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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

Watch Malebo Sephodi’s TED Talk on the importance of self-care as tool of liberation

Upon encountering historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s quote, ‘well-behaved women seldom make history’, Malebo Sephodi knew that she was tired of everyone else having a say on who and what she should be.

Appropriating this quote, Malebo boldly renounces societal expectations placed on her as a black woman and shares her journey towards misbehaviour.

According to Malebo, it is the norm for a black woman to live in a society that prescribes what it means to be a well-behaved woman. Acting like this prescribed woman equals good behaviour. But what happens when a black woman decides to live her own life and becomes her own form of who she wants to be? She is often seen as misbehaving.

Miss-Behave challenges society’s deep-seated beliefs about what it means to be an obedient woman. In this book, Malebo tracks her journey on a path towards achieving total autonomy and self-determinism.

Miss-Behave will challenge, rattle and occasionally cause you to scream ‘yassss, yassss, yassss’ at various intervals.

Here, Malebo discusses the complex relationship women have with themselves, societal pressure, the marginilisation of women’s bodies, balancing your domestic life with your professional life, and the importance of self-care as tool of liberation:

Miss Behave

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Hennie van Vuuren and Michael Marchant discuss seven key concepts in Apartheid Guns and Money

Apartheid Guns and MoneyThe apartheid state was at war. For two decades before 1994, while internal resistance grew, mandatory sanctions prohibited the sale of strategic goods and arms to South Africa.

The last white regime was confronted with an existential threat.

A global covert network of nearly 50 countries was constructed to counter sanctions. In complete secrecy, allies in corporations, banks, governments and intelligence agencies helped move cash, illegally supply guns and create the apartheid arms money machine. Whistleblowers were assassinated and ordinary people suffered.

This is an exposé of that machinery created in defence of apartheid and the people who made this possible: heads of state, arms dealers, aristocrats, plutocrats, senators, bankers, spies, journalists and members of secret lobby groups.

They were all complicit in a crime against humanity. Motivated by ideology or kinship most sought to simply profit from the war.

Many have until now relied on lingering silence to erase the uncomfortable truth.
 
This meticulously researched book lifts the lid on some of the darkest secrets of apartheid’s economic crimes, weaving together material collected in over two-dozen archives in eight countries with an insight into tens of thousands of pages of newly declassified documents.

Networks of state capture persist in our democratic political system because the past and present are interconnected. In forging its future a new generation needs to grapple with the persistent silence regarding apartheid-era economic crime and ask difficult questions of those who benefited from it.

This book provides the evidence and the motivation to do so.

Hennie van Vuuren is an activist, writer and Director of Open Secrets, focusing on accountability for economic crimes and human rights violations. He works from within civil society, challenging corruption and the abuse of power.

Here, Van Vuuren and Michael Marchant, a researcher at Open Secrets, expand on seven key concepts found in this remarkable book:

Secrecy breeds corruption

PW Botha’s apartheid government relied on legislated secrecy to shield his government’s economic crimes from scrutiny. In this context even government oversight bodies were prohibited from seeing into the arms procurement world, corruption thrived. Journalists were shut down and persecuted, and the public interest suffered. This is why current indications from the South African government of a move back toward securitization and secrecy should so concern us. It is also why South Africans must guard against the intimidation and pressure on investigative journalists who continue to tell the vital stories of state capture and corruption today.

Who funded the National Party?

Large South African corporations and their leaders went to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and argued that they had never supported apartheid and that it was ‘bad for business’. The archival records of the National Party and its leaders PW Botha and FW de Klerk tell a different story. There we found the annual cheques from business giants from all sectors, made out to the National Party, and often accompanied by fawning letters of praise to the party’s leadership. From billionaires like Christo Wiese to media giant Naspers, South African corporations were willing to grease the apartheid political machine.

Their influence was always suspected, but secrecy around the funding of political parties prevented the public from truly knowing how these relationships operated, and what they may have received in return. This problem persists today, with secrecy allowing big money to corrupt political parties and South African politics more broadly. Reform is desperately needed and must be demanded.

