On Women’s Day, the Apartheid Museum hosted a public debate in their auditorium titled, “Let’s Talk About the Struggle: Patriarchy”. The debate was moderated by Christ van der Westhuizen, and the panelists were Nomasonto Mazbuko, Babalwa Magoqwana, Thuli Nhlapo, and Eusebius McKaiser. The debate was well attended by a diverse group of people, including high schools, and the leader of the ANC Youth League.
Professor Christi van der Westhuizen, author and Associate Professor in Sociology at the University of Pretoria, opened the debate by addressing the different types of nationalism that exist in South Africa, and how each of these nationalisms used the notions of “motherhood” to suppress and distance women from men. Westhuizen spoke about the way Afrikaner Nationalism “foregrounds an exclusion of women who are not soft and subdued” and how, similarly, African Nationalism holds onto the idea that “the preferred type of woman is a mother.” She continued, “Women are always approached in relation to men”.
Thuli Nhlapo, author and award-winning journalist, addressed the audience next and spoke about the lack of racial cohesion and collaboration amongst women. Nhlapo asked, “When are we sitting down as women and saying, ‘what went wrong?’” She stressed the importance of women working together to overthrow the patriarchy wherever it exists adding, “Until we are united, and listen to one another, we are going nowhere” otherwise the conversations against the patriarchy are never going to end.
Nomasonto Mazibuko, the executive director of the Albinism Society of South Africa (Assa), opened by raising a question to the National Development Plan (NDP) and asked, “What is the NDP saying about women with disabilities?” she continued, “Let’s engage on patriarchy, and teach our young children that your body belongs to you!” Mazibuko spoke passionately about how children, usually young girls, are exposed to perverts disguised as uncles and family friends who promise the girls a treat to touch them. Mazibuko stressed that “It is important to change societal and cultural issues.” She added that “Culture is not stagnant, it evolves, we are fighting a different Apartheid from the women in 1956” referring to the sexual abuse experienced by women across our country.
Dr. Babalwa Magoqwana, a Senior Lecturer in Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Nelson Mandela University spoke passionately about the need to, “Expand feminist language to include African languages”. Magoqwana referred to the fact that there were many powerful and influential women in the history of the African continent, yet they are very seldom mentioned. She said that failing to acknowledge the “History of powerful African women” has reduced the African woman to poverty. Magoqwana also asked why “We as Africans” are not contributing to the debate. She stated that African people have the solutions and philosophies that can provide guidance for ways forward.
The last panelist to speak was Eusebius McKaiser, author, radio presenter on 702, and political analyst. McKaiser raised many points. The first point was that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to being a woman, that women are nuanced. He said, “ If we want to be nuanced, we are going to have to recognize that some women were compelled to be in the kitchen”. He stressed that women were not supposed to be in the kitchen, but those who do should not feel ashamed. He added, “There are many ways of being a woman”. In addressing how to do away with patriarchy, McKaiser said, “As long as we know its nature, how it works, then we can figure out what to do about patriarchy”.
A robust conversation ensued after the opening statements by the panelists. Most members of the audience appeared to agree with the opinions shared by the panelists, but there were a few members who disagreed with the approach toward eradicating patriarchy. As the debate came to a close, Professor van der Westhuizen called upon the panelists to give their final remarks. The professor left the debate reiterating the fact that “Heteronormativity is frequently used to discipline women”. McKaiser concluded with an important question, “The core problem we are trying to talk through is: why do we hate women?.
In-line with McKaiser’s question, Dr. Magoqwana said, “The ‘pull-her-down’ syndrome is a misappropriation of feminism”. Nomasonto Mazibuko ended the discussion by reiterating that, “Life is not a one-size-fits-all. Be careful of what you say in whatever space. Let us not talk for other people. The change we want to see starts in you!”
The public debate sought to revisit an opportunity to fill the gaps in public memory about the full range of experiences of women in the struggle against patriarchy.