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Salute... phenomenal women

Struggle icon Charlotte Maxeke.
Struggle icon Charlotte Maxeke.
Image: FILE

There are so many things happening in our country that can usurp your energy and hope in seconds. Today, though, I choose celebration. I celebrate phenomenal women.

It is obvious to all that many have used August 9 as some kind of extended birthday for the women in their lives - flowers, chocolates and all. Mine, though, is a different kind of celebration. It is a tough love kind of celebration. There will be no bouquets of flowers. No cheap mugs from Cardies! But it is an earnest and heartfelt celebration of the tenacity of women who birthed change as we know it.

Discourse on women empowerment is irritatingly often shrouded in demeaning and condescending terms. It is as if women suffer an inherent disability that requires men to first agree to empower them.

"We need to liberate our women," men often say.

It is even more troubling that some women believe that they, in fact, can't do much to empower themselves without men. They are dependent. They need extra affirmation. They need to be held by the hand as if men are exclusively imbued with leadership characteristics. Yet, the history of mankind is replete with examples of how men have misled the world.

Here at home, the very genesis of the poverty in our country is to be found in chauvinistic racists who oppressed not only black people, but white women too. Our beloved country is today, from a fiscal strength point of view, on its knees. Our economy is flailing.

Years of misrule by Jacob Zuma and a coterie of men who behaved like they knew what they were doing are coming to bear on us.

Another man, Cyril Ramaphosa, awaits the entire universe to scream at him before he could be decisive about how to redirect our economy.

Power utility Eskom, and other mismanaged state-owned enterprises misled by men, are so riven with corruption and maladministration they could pass for "how-not-to-lead" examples. If you looked deeply, you will find a list of men who walked around in suits pretending to know what they were doing while generating the current crisis.

Around the world, it's the same story, different faces.

And women, when it's time to step up, cry for mere accommodation at the table of decision-makers.

I am not harsh when I say these cries are sheepish, naive even.

I yearn for strong women. The type that did things for themselves. The type that found solutions when men regurgitated excuses.

Smart, beautiful but deeply intelligent and hard-working women.

To many of us today, Charlotte Maxeke is the name of a malfunctioning hospital in Gauteng. Yet Charlotte Makgomo Maxeke is a pioneering black woman, among the first to receive a degree from Wilberforce University where her lecturers included W.E.B Du Bois in 1904.

I yearn for the type that, when men dithered, they'd take the bull by the horns - and lead. I am talking about Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertinah Sisulu and Sophia Williams De Bruyn who, in the face of certain death, arrest, torture by the National Party regime, decided to stage a women's march in 1956 that gave rise to what young people of today enjoy as a holiday on August 9.

The roots of this "holiday" are to be found in the risk to life and limb of these young women, showing men what it means to confront the brutal racist regime of Verwoerd. At that time, a number of men were in exile, others in jail, others killed - yet our brave women (not the send me eWallet-types) confronted racism head-on.

Today, I yearn for the descendants of Williams De Bruyn and Maxeke to lead. To not sheepishly ask for an accommodation from men clueless about how to lead this great nation.

I yearn for that spirit of great women who knew Verwoerd could unleash a bloodbath on the lawns of the Union Buildings but still remained undeterred.

I yearn for women leaders who's revolutionary task in 2019 is not merely to complain about untransformed men, but women leaders doing something about this lack of transformation.

Elsewhere on these pages, we bid farewell to Toni Morrison, that doyenne of truth. Maya Angelou writes about "Phenomenal Woman". Toni Morrison was that. Charlotte Maxeke was that. Lillian Ngoyi was that. Albertinah Sisulu was that. Sophia Williams De Bruyn was that. So too was Helen Joseph.

If women of today wanted to lead this country, they would not wait for a conference of a party. They would lead in branches. By the time men start using money to buy delegates, the men will find that the branches are manned, so to speak, by strong, principled women not swayed by a few rands and cents. Phenomenal women. And these women will, of course, put paid to their subjugation.

Women must demand and take - this being the operative word - their freedom. All oppressed people who eventually attained freedom did not ask to be accommodated - they took their freedom.

So, let us not use Women's Day as some kind of an extended birthday or holiday for our partners - but a moment to reflect on how men have misled us for centuries and what needs to be done to give effect to the creation of this long overdue Queendom South Africa.

- Sefara is editor of Sunday World. Engage him on @Sefara_Mak

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