Dear Mr. President,
Mama Sisulu’s Best Honor is to Defeat Patriarchy and all it’s Manifestations
The African National Congress (ANC) and indeed all South Africans laud you and the government you lead for the countrywide public tributes to the life of Mama Albertina Sisulu during this the year of her centenary.
You had planned to visit Mama’s gravesite on her birthday, the 21st of October but were unable to attend owing to conflicting commitments. Nevertheless the gesture was poignant and appreciated.
We recognize and are ever mindful that declaring 2018 to be the year of both Tata Madiba and Mama Sisulu was deliberate. It is testament to the ANC’s commitment to gender equality that we commemorate both of these global icons who had immense stature both inside our country and beyond.
This year we also mark the centenary of South Africa’s oldest women’s organisation, the Bantu Women’s League, which was formed in 1918 under the leadership of another icon, Dr Charlotte Maxeke.
Mr President, I am certain that referring to Mama Albertina Sisulu as a Woman of fortitude is a sentiment shared by all of our people. We therefore have a collective and shared responsibility to use Mam Sisulu’s year long centennial celebration as a platform to refocus the attention of the nation on the plight and rights of women and to assess the progress we have made towards women empowerment and gender equality since 1994.
We mark the birth of Mama Sisulu in the face of a scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa; and worrying instances of women being deprived their Constitutionally-given rights in the workplace, in their homes , in their communities, in their places of worship and even on the streets.
This causes one to give pause and wonder if Mama Sisulu were alive today, what would her impression be of what our country’s girls and women have to endure on a near daily basis?
One imagines her exclaiming in that carefree but firm voice that commanded so much respect: “Hey wena Mongameli, what is wrong with the men of this country? Are your egos so fragile that you have to oppress and hurt us women?”
There is no doubt she would be disgusted with what she saw; the stubborn prevalence of patriarchy in traditional and modern communities; the harassment and objectification of women in the media; rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls ; the humiliation and ‘slut shaming’ of young women on social media platforms; and the pulling down of successful and independent women.
I imagine her looking you straight in the eye and demanding: “Speak up and speak out, comrade President ! Remind our men, and our women that the issue of women’s oppression isn’t a discussion for Women’s Day or the 16 Days of Activism.”
Mama Sisulu, would remind you of the ANC’s founding values and its commitment to advancing gender equality. She would remind you that women have served our movement as cadres, as fighters, as leaders and as activists; and that she expects all women to enjoy the freedom she experienced in the ANC-led liberation movement!
She would lament the dearth of radical feminism inside the ANC; one that is not obsessed with representation, but in advancing de facto equality between men and women – by ostracising and punish patriarchal, sexist and boorish behaviour even within our own ranks. She would be saddened to see that when called upon to support women, especially women who may have accused ANC men of inappropriate behaviour and even abuse, the ANC has been found to be unsure, hesitant and wanting.
The western hemisphere anti-sexual harassment campaign, the #MeToo campaign has ensured that the fight for gender equality is not a peripheral matter. In South Africa, in the #FeesMustFall movement, the women activists have been consistent in their call for men to stop dominating the space.
It opened a Pandora’s Box on levels of sexual harassment within the movement. An example is the media expose of alleged sexual harassment and attempted cover-ups within the non-governmental organisation Equal Education.
Patriarchy is common across all sectors of society, and the ANC is no exception. It is a system that serves to cultivate fear of feminism, legitimise inequality and chauvinism, and dilute opposition towards patriarchy.
The ANC must never come across as unwilling to face the demon of patriarchy within its own ranks, its stunt must always be clear and unequivocal
Society’s tolerance for sexual misconduct has reached a breaking point.
Certain forms of inappropriate behaviour towards women (that includes workplace harassment) that were tolerated in the 1980’s and early 90’s are not acceptable anymore and the ANC must embrace this new culture of gender equality at the centre of all its work.
We need the men of the ANC to unlearn old behaviour and advocate for women’s leadership at all levels of the organisation. The bar for individual behaviour of members and leaders must be set much higher. Good moral conduct is supposed to be obvious and mandatory
Mama Sisulu would tell you to not hesitate to raise your voice about the behaviour, actions and attitudes of men within the movement insofar as it relates to antiquated attitudes to women.
She would say that the young women organized under the banner of the ANCWL Young Women’s Desk and such progressive formations of women are your allies in the fight for a South Africa free from patriarchy, sexism, racism, and inequality.
She would tell you that all progressive people, especially the women, in South Africa have your back on this matter, and to not fear those chauvinists who may want to claim cultural relativism, or create fear that the feminist movement is anti-men!
At the end of her conversation with you Mr. President, she would tell you one last time to tell the men of South Africa, to “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!”
At times, the deep-seated attitude of society can exacerbate gender-based violence. Mr President, our collective call to action must be to work relentlessly towards women empowerment and gender equality. This is the best tribute we can pay to Mama Sisulu and the 1956 generation.
In conclusion, I once again thank you for choosing to acknowledge Mama Sisulu alongside Tata Mandela. The best honor to Mama Sisulu will be to defeat patriarchy and all its manifestations!
ANC National Spokesperson