Kredietbank and the Arms Money Machine

While Swiss banks and their executives enjoyed cosy relationships with the apartheid state and private sector, profiting vastly off selling South African gold, it was a Belgian bank and its Luxembourg subsidiary that was at the centre of apartheid’s money laundering machine that was essential in keeping apartheid armed in times of the UN embargoes. Kredietbank Luxembourg, in exchange for vast profits, helped Armscor establish a global money laundering network of secret bank accounts and shell companies in order to bust the UN arms embargo against apartheid.

Based on the evidence we gathered Apartheid Guns & Money identified over 800 such bank accounts and over 100 secret companies between Panama and Liberia.

Continue reading here.

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Watch: late SA jazz legend Ray Phiri discusses the iconic Bassline

Last Night at the Bassline

Legendary South African jazz musician Ray Phiri recently passed away from lung cancer. Phiri was a regular performer at the iconic live-music venue, Bassline, opened in 1994 by Brad and Paige Holmes. Bassline, situated in the bohemian suburb of Melville in Johannesburg, soon became synonymous with cigarette smoke, great jazz and nights you wished would never end.

They later moved the club to Newtown where it grew in prominence as the ultimate venue for live music, hosting amazing artists like Thandiswa Mazwai, Jimmy Dludlu, Lera, The Soil and Grammy
Award-winning group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

In 2016 word spread like wildfire that everyone’s favourite club was closing its doors forever; this place that held all the promises of a new South Africa, a place where people of all races could come together, share a drink, dance and fall in love was to be no more.

But as Bassline starts its new journey with Live @ the Bassline, yet another great story begins with Last Night at the Bassline, in which Phiri features prominently.

In this book, esteemed music historian Professor David Coplan tells the story of Bassline and the Holmes’s journey in it, thus giving musicians and jazz fans something to hold on to even after its closure. This book is a tangible piece of the magic to take home and savour. And those who were never there will be given a chance to experience this dream.

With more than fifty iconic photographs from Oscar Gutierrez and other great photographers. The book is more than just a memoir. It is a gritty, smoky, passionate slice of time. Bassline will always be a reminder of what it feels like to live the impossible.

Here, Phiri discusses this iconic night club:

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Watch: Malebo Sephodi discusses her memoir Miss Behave (Yasss!)

Upon encountering historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s quote, ‘well-behaved women seldom make history’, Malebo Sephodi knew that she was tired of everyone else having a say on who and what she should be.

Appropriating this quote, Malebo boldly renounces societal expectations placed on her as a black woman and shares her journey towards misbehaviour.

According to Malebo, it is the norm for a black woman to live in a society that prescribes what it means to be a well-behaved woman. Acting like this prescribed woman equals good behaviour.
But what happens when a black woman decides to live her own life and becomes her own form of who she wants to be? She is often seen as misbehaving.

Miss Behave challenges society’s deep-seated beliefs about what it means to be an obedient woman. In this book, Malebo tracks her journey on a path towards achieving total autonomy and self-determinism.

Miss Behave will challenge, rattle and occasionally cause you to scream ‘yassss, yassss, yassss’ at various intervals.


 
Miss Behave

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Listen: Vanessa Levenstein reviews Raymond Suttner’s Inside Apartheid’s Prison for FMR

Inside Apartheid's PrisonFirst published by Oceanbooks, New York and Melbourne, and University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg, in 2001, Inside Apartheid’s Prison was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Alan Paton award in 2002.

In the public imagination the struggle that saw the end of apartheid and inauguration of a democratic South Africa is seen as one waged by black people who were often imprisoned or killed for their efforts. Raymond Suttner, an academic, is one of a small group of white South Africans who was imprisoned for his efforts to overthrow the apartheid regime.

He was first arrested in 1975 and tortured with electric shocks because he refused to supply information to the police. He then served eight years for underground activities for the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP).

After his release in 1983, he returned to the struggle and was forced to go underground to evade arrest, but was re-detained in 1986 for 27 months; 18 of these being spent in solitary confinement.

In the last months of this detention Suttner was allowed to have a pet lovebird, which he tamed and used to keep inside his tracksuit. When he was eventually released from detention in September 1988 the bird was on his shoulder.

Suttner was held under stringent house arrest conditions, imposed to impede further political activities. He however defied his house arrest restrictions and attended an Organisation for African Unity meeting in Harare, where he remained for five months. Shortly after his return to SA, when he anticipated being re-arrested, the state of emergency was lifted and the ANC and other banned organisations were unbanned.

