Zanele Mbeki Fellowship

From the Zanele Mbeki Fellowship website

This year, I began a journey into a feminist leadership experience with the Zanele Mbeki Fellowship. First Lady Zanele Mbeki has established the collective as a way of contributing to the continuation of feminist leadership in South Africa – an undertaking that I respect deeply.  Anyone who knows me, knows that all of my academic work means that I end up thinking and working alone for long stretches unless absolutely necessary, so I accepted the invitation to apply as an opportunity for a change; a challenge to become part of a collective and to think and work along with people who have a similar outlook on the gendered personal and political life of South Africa. Our first module in July was focused on the self and gave us room to prepare for the journey ahead as sisters on a mission of collective feminist self-realisation. Our second module in October focused on feminism. We have been privileged enough to learn from Mrs Zanele Mbeki, Bunie Sexwale, Professor Patricia McFadden, Lebohang Pheko and many more valuable educators. So, far it is an enjoyable journey that has also been deeply challenging to my usual way of being in the world. I am grateful for the opportunity and excited for the many lessons that this journey promises.


Thank you to the Zanele Mbeki Fellowship for selecting me!

A Herstory Ghazal

History hurts women who weave word, sound and truth to brew story. 

Seen as lesser scribes, they fade from light. This ain’t a new story.

The house of Hip Hop belongs to all who live and love in it.

Divine residents build it brick by blessed beat through story.

From Godessa to Lee Kasumba, this black girl magic we

inhabit shatters each glass ceiling into debut story.

What’s a boys club to a god; to us? We birth worlds and verses

and rise to revise the lies and proclaim: this is true story!

Grateful for the glory of creation, Lebohang meets page.

In the beginning was the word. The world awaits. Cue: story.

— A Herstory Ghazal by Lebohang Masango


In “A Herstory Ghazal”, I use the upcoming #HipHopHerstory concert as a prompt to express my feelings on the creative power that most women hold, both biologically and artistically. The landmark event will host a selection of talents from South Africa and the US to celebrate women’s roles and achievements within the culture. While the introductory post to this series demonstrates multiple academic perspectives of women’s involvement in Hip Hop that appeal to my interests as a scholar, I use this week to continue that tradition of documentation in writing creatively, as a poet.

The ghazal honestly needs more flowers (while we can still smell ’em), which is to say, the ghazal is Top Two and I don’t mean number two. This underrated form of Arabic poetry has held me spellbound for a few years now. I find it so sad that I went through an entire high school career’s worth of poetry lessons, without encountering it among the usual classes about sonnets and iambic meter. When I first read Hip Hop Ghazal by Patricia Smith, my absolute fave, I was immediately delighted by the rhythms and its insistence on cleverly crafted repetition. I love how it has been a slow revelation; the more I savoured it, the more I realised how different parts have to exist in very particular ways to make it whole. It is an impressively simple-looking yet demanding piece of writing.

Read over my ghazal once more and see if you can identify the rules that dictate how a ghazal is constructed. Here is a short summary:

  1. Ghazal must consist of 5 – 15 couplets, that can each stand alone as separate poems.
  2. First two lines must end in rhyme – using the same word or phrase – this is called a refrain.
  3. The refrain should end the second line of every couplet that follows.
  4. Before each refrain, there has to be a word that rhymes consistently throughout the ghazal.
  5. The first line of the last couplet should contain the poets’s name, or a reference to the poet.
  6. Each line must contain the same number of syllables.

Do you see why I say it is not easy? It’s such a challenge! At the same time, I cannot explain how good it feels to know that when I apply myself, I too can write in one of my favourite forms. Today, my special contribution to the Hip Hop her story movement, also marks my second ghazal (ever!) and I am so excited that it exists. I love how writing this set a challenge for me to write a big story about the strides that women make each day and express it succinctly. I hope that you’ll be inspired to fall in love with the ghazal and to keep women’s stories well-recognised and alive in your own work, whatever it may be.



The Syllabus: An Introduction to Essential Hip Hop Scholarship

Quiet as it’s kept, Hip Hop has had an immeasurable impact on my personhood. I’ve always been fascinated with the powerful self-affirmations that constitute rapper’s braggadocio bars. From Notorious BIG to The Score era’s Lauryn Hill and Rah Digga, my queen Lil Kim and even Jay Z, growing up while hearing how “I’m the best/ baddest/ hottest/ freshest/ dopest/ illest” on repeat has done some amazing things for my confidence and my insistence that I can make my dream life an everyday possibility. Through Hip Hop, this masterful tradition of weaving words, I continue to build and believe in the best ideas about myself.

