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Category Archives: Spirituality

When Afrikans Can’t Even Be Afrikan in Afrika

Written by Doreen Gaura for Africa on the Blog

 

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On the 5th of December, 2013, Judge Azhar Cachalia of the South African Supreme  Court  of Appeals made a unanimous judgement where he ordered the reinstatement of Johanna Mmoledi, a section chef sacked by the Kievits Kroon Country Estate, near Pretoria, in 2007.

This judgement was met with mixed reactions with some people (the minority judging from comments on online news publications) celebrating this judgement and the rest of the people being highly critical of the judgement. It is worth mentioning that the majority of the negative responses to the judgement came from non brown (black) commenters who, to say the least, found it to be ridiculous which I in turn found very offensive.

For centuries Afrikans have been at the mercy of the dictates of others outside of ourselves and we have been forced to give up a lot, not least of all our identities and beliefs and this case and the responses to the verdict are proof of this. We have had to defend, on the battle field, in the churches, in the classrooms, at the ballots and everywhere else imaginable our identities and even today, we continue to be forced to do so, and in our own land no less.

A year ago, I attended a traditional ceremony hosted by a friend and colleague of mine who happens to be a sangoma, at her house in predominantly white suburb Observatory in Cape Town, South Africa and to say that her mostly white neighbours were not pleased is an understatement of note. Despite the fact that she had followed all the dictates of etiquette and sent out communication well in advance to all her neighbours notifying them that she would be having this ceremony as well as notified the police in the area of the event who in turn gave her the green light and a curfew of midnight and yet her neighbours kept knocking on the door every half hour (before midnight) asking us when we would be done and if we could keep it down;  i.e. the drumming, singing and dancing. It is interesting to note that when my friend (who hardly entertains anyway) throws a less traditional affair which is more in line with western culture and has more or less similar levels of “noise” they never complain.

What is very apparent in these two scenarios is that it is still considered unacceptable for us to be truly ourselves in the land of our birth and that of our ancestors and we are expected to seek permission and validation from white “Afrikans” as to what parts of our identities and heritage get to survive and which ones should be done away with. In addition to this, based on the comments at the bottom of the article published in the Mail & Guardian  reporting the ruling, it is very clear that there persists the ideology of white supremacy and notion that the only and best ways of knowing and doing are the western (read white)ways. In the one comment a man exhibits his ignorance and bigotry by infantilising traditional healers by referring to them as “naïve” as well as by stereotyping traditional leaders through his hard accusation suggesting that butchering children is what all traditional healers do:

“It’s no wonder we have one of the world’s highest export of trained medical personal, who would want to be campared to some naieve person with some animal bones and children’s body parts!”

 Another frustrating thing about all this is that people know very little to nothing at all about Afrikan traditional spiritualities and yet are so dismissive of it to the point of discrimination never mind that a significant proportion of the population of the continent and most especially South Africa, identify, utilise and venerate this part of our heritage in one shape of form. Several commenters to the article substantiated their disdain by comparing the duration of the western medicine course and the traditional medicine course with one commenter saying:

“Surely the honourable judge cannot get away with dissing the medical profession so easily? Qualified doctors spend the better part of a decade learning their trade – how can a five-week “course” of traditional healing be considered an equivalent when it comes to the issue of a sick note?” 

Again this highlights just how little people know or understand of indigenous cultures and processes and yet they want to come out being very superior and dismissive despite their gross levels of ignorance on the subject.

Others still argued that Mmoledi should have been a little more considerate of her employer’s needs but the same can be said for the employer. He does not need to believe in what she believes but he needs to be considerate of the fact she does, if for nothing else but for her Constitutional right to do so and for staff wellness on the part of the employer. One needs to be aware and respectful of the fact that they live in Afrika and that there are certain things that they may not comprehend but must respect nevertheless because not only are they revered but they are also borne of the continent and precede all else that exists in post colonial Afrika.

It is funny how a lot of white Afrikans identify as such and yet continue to disregard and undermine fundamental aspects of indigenous heritage and when they do recognise them it is usually in a disrespectful and self serving manner. They love Afrikan “art”, the Afrikan drums, dress etc; even to the extent of capitalising on and profiting from them by starting businesses around indigenous Afrikan effects and yet they refuse to accept that the physical and aesthetic are inextricably linked to the spiritual that they are so quick to dismiss.

