I was charmed by this girl’s joking exuberance, but life for Zulu women and children can often be hard and unforgiving. Conversations with my co-workers, alongside people’s stories, have made me so aware that women and children empowerment has a way to go. There is an infant school near our site, where the headmaster and teachers beat the children with sticks. If they can’t do their school work, they get beaten. This is a daily occurrence. It is a free state school, so many parents who have no money have no choice but to send their kids there. Kids come home with huge welts on their backs. This is against the law. Complaints to the Dept of Education go unheeded. Visiting dignitaries have been appealed to, to no avail. They throw their hands up on horror, then nothing happens. It makes me want to weep.
Local culture often condones violence. Tash, my cousin, told me that she worked for 3 years with a guy who was a Zulu traditionalist and a Christan fundamentalist who beat his teenage children with a shambok, and he regularly sat down with her (Tash) and asked her why she wasn’t looking for a husband. Good old delightful Tash, who is gay and very sharp, explained to him why she wasn’t looking for a wife either.
I drove with one of my co-workers and she explained to me the rules around marriage. When a girl gets married, the husband has to pay ‘lobola’. This can be in the form of money/cows (‘izibizo’) , which goes to the brides father, and/or blankets/cooking pots, which goes to the brides mother. The amount of lobola is negotiated between elders and the bride’s father. Usually nowadays the bride has a choice in her husband, but in the Eastern Cape, there are still forced marriages, particularly with under-age girls. This is against the law.
If the wife doesn’t produce any sons, then the husband will often get a girlfriend. Actually even if she does have a son, the husband may well get a girlfriend. (Look at the Zulu President; he has 6 wives). The wife has no power. If the husband beats her (and gender- based violence is extremely common), then the in-law family will try and stop her going to the Police.
A South African region, Uthukela, near Durban, has launched a grant scheme for girls who remain virgins throughout their university studies, triggering outrage among human rights groups. The bursary is the brainchild of the municipality’s female mayor, Dudu Mazibujo. Girls have to undergo annual virginity checks. Sounds like institutionalised sexual abuse, to me. News of the scheme sparked outrage from civil society groups, with one women’s association branding it unconstitutional. But I haven’t heard that the grant conditions have been overhauled.
This week, we have been holding some workshops round gender issues for our youth tteam. There has been a lot of shouting and laughter coming from the training room, but it is clear that many challenging issues are arising. Like the disparity in domestic chores (female 100, male 0) and the views on power and rights. (Initially 100% of the group were saying that a girl in a mini-skirt deserved to be raped because she was asking for it. But the trainers were challenging them on this and it was causing uproar). This workshop is really digging up some very emotive and tricky issues for these youngsters. Here are gutsy young Thembe, a born leader, and delightful Zama, having to think very hard…
Did anybody see the film ‘The sky in her eyes’? It is about a little girl who nurses her dying mum, then after she dies she takes her apron strings and ties them to a kite. Well Zama was that little girl. She is our film star!
Sbonelo, at Woza Moya, is our paralegal worker. He spends a lot of time working with legal cases of gender-based violence in our community. At the moment we are trying to write a Grant Application to train our team to deliver a programme that creates safe spaces for young people to explore issues like gender, sexual health, violence etc. Well done Sbonello, you are a very bright and able young man, devoted to improving the life of people in the Ofafa Valley.
(And whats more, you got my South African passport returned to me. Dealing with the Home Affairs Dept has been a lesson in watching paint dry….)