Transform SA Digital Issue 25 - Magazine - Page 25
ransform SA spoke to author Jamil Khan
about his debut book Khamr: The Makings
of a Waterslams a memoir that lays bare
the ugly side of his upbringing. Khan grew up
in Cape Town, and now based in Johannesburg.
He is a PhD candidate and researcher. His
research focuses on the politics of creolisation
and Coloured identities in SA, while exploring
the interrelationships of power in race, ethnicity,
gender and sexuality.
What does transformation in South Africa mean
to you as an author and a social activist?
There are two things; what it currently is and what
it should be. Currently, transformation is a window
dressing exercise that creates the illusion that we
have resolved the divisions and inequalities that
South Africa is founded on. We have managed to
keep most of the corporate and other structures
of enterprise the same, while putting the power
behind them in costumes that resemble diversity.
Things look transformed in certain sectors, but
power has not shifted. What it should be is not just
the rearrangement of optics, but true investment in
redistribution of resources and the critical value of
difference to drive economic and social structures
to work for everyone.
As a PhD candidate of Critical Diversity Studies,
what is your take on the political and socioeconomic landscape of South Africa?
What we did in South Africa was to rebrand an
oppressive system as revolutionary and miraculous.
The democracy we were sold is a reconfiguration
of the old system, which allows for the optics to
change, but the system continues ensuring that
only a few benefit from the wealth of South Africa.
We must not be fooled into thinking that there is
not enough to go around, there is. This system is
designed to be unequal so that a minority can
maintain power at the expense of a majority. In
simple terms, the political and socio-economic
landscape in South Africa is a direct consequence
of an orchestrated inequality designed to keep
marginalised people disempowered so the benefit
of the elite.
Your memoir, Khamr: The Makings of a
Waterslams is about your coming of age and the
adversities you faced in the Muslim community
and dealing with an alcoholic father – do you
acknowledgement rather than denial, so although
it was unsettling to recall certain traumatic events,
it fed into a different cycle of healing which I believe
is an ongoing process. The process was to do the
best I could, when I could and be kind to myself
between reliving and
remembering has the
potential to cause great
damage to one, when
you have put in the
work to heal.”
think your intersectional identity as a coloured,
gay man from an Islamic upbringing has rooted
you as the accomplished academic author you
Personally, it has not rooted me but uprooted me.
The identities you mention represent a complex
entanglement with privilege and oppression,
simultaneously. The perspective I have had to
navigate the world with gave me the ability
to not only to identify systems of oppression
outside of myself, but also how I am implicated in
those systems. I understand my scholarship and
literary expression to be a journey inspired by the
discomfort of being uprooted when observing the
world critically as both a person who embodies
privilege and is constrained by oppression.
What was your process writing this particular
memoir and what made it important for you
to tell your story?
The process was quite a harrowing experience. It
took longer than I expected because having to
excavate such deeply embedded memories part
of a very different process of remembering. The
combination between reliving and remembering
has the potential to cause great damage to one,
when you have put in the work to heal. At the
same time, I have resolved to heal through
It is important for me to tell this story because
of how silenced such stories often are in our
very binary modes of existence in South Africa.
It was important for me to offer a word that sets
a precedent for more such stories to be told and
for many people like me to see a way out of the
shame imposed on them for being different.
What do you hope is the main takeaway for
your readers and what conversations do you
hope to trigger with the release of Khamr: The
Makings of a Waterslams?
I hope that people understand just how deliberate
and orchestrated our society is. That nothing is
just the way it is – it is this way because powerful
people have made it so through treachery and
dishonesty. We can and must resist this burden we
have inherited from our colonial past, but we must
also recognise our the systems we fight replicate
themselves within us. More specifically, I hope that
we can have a very honest conversation about the
harm visited upon queer Muslims through the
queerphobic discourses Muslims endorse in the
name of Islam, and further that we interrogate our
humanity as South Africans and evaluate ourselves
critically. There are many divisions we have to
heal and we cannot begin that healing if we are
not honest. I hope this book will inspire honest
conversations about our healing as a nation.
What can we expect from Jamil Khan in the
Definitely more books. I am working on some
exciting projects that hope to amplify other
marginalised voices and tell stories in ways they
have not yet been heard. Other than that, I hope
to be given the opportunity to really exhaust
the possibilities for dialogue that Khamr inspires
throughout the country. I hope this year will be a
year of robust debate about the real state of not
only the communities I unpack in the book, but
the nation as a whole. I am set to appear at most
book festivals this year, so I look forward to seeing
everyone engage with my offering.
Volume 25 • 2020