The book describes Suttner’s experience of prison in a low-key, unromantic voice, providing the texture of prison life. This ‘struggle memoir’ is also intensely personal, as Suttner is not averse to admitting his fears and anxieties.

The new edition contains an afterword where Suttner describes his break with the ANC and SACP. But he argues that the reasons for his rupturing this connection that had been so important to his life were the same ethical reasons that had led him to join in the first place. He remains convinced that what he did was right and continues to act in accordance with those convictions.

Listen to Levenstein’s review here:


 

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Jonathan Ancer’s Spy “destined to become a minor classic about apartheid’s ruinous path,” writes Peter Vale

SpyIn 1972 Craig Williamson, a big, burly, bearded man, walked onto Wits University and registered as a student. He joined the National Union of South African Students (Nusas), and was on the frontline in the war against apartheid. At one march he was beaten up, arrested and spent a year on trial. Williamson rose up through the student movement’s ranks to become the Nusas vice president.

After being harassed by security police and having his passport seized, he decided to flee the country to continue his activism with the International University Exchange Fund (IUEF), an anti-apartheid organisation in exile. He was eventually appointed the Fund’s deputy director. As the IUEF’s money man, Williamson had access to powerful ANC and Black Consciousness leaders. He joined the ANC and formed his own unit to carry out clandestine work to topple the National Party government.

But Williamson was not the anti-apartheid activist his friends and comrades thought he was.

In January 1980, Captain Williamson was unmasked as a South African spy. His handler, Colonel Johan Coetzee, the head of South Africa’s notorious security branch, flew to Switzerland to bring him and his wife back home. Williamson was described as South Africa’s superspy who penetrated the KGB. Williamson returned to South Africa and during the turbulent 1980s worked for the foreign section of the South African Police’s security branch.

Two years after he left Switzerland he returned to Europe under a false name and with a crack squad of special force officers to blow up the ANC’s headquarters in London. He was also responsible for a parcel bomb that killed Ruth First in Mozambique and the bomb that killed Jeanette Schoon and her 6-year-old daughter Katryn in Angola. He left the security branch to join Military Intelligence and finally the State Security Council.

Apartheid’s spies didn’t have to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a lot of information about the spies has been buried, burnt or shredded. This episode of our country’s bitter past remains murky…

Here, Peter Vale, a professor of humanities and the director of the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Johannesburg, reviews Ancer’s remarkable book for the Mail & Guardian:

One can judge a book’s bleakness by the photograph on its cover. The Mephistophelean figure holding a teacup is Craig Williamson: police informant and apartheid spy and assassin. Prize-winning journalist Jonathan Ancer’s goal is clear from the get-go. He wants to expose the man on the cover in all his infamy to set himself free. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s no place in these pages for the political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s idea of the “banality of evil” — those who perpetuate terrible deeds are mostly thoughtless functionaries.

For Ancer, the man on the cover of the book — not apartheid, nor his handlers — was responsible for a two-decade career of falsehood, cover-up, betrayal and murder. They were Williamson’s choice, and his alone.

Class, rather than race

So who is (or was) Williamson? Born into an English-speaking Johannesburg family, he was schooled at one of the city’s great institutions, St John’s College.

Gently, Ancer opens to the idea that class, rather than race, may have been at the core of Williamson’s inability to tell right from wrong. Awkward and always overweight, the boy was bullied and, in turn, learned to bully.

Other writers might have been tempted to position a propensity for violence at the centre of their narrative. Ancer is near playful when discussing Williamson’s school days.

But trawling through old copies of the school magazine, Ancer discovers that, when Williamson’s politics emerged, they were of a raw, racist strain, which was integral to the search for a white South African patriotism after World War II.

In 1966, Williamson won a school debatecum-mock election by drawing on the racial ideology espoused by the (now long-forgotten) Republican Party, a right-wing splinter group of the National Party (NP).

If this was the direction of his politics, his “gap year” confirmed it: this national served not with apartheid’s South African Defence Force, as was the case for most young white men, but with the South African Police (SAP).

