Gender Transformation in Democratic Cape Town

Business Unusual – all power to women’ (CGE Motto, 2008)

“IF 500 000 women are being raped every year, why haven’t we turned in arms?” protests an angry young woman.

Her name is Nomalanga Nkhize, it’s the eve if International Women’s Day and she’s angry because two young women were recently killed in Sowetto for no greater reason than their sexual orientation.
But she’s referring to more than just ‘gender transformation’ as we know it. She refers to a history of oppression and inequality, “a civil war waged by an army of men against women”, where “slavery has been institutionalized rape”.
Sixteen years after the end of apartheid, Yvette Abrahams, head of women’s transformation in Cape Town is quick to comfort her anger.

“We have to appreciate history in terms of the arms struggle – increasing violence only increases violence against women,” says Yvette.

Painful truth lies behind her swords. A woman is raped in South Africa every 17 seconds and one in four South African women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Yet women comprise over half of the South African population.

“I’m proud to be a woman and a woman who likes women, but we don’t think with our virginas,” she jokes. The British came with patriarchal assumptions. Cultures change. We’re talking about women’s ability to resist, not blaming men” she said.

Her colleague Robert Morell of the University of Guasorinatol and author of ‘Baba’ agrees with Mirjam Van Donk’s plea: “the struggle for women needs men”.

“Generally speaking, where women have fought with men, they’ve lost. So it disturbs me that we’re talking about fighting men. We need to find a way of creating space and purpose for men in gender transformation,” he says.

He speaks the words of a country that is tired with violence.

“Ethel Fugard once said ‘the only way you know how to talk is to hit’. We have been measuring masculinity by the red on the rev counter” he says with shame and disappointment. “Single-sex boys’ schools cultivate this particular violence – and I’m talking about elite as well as township schools.”
“Feminism is a western quality – it does not agree in my culture. Yet, we are walking a lonely road. We must change the thinking that if you’re in Khayleisha and you’re attacked but don’t respond, there’s something wrong with you,” says Mabuyiselo Botha, a highly respected Capetonian.

His sentiments come from this year’s anti-patriarchy campaign in Sowetto ‘Not in My Name’, which aims to change certain cultural expectations of African men.

“”If there are benefits to men in patriarchy, they are very limited,” he says.
“I’m fortunate that I was raised by illiterate, compassionate single women and learnt values that you cannot learn from a university. I’m doing this for my children – I want my daughter to leave University at night knowing that society respects her.”
Mbuyisel Botha is a self confessed minority in the room: “I’m young, I’m a man and I’m black,” he jokes. “Men should and can play a role in change, but women need to continue to lead the struggle,” he says.

This seems to be the theme of gender transformation in South Africa today. Ms. Van Donk calls it “changing the script”; it’s not so much freedom for women, as freedom for men.
Mr. Morrell’s challenge is “What is men’s role? Is it going to be obstinate or facilitative?”

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