In 2005 and 2008, I was blessed with two beautiful girls, Mamello (9) and Naledi (6). As a father, it is my humble dream that they grow up to realise whatever dreams they may have. That they are females has never disappointed me. It is also not a source of shame that I did not get boys instead of my girls. The feelings of joy and pride that went through my heart when I welcomed them to this world are unparalleled.
When my daughters grow up and become women, I wish that they each utilize every iota of energy in them to realise her full potential. I wish that they live fully to realise that they do not need to be somebody’s wives to live their dreams to the fullest. They must know that they are not mere commodities simply because they are of a female gender. Even when they do decide to get married, I promise that I will not sell them to the highest bidders.
According to media reports, traditional Venda chiefs have awarded a 23-years old young woman as a “gift” to Free State-born SABC acting chief of operations, Hlaudi Motsoeneng.” Tempting as this offer may be to us men, but it has far-reaching implications for, amongst others, gender transformation. The underlying message behind this gesture is actually very scary.
Dictionary.com defines a gift as “something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favour toward someone”. Oxford Dictionary defines a gift as “a thing given willingly to someone without payment”. It is clear from the above definitions, as well as other definitions elsewhere, that a human being cannot be defined as a gift.
The 23-years old young woman offered to Motsoeneng as a gift does not match the acceptable requirements of a gift. In the first instance, she is not a “thing” or “something”, as a gift is defined. She is a human being with a brain and feelings. She cannot be paraded along other gifts like cattle and sheep and jewellery.
In a desperate attempt to justify their gesture, executive secretary of Mudzi wa Vhurereli ha Vhavenda, a Venda lobby group of traditional leaders and healers, Humbelani Nemakonde says; “All the girls were there with their parents. Their parents knew what was going to happen and they all agreed.” It is good that the parents of these 10 girls who were paraded agreed with the gesture, but what about the girls themselves? Did they agree? Or does it matter?
Well I have nothing against Hlaudi as a person. In fact, I have nothing but respect for him. His astronomical rise in the SABC, as well as accolades he has received for good leadership and management, are an inspiration to many young people. But I think he was caught in the middle of a gesture that demeans women in general and African women in particular. I also know that for Motsoeneng to reject a gift would have appeared rude to these traditional leaders, and others who were present.
It is an integral part of African traditions and culture to offer gifts to visitors. Among gifts that are ordinarily given to guests are a cow, a chicken, prepared food, vegetables and fruits, ornaments, and minerals like diamonds. Giving gifts to visitors is regarded as a sign of warmth among the African peoples. What those chiefs have displayed in Venda is not part of African tradition. In fact, it is alien to our customs.
For our country to produce the likes of late struggle icon Charlotte Maxeke, poet Maya Angelou, grassroots socialist revolutionary Epainnette Mbeki and others, we need women who know that the world is within their reach. We need young women to know that marriage to a man should not be the vehicle to the world of possibilities. They must know that the key to success lies in their own determination, purpose and focus.
We need women who do not think like slaves, but who know that there is only one world, and that world sees men and women in the same light. It is the world where both man and woman can become company executive, magistrate or even president of the nation, without any amount of prejudice. I wish my own daughters, Mamello and Naledi, can grow up to look at themselves not as inferior beings, or some gifts, but as active participants in the positive evolution of our society.