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Communique and Spechees
“The Contralesa President speaks”
THE SOCIAL CHANGE ASSISTANCE TRUST CONFERENCE WOMEN’S RIGHTS UNDER AFRICAN CUSTOMARY SYSTEMS
PRESENTATION BY NKOSI/ADVOCATE PHATHEKILE HOLOMISA
(A! DILIZINTABA) MP AND PRESIDENT OF THE CONGRESS OF TRADITIONAL LEADERS OF SOUTH AFRICA 25-26 JULY 2007, CAPE TOWN.
White society, through its socio-economic, political, religious and educational systems, misinterpreted, misunderstood, distorted, manipulated and disfigured our cultures, customs, traditions and our ways of life as Africans generally. They did this almost so successfully that the great majority of our people believed the interpretation of our ways by the then white ruling class as the correct ones. This caused so much damage that educated Africans conducted themselves in ways that showed a desire to distance themselves from their culture as it became an embarrassment to them.
This group continues to distinguish itself by speaking amongst themselves in English even when they are of the same language group. Being able to express yourself in English, even when you can’t do so in your own language, seems to be the hallmark of civilization. Knowledge of one’s language enables a person to know and understand one’s culture. Through the language you are able to understand the idioms and proverbs, behind which are hidden or stored the values and beliefs of your people. You begin to realize why certain things are done or stated in particular ways.
Through some of our colonial laws and books written by white “experts”, we are told that women are perpetual minors, who are forever beholden to their men-folk, through whom they can only enjoy their rights. We are told that they have no rights of their own and cannot even inherit their parents’ estates. Our own educated leaders and policy-makers, males and females, swallow this lie, hook, line and sinker, as the gospel truth. They cannot do otherwise because their education taught them so. They never bother to ask of their own organic intellectuals as to why certain of our practices appear to undermine a section of the community, because to them intellectuals, and thus repositories of knowledge, are those who have imbibed the white man’s education.
In African culture there is gender equity. Everyone has his or her own place and space. None threads unduly in the space of the other. The woman nurtures the children; she prepares food for them; she teaches them proper behaviour, good morals and industriousness. The man provides the food, shelter and comfort for the family. Everything he brings to the fold belongs to all of them in undivided shares. The livestock that he acquires is to be used for the benefit of the family. He is not allowed to use it as he pleases without consulting with his partner, the wife. If an animal is to be slaughtered he is required to even inform his brothers, especially if it is an ox/cow/bull. The brothers are concerned that he does not squander family resources as when destitute they will be a burden on them as well.
The other oft-repeated lie is that women are not allowed to own land. The truth of the matter is that no individual owns land. Land is owned collectively by the tribe and the administration of the institution of traditional leadership i.e. the traditional leader and his counselors. Each member of the tribe is entitled to a piece of land to build a home, to cultivate food and to graze the family livestock. Because everyone belongs to a family the land is allocated in such a manner that families, and not individuals, are given land to use. Minor and unmarried children are under the care of their parents, thus do not deserve to be given land of their own.
A married man is entitled to apply for a piece of land to provide the necessities of life to his family. The allotment belongs to him and his family in undivided shares. He cannot evict any of them from such allotment. Had the white bothered to make the necessary enquiries when he introduced the land registration system, he would have been advised to register the allotments in the names of the husband, the wife and each child upon birth. Homesteads are even referred to in the names of the wives. This is so because, when the man applied for the allotment, he informed the traditional leadership that he had a wife for whom he had to build a homestead. This is why when the man decides to marry another wife he is required to find her another allotment. You might want to know why a woman is not allowed the right to marry more than one man at a time. I do not know the answer, but I did say that in our societies there is gender equity, nor have I ever come across a society where there is gender equality. I do concede, though, that societies are striving for that ideal.
The other basis for the assumption that women are perpetual minors is that when the man dies the eldest son is declared the heir. The truth is that the widow and the eldest son are joint administrators of the estate. None has the right to do as she or he pleases with the assets of the estate. They are trustees who are required to use the family resources in the same manner that they would have been used during the life of the man. The widow must live in the manner in which she did while the husband lived. She may not be evicted from her homestead.