When people purchase Kananga masks of the Dogon while on vacation in Mali they do not take into account that in a lot of cultures these same “artefacts” actually symbolise people’s ancestors or spirits; or when people go to (mostly white owned) restaurants with an “African” theme they do not realise that the very same mbirafeaturing in the “Afrikan music” they are grooving to, is more than just an instrument but is in fact believed to be a spirit by the Shona peoples of Zimbabwe; and yet the same people will vehemently protest a Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court finding in favour of the recognition of the legitimacy of ubungoma and its equality in status to the more modern and Western forms of medicine.

People need o take cognisance of the fact that the Judge Cachalia did not in his ruling demand that people (employers) believe in indigenous belief systems but instead said that people must at the very least acknowledge and respect them which to me is a very fair and just judgement indeed.

 

 

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Rise of the Ancients: With the Silence of the Dead Comes the Night

With the silence of the dead comes the night

Thick and heavy

It blinds the eyes

Muzzles the mouth

And suffocates the lungs

All is still

As it should be

For it is night time

The animals of the day retire

To make way for the creatures of the night

With the silence of the dead comes the night

The eyes cease to see

And the ears to hear

The heart slows down to a mellow beat

To lull the body to sleep

The mind shifts to crossover to the chambers of the night

With the silence of the dead comes the night

 

To make way for the creatures of the night

We retire to the safety of sleep

Hoping to remain oblivious and unscathed

By those creatures that come to life at dusk

We pray to white Jesus to keep us safe

And for dawn to hurry back to us

For the sun has once again escaped

To make way for the creatures of the night

And so it is for most

But for those who carry with them the spirits of the ancients

For it is in the dead silence of the night

That the dead come to life

For it is when we sleep that we do not shut out our grandmothers and grandfathers

It is then the mind shifts to crossover

To make way for the ancients of our past

 

Their voices start out as whispers

And for as long as we ignore them

Louder they will grow

Until all that can be heard is a loud buzz

The voices all talk at the same time

They speak a language long forgotten

And no longer loved

They yearn to be heard by their children

To give them comfort through the hard times

The voices come as eerie loud shrills

For they mourn

For their children who continue to suffer

And live in anguish

They mourn for themselves

For they have been abandoned by their children

They yearn to be heard by their children

 

Their faces are distorted

Morphed into something horrific

As they struggle to come back into the light of our minds and hearts

Out of the dark depths of hell we have pushed them to

Their faces are abominable

As they contort to ram through the barricades

That the colonisers and missionaries erected in our minds

Painstakingly implanted to keep them out

Their faces are ghastly

As they push past the white faces

Faces of the white saints we replaced them with

They are fearsome in their blackness

Against the white backdrop of purity and divinity

Their faces are distorted

Morphed into something horrific

Through their mournful cries

And through their anger

As we fight to push them back

Into the dark depths of hell

Back into the night

 

When dawn breaks

We scramble to seek refuge in the light of whiteness

In the magnificent buildings built atop the tombs of our ancestors

We kneel before the altar of the white man

And seek deliverance from the demons of black hell

That haunt us through out the night

Tormenting us to the point of madness

Speaking heretic primitive tongues

Beckoning us

Their black hands grabbing desperately and fiercely at us

Trying to ply us away from the whiteness of God

Into the darkness of blackness

Pulling us further away from pearls and white gates

From the paradise promised us

As reward for our loyalty to whiteness

 

But oh Lord white Jesus

Begotten son of Pope Alexander XI

These black monsters now chase us during the day

They drive us mad

Constantly speaking

Shouting

Screaming

We no longer comb our hair

We rip off our clothes

Why do they tear us from God so?

Will you not save us from these horrors of black hell

From these demons who were once our mothers and fathers

That never knew God until you reached our shores

They come at us

Claiming us

Will you not save us and take us to white heaven

Have we not served your children faithfully

Have we not handed over our wealth and inheritance

Why must you allow this black hell to torment us

We destroyed our shrines

And discarded the beliefs of our forebears for you and you forsake us

Will you not save us from these terrors of black hell

 

© This work is the intellectual property of Doreen Gaura/ Ray 04/12/13

 

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Positionality and Privilege in Spirituality: I am a Healer

Written by HeJin Kim

Which is a very loaded statement; not in the least because the word “healer”, in English has all sorts of new age connotations, but mostly because of my own positionality. More accurate would be to say that I am iSangoma, which would be confusing to anyone who doesn’t know what that is (basically anyone who is not from Southern Africa and/or doesn’t speak a Nguni language.) The problem is that there are two ways for me to look at it: personal and political… though the two aren’t separate (it would be easier if it was), the old saying “the personal is political” might be somewhat retro, but it still applies in many of its interpretations.

