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What Jacob Zuma does on weekends

Best of 2012 | What Jacob Zuma does on weekends

by Dela Gwala / 05.01.2013

Originally published 05 June 2012

My cousin was the uppermost corner of a Zulu love triangle. The woman who got him is affectionately known as ‘Winnie’ but her future sister-in-law calls her “the Winner”. It was doctor versus accountant – the doctor won. The loser’s consolation prize was her current husband and her young child. Blocking the doorway of a flat in Pinetown was a large three legged potjie, plastic packaged shirts, gift-ready alcohol and miscellaneous items of food. The stragglers, in a collection of blankets, barricaded the other items. The rest of the blankets were stacked up in a bedroom – a mountainous presence with a foreboding price tag. These blankets are the honorary gift of tradition, custom and choice in one of the most scorching regions in the country. They are a sign of impending nuptials. After years of digging coffin-sized holes in the ground, our family was preparing for something actually worth celebrating – a marriage.

The promise of a 6am start was pointless, the thought to leave only occurred to everyone at 9. Parked outside was a truck loaded with everything that was previously on my aunt’s floor, once again the blankets kept it all in place. The truck was squeezed in by three cars and a taxi, which rounded off the convoy. The groom-to-be set off at a blazing pace down the highway, leaving behind the vehicles carrying the offerings for the ceremonies and his guests. We got lost somewhere past Umzinto, after ignoring an instruction to only turn when we’d driven past two bottle stores. The view from the window looked like something out of Lord of the Rings; the tall trees on the roads beyond Scottburgh seem as mythical as anything that could have come from Middle Earth. It is the kind of misty pocket of rural KZN that make potholes seem like part of a greater experience. Our little sporty black car shook on the sloped and muddy road until we stopped by a closed gate with a white tent on the other side.

As the groom’s family, we had to stand outside and wait to be invited in. A Zulu folk song that repeatedly asks if we can come in became the proverbial doorbell. While we waited, they dressed the three sheep and a solitary goat in blankets, pinafores and headscarves. They were dressed the same as the honoured guests, the difference was that they would be eaten. The animals were subsequently undressed and given back as offerings to our family. The future sister-in-law asked for cash in exchange for her sheep – tradition now has a commodity value. And so began a day long game of ‘you take it’, ‘no, you take it’. When you’re Zulu, the idea of gift giving isn’t taken lightly. A symbolic marital bed was laid out and it was surrounded by half the contents of a Woolworths. But the main business of the day was the blankets. They were placed on the shoulders of the respected women of both families.

“Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” which roughly means ‘people are people because of the way they treat others’. This is the saying often thrown around to point out what it means to be African. There must be a hidden clause somewhere that excludes women and gays. According to poster boys of patriarchy, if you’re either then you are simply not a person. If you happen to be female and ‘queer’ then it’s okay for them to rape, stab and leave you to bleed to death because of a ‘difference of opinion’. Gender equality must be another colonial conspiracy those goddamn white liberals brought to Africa to keep the black man down. The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) has decided that human rights are just not African enough. This band of traditionalists and the drafters of the Traditional Courts Bill, have determined that women may only be heard if their standing beside a man because clearly her lips can’t speak her truth without his permission. It is not enough to put blankets on our shoulders and tell us that we’re being honoured.

The age in which it was universally acknowledged that you had the right to make decisions simply because you have a penis is gone. Someone needs to tell Patekila Holomisa and his comrades that they missed it. Holomisa is the head of Contralesa and the chairman of the constitutional review committee, that combination is probably the worst joke I’ve ever heard. He wants to tippex out gay rights from our legal books because: “the great majority does not want to give promotion and protection to these things.” According to this self-styled stalwart of democratic thinking, we should hold a referendum and let South Africans decide. If popular opinion has become the foundation of justice then we should also hold a referendum in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape about rape. In a survey done by the Medical Research Foundation, stats indicated that 1 in 3 men said that they have raped a woman and many said that they’d done it out of boredom. Would Contralesa then say that the law should get in the way of such a popular pastime? Our apologies Mr Holomisa but the constitution is not going to change because a group of people have offended your ideal of ‘manhood’.

Let’s stop pretending that patriarchy was our idea or Africa’s great gift to man. Until a couple of years ago, it was simply the world’s way of being. Some nations figured out that it was wrong and have learnt to do better. We need to stop waving around the placard of African culture to excuse arrogance and entitlement. We need to teach the bigots, racists, homophobes and religious zealots that we aren’t frightened by the depths of their stupidity. Our judicial system isn’t a toy box which they can shake around and then toss away when they break it. We are not going to play a game of luck and chance with the lives of rural women; cross our fingers hoping that the chief in their particular area is a nice man. The Traditional Courts Bill proves that you only get justice in this country if you can pay for it. If you’re a poor, single or widowed woman in a dusty corner of this nation, then you don’t even have the right to open a bank account or bury a loved one without lining the pocket of a ‘khosi’. If you can pay these levies, the ‘administration’, in these parts, can still turn you away because the courts “don’t speak to women”.

