Woman As Citizen – (As Forgotten)


In the wake of gender-based violence, a number of men in the Republic have taken to social media and other platforms; decrying the actions of fellow men as we continue to consume, through murder and rape, women’s bodies. Spurred by a phallocentric egoism, that still qualifies a woman’s safety in relation to masculinist identities, as men we continue to perpetuate violence – in both its physical and metaphoric manifestation(s) – against our fellow citizens as a result of the ingrained misogyny that defines the face of our native land, writes SISEKO H KUMALO.

Echoing Mahmood Mamdani’s thinking, I concur that the categories we use in the (post)-colonial African state are still ensnared in colonial imaginaries. Alkebulan has yet to define its own conception of personhood, outside of and against the thinking established by the violence of coloniality.  We continue to reel from the impositions of European modernity, as we speak with two tongues; denouncing the very reality that we embrace through our writings and thinking as we grapple to re-imagine our future possibilities. Nempela isiZulu siqinisile mesithi ‘umuzi weziqhwaga uyachitheka’. Sinjenje mntanethu soniwa yinkunzi. 

Even as British coloniality, a historic trauma that continues to define our lived experiences, was driven by the affective agenda of inculcating manners in the idle/indolent native (historically conceived as Kaffir, and the Hottentot) – is there a possibility for us to assert that indaba inendodana, uyise kanacala? In this assertion are two realities that require deep philosophical rumination if we are to authentically curate a postcolonial condition. 

First, as a nation we need to ask ourselves what it is that we have embraced of the colonial imaginary/psyche?  For as De Beauvoir notes it, “from the feminist point of view, France was ahead of other countries; but unfortunately for the modern Frenchwoman, her status was decided during a military dictatorship […] like all military men, Napoleon preferred to see in woman only a mother; but as heir to a bourgeois revolution, he was not one to disrupt the structure of society and give the mother pre-eminence over the wife”. Through centuries of colonial domination, marked by phallocentric penetrative violence, Alkebulan and its children, its leaders and democrats, have forgotten the bodily autonomy of woman; woman as citizen in her own right. From this first consideration comes the question, ‘how have we imbibed European categories of thought’, sibafuze ngani undlebe zikhanya ilanga? 

This first consideration leads me to my second point. How do we begin to truly embrace Alkebulan’s spirit and de-link from colonial imaginaries; decolonise our psyches? This de-linking takes seriously the notion that indaba inendodana, uyise kanacala. As we continue to be trapped by colonial modes of thinking and being, is there a possibility for us to re-conceive our realities in ways that embrace the work of scholars such as Ifi Amadiume? I ask this question as Amadiume notes, “it is my thesis that the Igbo non-distinctive subject pronoun allows a more flexible semantic system, in which it is possible for men and women to share attributes. This system of few linguistic distinctions between male and female gender also makes it possible for men and women to play some social roles which, in other cultures, especially those of the Western world, carry rigid sex and gender association”. 

From her analysis, the contemporary gender/feminist scholar and activist are invited to think carefully and critically about gender categories that existed on the continent prior to European epistemic impositions. 

As a Queer Black male feminist scholar and activist, I watched this week, as the debates on femicide unfolded throughout the country at the news of Uyinene Mrwetyana’s untimely departure from this world. I was and continue to be alarmed at how quickly South African’s had forgotten that a year ago, and markedly, on Women’s day – we laid to rest Khensani Maseko – a Rhodes University student who took her life as a result of having endured sexual assault. I dare to venture the unpopular opinion that had we not forgotten, maybe Uyinene and so many more women would be alive today. Had we taken serious action against the assailants of Khensani, Karabo and countless other women who we buried in the course of “our” democracy, maybe today we would be counting less bodies in the morgues, our graveyards and those we have incinerated in our crematoriums.

The public outcry, specifically from men in the country, reminds me of the Zulu axiom ‘udla esulela phansi njengenkukhu’. Our public outrage on social media platforms has done little to change the realities of women’s fear and anxiety, as they live as second-class citizens in the country of their birth. Our violence, hate and insecurities manifest as misogynistic, patronising, phallocentric egoism that has us protecting women insofar as they are our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives; the safety of women in the Republic is secured only insofar as it is approximated to masculinity. We have forgotten woman’s bodily autonomy and fail to uphold her status as equal citizen – as a legitimate category in and of itself. 

Simply put, I plead with fellow men in this country to shut the fuck up, so long as they have not paradigmatically shifted their views to align with the reality that women deserve the right to their bodily autonomy, not because she is my mother, my sister, my lover, my friend or someone I know; she deserves her right to bodily autonomy because she is inherently deserving of it, qua human being. 

Siseko H Kumalo is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Decolonising Disciplines. He has published on feminist theory and queerness and is presently working on a book for the HSRC Press titled The South African Epistemic Decolonial Turn: A Global Perspective. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.