But let me start in a more linear way to explain what I’m trying to explain. I am iSangoma, I am also Korean (South-Korean… and a Korean adoptee, specifically), and as I write this, I’ve been living in Cape Town for the last four years. iZangoma are traditional Zulu healers, though it is hard to really translate it; its etymology lies in the word ngoma which in various places in Southern Africa means drum, and in others refers to a song. Still, that doesn’t explain much, and nowadays the word iSangoma is used in South African English to refer to any traditional healer, from any of the many of the indigenous cultural groups in the country. The easiest way to explain it is that such traditional healers are “called” by their ancestors to take up the profession of a healer, this calling is innate to a person – meaning, you either have it or you don’t – and presents itself as a period of illness, then you find a healer who will initiate you, and Bob’s your uncle.

I could spin an interesting story,  about how I found out about my calling, how I’ve suffered, how I’ve been shown the iSangoma who initiated me, and describe all the personal hardships that the initiation entails; but I’m not going to. I understand the interest in the story, especially with the unusual factor of not being a black South African; but that’s just the thing, that simple fact means that telling the story isn’t, and shouldn’t be, so simple. I am asked often why and how I became iSangoma, and in some cases this is done in the context of “are you a valid iSangoma?” or am I being a new-age hippie; the story of my calling and initiation would answer that, but not in the right way, I feel.

Whether me being iSangoma is valid or not would be a nice discussion, on a spiritual level, but in essence is mostly relevant to myself and those patients I treat. But on a broader political level, it needs to be criticised in the context of post-colonialism and cultural appropriation. I have been questioned regarding my initiation by other (black) iiZangoma, and by other black people in general, and I don’t mind; in fact I think it is important that they do. They rightfully question why I entered something that is so intrinsically linked to their culture. It doesn’t offend me, rather it gives me hope. Too often we forgo questioning cultural appropriation. At its best, it is justified in the spirit of a some sort of utopian “nobody owns spirituality”, and “we are celebrating a culture”; at its worst it is exotification. In the context of a post-colonial world where white privilege endures, whether they are the minority or majority, it if needs to be questioned further; is such cultural appropriation simply a new form of (spiritual) colonialism?

I am actually urging people to critically look at me and what I do and say; wait, correction, I am urging people of colour, and specifically those black people whose culture I have entered, to criticise and analyse me – don’t really give a damn what the rest of the people think. Whatever I feel and believe on a spiritual level does not ever mean that it should simply be accepted. Being a person of colour has been brought forward by some friends of mine as a reason why my situation is different, and perhaps to a certain extent it is, however, racial dynamics are different depending on context and locality and being in South Africa means that being of East Asian heritage is quite different than in other places. I think it is also too simplistic to say being a person of colour precludes any possibility for cultural appropriation.

I have accepted a calling to be initiated, and was resistant at first. The whole thing didn’t make sense to me; why should I be iSangoma? It would make more sense to be Manshin – a Korean spiritual healer – but then on a personal/spiritual level it wasn’t at all about choice. I have, however, learned – and am still learning – the fine line that is my responsibility to walk, and talking about the political issues at hand is critical.

Apart from being ambushed by one friend, I’ve tended to hold off discussing it too much in the public sphere. The only thing I have realised is the fact that I needed to acknowledge the personal stake, the validity (to a certain extent) in some places, in order to respect those who were gracious enough to accept me into their spiritual and cultural realm (i. e. the people who initiated me, and opened themselves up for criticism as much as I have been opened up to it).

Above all, my own positionality is important, and something anyone engaging in spiritual practices that are not their own, needs to acknowledge. I have a privileged position in this context, and discrimination towards black iiZangoma is something I don’t face to the extent they face it, black iiZangoma are often stereotyped as backward, anti-Christian, etc. all too often. My own context means that I don’t have to face this, as I don’t live and practice in the same context.

For the most part, I’ve learned that it is a continuing journey, and a constant struggle to find the balance; it is the same struggle anyone with any privilege must endure. And often, it is about learning when to shut up.

