Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Assault of Rosie Motene by Bissau Gaobakwe

Image from 

Saturday November 30 we woke up to horrible news of the assault of One Billion Rising coordinator for Johannesburg, Rosie Motene in Bostwana by one Bissau Gaobakwe. Rosie was in Botswana to support fellow activist and artist BerryHeart at the launch of her Book and to assist in bringing awareness of the One Billion Rising for Justice Campaign which will be coordinated by BerryHeart. According to Rosie herself and media sources in Botswana, she was at a function organised by Absolut Vodka.

 “We were chilling at the pool deck! Then all of a sudden this guy comes shouting at David, as I turned around he punched me right in my face! I instantly felt my nose pop!

The people around me told him to apologize he refused! We then went downstairs, told security and management they refused to help as they know who this man is and do not want to get involved. They refused to call the police.” You can read Rosie’s full account of the incident here.

Image from mmegionline
The guy who punched Rosie is Bissau Gaobakwe, the son of a prominent business man, Ophaketse Gaobakwe, a man who has a checkered history with law enforcement and the courts.

In 2001, Gaobakwe was also involved in a highly publicized case where a South African musician Tokollo Tshabalala was facing two counts of culpable homicide. The story can be found here.

In September 2004, Bissau Gaobakwe was released from prison after serving less than six months for attempted murder. The story can be found here.

Gaobakwe was due to appear before court November 28, 2013 on a traffic related offence. Gaobakwe is alleged to have driven his motor vehicle while unfit to do so due to intoxication. He did not show up in court and the case has been postponed to July 22 where the court is expected to set trial dates. You can read the full report here.

What is clear from the media reports above is that Bissau Gaobakwe is a man accustomed to breaking the law with impunity. To be convicted for attempted murder and then set free after 6 months is shocking. However it seems that the justice system and the police in Botswana are to be found wanting in how they have handled the cases that Gaobakwe has been involved in.

Rosie Motene was assaulted and the police did not show up at the scene of the crime to interview witnesses (of which there were plenty) and to take a statement from the victim. In fact according to her account, the police only showed up to take her statement after the South African high commission got involved in the case, and this only after Rosie Motene herself put out a cry for help on twitter and Face Book.

This begs the following questions: What happens to women of less public prominence who are assaulted, raped and murdered by men with money and power? What becomes of women who have no access to twitter or Face Book through which to put out a call for help in the face of danger?

Rosie’s story illustrates very clearly manner in which injustice is perpetrated by a flawed police force and that those with money and power can buy the silence and therefore the complicity of a corrupt and flawed justice system. Her story also illustrates the power of money to silence the media who have failed to name the perpetrator of a violent crime. There are several online sources that report on what happened to Rosie, but they all fail to name the perpetrator of the crime despite eye witness accounts about who beat Rosie. A law enforcement and justice system that provides cover for the crimes of the wealthy and the powerful is unfair and supports the usurping of the basic human rights of the common citizen as well as the rights of vulnerable groups in the society. There should be no impunity or anonymity for perpetrators of crime regardless of socio economic status, class, education, gender, race, class or sexual orientation. One Billion Rising for Justice seeks to bring to the fore ground the issue of impunity, among other issues.

There have been many tweets and Face Book posts in which people have commented on this case. However it is unfortunate that many people choose to focus on Rosie’s beliefs and personal life, rather than to address the real issue at hand: A violent crime was committed against Rosie and laws in Botswana were broken. The perpetrator at large is Bissau Gaobakwe. These are the basic facts of the case and the rule of law should be administered with impartiality. This is why we rise.

Rosie Motene is a passionate activist working to end violence against women and children and she was in Botswana partly to advance this work. The One billion Rising for Justice activists in the Southern African region and across the world stand with her and call for Justice for her and for all the women who have been unfairly treated by a system that was put in place to protect the rights and liberties of all citizens. The irony is that this assault has taken place during 16 Days of Activism to stop gender-based violence.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

The State of female Justice: Transformational Leadership and the Women who are paving the Way


On November 7 V- Day and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia School of Law brought together an amazing group of women to rethink the state of justice for women in America. You can watch the whole event here.

The panelists were impressive women each of them employing their skills, talents, experience and creativity in the struggle for Justice in a particular area. You can learn more about each panelist and their work by clicking on their name. There was Catherine Albisa,   Kimberle Crenshaw, Eve Ensler, Monique Harden, Donna Hylton, Saru Jayaraman and Sylvia McAdam, and the host was Laura Flanders of GRITtv.

