Putting ‘misinformation’ into context by Phelisa Sikwata
Since March 2020, I have been fortunate enough to engage in—or in some instances observe—conversations around the coronavirus.
The debates on outcomes as a result of misinformation being simply noted as a risk that only affects the individual who lives by it.
Conversations will start as an attempt of small talk, get slightly heated with spicy conspiracy theories, grow into a debate on the risk factors—this is where talk about the money features—only to be concluded with a whole lot of misinformation and face masks lowered to the chin.
In my surroundings, I’ve learnt that to validate your views on current affairs, it’s best to bring forward historical contexts—specifically South African historical contexts. And South African historical contexts always include the effects of misinformation.
Now, if you’re a black South African or person of colour, you are inherently living in the residues of systematic misinformation. This view is purely drawn on race, but because we’re not only our race, I’ll include my other puzzle pieces on this personal frame, which are: young, female, woman, third class, and beautifully Queer. Lest I forget, every aspect of who I am is embedded with misinformation, which we’re then conditioned with. This conditioning stems from being seen as less of a human because of my gender and the expression thereof, and being financially dependent on the same systems people like myself have tried to dismantle for decades.
One might argue that all this is less important than being black or just a South African. And my response would be: what about Ancestry? These issues of sex, class and so on are deeply rooted in our history. Within the last five years, through young people, South Africa has shown a dire need to undo its trauma. The education system, for example, is one of the front line systemic issues that still needs transformation; this was displayed to the world with charged protests on sacred grounds.
Young educated people are called upon by their ancestors to do healing work in the vastest ways. This is a matter of intensive unlearning on the greatest scales of undoing the misinformation at the heart of the country, of black people, and ultimately one’s lineage. Basically, we don’t have land because of historical misinformation.
Our education system still teaches us how to fit in this system of capitalism and misogyny as a result of misinformation. Queer folk are side-lined and violated, women are killed daily because of misguided beliefs influenced by the understanding of the constitution and religious texts. Which is to say, every injustice is a result of historical misinformation; the world is off-kilter as a result of historical misinformation. This current pandemic is writing into the history of the human race and so are our responses and reactions to it.
Small mishaps, whether intentionally—as history has proved to be—or not, do ultimately affect the greater scale. As much as false information is ever at our doorsteps, this pandemic continuously teaches us that it’s our responsibility to be more informed, wear masks and be vigilant. For my fellow conspiracy theorists—yes, I am partially one—I’ll end on a paraphrased stance by biomedical scientist Cheleka Anne-Marie Mpande when asked about the novel Coronavirus being a possible “form of depopulation”:
“In the event of wanting to depopulate, wouldn’t it be smarter to do it instantly before it could be noticed?” (Mpande, 2020)
Phelisa Sikwata is an artist from Cape Town (Mfuleni). In 2016, she joined CYPHER’s Ixhanti Saturday School Programme which afforded her the opportunity to be part of the poetry productions and anthologies. Her curating debut show is ‘inQ.U.E.E.R.ies’ — a poetry showcase centring Queer voices, bodies and narratives. Currently, she’s part of Young and Curious.