Its not about respect | Why you can’t call your maid ‘maid’

“Why don’t you refer to your maid as a maid”? This is a question I posed to my modest number of twitter followers this morning. I’m sure you can see that I asked a question already having formed the conclusion that the word was a no-no. Over the years I have noticed a trend: middle-class Africans (who form a notable part of my followers list) have large problems using the “m-word”–as one of the responders to the question termed it—to refer to their housekeepers.


The responses I got were very much expected. Many people cited the discomfort they felt about calling an older woman anything besides “aunty” and all of the vernacular versions of that word. And when it came to calling younger maids by that title it seemed it was easier for most of the people participating in the discussion to refer to their maid as “sister”. The reasons behind both practises mentioned in the hazy air of cultural appropriateness.

But I’m not buying it.

Yes, at the surface of many Africans’ inability to refer to their domestic servants as such is the sheen of cultural appropriateness delivered in years of elders entrenching within us, a fear of calling an adult by anything but a family title.

And yes, I understand that particularly with Africa’s harsh colonial past, specifically South Africa with her’s being so recent and fresh in the minds of her people, there is a discomfort when one considers the racial associations the word has in the minds of many people.

And, yes, it may in fact be very Botho (Ubuntu) to treat and refer to house-help as a family member.

But that’s not all this is about.

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Why the definition of African no longer matters to me

Soon after writing my last piece the topic of classism began to occupy my mind almost full-time. I became very quickly aware that in a country like mine (almost completely homogenously “black”) there were still factors that divided us as a people. My notion that all African people are the same and should be able to relate and connect based almost solely on their African-ness was challenged and almost completely discredited for the uninformed self-righteousness it revealed within me.

Along with the realisation that the words of Biko and Muendane, as well as the musings of a teenage girl on what I term ‘theoretical politics’, had almost no weight in the minds of the “common man.” The average African living very close to the poverty-line, had very little interest in what I believed was all it took for the world to change: an understanding of one’s identity as an African as well as the prioritization of this factor.

I began to see that if such things would have an effect on people, then the state in which these people lived would have to change immediately. Before I was to step onto my soap-box (which you will find is carved from the self-righteous wood of my middle-class upbringing) it would be imperative that I begin to focus on the factors that would allow these Africans to have any dams to give about the musings of contemporary ‘pan-Africanists’ like myself.

I see now that on this continent, at this juncture, it is economics that has more of an effect on people than matters of race. That is what has more power to connect people across nations. I can no longer stand by my previous emphasis on the difference between Sudanese and Ghanaian people or Moroccan people and “Cape Coloureds”, which was based on my perceptions about the differences in their heritage.

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Quiz | Which Black Are You?

1. When in the presence of people of European descent in a casual setting, and a joke with a blatantly racially-insensitive tone is made how do you react?

a) By being silent. Its awkward, but I don’t see why I have to ruin the mood by being that guy.

b) By laughing. Haha, it’s true. Blacks be crazy

c) By calmly telling the joke-maker that he is an insensitive prick and go on to educate them   about the virtues of being progressive in modern-SA

d) By telling the whole lot of them to go and [expletive] themselves

e) By finding out which one of them owns a company looking for a BEE partner

2. If you have a Twitter account, what is its primary use to you?

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It’s not about dogs | Why Zuma thinks you’re ‘un-African’

Hot on the heels of his re-election ANC president, Jacob Zuma went back to his real job—providing an entertaining distraction from what many of his critics call “South Africa’s Serious Socio-Economic Inequalities.

Well, I say, pish-posh –let the man do his job! And boy, has he done it. Less than a month after Mangaung, Zuma’s got Africans in heated debate yet again.Image

And this time it’s about dogs. Yes, you read that right—dogs. We’re not talking metaphoric dogs like one would imagine he’d use to refer to CIA agents, here. No, he means dogs as in ‘woof, woof’.

The South African president has been quoted as saying spending money on buying a dog, taking it to the vet and for walks belong[s] to white culture and [is] not the African way, which [is] to focus on the family.

When I first caught wind of this on Twitter, my first reaction was to agree whole-heartedly with him. (Well, as whole-heartedly as one can agree while giving zero dams about a topic)

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Patriarchy is the parasite that African culture must rid itself of in order to survive

The most dangerous thing is many Africans’ inability to separate African culture from systems that oppress the freedoms of African women. It is this inability to see a future where African culture isn’t tinged with patriarchal undertones that is the biggest threat to the Black Consciousness Movement. It is necessary that we disassemble what it means to be African and take a closer look at what customs are merely window dressing and which things define our culture. My hope is to bring an understanding of patriarchy, African culture and the need to separate the two.

Patriarchy has been defined as a gendered power system. It is a network of social, political and economic relationships through which men dominate and control female labour, reproduction and sexuality as well as define women’s status, privileges and rights in a society. It is a successful system because those that gain this privilege are often unaware of it and therefore inadvertently perpetuate the ill treatment of the people in this society whose suffering is the fulcrum upon which this society turns. It is also believed that this social system has managed to survive for so long because its chief psychological weapon is its universality as well as its longevity.

It is difficult for many people to imagine a time when this system did not exist. It is even more difficult for people to imagine a future minus patriarchy. But that has to change. A complete overhaul of our mentalities when it comes to African culture must take place if there is any hope for the Black Consciousness Movement in this century.

But what is African Culture and how is it in danger?

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