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Rape, Rhodes and The Paradox of Pinky Pinky

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

We formed a collective. We called it NAH.

Our first performance "Assault" came at rape culture and exclusion in the institution. It was Women's Day. It was hard. We threw salt at wounds. We transcended.

Image: Evaan Ferreira (Performance by NAH, a collective formed by Heidi Sincuba and their students Akissi Beukman and Njabulo Nkosi)

I’ve just come back from Settlers Hospital. A student of mine has just tried to end her life. I was there with some colleagues and classmates of hers. Her mother will be here tomorrow. She’s alive and we are grateful for that, but ...

She’s 21. She’s a bright student. Nah. Bright is tired. This kid is the shit. Her work is pushing. She is full of incredible ideas, agency and ambition. She’s also just good people. We hang out. Her music is dope. She’s got this whole artist/musician thing down. And she’s fuckin gorgeous!

Even though I knew she was goishing, I was shook. I cried. I pride myself on being the lecturer who teaches from the heart. It’s my thing. But then and even now I’m filled with extreme self loathing for not resisting the temptation to center myself.

I didn’t cry, I wept. I wept when I heard the news; when I approached the hospital doors; when I greeted those who were already there; when they told me what had happened; when I sat in the waiting room and as I watched the nurses restrain her in her delirious state. My knees were weak, I had to lean on things, I nearly collapsed, I was parched and I wept and wept.

In a sense they were tears of anger. Vexation maybe. Worsened by the knowledge that I wasn’t just goishing for her. As I navigated the daze of the morbid evening, I had a horrible sense of dejavu. In fact it’s a thing I recognize all too well. It comes far too soon after the news of Khensani Maseko’s fate. News that shook me so hard I couldn’t move for days. I was fixated. Aching. Angry.

As we waited one of the wardens mentioned that this was one of seven attempted suicides from Rhodes University this week. All black womxn.

There had been an anti-rape poster making workshop on Women’s Day and myself and this very student and another had staged a ritual in which we drew inspiration from the urban legend Pinky Pinky which we found paradoxically problematic. Perhaps Pinky Pinky began as a narrative with good intent. Maybe the invention of this toilet tokoloshe came about to protect young school children from sexual predators. But the fear it spread was something of a viral sensation which affected the victims, not the perpetrators. Although there were many variations of the story, Pinky Pinky was generally a threat to young girls - their spaces, their things and more disturbingly - their pink panties.

What can this cultural phenomenon tell us about how we deal with gender based violence in this country? And can we trace its manistestations in our lived experience?

With our performance, we wanted to emphasize the links between that tricky tale and the tales we are told by the institution today. Essentially, compare Pinky Pinky to Rhodes. An ambiguous force which purports to serve us, yet exploits us and conceals our tormentors. Harboring them under the banner of the greater good. By embodying Pinky Pinky we also implicated ourselves. The part we play in telling and retelling the tale. Enabling it. Enacting it. Enduring it. We took table salt and we threw it everywhere. In people’s faces. Their drinks. Clothes. Bags. Bodies. The floors and walls of that place. Even ourselves. Each and every wound we could perceive. To cleanse and to heal.

It was a hard thing to do but the process was transcendental. Although we all came from different timespaces, our ontological journeys were connected. We sang the same songs, played the same games and feared the same beasts. The Collective developed its own temporal signature with its own signals based on this shared experience. After the week we’d had, we felt, or I thought it had helped ...

Both my student and Khensani had been subjected to the rape culture at UCKAR. Business as usual. For days now I’ve been staring at my screen wanting to write something for Khensani. I was already in a state. Horrified by the reality that was repeatedly slapping me in the face and agoraphobic from the sheer fear of what can be done to a person. What a person can be led to do to themselves. I had to summon all my strength to give that performance that night. We were all three of us goishing, but I really thought it had helped ...

As we waited outside the hospital ward, we could hear my student struggling. I went to see. Four nurses restraining her. Trying to change her. Laughing. I’m sure they meant no harm! Night shift. They also need joy. And they were nice to us. To her. But as they were holding her down, stripping her - they were laughing at something or other. Couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying, between the wincing and wailing my student was doing, but it shot me back. Fuck! My knees again. Make they don't buckle. Just quit. Shot back.

Ten years ago. That time I took a cab. This was before Uber. I was young-stupid drunk. It was Early Friday, back when it was there by Joburg. Was it Joburg? Above Joburg? Idk. All my friends had cars. As the token black kid, I was used to being left - they never liked driving to the ghetto. I was a nuisance. I took a cab. I was drunk. The driver was nice, but instead of taking me home, he took me to his place. I’m scared, I ask him not to. Next thing I know - I’m on a hospital bed in a psychotic daze and as I dip in and out, I catch glimpses of my predicament. My memory mines the mirth of the nurses restraining me. One of them says with what resembles a smile “seems like it’s not the first time this has happened to you”.

And I’m still throwbacking when one of the nurses pulls me aside and asks me now whether my student was a heavy drinker. I’ve heard the alcohol thing being thrown around. Tested. She wants information. Implying that since my student had alcohol in her system, it could be that simple. It took me back to our performance. Pinky Pinky. The scapegoat. What else have we invented to obscure the despicable spaces we expect our black womxn folk to inhabit?

Just the other day I had a white neighbor come to my door either to console or consult me about Khensani. Her husband who works in the Computer Science Department was saying that his colleagues claim there’s nothing they can do as white men in the institution because black people first need to fix their own culture. Apparently their hands are tied. Seems even our race and culture can embody Pinky Pinky. Take the form of this faceless monster and perplex us from the shadows. Hypnotically distract us from the issue at hand.

When then will we wake up to the weighty bits here? White people, black people, even womxn. Lecturers like myself, bureaucrats and other staff who uphold these institutions. Yes, we suffer too. Prof Bongani Mayosi’s suicide is a sign. I’m under no illusion about the mental and emotional distress among university staff bodies across. But we are also implicated when our students aren’t safe. It’s not our fault necessarily but we are part of the machine that lets this happen and our responsibility is urgent.

Then there are the men. White men. Black men. The men we spend time with. Lean on, love with - trust. They must also be seen. Yes, gender based violence can also happen from strangers. But even those strangers are not strangers to everyone. They are not faceless, we live amongst them and we know them well. Let us be compassionate towards their pain. Masculinity is a confounding condition. Seemingly so violent it often offers two options - implosion or explosion. We see this. And we know its cause. But let us not let that empathy stop us from seeing their faces. They are our tormentors. They are not a myth.

Then of course, let not the fables turn that amnesiac swab on our own selves. How we have become so accustomed to suffering we no longer mission against it. Our sisters, our daughters and mothers suffer with us. They die. They attempt to die and we carry on. What’s with us? We know damn well this world would be naught without black womxn. We carry everything in and on our bodies. Yet we allow ourselves to be its arse-wipe. Even me! Disgusted! Ten years after I attempt suicide while in the institution which did nothing, I am here again, watching my student go through the same exact shit. Nothing's changed. The machine is monstrous. It continues. I’m within it. It wins. For now. But...

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