Women are holding back feminism
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.