The discussion opened with a powerful statement from Kimberle Crenshaw, who suggested that perhaps the way to rethink justice and what justice ought to look like is to expand our perspectives by looking at and challenging the failures in executing the law and failures in coalition building. She posited that looking at the intersection where power converges, and how it converges could possibly be the way through a ‘blackhole- a vacuum- so to speak, into which we could leap forward to a new way of thinking and being.

Each of the panelists was asked by the Laura Flanders to give an example of an injustice through a story that made an impact on them.

Saru Jayaraman, an activist is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) and shared the fact that the restaurant industry is the second largest sector of the United States economy but that it was one of the lowest paying industries where employees relied on tips for their livelihood. The minimum wage for restaurant workers is set at $2.13 per hour, an amount that was frozen in 1996 when The then leaders of the National Restaurant Association (a trade Lobby) made a deal with congress that they could raise the minimum wage as long as the minimum wage for restaurant workers remained frozen forever because they made money through tips. Seventy (70%) percent of restaurant workers are women and these women were 3 times more likely to be poor than other workers in America and relied on food stamps at twice the rate of the rest of the US workforce. This dependence on tips from customers often placed women in the restaurant industry at greater risk for sexual harassment and sometimes sexual assault. This according to Saru, is a grave injustice.
Image from: Popular Resistance

Monique Harden is an attorney who co-directs Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, a nonprofit law firm headquartered in New Orleans. She recounted a couple of heart breaking stories but the main point and focus of her injustice stories was the fact that environmental racism was perpetrated through the use of federal laws that supported profit making at the expense of people of color and indigenous communities. She described the presence of chemical facilities along sections of the Mississippi River that ran through historically black communities making communities sick through air and water pollution. She also described the racism that many poor black people experienced during Hurricane Katrina, from law enforcement and rescue personnel.
Image from 

An injustice that actually made me feel physically sick was described by Donna Hylton, where in the prisons across the United States, inmates are locked into their prison cells during disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or September 11 and that the staff on duty simply leave. Essentially 2.3 million people in American prisons are left to die in the event that a huge disaster occurs. There are no evacuation measures. They are locked up and left alone. This is a shameful injustice where the fundamental rights of human beings do not seem to exist at all. The idea of punitive versus restorative justice came up also and the fact that there were not enough opportunities for an individual who had committed a crime to transform themselves and move beyond their crime and start afresh.

Sylvia MacAdam, a leader of the largest indigenous women- led social movement in the world (Idle No More) told the terrible story of the colonization of Canada and the fact that treaties that were created between the Canadian government and First Nation peoples were being threatened as bills were moving through Parliament to terminate those agreements such as the provision for the protection of water.  She also shared the horrific sexual violence against First Nation women through prostitution, human trafficking and murders which were directly connected to the extraction industries in Alberta Canada. The degradation of the land due to extraction industries is eliminating resources and wild life that are critical to the cultural spiritual and medicinal rituals of indigenous peoples; a genocide as Sylvia described it. These are gross injustices that Idle No More is mobilizing against.

Catherine Albisa is a constitutional and human rights lawyer, who is also the co founder of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI). NESRI works to build legitimacy for human rights in general, and economic and social rights in particular, in the United States. Catherine  pointed out the fact that the stories being told by the other panelists highlighted the failure of human rights. However she stated that it was more than just institutional failures but also our failure to uphold and to fight for human rights in relationship to one another. She gave an example of how in 2009, farm workers drew up a list of basic demand such as no sexual harassment, fare wages and they went on strike and did not pick tomatoes, a move which affected all the major industries that relied on tomatoes and tomato based products their demands were met. The huge impact this action had on a family is incredible. Catherine told a story of a mother and father who could finally walk their son to school after ensuring that he had eaten a decent breakfast because they no longer reported for work at 4 in the morning. Catherine’s point is that it does not occur to many people that the basic rights such as the right to walk your child to school, the right to just be a good parent is denied many poor parents in this country and that these same poor people are blamed for the poor outcomes in  their children.

