Fearless Chabaku fights patriarchy

ANC Women's League veteran Motlalepule Chabaku says women have made great strides in South Africa during the past 15 years .

ANC Women's League veteran Motlalepule Chabaku says women have made great strides in South Africa during the past 15 years .

Chabaku is a former speaker of the Gauteng and Free State provincial legislatures.

She says there are now more women in positions of power in government and that legislation is in place to prevent discrimination based on gender.

Women have been promoted through affirmative action and many have succeeded in business.

"President Jacob Zuma said: 'If you want to succeed you must put women in positions of power. Though women have not made it in great numbers, there have been many breakthroughs'.

"Women hold top positions in the police services and are doing a good job. There are businesses run by women for women and with women," Chabaku says.

She says the challenge is to make use of the many retired nurses, teachers, social workers, councillors and Members of Parliaments.

Chabaku, qho is a church minister, says it is disappointing that the group of preachers who advise the president dooes not include women.

"When Christ died on the cross the women stuck with him to the end," she says. "The disciples were nowhere to be found. This move perpetuates the anti-woman stigma that began with Adam and Eve in the Bible.

"Why blame Eve when Adam knew he should not break God's law? Women are the majority in the churches but they are not allowed to preach in front of men.

"All human beings are equal but mankind has humanised God and made him a man. I ask, why not a woman?"

Chabaku was the ANCWL's general secretary when it organised the Transvaal women's march to Pretoria in 1956.

"We drafted a women's charter at our annual Transvaal conference in 1953 and it was accepted in 1954. We then undertook a march in 1955 but the ANCWL's national leadership felt we should include all the provinces.

"I travelled all over with my driver, Philemon Mathole, organising with the branches.

"While we were in Eendrag, near Bethal, we saw teachers and pupils being forced to dig up potatoes as big as a man's head.

"I understand that the activist Gert Sibande was so angry once that he whipped a Boer for this. We started the campaign not to eat potatoes. The farmers used to bury prisoners in those fields in Bethal."

Chabaku did not take part in the march to Pretoria since she was needed to coordinate routes and timetables.

But she led the march to the Bantu Commissioners' offices in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

"Some husbands did not allow their women to join the Pretoria march. They did not want to disobey their men, so the women joined the march in Johannesburg.

The maverick political activist, teacher and social worker sympathises with 800m gold medallist Caster Semenya, whose gender has been questioned at the international Athletics Association meeting in Berlin.

"I was sick with tonsillitis, which developed into septic mumps. No one wanted to come near me and I was excluded and snubbed by many. When I recovered my voice had changed," Chabaku said.

"I was not allowed to sing in the choir at St Cyprians because people said I had the voice of a man. I had to pick up rubbish in the school yard while the choir practised. I was deprived of many things because people questioned my gender."

This isolation helped her when she broke the taboos that constrain women in a patriarchal society. She did not marry but adopted a daughter, Mamolemo, who lives in the US with her three sons.

"I took her with me when I went into exile. I had to battle to be allowed to stay in the US though I was a qualified minister with a congregation of 8000. In exile I loudly beat the drum in favour of sanctions."

Chabaku was a classmate of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She is a minister in the Anglican and Methodist churches.

"I did not comply with culture and tradition because adversity and experience made me brave enough to choose my own path," Chabaku says.