* HeJin Kim, apart from wondering why she writes this in the third person, is a blogger and an activist. She is a Korean adoptee who wastes what little spare time she has getting lost on the internet, and ends up writing about issues of race, gender, sexuality, and her troubles as an overworked NGO worker. Check out her blog at http://universityofbrokenglass.wordpress.com

 

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Afrika’s Lament by Philisile Mudekunye

My lips are the bark battered by wind
My skin the ground cracked by drought
My arms are the wiry sinews that hold up a bridge (to many lands)
My feet as hard as the rock I dig my heels into

Thin, hungry, bleeding from the cracks in my skin

Pitied by passers by
Loathed by the ones I bore
Rejected by those who came with a mind to save me

Battered face, bruised body
Yet I’m soothed when I look in the still pool of water
For the reflection does not capture the turmoil within me
The children in my womb are at war, forgetting they are of the same yolk

In my hands are silver and gold
But my children flee from my embrace
They instead stand afar and watch as strange men come forth to caress and ravage me
Strange men with tongues that can’t even say my name

My garments are tattered,
My hair a tangled mess
Covering a brilliance that even I shy away from
My infinite wisdom hidden from my children,
who are only mesmerised by the stumbling traveller

I am a mother, my arms wide open
Yet my children flee from me
I am a woman, bearing within me untold treasures
But my little ones want none of it

* Philisile Mudekunye is a 20 something year old Swazi-Shona lady, medical doctor by profession, but a student of life. A lover of life, laughter and all things beautiful. “I’m passionate about issues that affect women…I also dream of and pray for the day Africa will sell her treasures to the West only on her own terms.”

© Philisile Mudekunye 2013

 

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Chiwoniso: The Power of an Ancient Voice

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It’s a school night, either in 1992 or 1993, I can’t really remember, and I am sitting on our kitchen counter in our old house in Mutare, Zimbabwe with my “twin sister” Judy and we are laughing and snapping our little fingers to a song we are hearing for the first time that is blasting from our older sister’s radio cassette player. The song is From the Native Tongue by 90s Zim hip hop outfit A Peace of Ebony. My older sister is excited to share this awesome song by one of her former classmates at Mutare Girls High School, Chiwoniso Maraire, with us and she joins us in our revelry that night, singing and dancing along to the music in my grandparent’s kitchen.

It was then that, without even realising it at the time, 7/8 year old me fell ridiculously in love with this fiercely inspirational and gifted woman without even really understanding what her music meant, what it stood for, what it represented or that as time went on, she would proceed to be one of Zimbabwe’s best known female musicians and cultural icons who established a name for herself in her 20 year + career as queen of the mbira – both as a solo artist and as a member of bands like A Peace of Ebony, Andy Brown & the Storm and Women’s Voice – nationally and internationally. In her short but very full life, she received various accolades for her talents both locally and internationally and collaborated with other artists from around the globe which include Ambuya Stella Chiweshe, Tumi & the Volume, Busi Ncube, Baaba Maal, Sinead O’Connor and Mari Boine.

I was out with friends when I got the news of her passing two nights ago and I shocked both myself and my friend with the amount of grief that overwhelmed me. I was embarrassed and confused by my little episode and I still am in a lot of ways. I make no pretences here of having had any sort of reciprocal relationship with Chiwoniso outside of the one way one which really boiled down to me being insanely and unabashedly in love with her and her music and her Spirit. I did not know this woman personally and had only ever spoken to her once 8 years ago when I had found myself dining at a table away from hers at the Italian Bakery in Avondale, Harare and I had gone up to her to make an idiot groupie of myself and ask for a photograph with her, to which she happily obliged. I have never even attended any of her shows (and not due to a lack of trying) and I have only ever seen her perform live once at this past HIFA edition where she cameod in the Noisettes’ performance, so why was I, and still am, taking this so hard? Me, of all people. The same person who has in the past judged others very harshly for making a big deal about celebrity deaths. Heck! I have even written a whole blog post that generously served up my judgement when Whitney Houston died for crying out loud!