The daughters are entitled to get all the support they received from their father. For all the necessary rituals, the purchase of the trousseau upon marriage, as well as anything else they need, the heir is required to provide. In fact this is the case even if the estate is insolvent.
Similarly with the younger brothers, they too are entitled to all the support that their father was required to provide. The heir must facilitate their rites of passage to manhood, the provision of lobolo for their prospective brides, as well as setting them up in their new homestead,
Women cannot enter into contracts on their own without the assistance of their fathers, elder brothers or husbands, our anthropologists and their black disciples tell us. Again the truth is that amongst ourselves they are quite free to purchase anything they want, including livestock and other stuff. The whites decided that because they told us women were perpetual minors, they would not allow them to enter into contracts; they preferred the men. This has nothing to do with our culture.
I could go on and on debunking the many myths that were peddled and continue to be propagated by our detractors in the name of our culture. Let me conclude by dealing with the matter of women and succession to royal leadership. Succession to this position is determined by the customs of a particular clan. In some the leader must be a woman at all times; in others it must be a man at all times. Deviation from the set procedure renders the incumbent illegitimate. Deviation is allowed only in instances of regency, where the rightful successor is a minor or is otherwise incapacitated to take the position. In most cases in recent times, and for purposes of convenience mothers to the heir are encouraged to act as regents until he is in a position to take up his post. In the patrilineal systems, which is the majority of cases, the heir is always the son in order to ensure that it is a person who is born of the royal clan. He is expected to be able to himself give birth to a son who will be of the same clan. A daughter cannot bear a child of her own clan unless she commits incest. Clans which have women as royal leaders have their own sophisticated and peculiar arrangements in terms of which a successor is born. I am not privy to the intricacies involved in such matters, belonging as I do to a royal clan which chooses the heirs from the ranks of the sons.
My appeal to all those who are interested in this question of women’s rights under African customary systems must educate themselves, using the correct sources of information, before they pronounce judgments and cast aspersions on our ways of life.
UNESCO Convention on The Safeguarding of Intagible Cultural Heritage
WORKSHOP ON CULTURAL HERITAGE THE ROLE OF TRADITIONAL LEADERS IN THE PRESERVATION AND PROMOTION OF INTANGIBLE HERITAGE
A PRESENTATION BY NKOSI PHATHEKILE HOLOMISA (A! DILIZINTABA) MP AND CONTRALESA PRESIDENT
DATE: 26-27 JULY 2007 VENUE: DIEP in die BERG, PRETORIA
Our way of life as Africans is informed by our history, traditions, religion, customs, cultural identity, mores and values, as well as systems of governance. Colonialism and its concomitant foreign forms of religion and education have impacted very negatively on this way of life to such an extent that important aspects of it have been lost. Fortunately, most of our rural traditional communities have managed to preserve our cultural heritage and it is thanks to these people that traditional leaders are able to preserve, to some extent, some aspects of our way of life.
Animals, plants, water and the land are integral features of the life of an African. Each in different respects serves a spiritual and material purpose for the enhancement of the life of the human being. It is in the interest of every community, therefore, that these and other natural resources are used in an ecologically-friendly manner.
Historically, the institution of traditional leadership has been the epitome of African governance systems. This has been the case in pre-colonial times, during colonial and, in the South African case, apartheid times. It continues to be the case even in post-colonial/apartheid times. Its fortunes in all these periods have been varied and characterized by abuse, misuse and manipulation at the hands of those who have managed to acquire political power. The one constant in this regard has been a suspicion held by all those who have assumed power that were it to regain its rightful position the institution might well challenge the legitimacy of the former.
The other constant feature has been a steadfast adherence to the institution by the great majority of rural African communities. These communities are only too aware of what traditional leaders have always been subjected to by the various political powers already referred to. They have been able to distinguish between individual traditional leaders and their actions on the one hand, and the institution of traditional leadership on the other. In this respect they are much more discerning than their political leaders and the educated modern elite.
Traditional leaders are the custodians of the African way of life. It is mainly for this reason that the institution has managed to survive the onslaught of the so-called western civilization and modernity. They, therefore, bear the responsibility to preserve and promote both the tangible and the intangible heritage of their people.