Women are hold­ing back fem­i­nism

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Letepe Maisela voices@city­press.co.za Maisela is a man­age­ment con­sul­tant and pub­lished au­thor

As the country cel­e­brated Women’s Day on Wed­nes­day, maybe it’s a his­tor­i­cal co­in­ci­dence and the high­est form of poetic jus­tice tinged per­haps with irony that, un­der postapartheid South Africa, an ar­te­rial road named af­ter one Hans Stry­dom was changed to Mal­i­bongwe. A name con­jured to usher praises to the toil­ing wom­en­folk of South Africa.

What is not ac­knowl­edged is that the 1956 march by 20 000 women to the Union Build­ings was ac­tu­ally a fore­run­ner to protest marches that would oc­cur in later years. Be­fore then, marches of that mag­ni­tude to chal­lenge author­ity on par­tic­u­lar leg­is­la­tion like the dis­crim­i­na­tory pass laws were not com­mon. Again, be­fore that women’s march, the bat­tered docile African male of the time had been car­ry­ing that de­tested dom­pas that so strictly reg­u­lated his move­ment, with hardly a mur­mur of public protest.

The apartheid pass laws were first im­posed as early as 1923 when, in terms of The Na­tives Ur­ban Ar­eas Act of that year, all ur­ban ar­eas were de­clared “white en­claves” and all African men were re­quired to ac­quire per­mits to be al­lowed into those ar­eas. Any­one found with­out such was im­me­di­ately ar­rested and “de­ported” to ru­ral ar­eas. Much later, af­ter the Na­tion­al­ist govern­ment had come into power, the law was amended and called the Na­tives Laws Amend­ment Act of 1952, later com­monly known as the Pass Laws Act. The law re­quired all African or Bantu men above the age of 16 years to carry the pass book on their per­sons all the time while in ur­ban ar­eas.

It is sur­pris­ing, then, that the first sig­nif­i­cant protest ac­tion against men car­ry­ing such a hideous doc­u­ment only sur­faced in the early 1960s. This re­sulted in the much pub­li­cised Sharpeville and Langa mas­sacres of March 21 1960 and March 31 1960, re­spec­tively. Both tragic events took place long af­ter the women’s march to the Union Build­ings. This proves that those women marchers of 1956 were in­deed torch­bear­ers and fron­trun­ners of the protest march.

Now, fast-for­ward to 2017 when we are a con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy, with women ac­corded equal rights to their men­folk. The country has even set aside a spe­cial day to com­mem­o­rate that 1956 women’s march to Pre­to­ria. In the midst of all this, a cer­tain com­man­der in chief of a po­lit­i­cal party called the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers, ad­dress­ing a me­dia brief­ing re­gard­ing our newly ap­pointed Public Pro­tec­tor, Busisiwe Mk­we­bane, was quoted as fol­lows: “She is a mis­take and we re­gret sup­port­ing her. She is a Gupta pup­pet straight from the Gup­tas’ kitchen…”

The ve­rac­ity of the state­ment is not much of my con­cern, but what amazed me is how such a seem­ingly sex­ist and pa­tri­ar­chal state­ment like “straight from the Gup­tas’ kitchen” es­caped the usu­ally vig­i­lant ear of our gen­der watchdogs and failed to ig­nite them into fe­male fury.

The si­lence from the usual sus­pects such as the ANC Women’s League was deaf­en­ing. Like­wise known gen­der ac­tivists such as Nom­bon­iso Gasa went AWOL – ab­sent with­out leave. That deaf­en­ing si­lence from fe­male quarters merely re­in­forced my long-held be­lief that women sel­dom came to the de­fence of their own kind and this is a world­wide phe­nom­e­non. The only rea­son I could deduct all this was that there was prob­a­bly a “kitchen fight” among the Mk­we­banes, Gasas and the women’s league, to bor­row yet an­other male chau­vin­ist ex­pres­sion.

While still mas­ti­cat­ing that lat­est tirade against fem­i­n­ity by Julius Malema, our min­is­ter of so­cial devel­op­ment and ANC Women’s League pres­i­dent, Batha­bile Dlamini, added her dis­dain for her own kind when she re­cently ar­rived at the six­day ANC Na­tional Pol­icy Con­fer­ence sur­rounded by six hunks of beef. No, they were not her body­guard en­tourage, but were spe­cially in­vited as part of her del­e­ga­tion to “im­prove ca­pac­ity in com­mis­sions”. This was be­cause, ac­cord­ing to the hon­ourable min­is­ter, fe­male del­e­gates in those com­mis­sions of­ten “got too emo­tional”. This is the same min­is­ter whose or­gan­i­sa­tion is punt­ing for the elec­tion of the first fe­male pres­i­dent.

In an ar­ti­cle I wrote in 2012, I posed the quin­tes­sen­tial ques­tion: Is South Africa ready for women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions in both the public and pri­vate sec­tors? My con­clu­sion then was that, while some lib­eral men in our midst wanted to give our fe­male coun­ter­parts the ben­e­fit of the doubt, it was women them­selves who mostly doubted women’s abil­ity to lead. That is the rea­son that, even though women are in the ma­jor­ity ac­cord­ing to our cen­sus, most still pre­fer to vote for male can­di­dates to lead. Like I said, this is a world­wide phe­nom­e­non. Just look at what hap­pened in the US.

My hum­ble ad­vice to our wom­en­folk in South Africa in Women’s Month is that, for our women to ul­ti­mately win the gen­der war, they must ini­tially learn to sup­port one an­other’s causes.

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