A lot of possible explanations come to mind which include my own mother’s death at thirty six (just one year younger than Chiwoniso was) 10 years ago exactly on the 17th of July, as well as me empathetically grieving for a newly made friend (along with her siblings) who not only had a mentor but a mother in Chiwoniso. Grieving for them and all the other people I know, mostly young Zimbabwean artists, who did in fact have real and mutually beneficial relationships with Chiwoniso, those who called her sister. Grieving for my nation, for even though some may not realise it, but we have suffered a great loss. We have lost a musical and cultural icon, pioneer, teacher, warrior and leader.

It is from the last reason that I find the courage to write this because I think the world must hear about her and the impact she has had on so many young Zimbabweans’ lives, even if it is only from my humble and very personal perspective. I am not going to give you a historical account of her life or career as I do not know anymore than what is already available on dozens of websites on the internet but I will tell you about her life within my own and possibly other fans out there.

Although I am not a musician (Lord knows I wish I was), Chiwoniso and her music still inspired me to be myself and be unapologetic for it in spite of any resistance or judgement that may come my way. Having partly grown up in the U.S. Chiwoniso was still very in touch with her roots and identity as a Manica woman, probably more so than a lot of young Zimbabwean women of both our generations are, and this set her apart from the rest. Indeed she came from a very musical family but to assume that to be the only source of her great talent would be a great dishonour to her memory. Her courage and passion that resonate through her music played a big role in gaining her status as a gender bending female mbira player and cultural ambassador despite the fact that traditionally women weren’t known to play the mbira. Her music speaks a lot to identity. The identity of tribes and cultures, of a nation, of the feminine and of the individual and it was through this that she inspired my love for culture, love for the spirit of the mbira and my reverence for ancestry.

When I saw her on stage with the Noisettes, Hope Masike and Tariro Ruzvidzo or in her music videos, I saw Spirit in her. The Spirit that chose her and gave her its gift of music. Gift of the mbira. Having learnt almost a year ago that I have a calling to become a sangoma, I have struggled to accept this new reality and I have battled with it. I have cried and I have pleaded with my ancestors to choose someone else because I did not want it. I have been terrified by the idea of never moving back home because I would be too afraid to live in Zimbabwe amongst the people I have known and grown up with and shared a life with now that I have this “thing” that only served to make me even more weird, more random, more of a misfit and now added to the mix, untouchable but then I saw the Spirit in Chiwoniso and it was nothing short of inspirational and almost comforting.

Ours is a country of mostly (Christian) conservative people and they don’t like anything too “unusual” or too eccentric (never mind that in Zimbabwe something as simple as dreadlocks is enough to have you qualified as eccentric and troubled) so it is no real shock that I have heard people describe Chiwoniso as “very talented but a bit too random” or “she has lost the plot”. Some even had the gall to say that she is too crazy and attributed her extraordinariness to “smoking too much weed” as though they knew her like that. It is no real shock but it is infuriating all the same. Like I said, I didn’t know her personally but I saw what a lot of these people did not see and that was her gift, her calling. Callings come in various forms and it is not everyone who has a calling who is meant to be a healer. Some become artists, social instructors, messengers as it were, through their art and Chiwoniso was one such person. She embodied ancestors from her family line that had chosen her. The Spirit of the Mbira, the Ancestors, had chosen her to be an instructor just as my Spirit has chosen me to be a diviner. Staying true to the meaning of her name, she brought enlightenment to all those who took in her music. The Ancient Voices really and truly did speak through her and will continue to do so through the legacy she has left behind as a gift to us.

I do not know if this is something she knew or acknowledged but if I am to hazard a guess based on the subject matter of her music and the person I saw in her, I would say she did and not only that but she embraced it and lived it and because of this, she inspired me to embrace and live my calling too. Although, we are probably nothing alike she certainly directly and indirectly declared to the world through her stage presence and the conviction in her voice and her relationship with the mbira that it was ok to be nobody else but herself making it possible for me (and hopefully a lot of other young brown women and girls) to declare the same of myself.

Her strength and integrity resonated in her music and her relationships with both those she knew and those she didn’t, family/friends and fans alike. She unwittingly helped shape my personal and communal identity as a young Zimbabwean brown woman and although I only ever became conscious of the impact her music and her person had on me in my late teens, her work on me had started over two decades ago, on one random week night in my grandparents’ kitchen in Mutare. So to her I say “Mai, fambai zvakanaka. Basa masiya mapedza. Thobela.” (Go well mother. Your work here is done. Rejoice.)

