Rhodes University Logo
Rhodes > Political & International Studies > Teach-In > News

“Don’t touch me on my #swag: race, elections and (be)longing in South Africa”

Date Released: Fri, 23 May 2014 17:00 +0200

The Director of Advocacy and Accountability at Sonke Gender Justice, Ms Sisonke Msimang gave a talk yesterday (22 May 2014) that encompassed race, class and gender analysis of the 2014 election campaigns of three main parties using hip-hop as a metaphor.

She started off her talk by dissecting the meaning of swag by looking at its various definitions and played a 30 seconds Khuli Chana video showing ‘swag’ in hip-hop music. According to Ms Msimang swag is often about asserting a particular type of masculinity.

She said that understanding the purpose of swag in this election season is an important exercise in helping us to understand where our democracy is headed

Ms Msimang explained how Julius Malema’s attitude and swag has changed ever since he left ANCYL. She described Malema as a more sober, less machismo with a clear constituency. She suggested that the 63% EFF membership being males gave him power and virility.

“…this is an interesting contradiction – he has returned as a Robin Hood.  He is still a bad boy, but a bad boy with a good heart.  He is happy to break the law, to be the ‘dangerous’ black man, but he rarely strays into politically incorrect comments on race and gender, even when he channels the old Malema.”

Analyzing the DA’s leader Helen Zille’s swag, she said that her [Helen Zille] attempts at swag were evident in her twitter account, and in her appearances in a doek, cooking pots and playing the role of a ‘traditional’ African woman.

“Unlike Julius she isn’t sure of her relevance – so the self-promotion, the combativeness, the masculinity - these take us nowhere because they aren’t funny or cool.  She fails on the swag front – although others in the DA have it” She said.

“Jacob Zuma’s swag is about as swagadocius as you can get- Rural, deep, original gangster type swag,” she said.   

“It’s not only that he spent time on Robben Island, it’s that he has a standard three and is the son of a domestic worker. Something many black South Africans can relate to” she said.

Ms Msimang said that there is a generation that gets that and there is also a new generation that sees the bruises, and knows that the contempt for Zuma has something to do with the marks and the pain they feel in fancy institutions like Rhodes, in the attitudes of bank managers who wouldn’t have taken their parent’s money 30 years ago. 

A very critical question that centered the whole talk was: who belongs to this place of swag? She said that both the ruling party and the opposition talk about the poor as their primary constituents but then react in a very strange way when they react when poor people get angry.

She concluded that despite all the mercilessly depressing stuff, she is hopeful that something more interesting has also crept into our politics. 

By Sanele Ntshingana