Between: The state and Bhut’ Joe, the frequency and the future

An exchange between Julie Nxadi and Asher Gamedze unravels the state of order, disorder and disarray in the realm of the militarised, polarised institutions otherwise known as South African universities, where imagination spells danger and nothing is given for now and the future.

I.

Me and Bhut’ Joe do not speak. He knows I like music and I know that he loves soccer. He remembers my birthday and I remember his daughter’s. He helps me hate my no-show father and I help him hate his cheating ex-wife. I have read his habits. He has watched me grow; I have watched him harden. I remember years when we were young at the same time. He knows that I am different; I know that we are the same.

We share a before.

Before I was a student and before he was law enforcement. Before he was sent by the state and I was sent by my state to throw and catch dignity. Before we had to fight each other for a place in the after. After kaffir. Before I knew there was an after.

After hunger and every feeling I was told is not real. After tears. After gas. Iya’u bonana ngomso Bhut’ Joe! After toe to toe with Bhut’ Joe. In a silent, violent fight for a place in the after. After erasure, nothing is given – the state of things has given no vision to its functionaries. Bra Joe, whose war are you waging? Who’s paying your wages? Whose future are you fighting for and will you still be their foot soldier?

In my vision I see you, and the rest of our street, policing our own street.

Nothing is given. Marx said communism is the movement to abolish the present state of things. Burningandbuilding, abolition, is a beautiful thing, but nothing is given.

Education has given us no future beyond a place in the present, the pitfalls are persistent and we the fighters are still trippin’ and fallin’ and grabbin’ each other by the Biko and Sobukwe shirts we’re wearin’ on the way down.

Whose war are we waging? Out there and in here. Whose future are we in? Now and then? Later we will learn this love thing; right now my fees are due and there’s no way I can pay. So. Must. Shut. Down.

Nothing is given: there are no absolutes, not even what has been is fixed. It is broken and it is still breaking. Us, as we solidify the things we don’t understand and unravel the rest. And is the future a time, place or state?

 

II.

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This piece appears in the Chronic, April 2017.

Prof So-and-so can’t wait for things to go back to normal. We can’t wait to see what their new normal looks like when we are still suffering the wounds of their old normal. Police to protect that from this. Police to protect this from itself. Police to protect that at all costs.

 

III.

Ey Julie, I’m tryna think through the question posed by the state: of things, of order, of disorder and disarray. Its apparatuses, ideology and repression. If the standardised state of living, for most, is disorder, how then do we wrap our heads round the repressive state role of the police in protecting and restoring order? And what and whose is state ideology? Young cadres, the vectors of history; Bra Joe taking pot shots; or Mbembe and the VC sipping tea? Achille’s heel has been exposed to be the comfy class position of the bourgeois academic justifying the state (of emergency?) of militarised normalcy, securitised peace. Call the state in, we can’t hear ourselves think. Restore order we’re falling into disarray.

Disorder is the state and disorder is mayhem while here we are sojourning inside the walls that sneer but don’t speak, here where knowledge is new words and how well you say them. Knowledge is there and not here. Learn the words, get out and get paid and please send us some money.

Student politics is new words and how well I say them. Since words and knowledges were never for us it doesn’t matter how I use them (what is harm when I don’t exist?). Let’s learn some slogans, get out and get shot.

Please send money for bail.

 

IV.

Asher, sometimes I just stand and stare at the buildings searching for a crack of remorse. I never find it. I touch the walls, willing them to apologise. They do not. I keep finding institutions where I thought I would find people. I keep looking. Bound to the ground by the wide questioning eyes of uNongqawuse. Not moving.

Shouldn’t they be at school studying, exercising the mind, cultivating their degrees of alienation from the reality of the circumstances, training and taming and incarcerating their imagination?

Is the police state (of affairs) dangerous to the body because it understands that if the mind is reduced to the body, the (d)anger of the imagination is neutralised and further, in an age where the so-called minds are unimaginative and stuck in the boring rationality of reason, maybe the body is the true site of future knowing?

It would be nice to unravel the state, of knowledge and capital, but damn, these cats are tight and also where is that fight supposed to take place? Caught up in the race for the university we forget sometimes that it’s not necessarily these old buildings and their persistent stench that we’re after: we’re tryna build a different space. Universe. City.

 

V.

Imagination spells danger and I’m in the mood for some radical study of the future beyond these walls.

 

VI.

I am afraid of saying “bodies” because that is all we have ever been. We do not even get to be the sum of all of our experiences, only the flesh that we occupy in the moments we are held in another’s gaze. And in those moments we must either scream or weep or rage or cower, we must do something… we must disappear or we must dominate. We ourselves dare not take the epistemic risk of privileging ourselves with opacity. We need everything in its place/race/gender/class/sexuality, forever heeding some standard or status quo. Always appealing.

I am afraid of saying “bodies” because the first barricade was not physical. The first barricade barred our history from the institution and damned us to being poor, black, hunched-over units in queues at the NFSAS office: no context needed. The first barricade made things of us. It barred our voices. It damned us to our bodies. Bodies that exist only when we look at them and then get suspended in some unknown frequency when we do not.

I am afraid of saying “bodies” without addressing the people who were banished from them.

Wena Julz, don’t you find it always interesting and somewhat dissonant how, in a world of persons, the bodies are outchea spitting the most truth by excavating space between reality and the myth? Like, if the body was the only thing we were then how come our words and thoughts are on fire?

Imagination spells danger.

 

VII.

The thick stench of red and white clothes burning – acrid, sour and choky. The billowing smoke follows the uninitiated around the fire, filling shallow lungs. Garments worn during thwasa must now burn. She must now graduate, enter the next phase of her journey. She is now a sangoma.

The throttling gasp of the lit tyre: alight, as the pent up centuries of angry smoke fill the perfect sky above the sanctified tower and dispossess privilege of its proximity to clean air. We are now here and we have taught the institution some of what we have brought. We have brought the fire and the continua and tonight we gonna be burning and aluta’ing.

A short history of colonialism is burning, looting and building and tonight we gonna burn the illusion that building is creative. What has been burnt and destroyed in the process of building towers? What has been locked out in the fortressing of knowing castles and (e)razed in their raising? These corridors smell bad, old and decrepit of ghosts, their bones and decay. Can we please light some mphepho in here.

This building is creative’s destruction, it is anti-imagination. We can’t think round here, with this university in the way. Perhaps the burning building provides the chance for something new or at least reminds us that we are, innit.

In unravelling the irresolvable, I am left thinking about fire and building the future… with love. And when uNongqawuse appeared (a young girl if not uGogo, a whisper of a frame if not a towering giant), and when she said “we must burn to build”, what if one people stood before her? What if in each pair of eyes fight spun around flight? What if burn and build stood back to back in their spirit’s seat and screamed with blood curdling coherence? What if I stand there with that people and know that we know that we want to build with fire and not get burned again? Wait, Asher… what if I didn’t know there was an option to not burn because I have loved and lived in the fire? What if they build on top of us? What if we must burn our way out?

uNongqawuse is here (uGogo if not a young girl. A towering giant if not a whisper) and she is holding our gaze.

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This piece appears in the Chronic (April 2017). An edition which aims to complicate the questions raised by food insecurity, to cook and serve them differently.

Food is largely presented as scarcity, lack, loss – Africa’s always desperate exceptionalism or exceptional desperation or whatever. In this issue, we put food back on the table: to restore the interdependence between the mouth that eats and the mouth that speaks, and to delve deeper into the subtle tactics of resistance and private practices that make food both a subversive art and a site of pleasure.

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