exaggeration but the news cycle of the past week has shown us beyond a shadow of doubt that women and queer people in this country are being terrorized. The urban bible that is Wikipedia says “Terrorism is, in the broadest sense, the use of intentional violence, generally against civilians, for political purposes. It is often used with the connotation of something that is “morally wrong”.” With this in mind, consider that every day you don’t hear a horror story feels like a glitch in the simulation when the opposite is supposed to be true. The statistics, If you have the stomach for it, will boggle your mind. So no, this is not an exaggeration, South Africa is a terrorist state with women, children and queer people bearing the brunt of that terror.
So back to Thursday morning, feeling more black, queer and woman than I ever have I donned my all black fit, jeans and a T-shirt for ease of mobility, sneakers for comfort and a bandana around my wrist, just in case you know? I carried a small backpack with water and milk, again just in case. Over the past few years I have seen countless threads of how to make it out of a protest unscathed, physically at least. I have seen think pieces on what not to do and how to navigate once the police arrive so I was as prepared as I could be. A group of us managed to get a couple of hours off work to join the protests and I have to be honest, a part of me was glad that I’d be surrounded by white and white passing women. I allowed myself to relax into the illusion that their privilege would build a wall around me too because I know what happens to black women and queer people at protests, I had a plan to get out of this in one piece.
The meeting times and places were all confused so our group decided to go straight to the statue and along the way we joined a multitude of black-clad cis presenting (mostly)white people, after all we were in the CBD. I don’t want to harp on about the people that showed up because it’s about bloody time they got involved but it was interesting to see the way they carried themselves. So self assured, striding confidently right into the vortex which felt to them like ‘trying to get to the bathroom at Trenchtown’. Watching them, I got the sense that this was such a cool adventure for them. Not to nullify what they did by showing up but it was apparent how comfortable they were in the space, not a single white person at the protests seemed concerned that there was a group of policemen right there. Which was very interesting to me because we’d all been shocked and disgusted by the video of the police using water cannons and other means to try and disperse the crowds just the day before, so surely there’d be some apprehension right? All the while I was making sure to hang around the crowd periphery and making sure I had an exit route in my line of vision, you know, just in case.
I want, so much, to talk about the circumstances that led us to this day, I want to get into the things said at the podium of this specific protest. I even want to speak on my own experiences but I am overwhelmed by the difference with which we navigate the world. Laugh with me, I’ve lived in this city for ten years, I should know better but here we are. I am frustrated with myself because instead of celebrating the victory of a successful protest, I am struggling to get beyond the many black, queer, women that were broken by the system versus the relative comfortability of my adventure in the fringes of white privilege. There is an unquestioned right that white people have, a right to exist and occupy space and time. A right to move through the muck with no worries about the police or government silencing them. I remember looking at my group, my friends and feeling like I was a fear monger because I’d insisted everyone have a bandana and water in case tear gas came into play. I insisted we not go into the vortex because I was afraid but I felt like a fraud in their eyes when nothing happened.
It made me wonder if the previous day’s skirmishes happened because there weren’t as many white people striding around like they owned the road. Later on that day a black queer friend told me how a policeman had jostled them at that very same protest saying things like ‘if you fall down right now who will be responsible for your injuries?” Was that because the bulk of the crowd had left? Is this harsh and unfair treatment only saved for people that look like me? My group was so bummed out that we didn’t get to hear the president speak and I felt guilty for not feeling the same way but I remember all too well the live ammunition and lives lost at Marikana. I was more than happy to head back to work.
It took a couple of days for the ball of anxiety to unfurl in my belly after the actual protest. I kept watching the news and the timeline to see if any black women and queer people’s lives had been sacrificed for the cause yet again. The dust has kind of settled and all we see is more violence, one begins to wonder what it will take before we see any real change.