The month of September marks the annual Heritage Month in South Africa. Heritage Day takes place on the 24th of September and is a South African public holiday, honouring the culture and diversity of beliefs and traditions of all South Africans.
Heritage Month comes after the devastating Women’s Month, where we saw the numbers of gender-based violence and femicide figures increase drastically. Someone who has a lot to say about heritage and gender issues in South Africa is Ntiski Mazwai. She is a social activist who’s activism has led to national debates about social issues affecting women in South Africa. Thus we at Vernac News decided to interview her about her take on heritage and gender issues in this country:
1. Often traditional culture and values are generalised as inherently patriarchal and discriminatory towards women, especially in a liberal context. Are there examples that you believe where traditional culture empowers women?
I think that there’s a big misconception about iculture yethu. I think we have allowed white people to tell us what our culture is. If you look at our history, the African culture is heavily based on matriarchal leadership. So women have always been in the lead and women have always had access to leadership before colonialism. Before colonialism women could have land, women were equal in the marriage, in the African context, and women had voices. In fact, women were so safe before colonialism they could walk around bare-breasted with just beads covering their private parts and not get raped. We come from a culture where men revere women and we have distanced ourselves from that for some reason. So a lot has happened in terms of colonialism and the dispossession of power of the black man which in turn led him to oppress black woman, but in true African culture, we are a matriarchal lineage.
2. Given the context provided, do you think traditional cultures and beliefs can co-exist with black radical feminist principles?
Feminism is not really African; feminism is a direct response to what’s happening to women, so it’s a rebellion. Feminism is a rebellion; it’s not a belief. It’s women standing up for themselves saying, ‘Actually no this is how I feel.’ So I don’t even think it’s even fair to put it underneath tradition or try to unpack whatever. We need to come to terms with the fact that the women are uprising because of what? And the uprising is called feminism; it’s not a belief. It’s not like we believe that women are better and men are what…no it’s an uprising. It’s a rebellion.
3. During women’s month, we saw increased numbers of femicide and gender-based violence crimes. In an attempt to find solutions to this pandemic, do you think the answer lies in our traditional culture?
Oh absolutely. If black people went back to their own beliefs and isintu sethu…in our culture, where Christianity taught Christians that the Holy Trinity is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that was stolen from our own ancient myth and legends. In African spirituality, the Holy Trinity is the father, the mother, the child. That makes sense. We can see that. That’s logical sense. Colonialism and Christianity say, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Can you see that? No. It’s just some patriarchal crap. If anything, the west brought patriarchy; it’s not an African thing. This is following white men’s ways. White men oppress their women. We didn’t have that problem until white men came.
4. Do you think traditional culture has been influenced by colonialism and Apartheid? If so how has that changed traditional culture from what it used to be to how things play out today in our society?
Yes, well obviously it’s changed. It was demonised mostly by colonialism and people moved away from our culture because of the shame associated with demon work and imithi and the negative narrative that was brought by the West. So our biggest problem is listening to white people about who we are. That’s the main issue. If black people had to take ownership of their identity and be like okay these are our values and in African spirituality, the family is the most important thing. A lot of our problems are going to go away because we have moved away from who we were and our systems actually worked.
5. In the past, you have criticised people and organisations who celebrate heritage day as a commercial event (braai day).
What does heritage day mean to you and how can we avoid the commercialisation of days like braai day?
That’s ridiculous; that’s actually rude. Black people, I don’t know if you are stupid or mentally challenged but the minute that the days you have set aside for yourselves are watered down into braai day, that’s an insult. The same people who killed your ancestors, who took the land, are now taking away your history. So there’s a problem there. It was not even Heritage Day; it was Shaka Zulu day and it was important for it to stay Shaka Zulu day so that the young black kids know who Shaka Zulu is and that he was the greatest military strategist in the world. There’s nobody who’s ever come close to what Shaka Zulu did in terms of military. The strategies that he came up with are still being used in armies now. So there’s a brilliance in the man and he has been taught to us as some crazy terrorist – but that’s what is written in the white history books. Of course, he was a terrorist to white people because he was protecting our land. So obviously, once again, once black people go back to their own stories and start celebrating their own people there will be a lot more clarity. But for as long as you trust in Christianity, materialism, these white schools; we will still be going around in the same circles.
Heritage Day, to me, is just about celebrating our diverse and beautiful culture and getting to know each other. I don’t know how to speak Tshivenda but things like heritage day bring that to the fore. So yea, for me, Heritage Day is actually a day of learning more than anything.
Ntsiki Mazwai, is a social activist, musician, poet, and author. Her name Nontsikelelo, translates to ‘the mother of blessings’.She also runs a blog and is a producer, beadwork artist.
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.