Heroes: a masculine affair01/04/2011 # 08:07 # In Press - research # 18 Comments
Dineo Sitole discusses the politics of gender around commemorations of the liberation struggle in South Africa.
Being an active participant in student politics at my university, I feel that the role of women empowerment and consciousness is often downplayed, if not non-existent in our society. Women have been fighting to be placed in the same positions as men and have been striving to be viewed as “equal” to men in votes and career opportunities. This very mediocre and menial goal for women has further subjected them to the second-class citizenship that we have been fighting against for such a long time. As important as it is, it should not be at the core of women emancipation.
Although I feel really uneasy in describing different women in South Africa under the same umbrella. For the sake of my argument, I will do that so please bear with me. Recently, I was reading and researching about our liberation leaders in South Africa. I was extremely surprised to learn about the important role of women in our struggle. I wondered why then do we only sing of Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu and leave out the Charlotte Maxeke’s, Gertude Shope’s, Albertina Sisulu’s and Winnie Mandela’s. Although the men should be revered and appreciated for the sacrifices that they made and the fight against oppression that they engaged in, women themselves should also be revered and remembered. The saying that goes “Behind every successful man, there is a powerful women” is exactly the problem. Women are constantly portrayed as ‘behind’, despite often being the driving forces.
Furthermore, the very act of just placing women in positions for the sake of removing gender inequalities has never solved the problem of inequality. This is the same as placing black people in positions. It has not solved the racial inequalities in our societies. In fact, all it does is to create a different kind of elite. Louis Farrakhan writes that “leadership has to recognize that ‘principles’ more than ‘speech’, ‘character’ more than ‘claim’ is great in the cause of our liberation than what has transpired thus far”. I fully agree with him. The actual principle and character of women emancipation has been lost and has been sidelined. Maybe it is also because in the front line of women empowerment are capitalist women who do not understand the intricacies of working class women’s problems. But then again that is another argument for another day.
Going back to my initial argument, I believe that the celebration of our heroes is a rather masculine affair in South Africa. In Loyiso Gola’s comedy show at the Lyric Theatre, he likened Helen Zille to a man in a dress. She will not herself be able to gain the term hero in South Africa, nor will Khanyi Dhlomo, nor will Basetsana Khumalo or even Gill Marcus because they are not men. When thinking about heroes in South Africa, we all think about the men first because as Melisende describes it in her blog, “the ideological forcefulness of men is so heightened that it is no easy task to remember the names of women revolutionaries”. There is an ideological and mental emancipation that is needed among women and men that is essential to our emancipation as a country. I strongly believe that a country is only as strong as the strength of its weak, marginalized people (not that women are weak).
The media itself play a big role in the propagating of men as the only liberation leaders in South Africa. Even when airing footage the South African liberation struggle, all that the public sees are the men in our land who fought and sacrificed for our country. Viraj Suparsad in his critical analysis of gender relations in South Africa says that “the time of the hero being considered and represented as a saviour of the ‘submissive’ heroine has to end; she does not need him to ride in on his white horse considering the fact that she owns horses of her own”. The essence of this statement is not merely about the ownership processes but the fact that the heroine is just as much of a “hero” as the hero himself.
One thing that black consciousness movements (that I have been exposed to) have suggested is the conscientising of the mind about true African history and also the ability to be a black person without wanting to either assimilate the whiteness or hate the white man. I think this is also essential to women liberation. Women need to know about those matriarchal societies that thrived in Africa. Women need to know who they are in relation to themselves. Women need to fight not just for equal rights. We are human and complex beings. Liberation cannot only be limited to job opportunities or equal voting rights. It has to be more than that. I suggest a woman consciousness. More so a working class women’s consciousness!!!!
Dineo Sitole is a third year student in Media Studies. She is also the chairperson of the Young Communist League at the University of the Witwatersrand. She can be contacted via email@example.com.