Why the Presidency of Liberia’s Ellen Johnson, The Presidency of Malawi’s Joyce Banda and coming closer to home, the election of ma Dlamini-Zuma receiving or more worthy of our respect than the secretary of State of the United States of America (Mrs Hillary Clinton)? The closest answer I am thinking about is the question that we have normalised; can a woman do it? And the question beyond a woman doing it is whether a black woman can do it, after what her race has gone through and the hurdles that this milieu has presented to her.
Lets hit closer to home in both time and space; there is a girl at Zuurbekom Intermediate School who is benefiting from the dignity packs project that the premier of Gauteng ma Nomvula Mokonyane launched in 2011 and another girl in the Eastern Cape and Malawi also benefiting from a similar project that is aimed at encouraging school attendance amongst girl children even during their monthly menstrual period. Whenever I engage on this issue amongst friends, the question overtly posed or what can be drawn from the blank faces is; shouldn’t books and their school fees take priority? The next step is then to try and put things into context, where the girl child is a member of a family and a community that is closely watching the development of the girl child, not to ensure that she is schooled and is able to fend for herself but to gauge her readiness for marriage, which in some cases is without her consent and even worse against her wish, as is usually the case when the act of ukuthwala is committed against her. I am well aware that I am treading on thin ice with regard to this part, as I may be lambasted for not “respecting people’s culture” even more so, my culture as a black man. This I put in inverted commas not to disrespect but to show that this is against a doctrine that is willing to overlook and sometimes perpetuate injustices in the name of culture. If this is really the culture, then I wonder how it will give rise to the next Lillian Ngoyi whose name will today be identified with the busiest street in the CBD of Pretoria, formerly Van der Walt Street and how would the 1950s anti pass campaigns that were lead by Ngoyi amongst other equally determined women have benefited? Would we say Mamphela Ramphele’s parents were going against their culture by educating a very intelligent girl from Limpopo who was to later be a founding member of the Black Consciousness Movement and celebrated as the first black Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, which at some point did not allow blacks through their doors, let alone a female black child. It cannot be taken for granted that her Vice-chancellorship was equally a victory for blacks as it was for women and a step closer to what Professor Sibusiso Ndebele calls the challenge of the oppressed being to be human in addition to overcoming the oppression.
There was a time not so far off in our memory when all sorts of “scientific evidence” was given to prove that the black race was inherently inferior and this justified the economic exploitation of black people, euphemistically referred to as people of colour. In addition to the exploitation of her race for economic purposes, the black woman experienced an injustice against her gender that amongst others saw her as being good enough when she could bear and take care of the children and the upkeep of the house. This obviously has dire consequences on the identity of a woman as she is defined by things that have little to with her personality and thoughts, especially in cases where she is not able to bear children. This should not lead us to thinking that child bearing and what we affectionately refer to as; ”the mother’s touch” is not important or should be taken for granted, but without being put into context it becomes a single story about the woman. As Chimamanda Adichie alludes to the problematic nature of the single story, which is not that it’s not true, but that it is not complete. I find it fitting to think of this injustice in light of Dr Martin Luther King junior’s dream that; his “ four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”. I further dream that my daughter will not be judged by the gender of her body but by the same content of character which any human being should be judged by.
The black man of Africa was, pre-colonisation charged with the responsibility of providing for and ensuring the security of his family. This was in a system in which he was mainly in control of his land and livestock, which translates into the means of production. The introduction of Taxes when Europeans came to Africa imposed the need to earn money which mainly lead the black man to working in various trades to earn a wage. The main trade of the latter part of the 19th and continuing into the 20th century was the Johannesburg mines and the diamond mines of Kimberly. Working at the mines had implications for the man, who had to be accommodated close by in contrast to the village where his wife is left to take care of the children and the general upkeep of the family. These are the two conditions which in the context of South Africa had the main impact on the black man and woman, lead to grievances that in turn lead the development various movements, amongst them; trade unions and political parties to respond to the work conditions, and political parties which were to politically influence the economic discourse. The urban centre of the country was dominated by the men, both black and white, though with different economic and class status. The black woman as with her white counterpart was remaining behind at home and having no participation to little participation which started in the mid 20st century. Looking at the white woman who had a black servant to take care of the house chores and the black woman who had to take care of the house chores and the children, we will agree that the black woman and man were the worst affected across the races and the black woman left with the most uncertainty and vulnerability in the black family based on her dependence on the wage from the husband working a certain distance from her with a n inconvenient communication which late Busi Mhlongo touches on when she says; “yaphel’ imali yam ng’ bhalela wena” (I am running out of money, writing to you) whilst writing to you, I have to wait for a response which is not really coming through. But a key issue facing the woman is not being in charge of her destiny and what she is to achieve as herself; this is what Prof Njabulo Ndebele beautifully alludes to in his book; the Cry of Winnie Mandela which looks at what is expected of a black woman in waiting. How much she has to overcome to remain a good woman, an uncertainly waiting woman. If my argument has not made sense to this point, I wish to point this out that the black man cannot win the battle against his being judged by the colour of his skin but not appreciate the injustice of denying the woman her right to be in control of her destiny and lead in cases and institutions where her abilities allow her to. It would thus be questionable if one would be able to appreciate the injustice against colour without appreciating the injustice against gender, and as it would be expected the issue will go on to include other people’s sexuality and religions.
Key to absorbing the black race in to the monetary economy was the imposition of foreign ideals, and a general state of consumerism. This was not always negated amongst us, and lead to a firm grip by Europe on the African, his/her culture and identity with the backdrop of a new language, religion and music. All which are important cultural factors which make up a large part of any people’s identity and sense of being. The general consensus was that to be welcome into the new “system” the prerequisite was a different sense of dress, language and religion which had to wait until the black man realised that this factors are those that make up the centre of a bundle that is our society and if this is let loose, things will fall apart as Chinua Achebe showed in some of the families of Umuofia, through His novel; Things fall apart.
The founding of the Black Consciousness Movement was necessitated by the perpetuation of unfounded doctrines pertaining to the inferiority of the black race and its need for European salvation in terms of belief, religion, culture and language. Some may have laughed at it, in addition to the violent reactions that came from those who were threatened when the black man realised that he is good enough with his beliefs and ideals which are different from those of the Europe, which may actually be those that would “give a human face to the world” to paraphrase Biko. With this in the back of one’s mind, we get to understand that the challenge has been and to a large extent remains about the infringement against people’s liberty. This is the type of liberty that has to be seen in the context of privileges that patriarchy across racial barriers gave to men which as is usually the case with regards to privilege that a system accords, we are reluctant to giving them up. But as the French poet Victor Hugo rightly observed that “no army can stop an idea whose time has come” we will have to sooner or later relook at some of the ideas we have established in our gender relations.
- Ndebele, N (2003). The cry of Winnie Mandela. Ayebia Clarke: United Kingdom