We have seen such violence against women that we have to rethink our social contracts. I will try to express the patriarchal culture that results in the belittling and ownership of women in our society. I believe this culture has contributed a great deal to the traumas prevalent in our society today. With the not so recent events in India, we have seen how our issues are mirrored in other societies.
We have been objectifying women for the longest time and dressing it up as respect…culture.
I will focus on lobola to make my point. The issue of centralizing lobola negotiations around the worth of a woman has become a problem no matter how good the original intentions were.
If you can quantify a woman’s worth you can disqualify it.
I have written of the dangers of emasculated patriarchy and how it victimizes what it can control.
Speaking to some friends of mine, both, men and women. Their views are varied on the subject of patriarchy and lobola. Lobola, they all agree is a way of creating a bond between families, ubuhlobo. What is required is that a man has cows to show he can provide for his added family. What is required is that a woman be of virtue.
What quantifies a woman’s virtue? This is what my friends disagree on. And some start to contradict themselves.
The woman’s virtue becomes central in lobola negotiations.
Another friend, whose man treated her as an equal, went through the process of lobola when they got married. She did not like that her qualities were reduced to only reproducing, obeying her husband, cooking and cleaning, and caring for family when she had a successful business mind. She said it created a shift in power relations soon after. Luckily for them, they worked it out.
We are very sensitive about what we see as attacks of ridicule on our culture that we refuse to question ourselves. It is a throwback to colonial times. We still see this ridicule in how our ways are still frowned upon. I grew up with a chicken coop in my backyard. Whenever we needed to, we slaughtered a chicken. No neighbor complained. Once we had to slaughter a goat for the new makoti. No neighbor complained, because they understood our ways, they were one of us. Now imagine I having to tell my granny that she needs permission every time she wants to slaughter a chicken. I certainly do not expect my granny to have a farm in her suburban backyard, but it concerns me how alienating our ‘cosmopolitan’ environment is to the ways of the majority of South Africans.
So with this fear of ridicule, we fiercely defend our ways, and refuse to question them. We hold on because we fear losing the only part that we know for sure is truly ourselves.
As a result our culture has stagnated causing so much strife amongst us. The truth is our world has changed and we have changed. We now realize it is not culture to objectify a woman. It is a form of oppression called patriarchy. This oppression is a form of governance that, at some point, has been adopted by peoples across the globe, till this day. And it works as long as everyone plays their roles – As long as nothing disrupts the hierarchy. When something like, say colonialism, comes and smashes through the hierarchy, we can never be the same again. Now the women have to work alongside the men and the family structure is changed forever. This fact alone has awoken women up to the realization that they have so many more life choices.
We need to be afforded the space to meditate on who we are, without judgment – So that we may not be complicit in committing atrocities under the guise of culture. Culture is complex. This complexity is compounded when we cannot evolve tradition. The stagnation of cultures is interestingly enough linked to the oppression of said cultures. The trauma of it all may result in society making a holy text out of a transitional and unflattering phase of its evolution.
So I am not against Lobola as the idea of creating friendship between two families. I am against how it is done and the resultant issues it creates in society.
As we walk side by side on this journey, this dream that our children shall inherit. It is good to continuously interrogate our core beliefs. We learn, and when we learn… we live better.
First published in Sowetan, March 15, 2013