It was 1968. Maintaining domestic order and the travails of white-ruled Rhodesia were uppermost in the thinking of prime minister John Vorster, apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd’s successor. Their NP embarked on an offensive to charm English-speakers, an approach that drew on the pervasive anti-communism of the time.

So, young Williamson’s choice of national service in the SAP, which was then at the sharp end of racial repression, didn’t seem untoward, even in Johannesburg’s supposedly more liberal, white, English-speaking northern suburbs.

Student politics

After his year in the SAP, he enrolled to read politics and law at the University of the Witwatersrand. There Williamson began his decade-long career of subterfuge.

He immersed himself in student politics, first in the Wits Students’ Representative Council and, later, the leftist National Union of South African Students (Nusas).

During these years, Williamson interacted with (and reported on) several generations of student leaders from almost every English-speaking university.

Interviewed by Ancer, several of them report that suspicions about Williamson abounded, but the liberal impulse to believe, forgive and understand stayed any serious investigations of a double life.

After Nusas, and purportedly without a passport, Williamson was catapulted (accompanied by his medical student wife, Ingrid) into the Geneva-based International University Exchange Fund (IUEF). This Nordic-funded body fronted for liberation movements around the world, but particularly in Southern Africa.

This was when the police informant turned to espionage by passing information to apartheid’s notorious Special Branch.

Continue reading Vale’s review here.

This review first appeared in The Conversation.

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Book launch: Apartheid Guns and Money by Hennie van Vuuren

The apartheid state was at war. For two decades before 1994, while internal resistance grew, mandatory sanctions prohibited the sale of strategic goods and arms to South Africa.

The last white regime was confronted with an existential threat.

A global covert network of nearly 50 countries was constructed to counter sanctions. In complete secrecy, allies in corporations, banks, governments and intelligence agencies helped move cash, illegally supply guns and create the apartheid arms money machine. Whistleblowers were assassinated and ordinary people suffered.

This is an exposé of that machinery created in defence of apartheid and the people who made this possible: heads of state, arms dealers, aristocrats, plutocrats, senators, bankers, spies, journalists and members of secret lobby groups.

They were all complicit in a crime against humanity. Motivated by ideology or kinship most sought to simply profit from the war.

Many have until now relied on lingering silence to erase the uncomfortable truth.

This meticulously researched book lifts the lid on some of the darkest secrets of apartheid’s economic crimes, weaving together material collected in over two-dozen archives in eight countries with an insight into tens of thousands of pages of newly declassified documents.

Networks of state capture persist in our democratic political system because the past and present are interconnected. In forging its future a new generation needs to grapple with the persistent silence regarding apartheid-era economic crime and ask difficult questions of those who benefited from it.

This book provides the evidence and the motivation to do so.

Hennie van Vuuren is an activist, writer and Director of Open Secrets, focusing on accountability for economic crimes and human rights violations. He works from within civil society, challenging corruption and the abuse of power.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 06 July 2017
  • Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM
  • Venue: Love Books, The Bamboo Lifestyle Centre, 53 Rustenburg Road, Melville, Johannesburg | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Ferial Haffajee
  • RSVP: Savannah Lucas, rsvp@jacana.co.za

Book Details

Apartheid Guns and Money can also be purchased via Exclusive Books Online and Takealot.


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Listen: AmaBookaBooka interview Christa Kuljian

In 1871, Darwin predicted that humans evolved in Africa. European scientists thought his claim astonishing and it took the better part of a century for Darwin to be proven correct. From Raymond Dart’s description of the Taung Child Skull in 1925 to Lee Berger’s announcement of Homo Naledi in 2015, South Africa has been the site of fossil discoveries that have led us to explore our understanding of human evolution.

Darwin’s Hunch reviews how the search for human origins has been shaped by a changing social and political context. The book engages with the concept of race, from the race typology of the 1920s and ’30s to the post-World War II concern with race, to the impact of apartheid and its demise. The book explores the scientific racism that often placed people in a hierarchy of race and treated them as objects to be measured.

In 1987, the publication of “Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution” suggested that all living humans could trace their ancestry back to an African woman 200,000 years ago. Again, many scientists and the general public in the West were slow to accept such a claim.

