Kgomotso Matsunyane

Why can't a woman be Chief?

2008-04-03 08:23

Kgomotso Matsunyane

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

ANC MP Tinyiko Nwamitwa-Shilubana is fighting for her right to rule the Valoyi clan. It must be noted here that this is after she lost her case both at the Pretoria High Court as well as the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA). She's not the only one; there are several cases around the country where cheeky women are rocking the boat by questioning the previously sacrosanct tradition of patriarchal rule.

If the court rules (as they should) that women have a right to chieftaincy, it will be a landmark ruling that will without doubt ruffle up traditionalist feathers of both genders. The big question will be: does the government have a right to intervene where culture and tradition are concerned? If those cultures exist in the same environment as this country's constitution, then my answer is a resounding YES.

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

Adapt or Die

Tradition by its own nature cannot be static, it has to evolve and adapt to the times to suit the needs of the living. Just because something was appropriate for my grandmother in the past does not automatically make it right for me in the present. Some traditions are not worth keeping because they are outdated, sexist, homophobic, inconvenient and downright barbaric.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 some rural outposts in this country there was a practice called "go shobedisa". This was when a man could abduct a young woman that he was keen on, "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 according to which leaders were the most willing to assimilate and cooperate, rather than by the normal customs of that particular group.

The Catholic Church and many other religious institutions could do with some serious change in their attitudes towards women. It boggles my mind as a recovering Catholic that in the year 2008, women's role in the church for the most part is still that of second-class citizens.

This from the same establishment that thinks all contraception, including condoms, is immoral and therefore against church culture and tradition. Why anyone would choose a sex-less 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.

Whose Culture is it Anyway?

There was a huge uproar amongst some traditionalists when a TV drama was aired on SABC, depicting Xhosa male circumcision (Emthunzini we Ntaba) - a programme that I personally found 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 we 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.

  • Kgomotso Matsunyane is a practicing African traditionalist and is a partner at TOM Pictures, an award winning TV & Film company in Jo'burg.

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