South Africa’s grassroots’ communities especially women need to take a cue from their Southern African counterparts, if commemorations to honour their struggles are to live a day longer than the 24 hour sabbatical from the University of Proletariats.
After celebrating Women’s Day on August 9th as a mid-week holiday, which became an extended weekend for some, most ‘revellers’ have already forgotten why they got a chance to dodge work. For the stalwarts, the tributes must last a whole month, and they continue to fire from the side-lines, as more news worthy events such as the Marikana massacres and return of Olympians take centre stage.
The future of South African grassroots’ communities (where sometimes eight families share one toilet or ‘bucket-toilets’ get filled up pretty fast) centres on access-to-capital and resources rather than State grants. The question is whether the capital to be accessed is ‘white capital’ or ‘international capital’?
Pretty difficult to differentiate is it not? When Robert Mugabe started having wet dreams about Zimbabwean ‘white capital’, the white commonwealth sheets got stained, and global capital powers decided to take both their sheets and the occupant to the cleaners!
Mobilisation of resources for grassroots’ women need not take the form of aggressive dispossession as this is akin to history repeating itself. Some people may in future remember Mugabe in the light of Cecil John Rhodes, as the ‘worst thing that ever happened to Southern Africa’ while others will celebrate either as a visionaries of note. It’s the way humans are. However that said and done, the victims of both escapades shall continue to wonder if there are tangible alternatives to antagonism. The truth is the options are there for all to see.
Southern African grassroots women from ‘poorer’ countries have been at the forefront of self-help development, long before ‘Stokvels’ started owning licenced Shebeens. Millions of United States dollars in capacity building donations were poured from the West into these grassroots’ movements in the eighties as the post-liberation horizon beckoned. Organisations such as the now defunct Zimbabwe Women’s Finance Trust (ZWIFT) which was a beneficiary of the Clintons’ at one time come to mind… whatever happened there?
The models need not necessarily take the form of Mohammed Yunus’s Grameen methodologies, as the Bangladeshi prototype does not include merrymaking typical of Sub Saharan ‘Stokvels’. The first lesson is women can do it, first through self-finance, then with capacity building and later with ambition, they can turn the tables… the problem is Politians and veiled slogans.
When one looks at the statics of the Beitbridge Border post, there is more traffic across the official Limpopo Frontier than through the razor-wire fence. Hundreds of thousands of grassroots’ Cross-Border traders move to-and-from the Southern African region, including Zambia, Malawi, DRC, Tanzania and Mozambique and instead of travelling to Johannesburg for example, they now end in Musina.
Why? Because the Chinese decided to put up multi-billion Rand retail investments on the South African side. Surely it does not take a rocket scientist to realise that these small traders’ business amounts to billions of Rands, for that is the only reason why a serious investor whose lose such kind of money investing in a Shopping Mall…they expect a billion Rand in returns…soon!
Two interesting observations here, the first is the ‘poor’ Southern African governments are not dishing out ‘grants’ to these small traders in order for them to source goods on the South African side… they are doing it through something called ‘initiative of ordinary men – largely women’.
The second observation is that, foreign investors’ (Chinese) stand to benefit more than the indigenous ‘Black’ South African whether BEE-EEely empowered or Grant-EE empowered! South African women thus need to reflect on the month’s commemorations and decide what it means for any of them… hard work and a mind-set shift could be necessary. It does not put food on anyone’s table to make derogatory remarks about counterparts from Southern Africa, or to burn and loot ‘Somali’ owned Spaza Shops, neither does anyone produce more grants by burning community libraries after running out of flammable tyres in service delivery protests.
East London born Glen McQuirk once said, ‘The strength of a country can best be measured by the strength of the individual family units within that country’, and it happens that women are at the centre of these family units. It therefore follows that once the women of South Africa, weak as they may be, weave together and make the work-of-their hands and industriousness part and parcel of their everyday lives, their households shall be strengthened and their voices will be heard much greater. As Henry van Dyke said, ‘Use the talents you possess. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best’.
It may no longer be necessary to wait upon foreign and western capital or donor funding, but rather, to mobilise local resources, use Corporate Social Investment (CSI) support, and generally motivate the people around you to think positively. It may also require ceasing to look at a ‘Stokvel-meeting’ as a carousing rendezvous or refusing to view a child support grant as beer-income for the boyfriend of resurfacing father.
When Mozambican women escaped into the refugee camps with the Renamo in hot pursuit, their men crossed the frontiers and did menial domestic work in Zimbabwe, they saved the earnings and when democracy was restored, opened small businesses in their country.
Today qualified Zimbabwean women are including nurses and teachers have crossed frontiers to South Africa and United Kingdom engaging in various domesticated occupations. With their certificates packed they only understand one language, generating capital. A human being’s livelihood is not determined by who he votes for, but rather by the choices that individual makes. Kamara Market in Lusaka Zambia which is almost 100% run by women was listed by the World Bank as generating billions in United States Dollars, yet the average market stall probably has assets or inventory worth an average thousand dollars. The list is endless, but these are some of the grassroots’ lessons to ponder.
I am not a woman, neither am I South African, but of course I live and do business in this beautiful and democratic country. I remember my mother in the eighties running seminars for exiled South African women in places like Botswana. I spent two weeks playing Rugby with Denzel Washington (as Steve Biko) on the set of Cry Freedom (Asking for Trouble) in 1986 outside the dusty township of Warren Park which resembles Soweto in the Movie… there is a lot I could say but at the end of the day it all boils down to Nelson Mandela’s words: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’ and that education does not have to start and end in a classroom. Beyond women’s month, let the women of South Africa dream, not just a dream, but a dream-goal with a plan and a deadline.
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