Today, 1st August, as we in South Africa begin commemorating Women’s Month, there is a country wide march organised by women protesting the continued, elevated and normalisation of gender based violence in our country. I don’t know who is organizing the march or what their other politics or agenda is, this march against gender based violence is an issue that matters to me. I am going. I haven’t participated in a mass action march in over 5 years!
Too many people I know aren’t attending the march today, I am sure there are good reasons they are not, and I am not here to judge.
We can easily pull the political history card that 20,000 women marched in 1956 and that we living in 2018 have our mission or freedom to march for (think Frank Fanon), so let’s go march! But I won’t use that argument. Besides, how many of us are moved to act by “what they sacrificed” at this time?
In case you are one of those who could still go, I thought let me share my thoughts on why you should strongly consider going to march. We live in a time when most of us act when there is a direct reason or benefit to us, so here are my thoughts on why we should march for our own selfish benefit.
Our social contract is in tatters.
The unwritten agreement we have as a South African society on how we will live together and cooperate for all our social benefit is broken. Women are under attack every day. We are not safe, we are not free. We know the statistics even before they are bandied in the media because gender based violence is happening closer and closer to us every day. We need a new and stronger agreement to better organise our society. The key thing here is “contract,” a contract involves all parties involved and each party has a role and has recourse. This march is about us activating our recourse as injured parties.
You may be skeptical and feel the march won’t accomplish anything and you will have lost a day in your busy life, but we have seen in our recent history, in very recent years, that marches catalyse change.
Here are 3 reasons I hope you choose to use one leave day or half day leave to march –
1. You have agency. You matter. Your voice matters. It sounds cliche, but please keep reading. We all want to matter, it’s a basic human need.
The politics of our country have left many of us feeling disempowered. Voter turn out at elections continues to decline as more people feel as though what they want will never be. As more people feel marginalised.
As more people feel that their voice will never be heard. Communities feel compelled to hold violent protests to get the attention they require. Most of us feel that unless you are in organizations and institutions that directly deal with these “issues” (that affect us) we have no power to influence. We feel we have no agency.
Yet we have seen that marches and protests, sometimes consisting of just 4 young women, have an impact.
Impact is sometimes just getting the national conversation going. And sometimes impact means whole policy and law changes in Parliament. No action is too small and every single person counts. You count.
2. You can claim back your freedom. It can happen to you. We are not free. We are not free in our homes, our daughters are not free in our homes, we are not free in our streets. This is not normal, it is not how we want our society to be, unfree. South Africa, in particular is obsessed with freedom, we want it, we crave it. So why not claim it, grab it with both hands?
Gender based violence can happen to anyone. The economics of our country have deepened racial and class divisions, but none of that protects anyone from gender based violence.
Victims of these crimes are not the poor, the unemployed, it is all of us. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it has happened to someone you know. We have to prevent it from happening to another person we know and to ourselves.
3. It is healthy for you. It is healthy for you to get active and start moving in the spaces where you want to see change. You start feeling purposeful, we all thrive on a sense of purpose. We all want to be fulfilled. It is also healthy for our country, our democracy. We need to be active citizens and citizenship means activism. Without citizen activism our democracy cannot work.
Democracy means work for all of us all of the time. All of us being vigilant making sure that our social contract remains intact and doesn’t get compromised. It is our duty. That inalienable, inescapable duty we all try run away from.
But as long as we agree that democracy is what we want, then we need to start living up to our responsibilities, hold up our end of the bargain as citizens in a democracy.
Democracy is still new to us, we need to learn fast and make it work to the benefit of all of us all of the time. Find the space you want to be active in and get working fellow citizen.
Ntombenhle Khathwane is CEO: Afrobotanics