Re­mem­ber­ing the sheroes who fought back

CityPress - - Voices - Sim­phiwe Se­santi

Af­ter the Bri­tish colonised the Asante in Ghana in 1896, the colo­nial­ists’ rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Arnold Hodgson, vis­ited an area known as Ku­masi and de­manded to sit on the Golden Stool, which, to the Asante, sym­bol­ised the soul of the peo­ple.

This story is doc­u­mented in an es­say ti­tled Spir­i­tu­al­ity, Gen­der and Power in Asante His­tory by Em­manuel Akyeam­pong and Pash­ing­ton Obeng.

When the Bri­tish made this de­mand, Akyeam­pong and Obeng tell us, the Ghana­ians were thrown into con­fu­sion and paral­y­sis. It took a woman, Queen Mother Yaa Asan­te­waa, to mo­bilise the na­tion. Speak­ing to men in par­tic­u­lar, Yaa Asan­te­waa asked how it could be that once proud and brave peo­ple stood by while an ar­ro­gant white man hu­mil­i­ated them.

Yaa Asan­te­waa then de­liv­ered words that struck a raw nerve and gal­vanised the men of Asante: “If you, the chiefs of Asante, are go­ing to be­have like cow­ards and not fight, you should ex­change your loin­cloths for my un­der­gar­ments.”

Those were the days when to be a man was not syn­ony­mous with merely hav­ing male or­gans. Be­ing a man meant hav­ing val­ues, one of which was the con­scious­ness that men had the obli­ga­tion to pro­vide for and to pro­tect women (when the need arose).

This was not be­cause women had less ca­pa­bil­ity. Sen­si­ble and sen­si­tive African men recog­nised that cre­ation had al­ready im­posed on women the re­spon­si­bil­ity of preg­nancy and pro­vid­ing for the ba­bies af­ter their birth. Women, as the pages of African his­tory so well demon­strate, had the abil­ity to pro­vide for them­selves through agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­ity and to pro­tect them­selves by fight­ing in wars.

In Africa, we have had mil­i­tary com­man­ders such as Yaa Asan­te­waa of Ghana, Queen Nzinga of An­gola and Mbuya Ne­handa of Zim­babwe. Had it not been for the fact that some failed to heed Yaa Asan­te­waa’s call to the war that lasted seven months, his­tory’s pages might be re­flect­ing a dif­fer­ent story. But it was not to be. Yaa Asan­te­waa was cap­tured and com­mit­ted to exile. But it is her words that haunt me as if I was there.

As she was be­ing led away by her cap­tors, she said: “Asante women, I pity you.” Upon hear­ing these words, some­one asked: “What about us, the men?” Sharply, Yaa Asan­te­waa re­torted: “Which men? The men died at the bat­tle­front.”

As I learn from me­dia sto­ries and con­ver­sa­tions with fel­low Africans that some African men in strate­gic po­si­tions de­mand sex in ex­change for jobs from vul­ner­a­ble women, Yaa Asan­te­waa’s words re­ver­ber­ate in my mind. I see clearly that peo­ple who do such things are not men but merely males.

Men are hu­man be­ings who have minds to think and ap­pre­ci­ate other hu­man be­ings’ hu­mil­i­at­ing con­di­tion, and seek to help al­le­vi­ate their suf­fer­ing. Males are an­i­mals that, when they have a de­sire for sex, chase women in full view of every­one. The act of de­mand­ing sex in re­turn for jobs is an act of strip­ping naked – fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally – our fe­male com­pa­tri­ots.

It is no dif­fer­ent from the act that was car­ried out by apartheid’s se­cu­rity po­lice, who stripped naked the fe­male Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) com­man­der Philani Nd­wandwe, who they ex­e­cuted in 1988.

On learn­ing of her ef­fi­ciency as an MK cadre, their ini­tial plan was not to kill her but to turn her into an in­former. They of­fered her money – she re­fused. They stripped her naked in order to hu­mil­i­ate her.

Nd­wandwe could have cho­sen to swal­low her pride and sell out (she had a small child to look af­ter). But she re­fused to ex­change her pride and dig­nity – the only things she had left – for money. The sys­tem failed to break her.

It ap­pears as if some among us who were in the lib­er­a­tion move­ment were not fight­ing against the ex­ploita­tive sys­tem as such, but wanted to fill the po­si­tions of the op­pres­sors.

When con­fronted by such males, women like Yaa Asan­te­waa and Nd­wandwe must re­sist, refuse and re­tal­i­ate. These males are not in­vin­ci­ble. They can be de­feated like the cap­tors of Yaa Asan­te­waa and the tor­men­tors of Nd­wandwe.

Apartheid op­pres­sors have now been re­duced to ze­roes and the fight­ers have be­come our sheroes (not hero­ines).

When times are tough, our sis­ters must re­mem­ber the ex­am­ple of these sheroes and fight back coura­geously. Se­santi is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Nel­son Man­dela Metropoli­tan

Univer­sity’s de­part­ment of jour­nal­ism, me­dia and phi­los­o­phy

It ap­pears as if some among us ... were not fight­ing against the ex­ploita­tive sys­tem, but wanted to fill the po­si­tions of the op­pres­sors

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.