As a baby Anthropologist, my life involves the deepest appreciation for knowledge production, particularly the scholars who respectfully theorise Black people’s vernaculars and art into the archive. Through the fruits of their intellectual labour in writing our herstories and stories, it is our collective hope that future generations will not have to endure the racist and existential drama that claims that we “didn’t have texts or science or complex political structures or knowledge”. For women and queer people especially, we hope to counter the lies of erasure that claim that “women made little contribution to Hip Hop” or that “there are no queer people in Hip Hop”.

Over the next few weeks, I will explore what Hip Hop means to me and, of course, I will use my words. To start, I’ve compiled some critical texts in Hip Hop scholarship to highlight women as producers, consumers, scholars, political agents and critical thinkers of the culture. I hope you read and engage with this work as we all open our minds and learn more about how difference has played such an important role in making the culture what it is.

1. Hip Hop Feminism

Read this because it is a discussion of the political sensibility that emerges from a generation that grew up with Hip Hop, an art form that has been simultaneously affirming yet marginalising, especially for women and queer people. Hip Hop Feminism aims to go beyond the gains of feminism’s second wave by doing the additional work of interrogating norms and the intersecting ways that representations and images are constructed in order to empower women to participate, critique, counter, enjoy and claim full ownership of the culture.

Peoples, Whitney A. (2008) “Under construction’: Identifying foundations of hip-hop feminism and exploring bridges between Black second-wave and hip-hop feminisms.” Meridians 8:1, 19-52. Read it here.

2. The Role of South Africa in the Origin of Hip Hop.

Read this because the work and life of South Africa’s Poet Laureate, the late Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile is examined to illuminate the golden, diasporic thread that runs between Hip Hop’s founding, through The Last Poets engagement with Prof. Kgositsile’s poetry as a freedom fighter exiled to the United States. Of course, Prof. Kgositsile was not just a brilliant intellectual and writer, he is also the father of Earl Sweatshirt. I have had the pleasure of reading and listening to Dr Phalafala, who is also his biographer. I love that she has taken it upon herself to document his immense contributions to scholarship and Hip Hop music.
Uhuru Portia Phalafala (2017)Black music and pan-African solidarity in Keorapetse Kgositsile’s poetry“, The Journal of South African and American Studies, 18:4, pp. 307-326. Read it here.

3. The Aesthetics of Black Women’s Sexuality

Read this because one of the most contentious debates is whether the misogyny inherent within Hip Hop is responsible for the hyper-sexualisation of women and the extents to which women’s agency in our own sexualised representations contribute to aspects ranging from the full ownership of our bodies, commercial viability and further marginalisation.

White, Theresa Renee. (2013) “Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott and Nicki Minaj: Fashionistin ’Black Female Sexuality in Hip-Hop Culture—Girl Power or Overpowered?.” Journal of Black Studies 44.6, pp. 607-626.

Read it here.

4. Queering Hip Hop

Read it because in the same way that supposedly straight women have an equal stake in Hip Hop, it is necessary to know that queer people have contributed to this culture too. We know that Hip Hop is dynamic and multidimensional, so it cannot only emerge from black heteromasculinity with straight women as its relational figures. Hip Hop is comprised of many fluid and intersecting sexualities. According to Rinaldo Walcott (2013),

…a case could be made plausibly that hip hop is queer, always has been, and always will be... I would argue that it is precisely in the context of a straightened out hip hop that a queer sociality and definitely a homosociality animates some of hip hop’s most excited moments as the soundtrack of contemporary urban life and beyond.

Walcott, Rinaldo. (2013) “Boyfriends with Clits and Girlfriends with Dicks: Hip Hop’s Queer Future.” Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, 2:2, vol. 2 pp. 168 – 173. Read it here.

5. Representations of Women in South African Hip Hop Videos

Read this because it is a comparative analysis of how women are represented in a selection of music videos by Hip Hop Pantsula, Slikour and Zuluboy – artists who have been recognised as making music that acknowledges the disparities in society and would therefore be assumed to portray women in a progressive manner.

Nyirenda, Zgagula (2014) “Analysis of gender construction in South African hip-hop music and videos”. MA Thesis. Read it here.

Please note that some of these articles may be difficult to access. Please try to log in to your institution of higher education or consider signing up to the sites to read the work.

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(In)Fighting For A Cause

Graphic by Leigh Luna

Fighting for justice must undoubtedly remain a priority, but we should try, as much as possible, to not allow the injustices of the world to harden us to the extent of behaving in toxic ways to the people with whom we claim community. Like intersectionality, worthiness of empathy shouldn’t be ranked on a scale. I totally get why empathy isn’t a person’s first priority when confronting injustices, but we gain nothing by seemingly aiming to misunderstand one another.

We should remember, especially in our communities within the larger global movement of feminism, how easy it is to ignore someone’s humanity and relate to them as the representative of an ideology.

Rookie Mag’s theme for May is “Growing Pains.” Please head over there to read my latest essay on intersectional feminism, online conflicts and the lessons I’ve learned about how we hold each other through the difficulties of our politics. I am really proud of this.

