How dare we condemn some of the cruelty and not all of it?

The horse-racing protests at Fairview and how we think about protest.

I recently wrote about the Clicks protests and how the EFF was disturbing the ‘peace’ and revealing and confronting the folly of the idea of and insistence on ‘law and order’ in a deeply unjust society.

I also wrote about the potential for restorative justice to have a hand in bringing about racial justice. This would require bringing together the warrior energies of activists and protesters and the healer energies of restorative justice advocates.

As a matter of perspective, following my Clicks article referred to above, I was confronted (most disrespectfully) by a handful of white men. Two in particular accused me of ‘aligning’ with what they called the ‘most racist organisation in the world’. Fania Davis writes that the common view that a black individual anti-white sentiment can be just as racist as a white individual expressing anti-black animus is mistaken. Because it is backed up by nearly four hundred years of structural and institutional power, anti-black racism is more potent and virulent by several orders of magnitude: there is no comparison.

One of these men adjudicated a bold (and vacuous) statement that there was nothing racist about the Clicks advertisement pointing to the ‘all black marketing team’. Whilst it is verifiable that the marketing director was black, I can find no data on who ideated the advert and/or how and by whom it was approved it for publishing. He also lamented that Clicks employs around 80% black individuals, 65% of whom are females. He stated. If this is the case, it should give us an idea of just how insidious, hardened and emboldened systemic and institutional racism in South Africa really is. A system that still provides cover for ‘white hair is normal’ and ‘black hair is dry and damaged’ should insult us all. And this is a company that employs so many black females. In the same way that most of us partake in and prop up patriarchy, even though it hurts and injures women, most of us partake in and prop up anti-black racism even though it hurts and injures black people. That is because it is systemic and institutional apart from being individual. Racism is hard-wired into almost every part of South African Society and it is a system that has been four centuries in the making. Do we want to heal? Because if we do we ought to do better. And if we do, we need to actively dismantle every part of our systems and institutions that inadvertently partake in and advance racism. The same goes for patriarchy and all other forms of oppression which, by the way, are all inter-connected.

This week’s treat for racists, though, was the racehorse protests at Fairview. The media provided a rise reporting initially that a horse had been hacked to death and others had been maimed in protests. This, the media reported, amidst protests this week originated in a pay dispute after a groom had stabbed a horse earlier this year. As further information became available it started to emerge that there were reports of a groom who had accidentally cut a horse whilst cutting its hair when it reared up. Reports are that the employer wanted to dismiss the groom and deduct the vets’ fees from his pay (an estimated between R 13 000 and R 15 000 depending on which report one reads).

The other grooms has requested that he not be dismissed and had committed to pay the bill from their collective wages. Their employer refused this offer and the grooms stayed away and were then dismissed in a way that left them unable to access their UIF for several months.

This lead to protests in which it has now been reported that race-horses were let out of their stables and some of the horses were injured (one lost its life) in the mayhem of horses and protesters running in all directions. The way in which this story was reported is an example of reporting the presenting injury or the symptom whilst not properly ventilating the previous or originating injury or injuries or the cause which in this cause may have been a violation or violations of labour law by the employer.

Just as in the Clicks protests, any particularly disruptive or destructive aspects of protests were well ventilated. With a reported 37 out of 400 stores suffering some sort of damage although there is little to no data on context or extent ie did protests become violent due to outside agitation and what was the extent of any damage? In some quarters the protests were characterised as largely violent and destructive rather than largely peaceful (over 90% had been peaceful if one does the maths on available figures) and having achieved a restorative outcome – acknowledgment of harm, apology, withdrawal of the product, expansion of local products and various reparative measures and of course, an end to the protests.

