Lisolethu Dlova

Liso wrote me a love letter. I’m writing one back.

Dear Lisolethu,
Thank you for your patience with me. Thank you for your openness with me. Thank you for your sharp mind, which amazes me on the regular. My favourite thing about you is that you’re courageous in so many different ways. You have an incredible strength and it’s a beautiful thing to witness: how you love yourself so deliberately, while hitting back against a world which is insistent on defining and limiting you. It’s beautiful how you make things shake. I’m really grateful for your friendship and your work.
Love you too,


Gorata’s Feminist Theory Curriculum

I had to design a 6 week Feminist Theory curriculum as part of an exam recently. Here it is. (At some point, I’d like to create more links to the material that isn’t accessible for people outside the academy, so this is a working document for now) 

Southern Feminist Theory Curriculum


Gqola, P., 2015. Violent Masculinities and War Talk. In: Gqola,P, ed. Rape: A South African Nightmare. 1 ed. Johannesburg: MF Books.

Magadla, S., 2017. Matrofocality and shared motherhood. 

Available at:

Oyewumi, O., 1997. Visualizing the body. In: O. Oyewumi, ed. The invention of women: making an African Sense of western gender discourses. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 1-30.

Vaid-Menon, A., 2015. The Pain & Empowerment of Choosing Your Own Gender: Alok Vaid-Menon.

Available at:


Crenshaw, K. W., 2008. Mapping the margins: intersectionality, identity politics and violence against women of colour. In: A. Bailey & C. Cuomo, eds. The Feminist Philosophy Reader. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 279-309.

Collison, C., 2016. #FeesMustFall ‘burns’ queer students. 

Available at:

Dlakavu, S., 2017. On the EFF and gender.                                                        

Available at:

Sanchez, G., 2015. Queering Disability – on the power of celebrating intersectionality. [Online]

Available at:


Ahmed, S., 2000. Whose counting?. Feminist Theory, 1(1), pp. 97-103.

Berlant, L., 1999. The Subject of True Feeling: Pain, privacy and politics. In: A. Sarat & T. Kearns, eds. Cultural Pluralism, Identity Politics and the Law. Michigan: University of Michigan, pp. 48-84.

Kelley, R., 2016. Black Study, Black Struggle. 

Available at:

Puar, J., 2007. Queer Times, Queer Assemblages . In: J. Puar, ed. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 203-222.


Bongela, M., 2016. Where is the white feminism movement in SA?. 

Available at:

Eng, D. & Lan, S., 2000. A Dialogue on Radical Melancholia. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 10(4), pp. 667-700.

Modongo, L. P., 2015. Don’t you want to be white?. 

Available at:

Putuma, K., 2016. Water (Poem in Collective Amnesia). 

Available at:

Fick, A., 2017. Am I an African? On xenophobia and violence in South Africa 2017. 

Available at:

Class, Land, Labour

Amandla!, 2017. Amandla! interviews campaign Reclaim The City. 

Available at:

Asijiki: Coalition to decriminalize sex work in South Africa, 2015. Sex work and Feminism. [Online]

Available at:

Benya, A., 2015. The invisible hands: women in Marikana. Review of African Political Economy, 42(146), pp. 545-560.

Available at:

Keeanga-Yamahtta, T., 2016. Chapter 7. In: T. Keeanga-Yamahtta & M. Ellis, eds. From #BlackLiveMatter to Black Liberation. Chicago: Haymarket Books, pp. 191-219.

Tsikata, D., 2009. Gender, Land and Labour Relations and livelihood in Sub-Saharan Africa in the era of Economic Liberalisation. Feminist Africa, 12(1), pp. 11-30.


Dosekun, S., 2015. For Western Girls Only? Post-feminism as transnational culture. Feminist Media Studies , 15(6), pp. 960-975.

Motsemme, N., 2007. Loving in a time of hopelessness: on township women’s subjectivities in a time of HIV/Aird. African Idenities, 5(1), pp. 61-87.

Mahmood, S., 2011. The Subject of Freedom. In: S. Mahmood, ed. Politics of Piety. Princeton: Princeton, pp. 1-39.

Nyanzi, S., 2013. Unpacking the Governmentality of African Sexualities. In: S. Tamale, ed. African Sexualities: A reader. Cape Town: Pambazuka Press, pp. 477-501.

Zakaria, R., 2015. Sex and the Muslim Feminist. [Online]

Available at:

Words like these: reflections on writing & thinking about sexual violence

TW: sexual violence

I write about sexual violence a lot. This is a post about the experience of dedicating so many words to rape and other forms of violation. This is a home for the unfinished/unfinishable thoughts I have between writing.

