Khaya Dlanga: My mother, a woman who never knew her place

Women are the most powerful force in the universe and not many people appreciate that. (Reuters)

Women are the most powerful force in the universe and not many people appreciate that. (Reuters)

Let me tell you a story about one of the women I admire the most. 

Women didn’t ride horses in the village where I was born in the Transkei. In fact, even when I see pictures of horse riders from Lesotho now it's never women, and its possibility at the time was unheard of. I’ll never forget one of the days when my mother came from East London to visit us.
I must have been around eight at the time, and she asked me to saddle my grandfather’s horse. I did it, and then watched as my mother got on it and rode to the next village to visit family. The village came to a standstill; men and women stood on the road to watch my mother ride, looking on admiringly and in disbelief. They had never seen a woman ride a horse, let alone a black woman. Later, my mother told me she used to ride my grandfather's horses when there was no one to see her do it when she was younger.

My mother never stuck to the old-fashioned notion of knowing "her place", and because of it, I didn’t know mine. Black people were expected to when I was a child, but she challenged me to understand that I didn’t need to. I don’t want to give away my age here, but when the schools opened for black people in 1991, I was one of the first black children to go to these schools. I had gone to the most prestigious school in the Transkei for two years in apartheid South Africa.

I was one of five black children in the school, and I was accepted after doing a battery of tests and interviews that the white kids were not required to do – provided I agreed to repeat the grade I passed very well the previous year at my old school. My mother pushed me to accept and then challenge the idea of repeating a class once I was at the new school.

After a week there we finished writing three tests and I got top marks in the class for all of them. My mother told me to request a meeting with the principal and ask to be taken to the grade I knew I deserved to be in because my test scores proved so. I was scared as hell because she told me that she was not coming with me – I’d have to do to it by myself. I was in primary school and the only black dot in a sea of whiteness.

In South Africa at the time, there was no one more powerful than a white male, and no one scared me more in the world than this white man – besides my mother. So out of sheer terror of going home without doing what I was told, I asked to see the principal. He accepted my request and I told him my performance proved I didn't deserve to repeat the grade. The principal said I needed to finish the term and if I passed well, I could go to the next grade. "But sir," I said, "That would be unfair because next term I'll be working on the new term’s work and catching up on the first term’s work too." He said those were the rules and if I didn’t like them I could go elsewhere. I didn’t go back to that school the next day.

Someone else might have accepted the rules set by that principal, but my mother made me understand that just because someone thought my place was lower, I didn’t have to accept it as my reality. She basically made me talk back to the principal because she wanted me to know that I was not inferior – even though I was a child in primary school – and that I could challenge anyone, including a 40-plus-year-old man in a position of authority. 

My mother taught me the confidence to be a fighter, to never accept what I find unacceptable. She taught me that I didn't have to "know my place". She is not a highly educated woman, and neither is she powerful nor influential in the common sense of the word. But I wouldn’t be where I am, nor who I am, if it were not for my dear mother. My mother knew her place, and it was wherever she wanted to be.

Khaya Dlanga

Khaya Dlanga

Apart from seeing gym as an oppression of the unfit majority, Khaya works in the marketing and communications industry for one of the world's largest brands. Before joining the corporate world, he was in the advertising field where he won many awards, including a Cannes Gold. He was awarded Financial Mail's New Broom award in 2009, while Jeremy Maggs's "The Annual - Advertising, Media & Marketing 2008" listed him as one of the 100 most influential people in the industry. He says if you don't like his views, he has others. Read more from Khaya Dlanga

Client Media Releases

Teraco achieves global top 3 data centre ranking
PhD graduate tackles strike participation at Transnet port terminals