Wathinta Umfazi Wathinta imbokodo! You have tampered with the women, You have struck a rock!

2014-06-22 19:06

The Venda King, His majesty Khosikhulu Ramabambulana released a media statement on Sunday, distancing himself and the Venda culture from the recent debacle; that is the controversy surrounding the SABC boss Hlaudi Motsenneng receiving a young woman as a gift from traditional leaders in Limpopo. It had to take the Venda King releasing a statement for this issue to gain the necessary attention it needs. Up until Sunday our leaders had remained silent on this issue that goes against our progress on women empowerment and gender equity.

As a nation, we have been celebrating 20 years of democracy and how far we have come as a country. There have, at every turn, been themed discussions on this particular milestone. One of the key issues that have remained a priority, is the issue of gender empowerment and curbing gender based violence. We have seen robust debates on gender quotas in politics and our government has gone as far as selecting a Minister for Women in order to create a society that values the voices of women and the role they play. Yet despite all this big talk we have about our progress in this front, we haven’t heard enough angry leaders or condemnation on the ‘gift’ Hlaudi received.

Some have argued and defended the event citing that it was a traditional or cultural practice and thus should be respected, even if it is, surely we need to weigh in such a cultural practice against constitutional rights. If we accept that the constitution is the supreme law of the country and are able to cite it whenever we feel that our rights have been violated then we need to understand the tensions that exist between particular cultural practices and the development of our society. We need to understand that whilst we still value cultural practices we weigh individual rights as far more paramount. In this regard, one will find that the constitution bans practices of child marriages as well as Ukuthwala. We accept that such practices are harmful to society and as such we place Constitutional rights above such cultural practices. Thus through the constitution it becomes legitimate and justifiable for the state to interfere and limit cultural practices.

Yet despite this knowledge our leaders (through their silence) seem to ignore the problems that exist with Hlaudi receiving a young woman as a gift. Again I ask, does this gift not warrant an outcry? Surely this ‘gift’ that Hlaudi received goes against and contradicts the visions of gender equality and empowerment that they often advocate for even within their policies. The continued silence allows for the unceasing objectification of women as well as the view that women are material and are here to serve the needs of men or become their prized possessions. If we are serious about 20 democracy and the progress in this space of time, then we need to continuously take the liberation of women seriously. Not just on a level that we put women in political positions and have gender quotas but to liberate them socially. We cannot be living in a supposed free society where a man can be paraded with a line of women and he chooses which he wants. We cannot support a society that protects such practices where women are treated as a subhuman and a commodity.

Humbelani Nemakonde, the Mudzi Executive Secretary was quoted saying that “All the girls were there with their parents. Their parents knew what was going to happen and they all agreed” He completely misses the real issue that there should never be an instance where women are paraded and a man gets to selects the one he wishes to have due to the ‘good work’ he has done. What I find more problematic is that Nemakondi highlights that the consent and approval stems from parents and the community without mentioning the consent of the individual. This tells us a story that what the community and elders say is weighed in more than the individual thus showing a possible violation of right to choice without duress. That, when it comes to women as a societal group it is acceptable to strip us of our agency and self-determination, and delegate it to another group deemed as having authority over this incredibly personal and private aspect of ones individuality. This is same issue that our leaders claim to fight against. Furthermore not so long ago Jacob Zuma received wide critique due to a comment about marrying a Venda woman if he didn’t have four wives already because they clap their hands and lay down to show respect. This informs us that firstly that in many communities, particularly in Venda communities, a submissive woman is how all women should be thus reinforcing that women are still not viewed as equal. Secondly, it tells us that the very same people who claim to uphold gender equity and promote it are the same that are quick to engage in commentary and acts that contradicts their gender policies. This duplicitous behavior creates the impression that gender equity and women empowerment is still not taken seriously as it should be, and worse at a political level, where such sentiment will filter down to grass root levels where the real change needs to be embedded.

In the same spirit that we condemned Boko Haram through ‘#bringbackourgirls’ signs and marches, we should act in the same manner against such acts. We need to hear the voices of our leaders when such issues emerge even when they hit too close to home. We need to have the spirit of Lilian Ngoyi, who led thousands of women to the union buildings saying; Wathinta Umfazi Wathinta imbokodo! We need not act only when a crisis emerges in the media but on daily basis in order to truly and effectively emancipate women from patriarchal limitations.

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