A dark cloud of words
The first and heaviest difficulty of writing about sexual violence is that it hurts people. My words can be reminders of things people don’t want to remember. I understand why. I’m sorry.
For some, my words are an inconvenience. Press release upon press release. Lawyers and PR machines. They use all the words they have to cling to their power. I use mine as memorials for the resistances I’ve known.
My silence has never protected me. My words are vulnerable too. I’m reminded of this whenever I use the word ‘allegedly’ to describe something I know to be true.
Wordless feelings
I’ve been interviewing women about sex and consent for my Master’s research. A lot of this has been hard because, while rape and sex are not the same thing, many of our introductions to sexuality involve violation. It’s a really confusing space to work in, conceptually, because there’s a myriad of ways to be violated and so many of those do not immediately lead us to the words: #MeToo. Sometimes, all we have is confusion or shame or feeling like everything is out of control. Some things are difficult to name. Some feelings have no words. Labels like ‘rape’, ‘abuse’ and ‘sexual assault’ get stuck at the back of our throats.
Or words that don’t feel quite right
Another challenge I’ve faced when writing about sexual violence is figuring how to write about people who’ve been violated in a way which doesn’t reproduce the ‘spectacle’ narrative. Part of the stigma of sexual violence is the idea that something about your identity is changed and that you’re damaged forever. The labels ‘survivor’ and ‘victim’ reproduce this. The word ‘survivor’ has so much pressure of being resilient attached to it – it’s like saying you were supposed to be destroyed by this thing but you overcame it. ‘Victim’ on the other hand, has connotation of weakness – you are allowing this thing to destroy you or this thing destroyed you and now you’re not as valuable. I respect everyone’s choice to identify as one or the other, but what happens when you don’t want to identify as either? There should be a space for that somewhere. Why should we have to define ourselves based on someone else’s actions anyway? Writing about victims, survivors, victim-survivors and victims/survivors feels like reducing a person to that experience. I’m still looking for words that don’t have this effect.
Words coming up short
Sometimes it feels like one’s value for speaking out about experiencing sexual violence is based on the strength projected onto them. When people speak about horrible things they’ve experienced, and others respond commending their strength, it feels shallow: like a non-engagement with the reality of the person’s experience. It feels like people can just post “Wow, you’re so strong” and go – but speaking up about a violation doesn’t mean the pain is over, or that you no longer need support.
A lot of times, to get to the admirable strength stage, there have been many weeks/months of terror, anxiety, shame, self-blame where you weren’t strong and there was no support. It would be so radical if we could create cultures where people who are violated struggle to blame themselves, rather than being so ashamed they are terrified to speak honestly about the pain. People shouldn’t only be recognized when they post a status, especially when the grieving stage of violation is so everyday. A commitment to supporting each other offline is super important. We need to be prepared to be the first person someone opens up to. We need to be a culture that is a safe landing space for people with unfathomable pain.
On Rage
“I have tried to learn my anger’s usefulness to me as well as its limitations” – Audre Lorde
In my writing, I have learned to negotiate with my anger, especially so that the people whose stories I am trying to amplify aren’t drowned out by my feelings. This is usually hard, because there’s a lot of rage, because there’s a lot of injustice. Ultimately, the responsibility of the writing weighs more than the rage.
Sometimes, seeing people angry about sexual violence has been affirming. Other times, it’s felt disempowering – especially when it seems like the violation become a spectacle. It is sometimes tiring to hear the chorus: “How could this happen?”. When do we stop asking how, and answering the question? What do we do with all of this rage?

Learn/unlearn: transgender identity & experiences

*Learn/unlearn is a work-in-progress educational resource project highlighting all my favourite articles, covering various social issues. This post focuses on transgender African people’s experiences. 

Blogs, vlogs and interviews

Sandi Ndelu is a black trans woman & activist in South Africa. You can read her interviews here:

To be young, black and transgender in South Africa

On accessing healthcare as a transgender person in South Africa

Phumelele Nkomozake is a Black Xhosa trans woman (and SRC Transformation rep 2018 at Rhodes). Her lit blog covers topics such as her experience as a trans woman, xhosa culture, gender, race, colourism and sexuality.

She has also been published by Huffington Post.

Glow Mamiii is the first South African trans woman to document her transition on Youtube. Catch her on Youtube.

She has also been interviewed for Afropunk: The GLO’WUP: the intricacies of being a transgender woman in South Africa

Laverne Cox, star of the Orange Is the New Black, produced this documentary about young trans men and women and their experiences in the USA:

The T word

A profile interview focusing on Motswana activist and Gender DynamiX executive director Tshepo Ricki Kgositau.

