Dear Mama Nontsikelelo,
Mama I hope this letter finds you in the confines of Angels within the ANC branch in heaven, and that you have found peace alongside the heroes of the movement and your soulmate Isitwalandwe baba Walter Sisulu. This year the movement has resolved to honor you and the first volunteer in chief of the defiance campaign utata Nelson Mandela. Your memoirs describes to us an astute, vigorous soldier of the spear of the nation, therefore bear with the nostalgic. As a young woman serving the ANCYL I write to the only woman present in the inaugural Congress of the ANCYL in 1944, despite the circumstances of your presence in that congress, I find it fitting to conclude that your presence in that congress was not an coincidence, instead it was the beginning of the selfless service you would devour to the South African women in particular and the oppressed black masses.
I strongly harbor sentiments that you are abreast with the episodes of the movement you joined in 1948, when it eventually allowed for women membership for the first time since its formation in 1912. The challenges and victories of this instrument of the people are immense, As you have dedicated your life and made sacrifices for its heartbeat I nest in the credence that you keep abreast with its current form and the progress it has made both as a liberation movement and as a governing party entrusted with a social contract to realize the National democratic Society. The intend of the letter is not to dwell on the movement and the dimensions of its struggles, but it is to relate to the founder of the Federation of South African Women the calamities impressed on South African Women by an “EMPIRE”. An empire which you have lived within, an institution which has bruised your being as well and tamed your flourishing esteem at different stages within the movement and in general as a young women in this country of our forefathers. I must be honest I plan to caterwaul in this letter.
The empire is best described by Mary-Anne Plaatjie Van Huffel in her paper, Patriarchy as an empire- A Theological reflection:
“We speak of an empire , because we discern a coming of economic, cultural, political and military power in the world today. This is constituted by a reality and a spirit of lord less domination, created by humankind. An all-compassing global reality serving, protecting and defending the interest of powerful corporations, nations, elites and privileged people. While exploiting creation, imperiously excludes, enslaves and even sacrifices humanity. It is a pervasive spirit of destructive self-interest, even greed- the worship of money, goods and possessions, the gospel of consumerism, proclaimed through powerful propaganda and religiously justified, believed and followed. It is colonization of consciousness; values and notions of human life by the imperial logic; a spirit lacking compassionate justice and showing contemptuous disregard of the gifts of creation and household of life.”
Mama Nontsikelelo, even after 24 years of a democratic breakthrough, of a constitution embedded on the recognition of women struggles and as an instrument of a creation of equality and equity the supreme control and absolute sway of patriarchy reigns uninterrupted within the shores of the motherland, Such reign continues to trap us women in the belly of lasting distress, all types of abuse, poverty, underdevelopment and even as cold copses beaten and strangled to death by those trusted with our hearts. Let me begin my bickering through a dovetail of the classical typical gender roles described by the empire which tames the development of young women in particular and women in general experienced by yourself with my own experiences in this very new dispensation.
As a young bright woman who excelled at school and showed leadership skills, you had to leave school for two years to assist in caring for your siblings, an experience which would later affect you when you entered an competition to win a 4 year high school scholarship. However due to the gender role you played for two years, you were older than your classmates when you eventually returned to school, hence despite coming in first place you were disqualified due to your age. Although this experience has an happy ending after a protest, the reality currently is that, it is young women in their majority who makes this similar sacrifices as head of families caring for their siblings with no happy ending, Instead in their quest to source an income to feed their siblings they lend in the hands of older men who exploits their vulnerability and in fest them with much more prolonging distress. This reality is rooted in the notions and resonance of the role of women in society with men who are biologically part of the creation of offspring excused from the burden of skewed prescribed parenting roles.
The empire crafts and designs the type, structure and the level of development which is adequate for women. And this is expressed in practice, The development of young women is tamed as per the dictates of this empire even within the families and communities we are brought up, As I have promised to relate to you my own experience as a reflection of the extent to which patriarchy is delved in our daily lives and affects how develop.
Growing up I remember two such orientations and practices that have shaped my development as young women. My grandmother insisted on a standing rule that “ngwanenyana ga dikelelwe ke letsatsi ka ntle” meaning as a girl child I had to be indoors at home all the time before the sun set, a rule that did not apply to my male cousin of the same age, however the rule meant that I could not participate in a debate team that held sessions in the nearby school in the evenings, despite my passion for reading and debate. I couldn’t receive the skill of sharpening my arguments, expressing my views profusely and exploring my passion which my cousin was at liberty to do. The second incident is of my younger brother given driving lessons immediately he turned 18, when the same was not done with me when I had reached that age, because the standing rules of this empire dictated that there was no value in me acquiring such an important skill of driving because I am expected to get married and bear children as the ultimate greatest achievement. My experiences are just typical examples of the effects of this empire, on how we lend up in the belly of underdevelopment and vulnerability. From an early age we are orientated to understand and accept that men are a superior gender and more focus is put on their development for their destined for economic triumph whilst we are destined to submit our being under their wing.
