It is sad to note that a comparison can be drawn between the violence women suffer at the hands of men and that of black people at the hands of colonisers, writes Simphiwe Sesanti
As June comes to an end, it is worth reflecting on a number of historical and cultural issues associated with the month. The first is the June 16 1976 massacre of African children in Soweto.
The second is the shocking murder of women by men during this month. The third is that June is traditionally a period during which boys are initiated into manhood.
Much has been said about how bravely African children resisted the imposition of Afrikaans on Africans with little regard for the philosophical implications of their resistance.
Kenyan philosopher Ngugi wa Thiong’o has captured the philosophical significance of languages in many of his books by noting that languages are not only instruments of communication, but also carriers of culture.
Wa Thiong’o has also observed that, by imposing their languages on Africans, European colonialists not only sought to destroy Africans’ cultural memory, but also to impose a European memory.
One of the tragic results of such imposition was that Africans learnt to disregard women’s existence through the use of such words as ‘mankind’ instead of ‘humankind’, ‘chairman’ instead of ‘chairperson’ and ‘newspaperman’ instead of ‘journalist’.
Another consequence was that, even as African men resisted European racism, some of us were insensitive to our own sexism against our African sisters, and mimicked sexist Europeans as we used exclusive language to speak about the “black man’s struggle” instead of “black people’s struggle” and our “forefathers’ land” instead of our “forebears’ land”.
It is no wonder that young men today treat women as lesser beings – it is because of the conceptual language we use in our discourse, because language is about not only grammar, but also conceptualisation.
In the English language, we learn about witchcraft, which is associated with women, and not about wizardcraft, which would be associated with men if such a concept existed.
It is against this background that some of us associate evil and darkness with women and not with men.
When Africans were still Africans, they were taught that God was not exclusively a father, but also a mother, hence women deserved to be respected as men did.
It is imposed teachings that taught Africans that God was a man, leading men to believe the false notion of superiority after they learnt that men were created in the image of a male God.
Such conceptual language taught in our homes and places of worship partly explains why some men arrogate to themselves the right to take life; because they think they are as powerful as God.
It is commendable that, in the face of violence against women, some men have marched in protest, but that serves little. We must confront the beliefs we have and the teachings we give to our sons that make them think they are superior, and to our daughters which make them think they are inferior.
Just as the 1976 students rejected the Afrikaans language that made them think they were inferior, in remembering their brave deed and to honour them, we must interrogate and reject concepts in our languages that project women as inferior.
Just as we rejected a false theology that said that white people were God’s favourite children and that black people were rejected by God, we must reject religious interpretations that say women must submit to men in return for their love, as if such love is a favour.
At initiation schools, we must recall our ancestors’ teachings that instructed young men to lay down their lives, if necessary, to protect women against violation in appreciation of women as humankind’s protectors who, with their wombs, protect children for nine months before they are born.
The best tribute we can give to the young people who signed for our freedom with their blood is to raise justice-conscious young people who appreciate, as our ancestors taught us, that women are the link between us on the one hand, and our ancestor spirits and God on the other hand.
That is because the gateway to the earth for all human beings, women and men, is the woman’s vagina.
Therefore, the vagina must be honoured and not violated.
Sesanti is a professor at the University of the Western Cape’s faculty of education