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Thank you, Tavi Gevinson. Your patience and thoughtful critique while editing this really challenged me in the best ways.

Come through, menstrual cup. Bye, pads & tampons.

You may be familiar with this. One moment, I’m calm and unbothered. Then, I become a sudden mess of cravings and nastiness as a week of non-stop Kit Kat and Triple Choc Sundae snacking (I don’t even like sweets, abeg!) ensues while fighting back the urge to swing on everyone. On sight. All the time. On top of that: break outs, bloating and general discomfort all over my body. From placing a folded towel beneath me at night to sometimes wearing two pairs of underwear in the attempt to combat sleeping-and-leaking, the highly hormonal and messy time that is my period gets bloody annoying. And although the troubles are many, I still choose pads over tampons, any day.

Scenes. Legs open on the toilet, pulling on the blue-green string of my full tampon slowly, slowly with just the right amount of tension so that it slides out gently and doesn’t immediately plop out and swing into whatever is closest (which is usually the inside of the bowl). Or, when I’m doing the pull while my bladder’s super full and I’m already impatient and I need to pee and it’s taking so long and then just a little… Actually. You don’t need to know. I just don’t like tampons.

Of course, the worst of all is when this biological regularity just completely slips my mind and I’m caught unaware with neither of the things and I have to improvise with tissue until I find the nearest place to buy a full pack because, as Muneera pointed out on Twitter, retail places haven’t yet had the lightbulb moment of selling them in singles. Wow, pls.

It’s in these moments that I realise how bloody expensive pads are and the guilt of their impact on an already polluted planet eats at me, month by month.

Enter, a menstrual cup.

I bought mine for R530 and word is, it will last me for about 3 years. Here’s the math:

  • +/- R45 x 12months = R540 a year. So: R540 x 3years = R1 620.
  • +/-15 pads x 12 months = 180 pads a year. So: 180 pads x 3 years = 540 pads.

Not only does my decision save me money, it also saves the planet just a little because my +/-180 used pads per year among all of our (global, our) +/-180 used pads per year end up in landfills and sometimes in the sea. You can just imagine adding tampons to the equation. How bloody awful?

For insertion: a C-fold.

You only need two things to successfully wear a menstrual cup: 1) clean, clean hands and 2) being at ease with getting very intimate with your vagina. I recommend that you squat fully with both knees bent to put it in. I tried the method of standing with one leg placed on a chair and a full squat just works better for me. I wet the cup, part my labia and push the cup inwards and upwards until I feel it’s open. One option, is for it to sit lower than a tampon so I only push it high so it unfolds and then I use the stem to pull it down low. In the pictures, I’ve cut my stem because it shouldn’t ever stick out of your vagina. It’s a little longer when you buy it. The other option is to wear it up high so that it cups around the opening of your cervix. I’m actually finding that that may be the key to non-spillage. I’m also getting used to the fact that I always feel like peeing after I have been handling it. It’s weird and interesting.

There are several ways to fold your cup for insertion. Above, is the C-fold which happens when you fold it in half twice. Then, below, there’s the pushdown where you push it down on one side and squeeze it together.

For insertion: a pushdown fold.

There’s also the 7-fold which happens when you fold it in half and then take that half and fold it down to (loosely) resemble the number 7. The menstrual cup is manufactured out of medical grade silicone so it isn’t exactly as malleable as origami but, you get the picture.

For insertion: a 7-fold.

I’m in between experimenting with the folding methods because it’s important for the suction to set in a specific way so that the blood doesn’t bypass it and end up leaking onto underwear. Once it’s in, there’s some twisting involved too squeezing a finger in and around the thing just to make sure that it has opened fully and is sitting in place. I haven’t perfected this yet and I realised that I need support. My first thought was to use panty-liners but that obviously just defeats my entire mission, doesn’t it?

The reusable pad clips beneath your underwear.

Enter, reusable pad.

I bought mine for only R30 and wearing it with my cup has been a great, comfortable and guilt-free experience. Of course the goal is to no longer need it and I will get to that point, one day soon.

Both the cup and pad are comfortable. The cup is available in two sizes and yours is determined by your age and history of child birth. It can be washed with unscented soap (I use plain, glycerin soap) once a day and rinsed with drinking water in between use. It can also be boiled in water after one’s mentrual cycle and stored in the cotton bag provided. The pad is also easily washable.

You’re welcome to further do your own Googles for any other questions you may have. I know that one of them may be “Well, where can I buy it?” and I can’t tell you that here because [redacted brand names] would have to run me my money. I’ve just given you some of my experience because I recommend it and I think we could all do a bit to make the planet just a little greener.

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Thank you to Alyx, whose tweet about the menstrual cup initially made me go “Hmm…”