Listen to author Christa Kuljian discuss her Alan Paton award shortlisted book, sharing her thoughts on revisiting science, and repeating Australopithecus Africanus 10 times in this recent AmaBookaBooka interview:

 

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#YouthDay: win a copy of The Road to Soweto

2016, a year of recollection and remembrance – it is 40 years after the Soweto Uprisings, a date that marks a significant shift in the struggle against apartheid, but it is the year where a generation of so-called “born frees” are again fighting for access to education.

In the four decades since the Soweto Uprising, a consensus account of the politics of the mid-1970s, and the role of Soweto in them, has emerged. In this account, the Uprising arises out of a period of political quiescence.

It is the moment of the emergence of a new generation of activists – mostly under the age of twenty years – who would go on to drive politics in the future. And it was the product of local resistance to national state policies and practices, shaped by the experiences of students in Soweto, of youth gangs in the neighbourhood and their contingent encounters with the police, and taken up nationally.

This consensus story sees the Soweto Uprising as a solitary moment of transition, from apartheid hegemony to popular resistance.

The Road to Soweto begins by giving an account of the decade that preceded the Soweto Uprising of June 1976 that not only transforms our understanding of this crucial flashpoint of South Africa’s history, but also creates a longer, more evolutionary, historical narrative for the overthrow of apartheid.

It argues that the suppression of opposition movements after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 did not lead to a period of ‘quiescence’, as many writers maintain, in which activists retreated into private acts of dissent and the opposition went underground, followed, a decade later, by a sudden eruption of the townships, first in Soweto, and then across the country.

Rather, these years were marked by experiments in resistance and attempts to develop new forms of politics which prepared the ground for the uprising in Soweto, introducing new modes of organisation, new models of protest, and new ideas of resistance, identity, and political ideology to a generation of activists.

The explosion of protest in Soweto was a catalyst for the reshaping of South Africa’s politics and began the processes that led to the end of the apartheid order and the creation of the new post-apartheid state, but it did not do so in isolation.

Julian Brown is a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

He is the author of South Africa’s Insurgent Citizens: On Dissent and the Possibility of Politics in South Africa (Jacana, 2015), as well as of a number of scholarly articles on South African politics, history and socio-legal studies.

He completed a DPhil in Modern History at the University of Oxford in 2009.

Visit our Facebook page for a chance to win one of five copies.

The Road to Soweto

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“We make our mark when we defy norms” – read an excerpt from Miss-Behave

Upon encountering historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s quote, ‘well-behaved women seldom make history’, Malebo Sephodi knew that she was tired of everyone else having a say on who and what she should be. Appropriating this quote, Malebo boldly renounces societal expectations placed on her as a black woman and shares her journey towards misbehaviour.

According to Malebo, it is the norm for a black woman to live in a society that prescribes what it means to be a well-behaved woman. Acting like this prescribed woman equals good behaviour. But what happens when a black woman decides to live her own life and becomes her own form of who she wants to be? She is often seen as misbehaving.

Miss-Behave challenges society’s deep-seated beliefs about what it means to be an obedient woman. In this book, Malebo tracks her journey on a path towards achieving total autonomy and self-determinism. Miss-Behave will challenge, rattle and occasionally cause you to scream ‘yassss, yassss, yassss’ at various intervals.

Chapter One: Misbehave:

I am a petrolhead, an engine enthusiast.

I love the smell of petrol, possibly because of an iron deficiency, but I have a passion for engines nonetheless. From cars to fighter jets, with motorbikes topping the list. My machine of choice is the Honda CBR1000RR superbike, otherwise known as the Fireblade.

Although the likes of the BMW S1000RR superbike has won the hearts of many due to its sleek aesthetics, unmatched performance and disruptive power, the Fireblade has always owned the road. This is of course my tested opinion.

My love of motorbikes started at the tender age of 13. I saw one passing by and knew I would one day ride it. I fantasised about riding into the dusk on a silver-maroon Harley Davidson, the only make I knew at the time. In 2003 I had the opportunity to attend a bikers’ church; it was heaven glazed with metal.

In still trying to deal with the idea that bikers have their own church, I was overwhelmed by the number of bikes in the parking lot. I had to blink three times in order for me to believe what I was seeing. I was not conscious of this but I do not remember noticing any black bikers. While the church service was in procession I slipped outside to bask in the metal of my dreams.

