The struggles of men with women by Gugu Ngema
The 60th anniversary of the August 9th 1956 Women’s March on the Union Buildings occurs shortly before my 60th Birthday. So, although I have known of the great event, it is still just part of my pre-history.
Following recent traumatic and violent events which left me in a coma, from which my recovery has been miraculous, I consider the year as an important milestone in my life, as well as that of the women’s struggle for total emancipation. The day and year humbles me to embrace the four stations on the way to freedom; discipline, action, suffering and death. It also encourages me to plead with our women to accept the inevitability of these four stations in their ongoing struggle for emancipation and freedom.
The study of biology afforded me the privilege to understand that if I was born at the beginning of November, therefore, I was conceived at the beginning of February of 1956, following the wedding of my parents over the holidays of December 1955 to January 1956. This would mean that I was six months old in my mother’s womb on the historic women’s march. Although my mother did not participate in the march, my grand aunt, had participated in the preparations for the march in Natal as local secretary of an ANC branch. She is the one who first introduced me to what she called “Congress politics” as articulated by Chief Albert Luthuli, whom she greatly admired. I remember coming from college in 1975 after I had attended an Inkatha rally addressed by its President Gatsha Buthelezi as he was popularly known then, my grand aunt sat me down and lectured me on what she considered to be authentic Congress politics.
In her honour, I share some perspectives in this text which I consider relevant in advancing the cause of women, particularly within the conservative rural context of KwaZulu Natal.
My mother was soon to be confronted by the dreaded pass laws when she had to join my father immediately after giving birth to me. I had been left in the care of my grandmother to whom I came to owe my very being and my aspirations. Even though she was illiterate, my grandmother ensured that I not only passed but also excelled at school. She had even predicted my future achievements in giving me my beloved name, M’hambiwezwe, meaning the one who travels the world.
Having been born and bred within a patriarchal context, which was reinforced by Roman Catholic dogma and emphasised through brutal Apartheid repression, I was bound to stumble in my marriage. For instance, even while I was still at primary school, when a girl who has since become one my trusted friends, got position one in class, I nearly committed suicide simply because I had been dethroned by a female from what had become my accepted position.
I do not in any way blame my former wife for divorcing me, having succumbed to the wayward desires of body and mind. Instead, I have grown to appreciate the extent of her love and commit myself to the struggle of women and mankind for emancipation and freedom. In marrying my former wife, I had broken one of the destructive stereotypes within my culture: that Xhosa women cannot genuinely love Zulu men. It was my own fear of disclosing and possibly infecting an innocent, loyal woman in life with a dreaded disease – death sentence at that stage – that led me to drift away from my former wife. The values instilled in me by my grandmother, simply refused to allow me to tarnish and destroy my former wife’s life.
I have admired and will continue to admire my former wife’s love and resilience, which I have sought to impart in my various interactions with women that I meet.
I have witnessed with shock, numerous incidents of women abuse and denial of their God-given rights in our community. I have also witnessed and admired our women’s ability to endure some of the worst deprivations in their lives. I will continue to admire the resilience of women in bringing about a better life for all.
I have also witnessed women using their looks and bodies to secure material wellbeing to advance their careers and status in life. I have also painfully witnessed what I regard as destructive tendencies, particularly within the conservative rural environment, of women’s assertion of their rights. Considering the gains that have been achieved since the historic march, the advice of my late grand aunt often comes to my mind when I see our women behaving like this. To her, self-discipline also meant developing our own things and role models rather copying others. To me, this means womanhood as an equal but different notion to manhood, like the two sides of the same coin.
On the other hand, I cannot help reflecting on some of the shining examples in our community such as Mkabayi ka Senzangakhona, Shaka’s aunt who was the only woman in his Council and commanded her own battalion. My recent interactions with women, including those of Limehill Community Development Association (LCDA) and those professional women who are and have been involved in my treatment and recuperation, fill me with hope that we will still have our own Mkabayis. As I ponder my life from now onwards, I cannot help wishing that one of these heroines might allow herself to be my companion and partner.
Since my sad divorce, I have painfully journeyed my life solo, only consoled by the commitment and resilience of LCDA women as they strive to survive abject poverty and subjugation within the corrupt and poverty-stricken context of Limehill Complex. I have striven to nurture a chaste life, to cultivate mastery over my sense and soul, lest I let my wayward desirings lead me astray. Unlike before, I pray for the partner who will accompany me as both a friend and an equal, as we both continue on the difficult but necessary journey to freedom. Having embraced an asset-based community development approach to development, I now recognize the importance of ensuring sound personal health in order to make a meaningful contribution to mankind’s struggle for freedom. In the meantime, I will continue to support and respect the women’s and therefore humankind’s struggle for emancipation and freedom. Unwele olude Mbokodo!