The legacy of our fore-mothers is one which induces both pride and responsibility. We come from a generation that has encapsulated Gandhi’s statement of ‘being the change you want to see’. These women did more than march to the Union Buildings or burn their bras. They displayed strength when their homes were displaced, character when they were attacked and leadership when action had to be taken. We are the custodians of this legacy. Black, White, Coloured or Indian… the struggle of the liberation of women is ours to hone and to overcome. We have been entrusted with redefining it and making it relevant to our reality and, the 21st century African women. We have a responsibility to be the mothers of an even greater nation than this one we have been blessed with. Failure to do so would be surely and shamefully be a dereliction of historical duty.
Hillary Clinton once said: “There cannot be a true democracy unless women’s voices are heard. There cannot be a true democracy unless women are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their own lives”. And though I concur with this former American First Lady, I believe that despite the fact that our mothers and grandmothers have given us the strength to speak out for ourselves, we choose to remain muted. Even though they have made these opportunities available to us, Africa cannot, and will not be a true and free democratic continent unless we use our voices and force society to allow us to grab these opportunities with both hands. Our history is rich with examples of women who fought heroically and triumphantly. These women carried children on their backs, food in their arms and water on their heads while building homes from mud. These women took the nothing they had and gave us hope and education so that we may overcome our own challenges. The challenges of realising that we are post-liberation women and our there are more complex issues we have to deal with, in times of post-political strife. Today, we are faced with redefining the role of women in the post-colonial era. Of shedding certain aspects of our past so as to ensure our future and adjusting to the new-found opportunities presented to us both at home and in the workplace. Furthermore, unlike these great women of our history, we have to incorporate ourselves into a global society of Coca-Colasation, which may at times collide head-on with what we know to be true and necessary cultural and traditional norms.
Before we even touch on these challenges, we must acknowledge that as young African women, living in the times we live in and walking the path we walk, our journey is long and filled with hurdles. Hurdles that must be faced by not only young black women or young white women, but by ALL OF US: as African women. You see, political, economic and social systems were never designed to cater to our needs or ambitions or intellect, therefore transformation is a process that affects us all. Differently, but equally, and we need to be sensitive to that truth. I need to realise that Jamie Foster’s plight is no less significant to mine because she was never a product of colour. I must realise that it is different to mine, and it is hers. She is entitled to it and she has the right to deal with it in any way she feels will best suit her and society at large.
That being said, former president Thabo Mbeki once said: “Yesterday is a foreign country – tomorrow belongs to us”. In saying this, I believe that our former president was not suggesting that we discard our history. He was, in fact, inviting us to accept the challenge and spirit of the African Renaissance and so “make foreign” all that holds us back. He wished that we would abandon all backwardness, all lack of commitment to change and to “make foreign” the disempowerment of the masses and women of this country alike. Our president was telling us that we own the future of this country and that we should dedicate ourselves to being victorious in the struggle to make our people their own liberators.1
This brings me back to the honest and relevant challenges we face as young, contemporary African women. We need to define ourselves in this new struggle: psychologically, socially, politically, and economically. We need to realise that we fight demons our mothers could not have foreseen.
What does one do when they finally find the house they wish to make a life in? They decorate! As young women, we are faced with filling this house… as is most often the case anyway. We must decide how much of our old furniture is worth keeping and what of the new available furniture, is worth purchasing. But most importantly, we must decide which rooms are of top priority. Do we attack the economic sector first, and demand for female CEOs to earn just as much as their male counterparts? Or do we put that on the backburner and fight social ills first, so as to reduce the number of women facing various forms of victimisation everyday?
The reality is that women are constantly required to be soldiers. We fight wars at school, at the workplace, in the sports grounds, in government, on the streets and in our homes. In a time when race has, to some extent, been shoved to the backseat, gender has moved to the front… Kind of like how the world only ever seems to remember to put Africa on its agenda when they are somewhat done with their wars against communism, or terrorism or global warming. Gender issues only surface when political – and at times economic – storms begin to subdue. But that is what the post-94 gender movement in South Africa is, part of the aftermath of the storm. It is our role to evaluate the damage, redesign the field and allocate the available resources adequately.
Another major challenge faced by young African women is how we, as women, relate to one another. Firstly: the PHD(Pull Her Down)-syndrome. Unfortunately, we live in a society which loves to pen PDIs (Previously Disadvantaged Individuals) up against each other – a reality that faces the black as well as the female community alike. There is a large misconception that there are not enough positions available for all the competent and willing women at the top of the food chain. And so we find the “Pull-Her-Down Syndrome”: whereby women sabotage each other, in an attempt to further their own ambitions. Unlike our mothers, who believed in the communal interdependence of sisterhood, we would much rather indulge in selfish and ultimately non-sustainable behaviour by being “the first” or “the only”. No one wants to just be a junior partner, so we pass up competent sisters to be “the only female junior partner”… Failing to realise that the more wheels of our car we keep oiled, the faster and better it runs.
Secondly: there is our lack of respect for one another. Whether we choose to admit it or not, the well-oiled Hollywood machine has managed to infiltrate almost every aspect of our lives, and we have all lapped it up in one way or another. We watch movies and music videos, documentaries and reality shows, and all of this has influenced various aspects of our lives. They have affected the way children interact with their parents, they way in which men and women see each other. But more importantly today, they have affected the way in which women relate to one another. We call each other “bitches” and “whores”. We are the first to feed off and fuel each other’s insecurities. We have forgotten that we are all royals because our mothers are queens. Instead we thank our queens by swearing at one another by their private parts and violating their marriages with our “sugar daddies”. Now I know that I cannot blame all this entirely on American culture, and frankly I am not interested in who takes the blame for this. The point is that we do not realise the far-reaching consequences of this behaviour. By sheer virtue of us referring to women we do not particularly care for as “bitches”, we cannot then be appalled when men call us by these names because we have taught them to do so. We cannot feel insulted for our mothers when men swear at us/themselves in this manner, when were the ones who insulted them first. The truth is we have trained men to treat us in this manner. We have taught them and continue to reassure them that this sort of behaviour is part and parcel of the society in which men and women live in today and we are OK with it.
But as the offspring of change, we can rest assured that all hope is not yet lost for us. By changing, influencing and affecting just one mindset at a time, we can still fulfil the truth behind our revolutionary status. We are not revolutionary because we have/will overturn tyrannical regimes, but because, with grace and perseverance, we dare to face those everyday obstacles our gender presents us with. We challenge these sexist systems and embrace an independence that, instead of stripping femininity from us, enhances it. We chose not to be discouraged by the prospect of HAVING IT ALL because we know we deserve it! We are revolutionary women because against all the odds, despite all these challenges, we embrace, embody and exude WOMANHOOD! We, the South African women of the 21st Century, are revolutionary because we understand what Marilyn Monroe meant when she said “I don’t care if this is a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it”, and we DARED to believe it for ourselves! Our mothers and our daughters will be proud.