Updated: Apr 15
It's women's month, yet there is hardly anything to celebrate. In a country that has produced some of the strongest women such as Lilian Ngoyi, Albertina Sisulu, Miriam Makeba, Sarah Baartman, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, and Caster Semenya, women are still unsafe. The great Women's March of 1956, and the post-apartheid South African constitution which recognizes womens' equality have done nothing to protect women from atrocious violence.
The majority of South African women live in underdeveloped rural areas and depend on male citizens for financial support. As a result of poor economic conditions, they are not only at risk for abuse, incest, and rape at home but face these dangers at school as well where their male counterparts receive preferential treatment. This results in high rates of teenage pregnancy and perpetuates the cycle of violence.
One of the most horrifying aspects of this dilemma is the deafening silence of women. In the face of glaring statistics, very few abusers face consequences for their actions. Since most women have faced abuse more than once in their lifetime, it is fair to deduce that perpetrators commit these crimes more than once upon more than one victim. The South African Police Service is complicit in this violence, with police officers often famous for domestic violence in their own homes.
Perhaps this conundrum has to do with the way womxn see themselves. Even in their subjugation, South African womxn are seen as pillars of strength. They are truly the rock upon which everything rests. This is a matriarchal society and that may be why post-colonial manhood is compelled to attack. Yet their attacks upon womxn are attacks upon themselves.
Phrases like "wathint’ abafazi wathint’ imbokodo" first became famous in the Women's March. Ukuthinta is read in this context as "to strike" - a violent act. But this term which actually means "to touch" also engenders a gentle physical, emotional, spiritual, or even verbal communication. Moreover, the misconstrued dialectic between the Zulu terms imbokodo nokubhokoda connotes the paradoxical pleasures of penetration and ritual.
The rock (an ‘inanimate’ object) as a metaphor for woman, reveals the cognitive dissonance of the patriarchy. Unlike Western culture, African culture makes no distinction between bodies - living, dead or inanimate. The rock in the parable is not a rock, but the rock. The third one from the sun. To the touch, it is smooth yet resistant. Its strength and porousness enable fluidity and fecundity. But it too is governed by the laws of nature and is thus imperceptibly fragile and finite.