My mother was called the rose amongst thorn at the trial of the Soweto 11 after the 76 uprising. These 11 school children and others had innocently broken a long silence in the black community and sought to address themselves to the apartheid state in defence of their humanity, education and culture. Their peaceful transgression was met with a violent roar from the state and transformed them into terrorists and fighters in the war for the liberation of South Africa. Standing behind the dock my mother was the rose; a single woman amongst men fully dedicated to the liberation of her people. There have always been these roses, at time the roses where the only ones brave enough to challenge brutality and oppression of state and society.
In Zimbabwe’s first chimurenga women led the fight against the colonial rulers who took cattle from villages sing force. When the rulers and men set with their heads in their hands feeling powerless women broke custom, took up arms and stole the cattle back. In Zimbabwe Nehanda led these women and the spirit that would fuel the country’s first challenge to colonial rule. The women of South Africa took to the road and led the march to Pretoria against pass laws in 1956 bringing a 20 thousand strong challenge to the state. In 1961 also the women of Zimbabwe flooded the route to Prime Minister Smith’s home against an oppressive and racist constitution. In the struggles for liberation in Southern Africa women have always raised their fist to be counted. Women never sat back and let oppression happen to them but opened their homes and hid guerrillas, fed liberation soldiers, took up arms in exile, left their homes and raised their children in the spirit that change was possible.
Women have been involvement in revolution as often the long term view that understands that revolution is not a single moment where the masses take to the streets with lit torches and a ruling elite takes over the seats of power and the banks. This revolution changes the faces in the seats of power without changing how people live. This tendency to an instant revolt can be seen in the nature of the liberation movement that is based on hierarchy and an inconsistence between the means and the ends. In the liberation armies in Southern Africa women played crucial roles regarded with minimal importance. Women carried supplies to the front lines, risked their homes and not armed until the later part if the struggle. While women in exile camps did the same training as their male counterparts their functions where restricted to nursing, administrative work. As a child I remember my mother and other women activists intentionally marginalising their struggles for gender equality for the struggle to liberate the nation. I also remember innumerable gatherings held in our home of men who saw themselves as representing the black people without ever blushing at the absence of women in their gatherings. The gender inequality within the struggle is mirrored in independence not only in gender inequality but in the approach to freedom.
June is soon behind us and we will soon be in August when the country will give homage to the roses who contributed to the transformation of South Africa. For a month women will be on the center of the agenda. In November women will make a showing on the agenda again in the campaign against the violence against women and children. Twice a year South Africa remembers women; first as struggle heroes and again as victims of domestic violence. This insensitivity of gender equality, beyond the law a deeper in congruence in the structure of our fight for democracy.
Before one more superficial gathering in praise of the roses who helped fight for liberation South Africa needs to go back to the hopes of the roses and re-imagine a society built on the view of revolution as long term. We need to raise our children, build homes and communities that are equal not only on gender lines but along racial, class and faith lines. We need to fashion a society based on the values of a group of women who transgressed the rules and values of their time and changed history. Revolution now in South Africa must change the way people live and how they interact with each other and the world around them. The freedom we are building now has to represent the diversity of possibilities represented in the individuals who took to the fight to change the world.