Kim Crenshaw, director of the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, followed on with a discussion about the punitive nature of neoliberalism and how this ideology has led to a systematic retraction of resources that help poor communities. She described how the system created through this ideology makes it impossible for poor families to have positive outcomes. Resources are removed and this leads to social ills for which the community is blamed and penalized. She talked about how the "school to prison pipeline" dialogue that centers around how suspension from school affects the outcomes for Black boys but the discourse hardly ever looks at how black girls are affected by school suspensions as though they do not exist.
Image from qCity Metro
 Kim talked about a social disaster and about how the failure of anti-racism to be anti-patriarchal often means that Black female headed households are seen as problematic simply because they are led by women. The fact that governments consistently talk about the middle class as being economically vulnerable often means that poor people (majority are black women) somehow are not seen as targets for government assistance as though they do not need or deserve help. Neoliberal policies lead to punitive measures, which are compounded by silence. Kim explained that feminism that does not address racism and racism that does not address the issues concerning women leads to a convergence of silences. Silence is complicity.

Eve Ensler, founder and artistic director at V-Day, addressed the issue of punitive versus restorative justice and illustrated using the response from feminists in India to the death sentence pronounced on the men who gang raped a medical student in December 2012. They stated that killing the rapists would not solve the huge problem of rape but that focus had to be on the root causes of these horrible rapes that are plaguing India and the world. Eve explained how creating more punitive measures would results in more punitive systems and lead to more disassociation and disconnection from each other as groups in society. She emphasized that it was important to look at how we got to this point and to recognize that a patriarchal, imperial, colonial, neoliberal capitalist system is how we got here and that this is the basis for most of the systematic forms of violence against women.

What I loved about this panel discussion is the fact that it started off with story telling and as the stories were told, the interconnections between and among the stories became clearer and clearer. I was moved by the passion that each panelist brought along with her story and that in the end, all the stories elicited passion and compassion because of the recognition that our individual stories are braided into one Single story of struggle against injustice.

I also loved the fact that the discussion resulted in a couple of concrete steps we could all take collectively ,to target a major root cause of the injustices that fed Violence against women: Mega corporations that control prisons, restaurants and the interpretation and creation of laws that favor profit over human health safety and dignity. This could be done by investigating which corporations they were then on February 14, 2014, the day the entire world will rise for justice, we could Out them in a big way and expose their nefarious activities to citizens with a call to boycott until there were some changes. I have already started compiling a list!

The idea of coalitions being formed around the issues or campaigns was one that was eloquently challenged by Catherine Albisa, who described coming together around a shared vision about the kinds of societies and world we would ultimately like to see. She called it a coming together and organizing around principles is a way that is transformational, not transactional which is what many groups currently do, if they come together at all. This resonated deeply with me because this is my deepest hunger, to see transformation, a change in our very mindset and how we live life in relation to each other, in the distribution of resources based on need not greed and in relation to the environment. Eve stated beautifully that Justice is restoring the primacy of connection. Justice is connecting the stories that are interwoven in the patriarchal, racist, sexist neoliberal capitalist framework. Ultimately justice is the restoration of human dignity. Justice is a woman.

My hope is that this discussion and many of the state of female justice panels that will be convened across the world will really go to the heart of the issue and the root causes of violence against women by systematically teasing out the real villains are who benefit from the status quo and who turn a blind eye to the injustices that lead to the violation of women and girls.

My biggest hope is that we begin to see through the divide- and- conquer tactics that have been used to keep us from critical dialogue that removes the barriers that keep us separate and disparate. It is a fact that when we unite we can accomplish the impossible! I am chanting for authentic solidarity and the shattering of the invisible barriers so that we become an intentional community of care and generosity, one step at a time! What these phenomenal women have done is to simply pave the way and the rest is up to us as individuals to take up the call to be more open to the other, to be compassionate and to desire for the other that which we desire for ourselves. These women have shown what Justice can look like and the principles in which transformational leadership is grounded. Ubunthu: I am well IF you are well also.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hell is Here, and Men Created it.

That year it seemed as though the earth had finally spun off its axis and was in free fall. That year it was as if every conceivable human madness, sickness and depravity was proliferating, multiplying by binary and quaternary fission, growing exponentially at a dizzying rate. That year, of the senseless ego driven wars.

The wars within wars in which women’s bodies were the battle ground, the year babies and children were brutally raped with impunity, the year state sanctioned rape (falsely called marriage) of girls was lobbied for in a parliament somewhere on this planet, the year that Damini in India, Anene Booysen in Cape Town, Stephanie in Zimbabwe, Zanele in Sowetho and thousands of other girls and women were gang raped and then killed, for good measure. The year that Steubenville Ohio became famous for its rapist star football player, and  the crooked, perverted hyper- masculinity silently condoned in male college sports was exposed.


photo by: Prudence Mabele, S.Africa

That year when Saudi men traded money for 8 year old Syrian girls from refugee camps in the shameful, hideous farce they termed marriage.


