by Curswell Tshihwela
Some things are more dangerous than a woman whose confusion leads to fear, which ultimately leads to anger. Right now many women are confused as to whether I should give up on this relationship or should I fight to keep my man. Some are downright scared. Many believe that men wield a new form of power. Some of these same women accuse men of conducting a witch hunt. They claim they must contend with life-altering misinterpretations and career-ruining false allegations. They’re scared of this new power they believe men will leverage against them.
It is only over the last three or four decades that women’s role in the history of South Africa has, belatedly, been given some recognition. Previously the history of women’s political organization, their struggle for freedom from oppression, for community rights and, importantly, for gender equality, was largely ignored in history texts. Not only did most of these older books lean heavily towards white political development to the detriment of studies of the history and interaction of whites with other racial groups, but they also focused on the achievements of men (often on their military exploits or leadership ability) virtually leaving women out of South African history which makes women feel they have entitlement in their men achievements, hence the resistance to letting go of relationships..
The reason for this ‘invisibility’ of women, calls for some explanation. South African society (and this applies in varying degrees to all race groups) are conventionally patriarchal. In other words, it was the men who had authority in society even though now is better as most women have access authority; women were seen as subordinate to men. Women’s role was primarily a domestic one; it included child rearing and seeing to the well-being, feeding, and care of the family. They were not expected to concern themselves with matters outside the home – that was more properly the domain of men. Economic activity beyond the home (in order to help feed and clothe the family) was acceptable, but not considered ‘feminine’. However, with the rise of the industrial economy, the growth of towns and (certainly in the case of indigenous societies) the development of the migrant labor system, these prescriptions on the role of women, as we shall see, came to be overthrown.
This is a particularly appropriate time to be studying the role of women in the progress towards the new South African democracy. The year 2006 was a landmark year in which we celebrated the massive Women’s March to the Union Buildings in Pretoria 50 years ago. Women throughout the country had put their names to petitions and thus indicated anger and frustration at having their freedom of movement restricted by the hated official passes. The bravery of these women (who risked official reprisals including arrest, detention and even bannings) is applauded here. So too are their organizational skills and their community-consciousness – they were tired of staying at home, powerless to make significant changes to a way of life that discriminated against them primarily because of their race, but also because of their class and their gender.