Feature

Thomas Sankara Taught Us To Defend Women’s Rights & Be Upright Men

By Themba Godi

YESTERDAY we woke up to yet another incident of gender based violence, a pandemic that has not only gripped South Africa but the world at large. A video recording showed Bongekile Simelane who goes by the stage name Babes Wodumo, being slapped repeatedly by her boyfriend, Mandla Maphumulo known as Mampintsha. It wasnt the first time, her father said.

Simelane, sadly joins, the harrowing statistics of women who were sexually harassed, beaten, raped and killed on the night her incident took place.

The statistics speak for themselves and tell us that again that ending the violence cannot be the fight of women alone.

The 2016/17 Victims of Crime statistical release reported that 250 out of every 100 000 women were victims of sexual offences compared to 120 out of every 100 000 men. Using the 2016/17 South African Police Service statistics, in which 80% of the reported sexual offences were rape, together with Statistics South Africa’s estimate that 68,5% of the sexual offences victims were women, we obtain a crude estimate of the number of women raped per 100 000 as 138. This figure is among the highest in the world. For this reason, some have labelled South Africa as the “rape capital of the world.

Thomas Sankara, who is among a constellation of African thinkers and freedom fighters whose brightness never wanes, wrote a book, “Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle” in which he tackled issues of women’s emancipation. “You are our mothers, life companions, our comrades in struggle and because of this fact you should by right affirm yourselves as equal partners in the joyful victory feasts of the revolution.”

And he was perfectly correct. Most of human history took place in Africa, where women were equal, if not superior, to men. For thousands of years, African societies were matriarchal and they prospered. It is through an oppressive form of colonial Christianity that came to Africa that Europeans replaced millennia of prosperous matriarchy with oppressive patriarchy. Women have been at the centre of every civilisation, kingdom and empire. They have led, endured, conquered and developed societies that have contributed immensely to human development and African identity.

The pan African history abounds with powerful women from pre-colonial times who were either at the forefront of battles against colonialists and who held leadership positions in their nations. Women such as: the powerful Queen Nefertiti Of Egypt; Empress Taytu Betul, a military strategist, who together with her husband Emperor Menelik 11 of Ethiopia were able to defeat the Italians in the Battle of Adwa; Queen Nzinga, best remembered for her resistance against the Portuguese, and setting her people free from slavery; Fatima Al-Fihri  established the world’s very first university; Nandi Ndlovukazi kaBhebe, of the eLangeni, Queen Mother of the Zulus was the success behind King Shaka; and there are many more of these powerful women. They were mothers, sisters, aunts, wives and grand mothers.

Sankara stood up against modern day narratives which seek to promote and harbour anti-female socialisation which has deteriorated into the scourge that we see today. “Comrades, there is no true social revolution without the liberation of women. May my eyes never see and my feet never take me to a society where half the people are held in silence. I hear the roar of women’s silence. I sense the rumble of their storm and feel the fury of their revolt.”

Sankara promoted education as a fundamental means by which African women could be liberated. “In the ministries responsible for education, we should take special care to assure that women’s access to education is a reality, for this reality constitutes a qualitative step toward emancipation. It is an obvious fact that wherever women have had access to education, their march to equality has been accelerated.”

Turning to parents, this leader said, “parents should accord the same attention to the progress of their daughters at school as they do to their sons, their pride and joy. Girls have proven they are the equals of boys at school, if not simply better. But above all they have the right to education in order to learn and know-to be free.”

He stood firm on the question of unequal pay, describing it as illogical. “How can we continue to accept that a woman doing the same job as a man should earn less?”

He worked tirelessly towards abolishing female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and polygamy. He bemoaned the standards of beauty that were being imposed on women purely for the sake of attracting men. He decried the dowry for women, which he called the commodification of women. “Can we accept the levirate and dowries which reduce our sisters and mothers to common commodities to be bartered for?”

There are many interventions aimed at stemming violence against women but the weakest is by us – men – who don’t stand-up firmly enough for our grand mothers, mothers, sisters, companions and comrades.

The oppression and exploitation of women – particularly African women –  is at the heart of our national malaise. The APC has strengthened its women’s league as the lead organ to rally women and all progressives to liberate society from its backwardness. We decry our criminal justice system that it is not sufficiently responsive to the plight of abused women.

Sankara changed the name of French colony Upper Volta to Burkina Faso which means the land of Upright Men. We must take his baton and become a nation of Upright Men.

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