The year that an 8 year old child died on her "wedding night" from hemorrhage after a 40 year old brute shoved himself inside her. What sick monster looks at a child and sees a wife? What sick bastard looks at a prepubescent 8 year old, 3 year old, 6 month old female body, gets sexually aroused and then proceeds to rape a child, a toddler, a baby?

 That is the year livestock died and drinking water supplies came under threat from toxic chemicals, thanks to fracking.


The year blood diamonds became even bloodier and gold, platinum copper, uranium  cobalt and the dreaded Coltan, were mined on and through the backs and bodies of women, using children for cheap labor and for militia, who burned villages and raped their own mothers, sisters, grandmothers. These militia destroy lives and livelihoods to get at the minerals to feed gluttinous corporations.

That year that saw uprisings and under risings, over risings and the biological agent saran used on innocent civilians in Syria.

photo: BBC World News victims of Saran poisoning
That year when in a town in China, pollution levels were so high a haze of black particles hung in the air and people had to breath in that mess.
That year that sanctions were imposed on rogue nations in daylight, and arms deals were made with them in the dark of night. That year when presidents preached peace and prosperity over dinner and wine just a few hours after those hands shoveling food into big mouths had signed declarations of war and nuclear arms deals. That year when Egypt, then Libya, followed by Turkey and then Syria all occupied our minds, our Facebook Feeds and Twitter, and our living rooms, while Congo burnt, Congo was ravaged, Congolese women screamed and howled and wailed as they were laid out, a tragic wasteland of a war they knew nothing about.

 That year when all creatures great and small stood still, startled by the heavy smells of toxic gases, and the sting of acid rain dissolving their pelts. They were startled by the overwhelming stench of decaying bodies, humans extinguished by hunger, by poverty and disease, by decaying infrastructure, by men whose raging fury was enough to ignite the Masai Mara and lay it out; a flat wasteland of charred bones and smoldering stones. Instead, that fury obliterated women and children. That rage tore them up and tossed them out for vultures to fight over. That insane inferno of anger incinerated thousands and thousands of women, children, and those men who made the choice to stand with their families.
School children in Egypt praying for peace, NY Times

 That is the year the daughters of  Egypt put their hands together in prayer and supplication, beseeching Allah for peace, while their fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers went on the rampage.


That is the year we felt the heat. That is the year the hairs on our skin were singed and we woke up. We woke up to the smell of smoke, skin and hair- and the realization that we were past small protests and small time legislation. That is the year we woke up to the fact that unless we united, unless we created a Billion-strong wall of womanity, a wall so thick and so dense it needed no cement but that one thing that cements us all together across age, race, gender, nation, tribe, sect, religion, sexual orientation, class, north, south east west, island mainland, first nation, second, third and fourth nation… Being human, above all else..Unless we stood in global solidarity, we were doomed and so was the planet and all that is in and on it.

US military in Afghanistan

For how long would we continue to live with the smell of acrid smoke burning our airways as we shouted for reproductive rights, for human rights, for justice and accountability as though we were children begging benevolence and indulgence from an egotistical parent? For how long would we continue to tell our daughters to “cover up”, to be a lady, to subdue and submit and subsume their true selves and to shut up, in order to avoid getting raped or beaten or left sitting on the bench while their peers got married? For how long were we to plod on in penury and substandard housing in the prisons they call ghettos and reservations,

First Nation Wind River Reservation, Wyoming

prisons whose chief warden is a guy named Poverty? For how long would we live in fear of the hell that was fast encroaching upon us?

 Photo: BBC world news. Shacks burnt down in Alexandra township, Johannesburg.
UN Refugee camp Congo

First Nation Wind River Reservation, Wyoming

First Nation Wind River Reservation, Wyoming

Hell? Yes hell. Hell is that devouring conflagration and it is here. Hell is right here on this planet and men created it. There, I said it, so sue me. Lock me up and throw away the key, because I really don’t care. It makes no difference to the fact that my jail cell is one small space in the huge prison humanity currently inhabits.

 But here are some questions: Are we really going to go down like that? Are we really going to sit in our little cages and wait for hell to take us over?