ARTivist Kat Kai Kol-Kes speaks about trans women’s art and activism

M(x)Blouse on being gender non-binary, their relationship with hip-hip and their debut EP

The story of Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a Malawian trans woman who was forced into exile.

Zanna Chetty speaks about why she started Trans Rights Awareness Movement.

Genderqueer: Existing outside the boundary by Dylan Bush

News Articles

Trans people seek bias-free healthcare

Torment for trans women ‘sent to the mountain’ to learn to be men 

‘My body is a battleground’: How rural trans people struggle to live out their rights (Mail & Guardian)

Trans men: The ‘invisible’ group in SA’s HIV health plan

When being you could cost you a quarter of a million rand

This is what it’s like being a sex worker: ‘Police dragged me out in public naked’


What it feels like to be transgender by Lee Mokobe


How ‘Khwezi’s activism shaped a generation

In 2005, Fezekile Kuzwayo accused Jacob Zuma, then Deputy President of the ruling party, of rape.  During Zuma’s rape trial in 2006, the One in Nine campaign organized a national day of solidarity with “Khwezi” (the pseudonym adopted to protect Kuzwayo’s identity). At Rhodes University in Grahamstown, a group of activists marched to the High Court in solidarity with the One in Nine campaign (the group of feminists who first believed Kuzwayo and kept believing her). A year later, members of the organization hosted the first annual Silent Protest against sexual violence at Rhodes. When I took part in the protest for the first time in 2012, the protest had grown to be the biggest of its kind in the country, boasting over 1000 participants.

In the years I attended, the Silent Protest was somber yet significant occasion. Like clockwork, the clouds would gather together above as we marched to the Main Admin building. During the day, most participants wore black tape across their mouths to symbolize the silencing effect of rape. In the evening, reverberations of Kuzwayo’s courage were felt in the Cathedral vigil, as one by one, those who wore “Rape Survivor” t-shirts entrusted the crowd with their stories. What moved me about the protest was that it provided a space to de-stigmatize the experience of rape: a platform for those who had experienced sexual violence to speak out openly.

In April 2016, four years after I first participated in the Silent Protest, Rhodes University exploded in an anti-rape protest of a different kind. Following the publication of the #RUReferenceList – a list of alleged perpetrators of sexual violence  – on social media, students shut down the campus, demanding the suspension of the listed students.

As the hashtag #RUReferenceList went viral on social media, feminist rage spread ferociously. Soon, our cry for justice was echoed by students from other campuses, who expressed their solidarity by mobilizing under the hashtags #Iam1in3, #UCTSpeaksBack and #EndRapeCulture.

Perhaps for outsiders who were familiar with Rhodes University’s legacy of hosting the Silent Protest, that rape culture still persisted at Rhodes may have come as a surprise. However, for those of us who had over the years learned of the violations of our peers, which occurred often at the hands of other students, the image of our university as a safe space had long faded.

The #RUReferenceList protests highlighted that symbolizing silence was no longer an adequate strategy for ending rape. As activist/author Pumla Gqola had said, rather than symbolic solidarity, there needed to be a social cost for raping. At a time where our faith in our institution’s preparedness to combat sexual violence had dwindled, the Reference List was the megaphone we needed to break the silence.

Months later, shortly before commemorations of Women’s day had begun, four women staged a silent protest as Jacob Zuma delivered a post-election speech in Pretoria. Amanda Mavuso, Naledi Chirwa, Simamkele Dlakavu and Lebogang Shikwambane stood in front of the president, holding up posters which read “#I am 1 in 3”, “Khanga”, “10 years later” and “#RememberKhwezi”. Although they were quickly removed from the venue, their reminder echoed across airwaves and online spaces thereafter. As the name “Khwezi” regained prominence, the nation had to meditate on the sore fact that the victim-blaming beliefs that drove Kuzwayo into exile a decade ago still plague us today.


On the October Sunday that we learned of Fezekile Kuzwayo’s death, we experienced a deep heartbreak; a spiritual laceration. Waves of grief and disbelief washed over us, leaving us worn. At Rhodes University, later that week, when we held a vigil to celebrate Fezekile’s life, even the most outspoken amongst us had no words to articulate the weight of the loss. After all, in mourning Fezekile, we were mourning one of our greatest feminist teachers. In remembering her, we would inherit the responsibility of fighting to create the society she deserved.