I had never seen anything like it. When church was out, I met a couple who offered me a lift. When they pointed to their bike, my heart skipped a beat. There it was in its metallic glory: the fierce iron horse that had always captured my imagination. Everything that I had daydreamed about was parked right before my eyes. Walking towards the bike felt surreal. I was finally doing this. I could not believe it. Tears welled up, camouflaged by a light drizzle. The owner, Manfred, said: ‘Gear up and get on.’ His partner handed me her safety jacket and helmet. ‘First rule of the bike: always protect yourself,’ she said. I put on the jacket first and then the helmet and she pulled the tie under my chin to secure the helmet. I mounted the bike, wrapping my arms around Manfred’s waist, and rested my head against his back. His partner laughed and told me I could sit up straight and hold on to his sides. I grabbed both sides of his jacket and held as tightly as I could. He started the engine and the sound eased through my ears as if it were something natural to me.

The bike started moving, and with the increase of speed all my sorrows disappeared with the wind as the rain before us formed a stage curtain that opened onto the horizon. My dreams were coming true. When we got back, Manfred slowly moved in between other parked bikes and stopped. With his hands on the handlebars and both black boots on the ground he said, ‘Thank you.’

I clung to his waist and squeezed to relate my gratitude.

Nodding his head, he stretched his right arm behind him and tapped twice on my forearm. From that day I was obsessed with the idea of owning one and chasing sunsets. Every time I closed my eyes, I relived how the wind kissed me that day. The experience stayed with me and seeing bikes on the road gave me the hope that I would own a bike one day too. Four and half years later, in 2008, my dreams got closer to becoming a reality. I went out to Maponya Mall in Soweto for drinks with some friends. On leaving, I saw some men gathered around and admiring whatever it was they had enclosed. I walked over to peep a black Kawasaki Ninja with silver linings parked right next to the pavement, with the owner sitting next to it, enjoying the admiration his bike was receiving. I stood around the circle and joined in on the conversation. When my turn came to speak to the owner, I said, ‘Nice wheels.’ He laughed and responded, ‘That’s Fire, not wheels, Fire.’ His bike’s name was Fire. We spent the next 30 minutes talking about bikes. He explained the different bikes you find on the road, the different biker clubs that one could join and all the events that get hosted by bikers.

It was all too much for me to take in, so he promised to take me for a ride and introduce me to other bikers. His name was Zee. He was about 1.8m tall with broad shoulders and arms that looked like he could pick his bike up. We formed a very close friendship and he took me to a bike club launch, where I was introduced to a community of bikers. I felt my dream ignited from within. Seeing black people owning bikes inspired me. Granted most of them were men, but when I looked around I found a few black women, which inspired me even more.

Lady Zee, real name Zanele McMurray, was a goddess. When I saw her, I knew I needed to speak to her. I gave myself a pep talk to go chat to her. She was standing around a group of bikers. I approached her and all I could think of was how she represented a divine deity. I tapped her on her left shoulder, but I couldn’t say anything past: ‘I also want to ride a bike like you one day.’

Her eyelids closed and she broke into the most beautiful warm smile and said, ‘I can’t wait to ride with you one day.’ I looked up to her and venerated her existence.

She has been riding forever and supports many initiatives through her biking. One initiative is a yearly campaign called Cancervive, where she and a few other bikers ride for cancer awareness. The first day I learned of Cancervive, I also learned that Lillian Dube, whom I grew up watching on TV, was a biker as well. She survived cancer and lives to tell the tale. The cause is very close to Lady Zee’s heart and she uses biking as a way to champion it and create more awareness. It was important to see other black women riding, because as much as I believed dreams do come true, this dream seemed impossible, and witnessing Lady Zee on her bike made me realise the endless possibility in achieving my dream. She became the key in unlocking my first steps towards being a biker. My dream did come true – I got to ride with her.

When I became part of the biker community I was first known as Eagle Rose and later as Lady Gripen. Bikers often have aliases to describe the type of personality they show in the sport. Most are earned, but some are chosen. I called myself Eagle Rose because, at the time, I loved eagles and roses.

