BUSANI NGCAWENI: Like Somizi’s reality shows, virtual meetings are staged life


“Is my microphone on? Can you hear me, chair?”
“Can you see my screen?”
“I’m sorry about that, chairperson. Let me ask the helper to take the kids away.”
“Peter, please mute.”
“Okay, let me start recording.”
“My hand is up chair, it’s me Ngcaweni here…”

This COVID-19 new normal is like a movie. It needs a lot of staging, a reality TV setup of sorts.

Unless you want the world to invade your space and judge your dirty curtains and Spiderman linen, you must constantly change the virtual background/screen, staging your workspace for the outside world.

If you work from the kitchen because it is the only space with a table and a chair, you look as unprofessional as working from your bedroom, even though these may be the only spaces available to you. Doing virtual meetings from outside or the garden is also judged as being unserious.

So, just stage the background by changing pictures regularly. If you use books, you look very clever and serious. If you use Table Mountain everyone thinks you are in Cape Town. Use your portrait and they’ll say, “He is a narcissist.”

And then come the children! They literally need to be gagged or you are judged for having unruly rascals if they run around you seeking their deserved attention.

In our small and different ways, we are like Somizi and Zodwa WaBantu, staging a life of continuity and change.

God knows, we sometimes stage participation by logging-on, mute and take shower while “present” in the meeting.

PS: did I tell you about the dress code thing? Just as well we only have to show the “half cut” (something not relatable to ama2000) because we all look like Mzwandile Mbeje and his colleagues in the SABC newsroom of yesteryear. They too use to stage the appearance by wearing ties and jackets and shorts or track pants under their desks.

It is worse for black women as this new normal is sexist and elitist. The workplace remains a theatre of patriarchy, performing with its unforgiving twin, capitalism. It orchestrates women’s oppression in sophisticated scenes that play out as professional dress codes. Time "at the office" equals performance and more pay. It knows no age, respects no education or position. Practicing reproductive rights is no cliffhanger; you know for sure you’ll be scripted out while on maternity leave, and how dare you breastfeed during zoom meetings or have your video off while doing this?

Scenes of unemployment statistics is a conductor that brings you back to the tune, to subject yourself to the cannons of workplace patriarchy dressed-up as the "new normal".

The third wave is upon us, a death foretold. We sit here waiting for our turn, or another call announcing the passing of a relative or friend.

No wonder mental health issues are on the rise.

This painful episode of grieving is a reminder that we have grown. Time has passed. As teens, we saw people in their 50s pass on and didn’t realise that in few decades we would enter that age of fragility, the period when half of the people we grew up with would be gone.

We survived political violence and the Aids epidemic. And now, there is this new pandemic that is performing a cleansing ceremony of sort - especially among the elderly, the diabetic, the chain smokers, and others. And of course, other endemics associated with genetics or the choices we made in our vital days are also like chickens coming home to roast.

Like others, this season too shall pass, with or without us in the land of the living.

So long, we have to join Somizi and others in the staged performance of the virtual world of work.

Busani Ngcaweni is co-editor of 'We are No Longer at Ease: The Struggle for #FeesMustFall'. Follow him on Twitter: @busani_ngcaweni

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