 

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The Autumn Of My Life

Artist Unknown

Artist Unknown

The brown of the leaves

Like the brown of my skin

And that of my kin

And no matter what anyone else believes

That colour, in its richness

Is the colour of life

In spite of all the pain, toil and strife

Our strength, my strength,

No one else can ever possess

This brown signifies the establishment of my autumn

My growth into a proud Afrikan wom(b)an

Not very different from a man

But entirely unique in my essence from top to bottom

And yet this manifestation of the self

MY self

Is not entirely welcome

As I am breaking out of the mould

And if am not careful

I will be left alone out in the cold

The red of the leaves

Like the soil of my Motherland Dzimba dze mabwe

Stained by the blood of those who once were

And the tears of She who still grieves

Is a visual proclamation

Of the passion that lies within ME

If I let it burst out of me

I will be subject to society’s condemnation

But in this the autumn of my life

Do I still fear this?

No siree!, I embrace it with a kiss

And face it head on armed with a knife

The knife I call freedom

Freedom to be me

Freedom to just be

Me

And with this knife I will cut through the restraints that are binding me

And be finally free

Free

To love without conditions

To make love with no inhibitions

To fight for my beliefs

And not worry about stupid what ifs

The gold of the leaves

Is the colour of my aura

The light that shines out of me and of this I have never been surer

From now on I will do as I please.

To the music of my ancestors I will dance

To the unspoken jokes in my head

I will throw my head back and laugh

For there’ll be no reason to be sad

This while I dance,

Dance as though I were in a trance

Because this music and these jokes

Much like calligraphy and the care taken with each stroke

I share with the Universe as She takes me out of myself just for this dance

This dance which serves to show me that I am not in Her

But She is within me

Around me

She is everywhere

I am the Universe

The Great Mother

And She is me

This is the autumn of my life

As the leaves fall to the ground and the flowers die

They symbolize the death of the old and pave the way for the newer and truer me

A newer and more beautiful me to adorn the ever strong trunk and branches that remain strong

As the core and foundation should be

Deeply rooted into the ground and in eternal contact with the Great Mother.

As the superficial transforms and falls away

To make way for the other

The other that is the realer and truer me

The other who comes and partakes in spiritual intercourse with the Great Mother

And together they find a harmony

And give birth to an immaculate symphony

That will forever resound in my soul

For that is the ultimate goal

In this, the autumn of my life.

© Doreen Victoria Gaura/ Colouredraysofgrey, 2013

 

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Whose Feminism Is It Anyway?

A friend forwarded me a link to Zimbabwean feminist activist, scholar, and regional coordinator of Just Associates (JASS) Southern Africa, Shereen Essof’s article South Africa: patriarchy, paper, and reclaiming feminism and I must say it makes for a very interesting read indeed. It left me thinking about feminism, in all its various forms, and not only did I think of the ideology of it but I did so on a much wider geographical scale than the one tackled by Essof in this article i.e. across the entire continent.

On the most part I agree with Essof, there most certainly needs to be a collective feminism, “measuring success not by how high a woman can climb, but by the condition in which most women remain”. I also agree that often times the feminist agenda falls on the wayside or takes the backburner to what are implied (through a lack of prioritisation or in some countries a blatant disregard for gender equality) to be “more important or bigger” agendas that feminists might be a part of such as trade unions or even Afrikan nationalist struggles during colonialism and all this because it is not considered an agenda in its own right.

For instance, although the liberation struggle in South Afrika, as in many Afrikan countries, created a platform to acknowledge women’s movements across the continent with the collective consciousness (Afrikan liberation) forming the foundations of the indigenous feminist movements, it has become evident that even though women’s groups were very visible and active then, they were still considered by some as auxiliary to the more patriarchal political parties of the liberation. So when Essof says “It’s the same old story, women work in supporting and building the struggles and organizations, but the campaigns are designed in ways that do not  accommodate women’s agendas”, it is easy for me to agree and come to the realisation that although nationalism, by way of example, mobilised women as political agents in the struggle days, it also acted as a restraint that hindered them from exercising their agency or allowing them to bring to the fore their fight against gender inequality.

I also agree that achieving gender equity, not only in South Afrika but in Afrika as a whole should not just be on paper. It goes beyond just signing and ratifying regional and international instruments and means very little if the implementation or lack thereof leaves a lot to be desired.

