Battles worth fighting

2008-04-07 00:00

South Africa has one of the most respected but ineffectual Constitutions in the world, one that guarantees equal rights for all in our country, but I am puzzled by the latest fight for chieftainship that is being considered by the Constitutional Court which I read about in the City Press recently.

ANC MP Tinyiko Nwamitwa-Shilubana is fighting for her right to rule the Valoyi clan, this after she lost her case at the Pretoria High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).

She’s not the only one though. There are several cases where women are rocking the boat by questioning the previously sacrosanct tradition of patriarchal rule.

If the court rules (as it should) that women have a right to chieftaincy, it will be a landmark ruling that will without doubt ruffle many traditionalist feathers. The big question is, does the government have the right to intervene where culture and tradition are concerned? If these cultures exist in the same environment as our Constitution, then my answer is a resounding yes.

I am of this opinion for many reasons, some of which are practical and some that are matters of principle.

Tradition by its very nature cannot be static. It has to evolve and adapt to suit the needs of the living. Just because something was appropriate for my grandmother does not automatically make it right for me now. Some traditions are not worth keeping because they are outdated, sexist, homophobic, inconvenient and downright barbaric.

Yes, barbaric. How else do you describe the practice of female genital mutilation — where a young girl’s vagina is desecrated by slicing off the labia minora and clitoris, as well as parts of the labia majora?

I’ll give you another example. Not too long ago in certain rural outposts in this country there was a practice called go shobedisa. This was when a man was allowed to abduct a young woman he was interested in, “defile” her by raping her and then send his delegation to her people to ask for her hand in marriage.

It may be part of someone’s “culture”, but it is morally reprehensible and therefore had to be outlawed.

The combined effects of the terrible triplets of colonialism, Christianity and apartheid have decimated much of what was “pure” African tradition anyway by disrupting the organic (however sexist) process of selection. Leaders were chosen for their willingness to assimilate and co-operate, rather than by the normal customs of that particular group.

The Catholic Church and many other religious institutions can do with some serious change in their attitude towards women.

It boggles my mind, as a recovering Catholic, that in 2008 a woman’s role in the church, for the most part, is still that of second-class citizen. This from the same establishment that thinks all contraception, including condoms, is immoral and therefore goes against church culture and tradition.

Why anyone would choose a sexless vocation is beyond me, but if a woman wants to do it and be ambitious enough to want to be the Pope, she should be able to.

There was a huge uproar among certain traditionalists when an SABC series that depicted a Xhosa male circumcision (emthunzini we Ntaba) was aired. I found the programme to be beautifully filmed and exceptionally well written.

The uproar was so significant that the series had to be temporarily taken off the air while backroom conversations and appeasements were conducted with the offended parties.

How does one group of people have more of a claim to the commenting and nurturing of culture than others? Do artists not have the right to interpret and interrogate our culture as they see it, without having to account to bona fide traditional groups that happen to have the ear of influential people that control media?

The idea of royalty is way past its prime and time anyway. The suggestion of someone having a divine or hereditary right to rule is beyond ludicrous.

Leaders should be elected by the masses (not just of one party), based on their vision, track record, credibility and ability to lead a nation.

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