OPINION: Reflections on Rethink Africa: Decolonizing Institutions of Higher Learning on Gender

By: Funzani Cleo Mutsila 

Let me put forth that it was not until I had a conversation with MJ, a comrade and friend of mine, about what transpired Thursday evening at the Rethink Africa Wits dialogue, that I realized that, whether we agree or not with Dr Lwazi Lushaba’s utterance on the lack of intellectual argument in the current feminist discourse. It wasn’t his place to begin with to comment on an issue as complex and “sensitive” as feminism, given his obvious positionality as an advanced scholar and the way in which he delivered or articulated that position came out vulgar and opened a door for vulgarity, considering he was presenting to students who are still grappling with these ideas, hence then he was questioned about where he bought his PHD.

This is a point MJ makes quite succinctly and will pen more thoughts around this issue, which I think she makes a sound argument. We read and discussed Mariama Ba’s So long a letter briefly, which Dr Lwazi Lushaba recommends, from the excepts read, it seems to me to purport a very liberal feminist position and so this makes me question, Lwazi Lushaba’s understanding on gender politics and off course he mentioned he has only been seriously reading on gender for the past 2 years.

All the presented panellists, Lwazi Lushaba, Naledi Chirwa and Masixole Mlandu are blacks I respect as thinkers, activists and intellectuals. I was particularly looking forward to hear my leader, whom I have come to greatly revere, Naledi Chirwa, speak on decolonizing gender roles in institutions of higher learning and what that looks like, also because I have been engaging in a lot of gender material and gender related work/activism.

Though I am not a member of the EFFSC, I too was low-key rooting for her to occupy the presidency position within the EFFSC, because for so long women are constantly under the pressure of proving themselves beyond reasonable doubt that they are capable of leading male predominant movements, when men are allowed to flourish on mediocrity, this I speak from my own experiences during Fees must fall.

However I must register my disappointment, with the way in which she articulated the feminist position. Which I found to be very simplistic and ahistorical and failed to really go at the depth of our predicament as a subjugated, oppressed collective.

Oyeronke speaks about how the issue of historicity of gender cannot be overstated, given that in the western dominant discourses, gender is presented as trans-historical and therefore essentialist. Which brings me to the point that many make about the importance of essentially cultivating self- respecting African intellectuals, who would think outside western episteme and to begin to come up with an iconoclastic response to our predicament as a collective.

And this is a point I believe should largely apply to our gender politics, which I feel the current gender discourse lacks that historical context and it is very much largely influenced by western knowledge and lacks African context and perhaps this is why we somehow find ourselves finding it difficult to grasp firmly the concept of feminism, as we know it and the contradictions it brings when it comes to race and class.

Oyeronke further makes a point to say that studies of Africa should not rely on western-derived concepts to map the issue of gender in African societies, but instead must ask questions about the meaning of gender and how to apprehend it in particular times and place.

We cannot evaluate our current lived experiences without essentially looking at them diachronically. How the history of subjugation and the hyper sexualization of our bodies by white people, has placed us in the current position we find ourselves in. I think failure to take historical context into account while trying to understand our current lived experiences, will result in us failing to find sustainable solutions to our plight.

I think it is very imperative to always properly diagnose our problem and not just take it from a superficial point of view. Emotional as it may be, the black condition is also emotional but we still put in efforts to adequately make its diagnosis, why can’t we do the same with the gender question? We need to take thinking around gender as seriously as we take the race question, it can’t just be perpetually relegated to being an emotional topic and therefore we cannot apply thought around it. That is hypocrisy and being disingenuous.

I felt Naledi did not do justice to the topic at hand, at a time and point as important as the one given, where fallists across Gauteng and some from Western Cape gathered in one room to listen to what we mean by decolonizing gender and sexuality and eradicating patriarchy and toxic masculinity and where the contemporary conditions of black womxn in this country, requires and forces us to think of our lived experiences concurrently with our history and therefore contextualizing the present with those two aspects in mind.

I felt that was a good space for an intellectual engagement and to really articulate our position as womxn and queer bodies. For the most part I failed to follow her argument and due to the chaotic moment that occurred I failed to raise this up at the engagement and in retrospect I am thankful I did not raise my dissatisfaction then as this has allowed me time to think through really what happened.

Perhaps I too as guided from an indoctrination of a patriarchal society and how it manifests and finds expression through womxn bodies, have placed unreasonably high expectations on her, given that the space she was expected to present on, she was the only womxn and all the pressure to talk about gender was only directed towards her and for this we must fault Rethink Africa or maybe it is my growing impatience with the lack of in-depth thinking and failure to marry history with our plight as black women, within the asserted current gender politics.

From my perspective any gender politics which fail to locate our fundamental antagonism and therefore do not reference colonialism, slavery and the state of our captivity as the African people is greatly flawed.

Funzani is a young activist born in Kagiso and grew up in Soweto. A Finance and Investment graduate from the University of Johannesburg, currently pursuing her post graduate studies. She was one of the students in the forefront of Fees Must Fall and Outsourcing Must Fall within her university and nationally. She is a member of the Pan African Student Movement of Azania (PASMA) and The Fallist movement which primarily has three guiding cardinal pillars: Black Consciousness, Pan-Africanism and Black radical feminism. She is also a member of a grass root level, decolonial woman’s movement called Soweto Woman’s Forum.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Vernac News.

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