During the horse-racing protests, protestors were characterised as brutal and cruel which lead to the usual rise from readers and social media commentators condemning the protests and the protestors and writing them off as cruel, vicious and barbaric. Not surprisingly, many harbouring individual racist sentiment, vented their racist ideas out loud and with abandon. Readers were given little room for or encouragement to reflect on:

  1. What lead to the protests? If it was labour action that was unfair and/or unlawful and had left around 120 grooms in a desperate situation for months (remembering that each groom could easily be responsible for between 4 and 8 family members meaning that this action may have left a large portion of a community in a desperate position, then who is the actual guilty party or who are the guilty parties. What is worse, violence or incitement to violence? Where does incitement to violence start? With regard to the Clicks advert do we call incitement to violence on the EFF or do we call incitement to violence on Clicks? In the Fairview case, could it be possible that keeping a large number of people in a desperate and humiliated position was inevitably going to lead to protest and that protest carried the potential for injury and further harm? In a system bent on ultimate responsibility for wrongdoers, I think, all too often we hone in on the presenting injury and hardly ever or insufficiently on the originating harm or injury.
  2. Horse-racing where horses are kept as assets for the entertainment of the wealthy and in perpetually fearful (skittish) states to the extent (at the least) that they have to be blinkered and whipped to perform in circumstances that they are meant to perform, many fall in the process and are put to death then and there. Race-horse owners are insured for this as these beings are income-earning assets for them. Indications are that they were victims of exploitation before these protests (if we consider their position as assets for human entertainment as well as horse-racing as a part of a gambling industry which inordinately affects those vulnerable to addiction and can and does destroy lives), and so were their grooms who, as this case may point to, are vulnerable to possibly unfair and/or unlawful labour practices that leave them desperate enough to protest in this way.
  3. Even if the reports of horses being hacked and assaulted were true, and indications that they were not, what legitimate voice would the vast majority of us have to condemn the cruelty when our bacon or our steak, who was once a sensitive, intuitive being that felt pain in the same way as those horses do, and as we do, was stabbed in the throat, electrocuted, burnt with fire while still conscious to remove its fur. This is after being raped for milk, being kept alive in squalor and confinement, on antibiotics and enduring a terrifying trip on the back of a truck to a slaughterhouse. And the vast majority of us do this to innocent animals completely and completely unprovoked all the time.

How dare we judge those living in desperation with their backs against the wall. How dare we condemn some cruelty and not all of it.

By Sheena St Clair Jonker

Balancing the warrior and the healer

Earlier this week I wrote about the EFF call to action and insuring protests in the wake of the racist hair advert published by Clicks and its partners. In order to get to true peace where justice is present, it may be necessary to disturb the peace or the folly of “law and order” in an unjust society.

During its first 40 years, as a challenge to the adversarial system, restorative justice has largely failed to address race and racial justice, according to Fania E Davis. (We must not forget that restorative justice has existed for centuries as the way of addressing harm in indigenous society and many faith traditions.)

This failure is surprising, she says, on the basis that people of colour overwhelmingly bear the brunt of the horrific inequities of the (western) criminal justice system, past and present. In the same way that restorative justice proponents have failed to develop a racial justice and a social justice, activists in racial and social justice have not widely been adherents to or proponents of restorative justice.

Davies calls for a convergence of the two urging racial justice advocates to invite more healing energies into their lives and restorative justice advocates to invite more warrior energies into theirs.

She clarifies her use of the warrior and healer archetypes as follows: the “warrior“ is not used in its oppositional and militaristic sense but in its spiritual valance connoting the integration of power and compassion. In an example, she thinks of the youth activists at standing Rock who led the historic resistance to the Dakota access pipeline installation in 2016 and who engaged in ceremony as a form of social action proclaiming themselves water and earth protectors, and not simply protestors. She thinks too of the fierce African Massai warriors who first and foremost protect children.

In the same way ’healer’ is not used to connote when one works to heal the human body but more broadly to mean when we aspire to heal the social body, or transform social harm.

Because South Africa was born in violent economic dispossession exclusion and exploitation over centuries and because we have neither fully acknowledged or reckoned with these traumas much less worked to heal them they perpetually manifest themselves.

Those of us who have committed our lives and our work towards a just society will have a chance to succeed only in devotion to both individual and collective healing.

Restorative justice in its various indigenous and sacred expressions is at its core, the work of deeply entering into and  maintaining ‘Right relationship’. South Africa is not a scene of rightly related citizens. Rather it is a scene of a small majority having way more of what they need and the large majority living with your backs against the wall. And this is squarely a continuation of centuries old dispossession, exclusion and exploitation.

