As Australia has continued to struggle to respond to the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, the COVID pandemic has delivered some sharp lessons about race. Like many other rich nations, Australia slammed the borders closed, locked down and scrambled to buy vaccines for itself, regardless of global need. ‘Protecting the lives of Australians’ was the mantra, but it was multicultural communities in Sydney and Melbourne who bore the brunt of the toughest lockdowns. If preserving rich, white people’s lives was the template for pandemic policy-making in Australia, what does this mean for how we value black lives?
Sisonke Msimang is an award-winning writer whose long-form writing on money, power and sex has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs the Washington Post, Lapham’s Quarterly and a range of other publications. She is also a columnist for The Guardian Australia. Currently a fellow at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), she has fellowships at Yale University and the Aspen Institute, where her work has focussed on the form and content of women’s stories.
She served as the Executive Director of a human rights organisation that provided grant funding and advocacy support to amplify the voices of activists living and working across Southern Africa. Much of that work involved gender justice in conflict and crisis-affected countries, most notably Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.
In 2018 she published her first book Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home, about growing up in the anti-apartheid struggle. Always Another Country won critical acclaim, was published in North America, Europe and South Africa, and has been translated. In 2019, she published The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela, which is used on syllabuses in South African universities.
Sisonke is currently the head of stories at the Centre for Stories, in Perth, and was awarded the West Australian Premier’s Fellowship last year, to complete her next book; a novel.