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Dump oppressive practices which police grieving women

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
PSL chairperson Irvin Khoza paying final respects to his wife Mantwa Khoza at the Orlando Holy Cross Anglican Church in Soweto on Saturday.
PSL chairperson Irvin Khoza paying final respects to his wife Mantwa Khoza at the Orlando Holy Cross Anglican Church in Soweto on Saturday.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

In my line of work, I do a lot of social commentary, and this has made me view a lot of everyday events with a different eye - an analytical eye that looks at everyday issues beyond the surface.

This past week, two events occurred that ignited my thoughts on what you are about to read in this article.

Television stations were filled with the coverage of the unfortunate passing of Mme Yvonne Mantwa Khoza, who was Dr Irvin Khoza's partner. May her soul rest in peace.

In seeing the coverage of her death until the funeral, a thought came to my mind. A thought on how our varied societal structures, from institutions to traditions, principles and practices, continually privilege men over women.

I watched as Khoza was meeting with the ANC leadership. It occurred to me how little society or our traditions expect of men during their period of mourning. And that to me stood out because mourning your loved one is such a trying and sacred time, yet women are harshly policed and scrutinised during this time.

Women are told to sit on a mattress in a bedroom during mourning. Women have to wear one dark attire for long periods of time after burial, whereas men are not expected to do the same. Mourning men can only put a little black cloth or a band on the arm of a clothing item.

It does not end there; a woman in mourning is barred from going to certain public places and is supposed to be home at a particular time. It is also frowned upon for a woman to stand up on a podium and speak at their deceased partner's funeral.

Our systems are so harsh on women that they are policed even in the most sacred of times. The whole practice is oppressive, and it doesn't end there. In many instances, when a man's death is unexplainable, the wife instantly becomes a suspect.

Do not read this as an attack on Irvin Khoza, this is solely my observation of the stark, unequal expectations that are placed on mourning women, that are relaxed when a man is in mourning. Like I said earlier, there are everyday events in our society that occur that I will look at and think of the various implications or societal issues they expose.

In fact, listening to Khoza's tribute to his partner at her funeral showed just how progressive he is, giving due credence to the matriarch and leader that Mme Mantwa was. He is a man who pushes the envelope and rightly so, disregards archaic practices.

A lot of our cultural practices are a constant reminder how much our society hates, disrespects and dehumanises women and wants to continually curtail their behaviour.

Another recent incident that exposes the continual policing of women and how each and every sector in our society continually shows its disregard for women is the recent case of ANC Youth League spokesperson Sizophila Mkhize.

She was barred from entering the venue of the ANC national executive committee's lekgotla meeting in Irene, Tshwane, because her dress was "too short". Again, a woman was being policed about what she should wear.

This is even more shameful because one would like to believe our politicians, who lead this democracy, would have transcended such ancient thinking.

Mkhize's experience also reminded me of the complexity that comes with patriarchy, whose victims sometimes themselves become custodians of the very thing that oppresses them.

I say this because Mkhize was told by a fellow woman that her dress was inappropriate. As fate would have it, funerals also happen to be a site most liberated women dread because they are kept in check and reminded of the endless nonsensical rules they must follow, by fellow women.

We need to think deeply about instances such as the above if we are truly committed to unravelling the oppression that women face as a consequence of patriarchy and its detrimental ramifications.

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