Speaking at his Phd graduation ceremony in 1946, Dr B. W. Vilakazi counseled and admonished his audience thus: “You must not only look at the eminence I have achieved, but the depths from which I have arisen.” Woman have to circumnavigate many, many odds to reach the heights reserved for men. From the depths of deprivation, pangs of apartheid torture and exigencies of exile, Lindiwe Sisulu has scaled the heights of political eminence bearing the scares of womanhood.
In 1978, C.J Walker, submitted a thesis at UCT titled: Women in the Twentieth Century South African politics: The Federation of South African Woman. It’s roots, growth and decline. In that study, Walker made a compelling case about the heroic struggles of women in South Africa. Years later the embers of that struggle are reignited by Lindiwe Sisulu’s quest to challenge the stifling hold of male hegemony over the politics of South Africa.
In this male owned, controlled, fashioned and dominated world, women still have to break a lot of barriers to reach the top of the pinnacle. It becomes a Herculean task to face the imponderable odds that men have entrenched and littered along the path of life, or politics, or marriage and even of business. Politics is the game of men and woman are mere untitled extras to accompany the all-male cast of lead actors.
When a woman breaks that ornamental role of being seen and not heard, then the men folk will unite in a frenzy of masculinity to wrestle back what is, “naturally “theirs. Women must only resign themselves, we are told, to the role of catwalk queens, beauty industry or provide the designated support structure to their menfolk. In more condescending terms, they are expected to excel in sowing classes and child minding.
When a woman surveys the actions these men and issues a verdict of poor performance and lack of “compassionate imagination,’ she will be berated and bludgeoned. Faced with such male poor performance, she can either avail herself to help or assumed the rectifier role to what she regards as gross negligence and dereliction of duty. It is this act of rectification that most men feel offended to be advised about and confronted with.
They think that they have everything under control as it is customarily acceptable and would frown on any woman who dares invade their sacred province of manly politics. There is a saying that when men are mostly assured and arrogant, they are greatly mistaken.
Charlotte Maxeke faced the same odds when she began a tertiary Presbyterian college called Wilberfoce Seminary in Evaton in 1900. Sophie Mpama, wife of Edwin Thabo Mofutsanayan and Madie-Hall Xuma, wife of A.B. Xuma started the Zenzele Club to organise woman and they too faced imponderable odds. Helen Joseph ‘s struggles for woman emancipation are aptly chronicled by Professor Saleem Badat in his seminal book titled: The Forgotten People.
Ray Alexander, a woman veteran trade unionist summed her struggles in her biography titled: All my Life and All my Strength.Queen Manthatise of the Batlokoa faced the same odds when she rivalled with Moshoeshoe for suzerainty over the fertile lands along the banks of the Lekoa/ Vaal river. Winnie Madikizela Mandela was relegated to a status of second fiddle because “men” had arrived from prison and exile and they needed to take their “destined and rightful”role and leaders in our country.
The perception that we are suddenly equal, in all respects, is an uncooked lie and a negation of some basic socio-cultural and political truisms. The world of politics stands out as a designated game for boys and their muscular egos laced with a display of their weight lifting biceps. Woman must always be in toe to add flavour and aesthetics to the ambiance.
So, when a woman raises her hand to be counted as amongst those who wish to lead, the reprisal coming her way are unfathomable. Winnie Mandela was bludgeoned, vilified and denigrated for wanting to lead the ANC at the Mafikeng conference. All those men clubbed against her and beat her to the pulp never to dare become more than an “ornament.”
Nkosazana Zuma was deprived of the rare chance to become the first woman president when, once more, these men signed a nefarious deal under the cloak of night. Conspiratorial meetings, wheeling and dealing sessions saw her betrayed at the last moment. Sworn enemies would rather engage in an orgy of public political kisses and concoct a make-up truce than allow to be led by a woman.
Lindiwe Sisulu ‘s determination to raise her hand, will come with many perils. Armed with the state machinery, sections of the co-opted media houses such as Daily Maverick, an army of deep-throat journalists, Western funded so-called civil society organisations, opinion makers and opinion traders, she will be vilified and discredited with the aim of limiting her chances. These perils come with the territory and she needs to soldier on unflinchingly ahead. As we are advised in isiZulu, if we must plough through the rocks, so be it.
Her illustrious government career will not suffice to reach these top echelons. She needs to articulate incisive policy issues that will underpin her tenure. As things stand, not much is coming out by way of policy from all quarters least those of the incumbent. There is but incoherency, flip flopping. convenience and western cajoled policy directives at flagrant add with the values and prescripts of the ANC.
They have found common course with neo liberals and reactionaries to honour the constitution as their blueprint with all of its limitations rather than adhere to some salient ANC policies, for example, solidarity with the People of Palestine is a sacrosanct policy nexus that is undermined in exchange of alms that fall from the zionist tables.
The nation cries out new ideals that will give hope and reinvigoration to the national body polity. Sisulu will need all the protective armoury of ideas that she can muster and propagate. Her strength of character and her no-nonsense disposition will stand her in good stead. She stands on the shoulders of her long and illustrious history in the ANC and exile. She is by far one of the few very senior women who can stand shoulders above most of these men by miles.
But she dares not underestimate their cunning designs and their desperation to stay on top. A heavy and very cold front is approaching and she better be well clothed because the blood hounds will be let loose. The western masters will not broker any contradiction of their designs and hold over the obsequious natives. – IOL
Thami Ka Plaatjie is an author, activist and previously headed the ANC research department. This story was originally published here.