Masisulu as you and the other heroines formed FEDSAW in April 1954, preceding the formation of the ANCWL in 1948, When you mobilized more than 20 000 women across the length and width of this country and marched in August 1955 demonstrating against the pass laws imposed on South African women by the then Apartheid government, clenching your fists in unison to portray the power that lies in women. Singing the power slogan “wathintha abafazi, wathinti imbokodo, uzakufa”, you ushered a chapter that would invoke the will, the spirit and vigor to fight as women, to fight against the injustices marred on us just because of our biological gender. Cde Ntsiki, even as the apartheid government had left you as a single parent by arresting your husband Baba Walter, you refused to be deterred, Instead you intensified your resolve on dedicating your life to the fight of restoring the African people’s dignity, participating in recruitment of FEDSAW, Boycott of Bantu Education and ultimately being the first women to be arrested under the general Laws Amendment Act of 1963 and detained for 90 days without a charge with restriction B banning orders. One would have thought all the bruises of the struggle you beard would have spared us the indignity we suffer currently in the hands of an alliance of men and capital where men have obtained the control over women’s labour power through social structures.
Today we still harbor all male Traditional Tribal Councils in villages which are Centre’s of power in the village communities taking critical decisions on economic development trajectories and allocation of economic opportunities. In this councils decisions are taken which leaves women in the outskirts of economic emancipation. The decisions taken in these councils are rooted in the sentiments that “there are social gender roles where man are naturally bread-winners as head of households and decision makers whilst women are merely house wives and child bearers.
Today we face a contradiction were female young graduates supersedes the number of the male graduates, but still receive reports such as this from the South African labour force stastics:
“Black African women are more vulnerable in the labour market, with larger employment shares in low-skilled occupations. The proportions of black African women employed in low skilled occupations was around 43,0% in both Q1:2016 and Q2:2017.”
Today the gender mainstreaming evolution has landed us with quotas and inadequate gender budgeting which swells the gains of capital. Where capitalist for example in mining houses would rather budget for employment Equity deviations fines mostly as they evade to comply with the meagre 10% women employment quota regulation. Opting to spend money on paying fines than to spend it on reproduction protection and support of women. The Empire submerges the fact that women have to mostly traverse between wage-earning work and housework with limited opportunity to recoup labour power and as the result we earn a label of being ‘’unproductive”.
Today we still harbor churches that bar women from becoming leaders of their congregations, Preaching to a congregation with men in attendance or even ridiculously women barred from attending a church sermon just because they are on their monthly periods. Today in many religions restrictions exist over a woman’s choices over her body. As Katha Politt puts it in the paper: Original Rule book for patriarchy
‘Religions are powerful creatures of social fact. And it’s not merely facts they create, but a binding emotional knowledge that these facts are sacred truths.”
Today we constantly wake up to devastating images and news of murdered and raped young women in the hands of their loved ones and we fear to walk the streets of our country because we are likely to be raped and killed, we are terrified for our children.
Today when a female comrade is raised by members to stand for nomination of any strategic position within the structures of the ANC, our organization. she is to suffer labels of how she is a “panty liner”, there would be an disgusting dossiers of the sexual encounters of the comrade, such a comrade would face degrading slants, slogans and daily insults for accepting such nomination. That which hardly happens with male comrades. Today this empire has even divided us as women, we fight amongst ourselves, we doubt each other and even connive with men to block each other’s ascendance in key positions of power.
Mama Albertina I write to you mbokodo inspired by your tenacity, your strong character and the love and dedication expressed for the African people, south African women and their struggles. Inspired by your words when you referred to the rent Boycott in Soweto:
“women are the people who are going to relieve us from oppression and depression. The rent boycott that is happening in Soweto now is alive because of women. It is the women who are on the street committees educating the people to stand up and protect each other”.
As we celebrate your life and honor you this year I can only hope mama that we invoke your strength and rectitude to guide us and give us the strength to destroy the empire which is patriarchy, that has served as the root cause of our woes. That we stand up and fight against this product of capitalism that has placed us in an subordinate social position. That we face the pillars of this empire head on and expose them for the calamities their ‘fabrication of natural order” has brought us. As we renown you Mama we are aware that we cachet one of the former presidents of the UDF and the Former deputy President of the ANCWL. Hence we credit a leader in her own right, a luminary, a heroine and a women with the warmest heart, an nurturing soul and a mother of the Nation. You are to us “Isithwalandwe”, I hope we draw strength in your character and we epitomize your esteem to build an empire as women where we triumph over the gender power struggle!!!
Member of the ANCYL National Executive Committee