You would no doubt agree with me that history has a way of painting peculiar faint pictures especially when the ink resides in the hands of men. Like the story of Cleopatra and Neferneferuaten Nefertiti, Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Sibongile Khumalo, Thenjiwe Mtintso and Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala. Courtsey the hand which holds the pen and the ever manipulative media, we may never be able to discover the very heart, and soul that lay within these women. But we would never forget, for their impacts, their names and memories would never leave our hearts. And like Maya said, “They could write them down in history with their bitter twisted lies, but just like moons and like suns, with the certainty of tides, just like hopes springing high, they’ll rise still, even in death.”
It’s a shame that somehow history has been rewritten to suit a certain taste and it’s very core adulterated. But haven’t you wondered how time could pass so smoothly and names and memories would be erased from the lips of men? How genuine could it be that women sat hands clasped while men waged war against the apartheid regime?
Somehow, history presents men as the sole heroes and victors of freedom. Where we find Nelson Mandela, history erases Winnie Madikizela Mandela, and where history speaks of Walter Sisulu and Steve Biko, it simply leaves out the likes of Albertina Sisulu, Sibongile Khumalo, Thenjiwe Mtintso and Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala. It then doesn’t come as a surprise that black women have been left out of the mainstream historical narrative taught to young people about the history of black struggle. How many people out there can honestly say that they know the narratives of these women, as well as they do that of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Steve Biko? Believe me you, nothing could be farther from the truth than history’s so-called perception that the fight for freedom was solely a man’s fight.
Allow me to walk you down memory lane to December 5, 1997, when Mama Winnie testified in court for over 10 hours, facing questions from more than 10 lawyers representing various victims and the panel of commissioners and their investigators, after having been accused of and convicted for the kidnapping and assault in the case of Stompie Seipei, 14, who was later found dead, the killings of two young men she had labeled informers and her role in the kidnapping and death of the Soweto doctor.
Witnesses who were present at the court painted a portrait of her household as full of thuggish youths who killed at her command and amused themselves with tortures which included carving an M for Mandela into a victim’s chest and then pouring battery acid in the wound.
However not too long after her death, the former commissioner of police, George Fivaz, revealed to the whole of South Africa, that they had no real evidence to call her a murderer. But of course, he had to wait till she was dead to clear up her name and dignity. The question to be asked was why the lies? Why the false testaments? Why soil her name? Why persecute an innocent woman?
History of course would not take into account the brutality she endured at the hands of apartheid police. They have nothing to say about the torture she endured until she fainted, about being denied sanitary towels and left to soak in her own menstrual blood in jail. History forgets her role in keeping the name and memory of Mandela alive in the hearts of the people and somehow history writes off hundreds of black women sexually abused and butchered in this bloody onslaught, and neither does history bother to learn the names of those whose bodies decomposed in the police cells, nor is history mindful of female activists who spent months in solitary confinement – tortured, harassed, violated, banished while their kids were left to fend for themselves. Women like Mavis Nhlapo, Makhoere Caesarina Kona and even Gloria Meek, who in prison, was made to stand on frozen bricks for twelve hours until she collapsed, beaten and hair pulled out at the roots in her naked and pregnant state. Does history remember her miscarriage in the prison cell?
In addition to this rudeness peculiar to history, gendered silence has accompanied being a woman in the revolution. Who says that black solidarity requires the silence of black women? Where is it written that our fight requires us to remain silent especially in the face of gender-based violence inflicted upon our bodies, these bodies handed to revolution? This is our fight. Speak up and speak out about marginalization and non-recognition as a black woman. You’ve given enough already. Own your anger and channel it to effect radical and revolutionary reconciliation.
The blood of those black women activists still flow within your veins. Embrace the African woman that you are, and be her.