So, as I said, earlier this week I wrote about the EFF protest action in the wake of the Clicks advert. What South Africans primarily saw was warrior energy in almost full expression. We have a tendency to want to suppress warrior energy especially when it is collective and we look to the ‘Law and order’ state to do this. However, as I wrote, the EFF is exposing the folly of “law and order“ in a deeply unjust society.

What we witnessed yesterday, was the access of something of a healing energy when, out of talks with both Clicks and Unilever, the EFF resolved to call off its protest on the basis of Restorative outcomes comprising acknowledgement of harm, apology and certain reparative measures.

This has been a wonderful demonstration of how the warrior and the healer can come together to restore a society to justice. The warrior confronts, disrupts and disturbs the ‘peace’ which often acts as cover for all kinds of else, most notably racism. And the healer engages and looks for and develops solutions.

I am aware of incidents where the protest was reported to have turned destructive and violent. I am aware of certain individuals and organisations accusing the EFF of inciting violence.

‘The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, “secondly.” Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.’ (Adichi)

We must take care not to start with the secondly here. We must start with the underlying act of racism perpetrated by Clicks and it’s partners.

In the words of Vicky Osterweil, none of us will know true freedom until we properly dismantle the existing institutions and prevailing effects of settler colonialism and white supremacy in this world.

To get here, we need the work of both warriors and healers to succeed in a justice that restores.

By Sheena St Clair Jonker

Sources and recommended reading:

‘The little book of race and restorative justice’, FE Davis

‘The danger of the single story’, Adichi (

‘Disturbing the ‘peace’. The EFF is leading the way.’  Sheena Jonker (

Disturbing the ‘peace’. The EFF is leading the way.

We are in a global space of struggle that threatens the core of capitalism and its various racialised manifestations not least of which is the boot on the neck of the black majority in South Africa where labour potential is sold to the quintessential lowest bidder in a completely normalised way and human beings are placated to their lot on the basis, literally, that they won’t starve.

This, whilst enormous wealth, built on the back of our natural resources and the backs of our people, drains away to multinationals as we continue to pander to the gods of foreign investment and our people remain in desperate situations.

The politics of the EFF is a direct and loud challenge to capitalist and collaterally racist status quo. Disruption is key to shifting entrenched patterns of injustice. Those who have the courage to disturb the peace are often the real peacemakers of this world.

We often confuse peacekeeping and peacemaking and this can be lethal.

Peacekeeping may result in a veneer of peace. But this is often a false peace brought about by the crushing and often violent methods of police military and/or criminal justice.

The EFF furnished a list of demands after Clicks published an online advert that portrayed black hair as dry and damaged and white hair as normal.

Following this it demanded that Clicks close for five days. Actually, this was a measured approach-a demand for access to information and then a notice to close failing which the EFF would ensure store closure.

The Clicks executive failed to see this as an opportunity to make good and redeem themselves. It would not have amounted to the demise of Clicks. It would’ve caused discomfort and it would’ve hurt their profits, as it should have, and they would’ve had to explain to their shareholders but they could’ve got through it and paid the price of their actions. An appropriate price. A measured price in the circumstances.They could have provided access to information in an appropriate format and could have closed for five days committing to pay their workers whilst losing five days of income. Just five days.

Unfortunately they opted for an arrogant approach and the path of most resistance leaving its (largely poor and black) employees on the front lines of a (very necessary) struggle for racial justice.

We should all be offended. By Clicks. By business that continues to think that they can infringe African dignity in Africa. We should all be saying in unison racists will not do business in Africa. We should all insist on disturbing the ‘peace’ that keeps a deeply unequal society in place.

Law and order should never be a proxy for justice. When will we learn that if we want peace we need to be serious about justice?

And the extent to which African hair is still inordinately policed in Africa-in our schools, and in workplaces, and in our minds is indicative that the pandemic of oppression, racism being an ongoing manifestation, is alive and well and it will end us all.

Movements like Black Lives Matter and aligned formations are opening a healing portal for us all but we need to drop being satisfied with peacekeeping and its associated violent imposition of calm and we really need to get serious about peacemaking. That is how we usher in justice.

As far as I could tell, the EFF was not calling for damage or destruction. There was no call to destroy Clicks. Essentially it called for reparative and restorative measures aimed at interrupting action that is a continuation of an underlying theme of a deeply unjust society. For the most part, this was peaceful, though disruptive protest. And protest must bring about disruption. Where there was any form of destruction, we should surely attribute that to the inevitability of the arrogant and obstinate course chosen by Clicks in the circumstances.

