Modidima Mannya | An open letter to Safa women

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Ria Ledwaba. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
Ria Ledwaba. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press


Dear Safa women,

Congratulations for making South Africans aware that you exist. I am not an ardent football fan and for that reason, I may have missed the fact that there is such an outfit in this country.

To the extent you have been in existence for a while now, you deserve some compliment, just for your imagined existence.

Like many others, I am neither surprised nor shocked by your response to Mme Ria Ledwaba’s candidature of the presidency of Safa. History has a weird way of repeating itself. What you are saying about her was said about many other brave and courageous women over the years.

I can tell you now that most of the competent, capable, knowledgeable women who never want to be puppets of men will never be supported even by their own. In simple English, this is what we call aggravated patriarchy.

If anyone with even the slightest knowledge of soccer in this country and is at least older than 40 can claim not to know Mme Ria, then that person suffers from aggravated ignorance.

To remind you, Mme Ria owned a club based in Seshego in Limpopo called Ria Stars and she played soccer when it was not fashionable. She is probably one the few, if any, woman in this country who broke the barrier and stereotype that soccer is a men’s sport. This is just a reminder before I tell you why your attitude is not only shocking but clearly anti-transformation.

Government declared 2021 the year of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke. That declaration was not an accident but a genuine attempt by government to remind our nation that we have always had great warrior women in our society.

Mannya-Maxeke represents one the greatest direct confrontation with patriarchy and the definition of gender roles. I note that you seem to suggest that Safa is not ready to have a woman president. So, in your terms, the time is not right.

READ: Safa needs reforms, not simply a new leader

Well, this is what Mannya-Maxeke, despite her intellectual capability being superior to most men of her time, was told in 1909 when she attended the convention of what later became the present day ANC and agitated for the inclusion of women. She was told that the time was not right, and women should form their own structure. Some of the men half-heartedly protested this decision.

It took another 34 years before women could be members of the present day ANC. Seventy-nine years later since “the time is not right” decision, we are still debating whether to have a female president or not. The voices of women who aspire that a woman should lead us continue to be drowned by the “time is not right” mantra.

I have no issue whatsoever with you supporting a male candidate. It is perfectly within your right although your reasoning is clearly misplaced and distorted.

I am not sure whether you speak for the women of this country or your own interests or are just apologists of patriarchy.

You may be ignorant of the fact that Safa is an important organ of civil society and has a critical role to play in the transformation of our society. You may be ignorant of the importance that the struggle for gender equality must be fought at all fronts.

You may not be aware that this country and our continent have highly skilled women in all sectors of life, including sport and who for the reason that they are women, remain in the periphery of leadership.

You have a point that Mme Ria may have not contributed as much as you wished. But how do you attribute the failure in the transformation of this popular sport to her when your own preferred candidate is not asked to answer to this lack of transformation? This boggles the mind. Did you ask him why we are still where we were many moons ago under his leadership and did you get a cogent answer?

Did you confront him about the fact that women soccer remains the little baby sister of men’s soccer, and we hardly have a single female coach in the national league?

Maybe it is important to educate each other. In the slogan of Congress of SA Students “each one teach one”.

The struggle of women from time immemorial was centred on liberating themselves from patriarchy. This was not about women fighting men but the system which oppressed them in favour of men. It is a dangerous historical distortion that women were never capable to lead. It gets aggravated when women in this day and age question the capability of a woman with impeccable credentials to lead and seek to cast aspersions that her agenda is to destroy the organisation she aspires to lead.

You suggest that she means no good whatsoever to soccer and she must not be allowed to lead because she will destroy it. But you do not explain how and why she remains a vice-president of Safa. You also fail to show what she destroyed in her capacity as vice-president that she will destroy if she becomes the president.

I understand your position to be that at the right time a woman will emerge who you will support. What this means is that it should be a woman who is handpicked and who must not be a threat to men.

This may suggest that in real terms you want a tokenist woman leader, something many women leaders from the time of Mannya-Maxeke to date have rejected out of hand.

It also suggests that you are still trapped in the idea of male supremacy, dominance, and you see women as a risk in leadership, the same risk which you do not see in men.

I have a sense that your attack on her candidature is more about silencing her and muting the voices of women on the same terms that a Nigerian chief who was challenged by women opted to call them “the vipers that cannot be silenced”.

Even if that may not be your intention, the reality is that the consequence of your attack on her candidature are that.

Let me remind you that over the many decades of the women’s struggle, the issue of their true unity has always be central. Let me also remind you that many women leaders, from the time of Mannya-Maxeke to date suffered lack of equality and recognition. Mme Ria is the modern day Mannya-Maxeke in the context of your vicious attack on her candidature and represents the many women stalwarts throughout generations of our liberation struggle who were vilified for standing up against patriarchy.

I am not by any means suggesting that you must support Mme Ria solely because she is a woman. I am simply arguing that she is a capable, knowledgeable and an independent woman currently serving as a vice-president of Safa. The fact is that she is highly respected in our society, and you have reduced her into an unequal.

READ:  Editorial | New blood desperately needed at Safa

Your questioning of her ability to lead is a repeat of what a fellow called Mlonzi did about Mannya-Maxeke. He posed the question: “Where had Mrs Maxeke seen a woman lead people to freedom.”

In real terms, you are asking the same question: “Where did Ms Ledwaba see a woman lead Safa?”

.Modidima Mannya is an attorney, commentator and author of Lessons From Charlotte Makgomo Mannya-Maxeke.  


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