Chauvinistic traditionalists are hoarders of the worst kind. They want to hold on to what’s old and not what’s good. We can’t accept customary law the way it is purely because it has the word ‘tradition’ attached to it. Culture can’t just mean waving a finger of legislative might over vulnerable people. At my cousin’s umembeso or gift giving ceremony, Zulu culture meant a man had get on his knees and prove his worth. I watched an accountant wield a spear in a show of strength for his future bride. She laughed and she danced – everyone else did the same. Why can’t we just keep that?

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RESPONSES (19)
  1. switchblade sister says:

    How easily we can take that penis away, too. A quick flash of the blade.

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  2. kza says:

    Thanks for the article, its on point. For too long travesties have been committed on the altar of tradition and culture. Culture serves people and people don’t serve culture.

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  3. Valerie says:

    Hey Switchblade. Totally agree with you. Men have bossed and ruled for long enough, but now we know we have the power over their pathetic little dicks and balls. We own them. They need to be aware that nature designed them to have those vulnerable little balls dangling there between their legs for us to control. We’ll squeeze them, kick them, watch you cry and there’s nothing you can do about it once you drop to the ground. And they can so easily be cut off. Not saying I would do it for no reason, but the thought of finding a guy who abuses his dick and just chopping it off in two seconds does the trick for me.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    hey valerie, you womans’ lib females give all women a bad rep. we all need each other.

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  5. mbulelo says:

    i’m a young man and valerie FREAKS ME OUT!!

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  6. cnut says:

    Valerie needs a kick in the cunt…

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  7. Lizzy says:

    more articles like this please? or at least up to this standard. many thanks.

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  8. mark-e-mark says:

    This I why I come back to this site. A real jem.

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  9. Skyler says:

    Valerie needs a backhand…

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  10. Anonymous says:

    Would that be Valerie Solanas, author of the SCUM manifesto?

    (SCUM = “Society for Cutting Up Men”)

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  11. lin sampson says:

    I haven’t read a story I loved so much for years and years, all those blankets and the sheep and goats all dressed up, loved every single word, so beautifully timed and worked.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Oh wow Skyler…patriarchy clearly still rules in your life too! Take it easy. The women are angry for good reason (just look at the stats) and are generalising – they’re not saying violent things about you! Don’t take it personally… unless there’s some reason you should…? When will good men stick up for women and understand their plight? Would love to see it happen here in SA some time.

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  13. Patch says:

    Um, anonymous what the fuck are you saying? You don’t think there’s something wrong/violent/threatening about someone like Valerie’s view, wanting to commit genital mutilation on men? Reverse the scenario and then we’ll see all the feminists getting up in arms. Violence against anyone is a problem. Women merit zero special attention on this. We’ve just normalised violence against men to the point that Valerie says some heinous shit like that and someone sides with her.

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  14. Jordyn says:

    How about we stop giving the trolls the attention and focus on the writer? Dela, this is a great piece. Honest, poignant and informative.
    It comes at an important time, not just for South Africans, but for the world: a time when all over we see patriarchal, institutionalized misogyny being defended by the label “cultural heritage” and I think it is important that we raise our voices because Culture should never be used as an excuse for violence.

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  15. Blues says:

    even though the wedding is a very thin veil (hahaha) for this venting session – it raises some points to ponder.

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  16. James Francis says:

    Good read.

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  17. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed this article. Culture is the best excuse for oppression since communism. Case in point, Saudi Arabia have been competing in the Olympic games for decades, and strictly do not allow women in their national sports teams. When South Africa attempted to compete in the Olympics and other major sporting events with racially segregated teams (or all-white teams), they were banned from the games for a number of decades. Saudi Arabia has never been banned (although the IOC began to put pressure on them in 2010). How is the one abuse permitted by the world and not the other? It is because one (the oppression of women) is deemed cultural and thus acceptable, while the other (oppression based on race) is deemed wholly unacceptable by modern society. It baffles me when I speak to my male friends and they see no point in feminism today as they say “things have changed enough”. I have been asked by many, what are you fighting for? Women have all the same rights as men now. Really? Let’s take our heads out of the sand, and not be blind to how far we still need to go.

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  18. arendw says:

    Culture and tradition needs to change and evolve …..thanks for the insight.

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  19. […] Originally posted on the website Mahala and cross -posted here with their permission. Original link : http://www.mahala.co.za/culture/what-jacob-zuma-does-on-weekends/ […]

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