/ 19 February 2014

Wiser’s Burns responds to roundtable criticism

It's hard to seperate gender and race in South Africa
It's hard to seperate gender and race in South Africa

The Mail & Guardian's Deshnee Subramany wrote an opinion piece on her views of a discussion round-table and audience event at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser) last week. We are delighted that several people wrote about the event. Subramany did not have a tape recorder in her hand and did not appear to take notes in the after-forum discussion, so the points she makes are from her memory only, and many of them are misrecalled.

What is of interest here, and also the substance of Subramany's impressions are these: that Wiser did not constitute a representative panel (correct); that nonetheless issues of power, sexuality, race and class were constantly inflected with debates about femaleness and gender identity in the evening's events (correct); and that I disputed with her afterwards that the lack of what Subramany called variously an African and also a black woman was a deligitimising factor (also correct).

This was one of the best attended events at Wiser in the last year, and people with a huge array of identities came to the campus that evening and were in the room. Wiser, a Wits University humanities institute, is devoted to addressing issues of deep research interest and purchase in our society and the globe. And last week, we were delighted with the vigorous and open debate and the wide array of positions, issues and nuanced arguments that the forum elicited.

Besides the three speakers – who talked passionately about the issues generated around Rebecca Davis's piece on being female in South African politics for 10 minutes each, drawing on their wealth of journalism experience – the event was dominated by points from the floor and then responses from the speakers.