I went on to name my bike Gripen, and it is because of this that everyone called me Lady Gripen. It’s a fitting name for my bike because a Gripen is a Saab fighter jet that can break the sound barrier – an amazing phenomenon to watch. Unlike the jet, I have never broken the sound barrier and this has become a goal to achieve in life.

Riding back then as a black woman came with wide-eyed stares and required frequent explanation. This was a fascination to many but it did not come without its fair share of judgement.

There are many stereotypes nurtured and protected. On one occasion at a petrol station, when I was getting ready to mount my bike, two gentlemen in a red SUV approached me. I was putting my helmet on when they started making small talk about my motorbike, going on about how beautiful it was. I thanked them, but you could see they were not really talking to me. I ignored them and continued to put on my gloves until they looked in my direction.

One of them asked if I was not afraid of the bike and if I trusted my boyfriend enough to ride with him. He looked around, scanning for this boyfriend of mine. I had already become used to such questions, so with a sarcastic tone I responded: ‘My boyfriend is afraid of speed.’

I mounted the bike, spun my back wheel hard enough to leave them confused and then sped off. They often say your bike is like a shy boyfriend: do not try to show off with it because it might embarrass you. That day proved what rubbish those gendered aphorisms are, because my bike was such a team player in causing discomfort to gendered perceptions – not that my skills on a bike could change people’s sexist assumptions.

Even though I rode on the same road and hit the same curves, I found that I was viewed differently from fellow bikers, the men. Many assumed I couldn’t perform basic bike maintenance, such as greasing my chain, taking care of my tyres or any other simple duty every bike owner should be able to do.

My mere existence as a biker disrupted so many deep-seated gender beliefs.

Being the cause of disruption comes at a heavy price, but it is a price I have always been willing to pay from the minute I chose to make history. Historically, biking is a sport that has been dominated by white men. Not because whites are braver and more excitable, but because motorcycling is an expensive sport to which black people have had little or no access. For a long time the only bike associated with blacks was the delivery bike, which I grew up calling Velaphi.

Although by 1986 there were black men who rode bikes for leisure under the Eagles Bikers Club, one of the first black motorcycle clubs in South Africa. When black men started invading the sport in numbers, white society was dealt a shock. And now both the white and black men have to deal with black women.

Most of the time I rode alone because I could not stand how I was viewed as a biker. I hated being referred to as a ‘female biker’ while men were referred to as ‘bikers’. Gendering my position as a rider inevitably erased me when one started to talk about bikers. When a person said, ‘A group of bikers came around the corner,’ it was translated as ‘men coming around the corner’. This automatically obliterated my participation, even if I were riding with them. Whenever anyone engaged me on my riding capabilities, the questions would revolve around my femaleness as a biker and not just my ability and skill on the bike.

This gives you no choice but to seek those who will make you feel comfortable in such environments. Because biking is a sport I love, I want to do it knowing that I ride it within safe spaces and that I do not feel exhausted from trying to defend my right and will to participate in the sport. That is why I found solace with other black women who’d started riding before me, with me and after me.

Lady Zee, in particular, is a force in her own right. She continuously gives me the affirmation to shake up a field dominated by men without fear. Another fellow biker always reminds me of a quote that kept her on her two wheels whenever she felt the weight of sexism. I can’t quite remember it verbatim but paraphrasing it sounds something like: ‘When our great-grandchildren speak of us, they will remember that we were bikers.’

And snapping her fingers she adds: ‘And fast ones at that.’

And that’s the thing: we will not be remembered for all the ‘normal’ things we’re expected to do, unless we do them exceptionally well. We make our mark when we defy norms.

These norms do not have to be changed by moving mountains; we just have to step out of the box that has been constructed for us – even though we stand to be labelled as ‘not well behaved’.

To misbehave is to resist

It has always been interesting how my behaviour as a woman is policed by whichever part of society I interact with, whether as a biker or just a woman who leads her life day by day.

So when I first saw the quote ‘well-behaved women seldom make history’, I knew that it was something that I would hold on to for a long time. I did not know who wrote it at the time but it was often attributed to Marilyn Monroe, which was very fitting.