 Are we going to continue pushing papers around on our desks in the name of “development and empowerment work” the same work that has kept us preoccupied for decades with no lasting fruit to show for it? Are we going to continue to write proposals for donor funding and once again beg for what is rightfully ours? Are we going to continue to debate the undebatable, to negotiate the non- negotiable issues pertaining to our bodies and what we do with them? Does it not sound absurd? How did we even get here, to this point where the bodies which house our spirits have been outsourced to someone else? How is it that men legislate about women's bodies as a political issue? When did women's bodies become a political landscape, shaped by whatever crazy male-dominated government comes into power?

When did women's bodies become things; play-things, toys, commodities, collateral, sacrifices, compensation, breeding machines, conduits for all the hatred in the world? And where are our spirits while our bodies are under the Occupation?

Image: From Flickr (domestic violence)

We need to get our bodies back and the only way to do this is to get back into our bodies and to fight everyday for every woman who has fled the hell that her body finds itself in, to reenter and take it back. This can happen through dance.
One Billion Rising, 2013, City of Joy, Congo
Dance is a form of assertiveness. Dance is defiance. Dance is revolution. Dance dispels darkness. A dancing body says I am here, I am taking up space. A dancing woman is in control of her body and  her movements are determined by her and her alone. As she hears the music her spirit interprets it and instructs her body to move as it will. As the music provokes, stimulates, begs, beckons and facilitates the re-entry of herself into her body, she feels, she pulsates and she lets it all go. IT is anything that has hindered her spirit from comfortably inhabiting her body.  IT is that thing, those hurts, those violations and injustices that made her spirit flee her body to begin with. The re -entry of her spirit necessitates the exit of those impostor- issues which occupy that which does not belong to them. Light and darkness cannot live in the same house. As the Light of her spirit returns home, it dispels the darkness of the horror and trauma she has suffered and carried.
Image: Tony Stroebel

 Dance brings healing, strength, courage and peace. When we dance together, an amazing power is unleashed. We dispel our collective impostor- issues and together we re-enter our bodies, our homes. Imagine then what this might look like: Billions of sister- spirits returning to reclaim their space inside their bodies, their individual lights combining to create one huge glowing ember across the entire planet. imagine the power unleashed and the collective courage, strength and peace. Imagine the collective resolve to fight fiercely against the violence that annihilates women and cripples children.

 Imagine the collective purpose to stem the environmental degradation due to greed, greed and more greed. Imagine the end of slogan- shouting and petition- signing, because we no longer ask or petition any institution for anything, but we demand and we take that which is ours by virtue of being citizens of this planet. Imagine rendering useless institutions powerless by not endorsing them through our votes or patronage.
One Billion Rising, 2013, Phillipines
Are those of us who are activists not tired of shouting, picketing signing petitions and “breaking the silence”? Ok we have broken the silence. Yes we have and we have even made some good strides towards ending violence against women and girls. But is this not the time for huge strides enormous, global -sized strides? Is this not the time for Global mass action and a concerted heave towards Justice in all her myriad forms? Is this not the time to “throw everything at it”, to lose ourselves totally in the struggle so that we may find ourselves and save ourselves? As far as I can tell, the only savior I see is us, ourselves and the men who love us, who love our children, who love life. As far as I can see, we have tried everything to right the wrongs in our world, but I believe it is time to do something different in order to get the world we want to live in and to leave as legacy to our children. The time is now because we are at the brink. Global Mass Action. It was conceived, envisioned, and brought to life in 2013.
One Billion Rising, 2013 Indonesia

One Billion Rising was that global mass action that catalyzed visible action in 207 countries, in order to bring the issue of violence against women front and center of national, international and global discourse. One Billion rising created a huge wave of energy and awareness and for the One Billion Rising campaign this time around, we will ride that wave towards Justice, the quest and goal for this current campaign.

One Billion Rising for Justice 2014 will bring together in solidarity and for the mutual cause of Justice, women and men from all sectors and all walks of life in all countries to Rise and be seen and heard. We will push en masse for change, each nation pushing to end their unique injustices in ways that are most effective for them, but cemented to the global sisterhood. This is the hope I see. Desperate times call for huge vision, for courageous creativity and the audacity to dare, to leap in faith and to carry that torch of hope for victory, for Lady JUSTICE! 

No More silence. Our  silence will not protect us. " If we do not scream, they will kill us and say that we enjoyed it."

*Dancing in defiance of darkness*