In August 2016 Winnie Madikizela-Mandela made remarks that resonated with black people and reverberated around the country. She said: “Singayi susa nanini [we can go to war anytime]”. This was a warning to racists not to taunt and provoke black people into action.
Intersectionality teaches us that the issues of race, gender, class and sexuality coincide, and fights for social justice should be all-encompassing to unravel and resolve these concurrently.
For too long, the oppressed have operated in a segmented hierarchical format in a struggle where the race question takes pole position as the most urgent to resolve. Yes, some liberation theory and text has appreciated intersectionality — only to be betrayed by praxis. To emphasise this point, bell hooks opines that society is governed by imperialist, white, supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. These must be tackled as that collusively, parasitically and deceptively arranged superstructure.
It is time for women to look men, including their lovers and family members, in the eye and declare “isukile ngoku [the war is on]” in response to the sustained killing of women by men. The rate of femicide, which is reported to be five times the global average, speak volumes of the society we are in. Until when shall this be tolerated?
Let us repurpose Madikizela-Mandela’s statement that served as a call to action three years ago: “These people [men] must not tempt us [women] again. These people [men], who are of the other colour gender must not go back to that racism keep sustaining that sexism which drove will drive us to the forest. We are still will go there. We are still alive [though you slaughter us].
“And singayisusa nanini isukile ngoku. It is about time the women of this country gave a strong warning to all those racists men out there who keep calling us monkeys lamntana, who keep calling us baboons ezi way, that they must remember … what we have done to them apartheid in the past.
“There were times when we were all by ourselves in the country and yet we defeated them perpetrators of apartheid. We defeated apartheid, we fought them those perpetrators. And they knew that they could no longer win any battle on racism.
“So they men must not keep reminding us of those days because our people women are still there. Do not continue provoking us. You do not play with that fire, as long as we breathe. Amandla!”
Recently, a woman interviewed by the SABC made remarks that have moved many to tears and reflection: “Sithule siyafa [we are silent, we die]. Siyathetha siyafa [we speak out, we die]. Kungcono sife sisilwa [we would rather die fighting] … Siyafa siyaphela [we are becoming extinct to death]. Asizi khethelanga ukuba ngamantombazana [we did not choose to be women].”
These remarks are a call to action for young women to receive the baton from Madikizela-Mandela’s generation and wage their own generational struggle — the fight for the liberation of women. Women have often fought side by side with men on many issues but that has not earned them their liberation. The false alliance is about to unravel, and so it should. This false solidarity must come to an end if it refuses to embrace intersectionality. It must end if women are only useful to build the critical mass needed for struggles whose outcomes are defined by men, resulting in the co-option of women and their silencing.
Given that patriarchy is a power system, there are men who openly oppose the aspirations of women to liberate their bodies from the repressive yoke of men who are used to beating, mutilating and killing women.
South Africa is a society whose moral fabric has been decimated throughout the centuries of violent oppression, repression and struggle for freedom. Violence is so ingrained in the psyche of the country and generational trauma widespread.
When one person asked, “Then what is the solution [to gender-based violence and femicide]?” it appears I copped out. I said, “The solutions are complex because the problem is complex, generational and partly normative.”
There are no short-term solutions. The first step is to not let the drum of condemnation of men’s conduct to die. We need a sustained public narrative so that culprits and all men do not escape the challenge to confront themselves. This sustained public narrative will force policymakers to invest in actions that will realise policies. The long-term interventions include education and dismantling certain religious and cultural narratives.
When Francis Rasuge went missing in August 2004, during Women’s Month, rage was short-lived. When Anene Booysen was gang-raped and her abdomen cut open in February 2013, rage was short-lived. Government even lied by promising an anti-rape policy to be implemented, while calls for a commission on rape and gender-based violence fell on deaf ears.
The country’s rage awoke from its slumber when Karabo Mokoena was killed in April 2017. Police reported that 60% of her internal organs were missing when her burnt body was analysed. Soon fatigue kicked in and the nation moved on to other things, only to awake for a brief moment when Cheryl Zondi took the stand against preacher Timothy Omotoso.
Surely, this time, with Uyinene Mrwetyana and Janika Mallo’s deaths that came at the end of this Women’s Month of August 2019, and many more that have since surfaced, including that of Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels, the rage will endure.
The solution rests with us men. We must confront each other and start a journey of fostering a new humanity. While we figure out how to achieve this new humanity, women must go into combat mode. They must declare, “isukile ngoku.” It may not be today but the time is nigh. Women cannot allow the country to function in “business as usual” mode when it is this “business as usual” that is the cause of their deaths, insecurity and paranoia in a country they call home.
Mayihlome ihlasele. Let the “wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbokodo” idiom come to life. “Isukile ngoku.” If women retreat from shutting this country down until policymakers and men make concrete concessions to carve a better pathway to the future, the struggle will be lost.
Lukhona Mnguni is a PhD intern researcher in the Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit at the University of KwaZulu-Natal