Monroe’s legacy has never been defined by any sort of good behaviour in the ways the world would expect good behaviour to manifest. If anything, she crossed boundaries and till this day remains a mystery to me. Monroe was a worldwide star who lived with a troubled past and battled with a life full of personal darkness. She always made the gossip column, mainly due to her sexuality.

In an era that was underpinned by sexual anxiety, she had posed nude and expressed no regret for her actions. For many who tried to box her in the stereotype of a ‘blonde’ woman, assuming that because of her sexual appeal she could never have any intellectual prowess, she proved the assumptions wrong, showing that the two can coexist. She ran her own production company in a feat to be able to do whatever it was that she wanted, whenever she wanted.

I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that this slogan was coined by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a historian at Harvard University. I discovered that it first appeared in a 1976 academic article written about the pious women who were celebrated in funeral sermons.

It was only in 1996 that it found its way into popular culture and was soon printed on mugs, bumper stickers, T-shirts, magnets and websites. As with anything in the public domain, it opened itself up to different interpretation.

Some interpreted it to mean that if you are going to make any significant change in the world, then it matters not what people think of you. To others it meant that ‘good girls’ never receive credit for anything or that being a ‘bad girl’ is more rewarding.

Some found it empowering while others expressed concern that it was encouraging ‘bad’ behaviour among women. To me, it meant not being satisfied with the ‘normal’ behaviour assigned to women, and living a life worthy to be remembered.

Remembered for the truth that you stood up for no matter how unpopular the costs.

Due to all the feedback, with the issue of misbehaviour emerging as the most common, Ulrich went on to publish Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History in 2007.

In it she explains how the slogan evolved from what she had originally written to achieving widespread fame, but also what her objectives had been from the very start. Her 1976 article had observed how historians of colonial America had little or nothing to write about women. Her response was to write about the daily lives of those women who would not otherwise make it into history books.

It was important for her that she didn’t write about these women as subjects with no agency, but that their daily actions mattered enough to make history. As a scholar, her form of misbehaviour was to take an interest in things that others would easily dismiss as boring, studying in depth lives not considered newsworthy, and exploring the small actions women took that went against the norm.

Although these women were not big-shot influencers, they rejected invisibility.

History is made by all of us, but some are less likely to have their contributions recorded than others. For me, these ‘some’ are the many black women who silently and loudly ride their bikes, using them to shift societal perspectives. Because I looked upon many black women who ride bikes as a way to believe that my dreams could come true. Being able to ride a bike and overcome judgement and opinions from society has allowed me to further build up confidence within myself to challenge any norm that seeks to silence and filter me.

Most times when I encounter someone sharing this slogan, I find they have no prior knowledge of Ulrich’s article and interpret it according to their own context and view of history.

‘The ambiguity of the slogan surely accounts for its appeal,’ Ulrich suggests. ‘To the public-spirited, it is a provocation to action, a less pedantic way of saying that if you want to make a difference in the world, you can’t worry too much about what people think’ (2007:xv). In Ulrich’s analysis about how different women interpret the slogan, she found that the ‘pervasive theme is rebellion’ (2007:xx).

To me, the quote is about so much more than a person’s behaviour, whether they are considered loud or quiet, calm or irrational, oversexed or demure, humble or arrogant. I read it every morning until I memorised it. It gave me a rush. Mostly, the words ‘history’ and ‘well-behaved’ caught my attention.

I shared it with my long-time friend Khosi and suggested we go for a drink to discuss it. Khosi is an excitable companion and knows how to hype up discoveries we stumble across.

We have always explored ways in which we could be part of change by exploring new ideas and actually doing something. In the past we came up with African Literature book clubs, mentorship and investment groups, and we are never short of ideas on how we could make an impact on our nation.

She is the kind of friend one needs because no matter how many ideas we fail at, she is there to remind me that for as long as we are still alive, we have no excuse not to try again. And we fail many times, but we learn valuable lessons each time. We met at a restaurant, and after hours of musing over its symbolism, we established that misbehaviour is our rebellion against the idea of the ‘wellbehaved’ woman that society demands of us.

It meant that we would challenge societal norms that outline a certain decorum for women. We would, at all times, insist that we belong to ourselves and have the agency to make decisions about our own lives. Our voices, whether loud or soft, matter. Our behaviour, whether seen as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, remains our choice.

Miss Behave

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