In paying tribute to Kuzwayo’s legacy – her courage and her intellect – we must pledge to remain cognizant of the violences that queer people, women, non-binary trans people, and HIV-positive people face every day. Our life’s work is to reclaim justice as our birthright, even when we tremble with fear. It is our task to institute a real freedom and put to shame the farcical institutions that fail us time and again. The enormity of patriarchal violence, fused with our own traumas, may discourage us, but we must remember that Fezekile also treaded this path. We must prepare to carry this baton as far as we can run. As our race heats up, may Fezekile Kuzwayo rest in peace and in power.


What is intersectionality?

I first came across the word ‘intersectionality’ a few years ago. At the time, I understood it loosely to be “the idea that people have different oppressions and also, different privileges”.

Firstly, Kimberle Crenshaw came up with intersectionality in 1989. A Black woman did that. But as these things go, I only heard about Crenshaw a while after I first came across the word. I’m just putting this out there because Black womens’ genius is often ignored (and because it hurts my feminist soul that we can talk about intersectionality without saying her name).

Secondly, and more to the point, intersectionality is huge in feminism now. Fellow feminists are defining themselves as intersectional, calling for intersectional approaches and critiquing things for not being intersectional enough. “Intersectional feminism” has become our beacon of hope: the thing that will lead us (as Black Africans) away from feminisms that don’t fit.  But what does intersectional feminism even mean?

The word ‘intersectionality’ is used so often that it’s getting vague: it seems like it has no limitations. With such frequent use, it loses its shape and its grit. As it has become more popular, people have started using intersectionality in a way which seems to be for everyone’s benefit. But best believe Kimberle Crenshaw was talking about Black women. In Mapping the Margins, the article she wrote explaining intersectionality in 1993, Crenshaw was very specific.

The fact that everyone can now cash in on ‘intersectionality’ heavily suggests that it has been stolen and appropriated. This is not to say that only Black women can talk about intersectionality or that it can’t apply to other forms of oppression. I just want to reflect on where it came from.

In  Mapping the Margins,  Crenshaw wrote about how both feminist and anti-racism movements failed to address issues specific to Black women. She noted:

Racism as it is experienced by Black men tends to determine the parameters of antiracist strategies, just as sexism experienced by White women tends to ground the women’s movement.

Crenshaw added that dealing with one oppression at at time fails to truly free people because (to paraphrase Lorde) we don’t live single-issue lives. Something that frees a white women won’t free a Black woman; that’s why feminism has been criticized so much by Black women.

Mapping the Margins is about how not recognizing social differences within movements leaves some people out in the cold. For Crenshaw, it is necessary to assert the differences that are erased, to call a spade a spade basically, so that this exclusion doesn’t happen within our liberation movements.

With that, I think intersectionality should always mean taking the focus away from privileged voices and listening to people who are oppressed. This becomes increasingly important as recently, I’ve been finding that even within ‘intersectional’ spaces and intersectional feminism, some people use intersectionality to protect their privilege.

I’m uncomfortable with people using intersectionality as a buzzword so often that it no longer prioritizes marginalized groups. I’m uncomfortable with people using intersectionality to avoid taking responsibility for privilege. You shouldn’t be able to use intersectionality as a shield if you’re being oppressive. Put some respek on Crenshaw’s concept.

If you’re white and queer, you’re never not white. If you’re black and upper middle class, you’re never not middle-class. If you’re cisgender and queer, you’re never not cisgender. And so on. Facing a particular oppression doesn’t cancel out having a privilege and we need to constantly take responsibility for what having privilege does for us.

Privilege amplifies your voice all the time. So your whiteness, your wealth, your physical abilities, your heterosexuality etc. all speak louder than you imagine. For that reason, intersectionality, to me, means that you are aware of when you speak and what your voice means in different contexts. You ask: Is this conversation about me? Do I need to speak? Will this conversation benefit from my contribution? Am I only responding right now because I’m uncomfortable with having my privilege interrogated?*

Crenshaw ends off saying:

The most one could expect is that we will dare to speak against internal exclusions and marginalizations…Through an awareness of intersectionality, we can better acknowledge the differences among us and negotiate the means by which these differences will find expression in constructing group politics.

Coming together is vital for our liberation. But coming together is also a collision, where we have to confront our complicity in the systems that oppress others. Perhaps, in colliding, we can use intersectionality to free ourselves from practices that harm others.

*I still think we need a better way of talking to each other about privilege within feminism. I’m still thinking about whether or not calling people out works. I haven’t figured it out yet.
**Special thanks to everybody who helps me figure this stuff out, particularly Dlova & Nomoyi (2016).