Do gender dynamics really matter in continuing the work of liberation?

20 August 2014 | Story by Newsroom

Zethu Matebeni (pictured below) from the Institute for Humanities in Africa spoke movingly at a Gender-in-Dialogue event, hosted as part of the 12th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture Series in August, about outrage, and the importance of gender justice in the continuing work of liberation. She joined a panel that included Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, feminist writer Nombonisa Gasa and Sonke Gender Justice activist Mbuyiselo Botha, hosted by Mrs Graça Machel. Her speech follows below.


Thank you for the opportunity to raise these issues. I want to take a particular note of where Mam'Machel left off and that is to talk about the outrage that you say we do not have. I want to connect that to the talk that President Bachelet gave yesterday and today that focuses and highlights issues around diversity and encourages difference. These are important issues for me as a member of many groups that are on the margins of society here in South Africa.

As I stand here – remembering the pains and gains of the many women who marched – I wonder why I remain enraged .... Enraged by the silences that continue to mute the experiences we carry on our bodies. Enraged that 60 years into the Women's Charter, life for many women has remained the same. I'm troubled that the silences exposed by women such as Thenjiwe Mtintso, Zubeida Jaffer and many more, are still deafening. I'm outraged that after so many years, with the promise of freedom, women cannot openly claim their right to sexual dignity, economic and social justice.

Mam'Machel, we are outraged!

We are outraged by the violence that is happening to our bodies, our psyches and our spaces. We are angered that Nontsikelelo Tyatyeka's murderer continued to roam around the streets, greeting Nontsikelelo's mother and bragging to friends about how he killed the 21-year-old woman. After refusing to sleep with him, he murdered her and wrapped her body in a blanket. Only a year later her body was found dumped and decomposed in a rubbish bin in a neighbour's yard in Nyanga township.

How can we not be outraged when men think they can take our bodies without our consent? When they believe that a woman's sexuality is only for the preserve of men? And that when a woman is lesbian, her sexual preference; who she is; and her political stance, are an invitation to harm and violate her body?

How can we keep silent when our bodies are chopped and mutilated? When Thapelo Makhutle's murderer in Kuruman in the Northern Cape believed, like many people in this country and in this continent, that being a gay man or a transgender person or a lesbian is ungodly, un-African? The murderer expressed his prejudice and beliefs by beheading 23-year-old Thapelo; hacked off his genitals; cut out his tongue and then stuffed his testicles into his mouth. Where is the humanity in our time when prejudice and hatred precede the appreciation for difference and love?

To whom can we run when the criminal justice system fails us, when our perpetrators are let free? Because when we die, our death and the sorrows of our families become insufficient evidence to arrest a known murderer and our activism towards justice is delayed by court postponements. When a mother waits for her child to come home, only to find out that the boy next door has kidnapped her child, violated her body and left her to die after inserting a toilet brush into her vagina.

We cry with Duduzile Zozo's mother who continues to go to courts hoping for justice for her daughter's death.

We cry with her as she waits for her eldest daughter to return and put food on the table. We mourn with her even when our sorrow mutes our pleas. We choke in grief because we know that here in this country, in this continent, to be a black woman, lesbian, a transgender person, is to have a political battle waged on our bodies.

African presidents erect their elections on the bodies of women, on lesbian bodies and on bodies they deem uncultured, un-African.

As women from Nigeria to South Africa, we express outrage and forge our connections forced by the urgency to resist the forms of domination that aim to keep our sexuality and gender in a position of inferiority and subordination. History has shown us that freedom comes with taking risks. Like many who have risked their lives, their children and families for this nation and the liberation of her people, we continue this work, this work of liberation, until we all are free!

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