Women Forgotten In The Shadow Of History

The Women Who Stood Alongside Their Activist Husbands

By Pinky Khoabane

Kofi Annan with wife Nane —Vogue

SEPTEMBER 12 marked the 41st anniversary of Steve Biko and an annual lecture was held in his honour on September 13. The day would coincide with the burial of former United Nations General Secretary, Busumuru Kofi Annan, in his home Ghana.

At the Steve Biko Lecture, in among the audience, there sat Ntsiki Biko, in all her graciousness. Among the moving tributes paid to Annan was one by his wife, Nane. Both these women we know very little about and yet we know so much about their husbands. While many of us will be able to point out the pictures of these men, very few will be able to identify their wives and their families.

Theirs is the story of most women married to powerful and successful men. We hardly know them and their children. And yet at the side of every one of these men, is an extraordinary woman. Steve Biko couldnt have been the leader that we know without his wife Ntsiki by his side. Nelson Mandela and his legacy could not have been where it is today without the strength and resilience of Winnie Mandela. Alongside Thomas Sankara was Mariam. Along Robert Sobukwe was Veronica Zondeni. Alongside Patrice Lumumba, Pauline. Martin Luther King had Coretta Scott by his side. Helen Fabela Chavez worked with her husband, Cesar. She participated in the movement that would bring her husband renown as a civil rights crusader. Where would Archbishop Desmond Tutu be without Leah?

All these women have been victims of a patriarchal and sexist history, and gender politics that excludes women in the marathon of memorialisation. Thus these women have been side-lined and disremembered in the national remembering discourse.

All around the globe the contribution of these women and many others is erased from the history books. It is as if the women stood by and watched as their men fought for liberation and the independence of their people. The reality is that they often had to help their husbands in their liberation struggles and still attend to the family and household chores.

The women who dare to join the struggle for the liberation of their people alongside men are usually vilified or their might romanticised. Winnie Mandela is a case in point and we know how ferocious that campaign was right to the end of her life.

In the 1660s Queen Nzinga, the great Angolan warrior queen who fought against the Portuguese was described as an angry, power hungry and over-sexed woman.

The Ahosi (King’s wives) or Mino (our mothers) was an all-female military regiment of the Fon nation of the Kingdom of Benin. Misconceptions fueled by European narratives refer to the soldiers as “Amazons,” based on what they thought to be a similarity to the semi-mythical Amazons of ancient Anatolia. By doing this they were deliberately romanticising the might of these women, to denounce the military prowess of an unknown African military formation.

In a series of articles, we will find these great women and publish their stories for we cannot be part of history of amnesia.

If you have stories of the unsung heroes, please send them to uncensoredopinion1@gmail.com

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