You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love is no longer being served”— Nina Simone.
A Facebook update from a friend of a friend posted on National Women’s Day in South Africa got me thinking, deeply. She said;
“Don’t call me a strong woman. I’m not your Mbokodo (Rock/Boulder) me. This thing of likening women to indestructible boulders is getting us killed”
At first glance, this statement seems to spit in the face of thousands of women who bravely marched to the Union Buildings 61 years ago in protest against the brutal and imperialistic Apartheid government. The reason we celebrate Womans’ Day on the 9th August every year. It was an auspicious March, arguably the largest gathering of activists from around the country since the signing of the Freedom Charter in 1955. The women covered every inch of the of the historic lawns united by one song, an anthem: Wathinta’abafazi Wathinti’mbokodo. You strike a woman, you strike a rock, you have dislodged a boulder which will roll down and crush you. This anthem galvanized the women. It gave them the strength to challenge the iron fisted Right Wing Hans Strydom, Verwoerd and co. It was a necessary coping/defiance mechanism against an arrogant racist, violent, and repressive government.
But between you and me, I agree with my friends’ friend. I think this anthem, this slogan has served its purpose. This coping mechanism, this metaphor which once symbolised courage has now become a weapon used against women in South Africa. As if at the march, the women exchanged the dom-pas for a male fist. It has expired, it is outdated. It no longer works. In a country where one in three men admit that they have forced themselves (raped) on women at some point in their lives, in a country with one of the highest rates of femicide in the world; it is abundantly clear that women are not rocks, we are not indestructible boulders. We hurt, we bleed, we feel pain, and we are ultimately mortal. We won’t rise like the Phoenix. It’s a myth.
A friend of mine who works as a domestic worker in the suburbs of Johannesburg once put this into sharp perspective for me. She said, you know Jedi I’m tired. Every day as I clean and rub the floor, it’s not the concrete that disappears, it’s me. The rock stays the same, but you don’t, it wears you down after a while.
So, knowing that you are not a rock, that you do bruise and you will die if you stay with a man or woman who treats your body like a rock will save you. It will help you to get out. Today you must be soft and walk away, don’t look back. I know that the other women paved the way for your freedom, but they didn’t bravely march to the Union Buildings to confront imperialists so that you can die at the hands of your comrades in the revolution. They marched so you can be free to leave, free to move, free to love and be loved by someone who would not even consider laying a hand on your beautiful face to solve a problem. They did not march so you can be beaten, raped or murdered in the name of a political party or the liberation movement.
Listen even the ANC’s women’s league president Bathabile Dlamini made this clear in an interview given to the Sunday papers. She said that the Deputy Director of Higher Education Mduduzi Mananas’ recent assault of a young woman was negligible compared to what other senior political figures in government have done or are currently doing to women. Implying that Manana is not the only nor the worst sexual offender in government. In fact, gender based violence has become just a political game for Dlamini. “I don’t want to be part of those games…. Even in other parties, there is sexual harassment and it’s not treated the way it’s treated in the ANC. And I refuse that this issue is made a political tool. It’s not a political tool”
Between you and me. We know that sex and violence are political tools often used between the sheets or between the pages shuffled in government so Dlamini’s statement is vacuous. It is empty, there’s nothing to it. Nada. Dololo. Don’t stay. Get out.
The ruling political party’s ideals are limited by an attachment to a status quo that keeps them the dominant class. Even well-intentioned individuals within the liberation movement can’t resist the rewards of an unequal society that favours them. Their true and primary allegiance is to their class and the privileges they are Happy to enjoy.
One of my more erudite friends on Facebook commenting on a controversial American film said something which I think can be applied to our current situation: “There can be a fine line between the portrayal of racial violence as a critical and necessary record of the long history of white supremacy and the portrayal of racial violence such that it repeats white supremacy’s very terms. Katheryn Bigelow’s “Detroit” about the 1967 riots and a particularly vicious night of police brutality at the Algiers Hotel, in my opinion, doesn’t fall clearly on the right side of that line.”
I would like you to replace white supremacy with patriarchy and racial violence with misogyny. And see that there can be a fine line between standing up for women’s rights (you strike a woman, you strike a rock) as a critical and necessary resistance against patriarchy and standing up for women’s rights in such a way that it repeats and perpetuates violence against women.
In this context, the slogan, Wathinti’Abafazi, You strike a Rock, no longer falls on the right side of that line. In my 14 years as a journalist observing and speaking to female politicians, I noticed a disturbing trend with women politicians admitting that they will consciously tow the party line at the expense of women’s rights. Progressive, intelligent, nice, sweet, stylish beautiful and friendly women and men with bright smiles will vote in favour of your abuser in order to stay in power and keep their positions. It’s the nature of politics. Why? Because they have been rocks, they have been sexually harassed, abused and assaulted as a result they expect you to do the same. They expect you to be strong. Be a Rock. Take one for the team. Take it. For the liberation movement. They have become numb to pain. Don’t be like the ANC Women’s league or a Rock. they are the veteran survivors or even current victims of abuse.
Do not exchange toxic masculinity for toxic femininity. Both are bad for you.
Don’t feel bad for leaving. You are saving your own life and his or hers mind you. If you need scientific evidence, a recent study by psychologists at the University of UC Berkeley found that feeling bad about feeling bad only serves to make things worse. Don’t attempt to feel upbeat about a bad situation. Don’t feel bad about leaving. It’s bad enough that you’re in an abusive relationship or that you have been violated in some way – accept that it’s bad and that as much as you love the revolution, you can’t change anyone or that man. Your man needs help. But you are not his saviour. You can’t change him, heal him or save him. The only way to help him is to show him that you are not a rock. You are soft. Let him see and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what he is doing is killing you, walk away. Get the restraining order. Call POWA. Even the police. Make a detailed record of events. File a case. Move out. Call a friend.
Not all men cheat, not all men rape or abuse women. Not all men are trash I promise you. You’ll meet someone who knows that love does not equal violence or pain. Dare to leave.
Being a rock may have worked in 1956 but it’s not working today. So, exchange that fist for a piece of paper and walk out. I know it’s been said before that “Mosadi o tshwara thipa ka mo bogaleng” A Sesotho idiom which means a woman holds the sharp end of the knife. Yes, she does but only if she has to, only if her children are under siege. Don’t let it get there. Walk out.
While you still can. You’re not a rock, you’re woman. Soft and human. Apartheid is over, and while this freedom may exist only on paper for most women, this paper is still a valid ticket for you to get out of there. Apply it. Use that App. Make it speak for you. You have a right to live a full and happy life. This is how you honour the women who marched in 1956.
Take your freedom and Leave. Run if you have to. Let them know that you strike a woman, she leaves. Period.
“Our revolution is not a public-speaking tournament. Our revolution is not a battle of fine phrases. Our revolution is not simply for spouting slogans that are no more than signals used by manipulators trying to use them as catchwords, as codewords, as a foil for their own display. Our revolution is, and should continue to be, the collective effort of revolutionaries to transform reality, to improve the concrete situation of the masses of our country.” ― Thomas Sankara