Be that as it may, I can’t bring myself to agree completely with Essof, particularly when she speaks of the evils of nationalism and its patriarchal make up. I say this because I feel that nationalism in itself is not a bad thing but it is the way in which it is designed and presented that needs to be tackled. A gender sensitive approach is paramount to the idea and success of nationalism and there is a need to deconstruct the masculinity within it and patriarchal foundation on which it is built. The empowerment and complete emancipation of Afrika is a dire need in order for the progression of its people, including the women. We must not forget that women on this continent were once powerful and respected. The subjugation of woman in my opinion, based on history, came with the subjugation of the Afrikan. Unfortunately Pan Afrikanism and Black Consciousness today have a very masculine face and one needs only look up the list of the “well known” Pan Afrikanists online to find that the list is only made up of men. The redistribution of not just political but economic power needs to go back into the hands of the people but these people are not just the men but also the women and there needs to be the realisation that this ideology is not foreign or Western but it is one that has been part of Afrikan authentic tradition, prior to the monotheistic Abrahamic religions that facilitated the enslavement and colonisation of the aboriginal Afrikan (see King Leopold II’s letter to the church). There is also a need for Afrikan feminists to see that tradition and culture need not be the enemy especially if approached from their original composition and they were not always oppressive of the female.

In academic circles, the emergence of spiritual feminism the past 20 or so years has been frowned upon and so quickly dismissed but I would not advise this within the Afrikan context. Afrika is historically acknowledged as the birth place of humanity, civilisation and religion and spirituality so it only stands to reason that Afrikans are amongst some of the most religious and spiritual peoples on the planet. Instead of fighting this I strongly believe that Afrikan feminists learn from this and design their activism against this backdrop and not that of other cultures. Whether one believes in the supernatural or the mystical is neither here nor there if their targeted beneficiaries and constituencies do.

From an academic or intellectual perspective the need for people to hold onto the idea of a supernatural being who is all powerful should be respected therefore the fact that there was widespread Goddess worship with people believing Her/Them to be the original Womb and Creator of the universe and all things within, in Afrika prior to Western influence is testimony to the possibility of empowerment and reverence of women on the continent. Afrika has its own powerful women throughout history from Nefertari and Nefertitti to Dahya, warrior queen of the Berbers to Mamphela Ramphele to Wangari Maathai to Nawal el Saadawi and to Dr. Buchi Emecheta that there really is no need to constantly look to the western champions of women’s lib such as Simone de Beauvoir for inspiration. This of course is not to say that there is nothing to learn from such great and inspirational minds as nothing would be further from the truth but instead is to highlight that not only do contexts differ but as Afrikans we have our own great minds and our own functional systems too, even if we may forgotten them. We need to make use of the feminism within culture and tradition as well as (given the nature of Afrikan societies i.e. a case where spiritualism and religion are paramount on the Continent) a need to make use of spiritual feminism.

Although I may not agree completely with American University professor and author Clenora Hudson – Weems’ Africana Womanism theory I believe she is right when she postulates that by and large the average Afrikan woman does not see the Afrikan man as her enemy as it is suggested by Western feminism that appears to be waging a war against men for subjugating women and therefore that the choice to be a wife, a mother, to cook all the meals, give up the opportunity for career advancement and to provide financially for the family so that your husband can do it instead and give up one’s individual identity by taking on the husband’s name is not necessarily a sign of disempowerment of the woman. Being pregnant and broody should not necessarily be seen as a sign of disempowerment or lack of ambition but instead be seen as the woman accepting the great responsibility that only a woman was capable of carrying out, of creating life.

When Essof tackles the patriarchy in conservative traditionalism in her article I realise that she does so, as do many people in post-colonial Afrika, from the perspective of one who has bought into the ideology of our tradition and culture as it was redefined, redesigned and readministered by our colonisers. The thing this is though, there is a need to provide revisionist histories of the role of the Afrikan woman within Afrikan society and to revisit culture and tradition on the continent. Fighting post-colonial culture which is mistaken by many as authentic indigenous culture and its vilification does nothing for the feminist fight in Africa, in my opinion, and instead only serves to reinforce people’s resistance of it and continues to reinforce the impression that feminism is a western ideology that has no place in Africa. We should instead, look into reviving authentic cultures that revered women as well as rethink our strategy and stop pushing a Western feminist agenda while ignoring our own aboriginal feminism.

© Doreen Victoria Gaura/ Colouredraysofgrey, 2012

 

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