In this way and in many other ways the EFF is leading the way in disturbing the “peace “. And in displacing the false peace that helps to maintain the status quo.

It is exposing the folly of “law and order“ in a society that is deeply unjust.

By Sheena St Clair Jonker

A case for mediation in divorce


A case for mediation in divorce

By Sheena Jonker

‘I charge 950 dollars an hour. Ted over there will be assisting in your divorce. He charges 400 dollars an hour. You got stupid questions, you call Ted’

From Marriage Story

I had been sick with flu since around Wednesday last week and at the weekend, it was fluffy dogs, heaters, Netflix and waiting for ’rona results.

I got around to watching Marriage Story. Nominated for 6 golden globes, I found it to be deeply moving and an excellent glance into how destructive lawyers can be in divorce, how the system still rewards bad behaviour and how gendered the law is in many ways and in particular, in divorce.

Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) have decided to get a divorce. They initially meet with a mediator but then Nicole is convinced she needs to go to a lawyer as she wants to move back to LA with their son whilst Charlie  wants them to remain a New York Family.

Nicole consults LA attorney Nora who starts helping her with her strategy and it is obvious that Nicole is deeply uncomfortable with the artificial spin Nora proposes putting on isolated aspects of their shared lives in order to gain advantage in court.

At one point, Nora lambastes her about being honest about how difficult parenting is and gives us a glimpse into what is expected of mothers and what is accepted from fathers:

‘People don’t accept mothers who drink too much wine and yell at their child and call him an ass-hole. I get it. I do too. We can accept an imperfect Dad. Let’s face it, the idea of a good father was only invented like 30 years ago. Before that, fathers were expected to be silent and absent and unreliable and selfish, and all we can say is we want them to be different. But on some basic level we accept them. We love them for their fallibilities, but people absolutely don’t accept those failings in mothers. We don’t accept it structurally and we don’t accept it spiritually.’

On hearing that Nicole has a lawyer, Charlie is shocked and keeps saying ‘I thought we were going to talk this through and work things out ourselves’ and eventually capitulates on the basis that he thought he should ‘get my own ass-hole’.

He consults a New York firm and he, too, is obviously deeply uncomfortable with the ‘strategy’ that has a bent on highlighting all the negative aspects of his wife. He is also shocked at what it will cost. He’s just won a substantial grant for his theatre and, though his wife is not claiming half of it as she could, he realises that it will, in any event drain away to pay his lawyers.

At one point his lawyers tells him his hourly rate:

‘I charge 950 dollars an hour. Ted over there will be assisting in  your divorce. He charges 400 dollars an hour. You got stupid questions, you call Ted’

It’s an arresting moment.

Charlie eventually seeks out an older attorney who charges less and has a possibly more measured approach.

He also tells Charlie some hard truths:

‘I charge 950 dollars an hour. Ted over there will be assisting in  your divorce. He charges 400 dollars an hour. You got stupid questions, you call Ted’

He also tells a few silly jokes and at one point Charlie asks:

‘Am I paying for this joke, Bert’

It brings it all home: the way we deal with this particular human tragedy (divorce) is confoundingly irrational, destructive on every level and completely unnecessary.

One of the saddest parts is when each parent has to submitted to a court-referred expert coming into their home to observe their parenting. It’s an excruciating glimpse into the artificiality of a stranger coming into the homes of two traumatized individuals in their most naked and vulnerable moments and who will have a significant role to play in who wins and who loses and what happens to their kid.

After watching the deeply painful mis-steps of each and the heart-wrenching irrationality of how we do divorce, the viewer is brought down to earth with the simple words ‘I thought we should talk’

We should talk and we should mediate these deeply painful discussions in ways that respect each of the parties, the children and create the most sacred and reverend of spaces to help divorcing parties navigate the disorientation and chaos in order to get to a re-orientation or a new order of things in a way that everyone has what the need.

If even one person loses, does anyone actually win.

I think we are far too inter-connected, in ways that we can see and in ways that we cannot see or fathom for it to be the true case that where only one of us wins that any of us actually win.

By Sheena St Clair Jonker