Q&A with Dr Nomalanga Mkhize

Nomalanga Mkhize is a lecturer in the history department at Rhodes University. She is a project coordinator for non-governmental organisation Save Our Schools and writes books for children in African languages. With Women’s Day nearly upon us, she speaks to Wits Vuvuzela about women in society and gender equality.

Given that it has been 20 years of democracy, have we made progress in developing women’s roles in society and enforcing their rights?

Yes and no. We have made a lot of progress particularly in terms of reproductive rights, free basic health care to pregnant women, bringing certain discriminatory aspects of customary and religious laws in line with the constitution, creating opportunities for women in the workplace.
However, we also remain a very violent and unequal society and women usually bear the brunt of that depending on their class position and living conditions.

Rhodes University lecturer and activist, Dr Nomalanga Mkhize.

Rhodes University lecturer and activist, Dr Nomalanga Mkhize.

What can be done to improve the equality of women in society?

There is no one single answer, but we need a framework that recognizes that patriarchal cultures and attitudes are the root of the problem, we can’t see the problems women face outside of changing the culture that sees them as secondary to men, particularly in the private sphere of the home and relationships.
But if we had a single solution to free women, it is to give them economic independence so they can have greater choice and control over their lives.

Is the standard of education for girls at an acceptable level?

The quality of education for the majority of children in South Africa is unacceptable. Regardless of whether they are boys or girls, our children are not getting an education that will give them future choices.
Of course girls face specific problems with regard to education relating to lack of recognition of menstrual rights and stigma when falling pregnant while still at school.

Do you think social media platforms are effective in communicating campaigns about education?

No they are not. They raise awareness amongst a small group of people but rarely translate into the real world.

How do you feel about the #WearTheDoek campaign?

I think it’s stupid and offensive. Whoever came up with that idea is insulting women across this country and should be embarrassed.

What do you think are more progressive campaigns?

There are many campaigns, I will highlight one. There are campaigns and research led by the like of the Rural Women’s Movement and feminists such as Nomboniso Gasa to fight against laws such as the Traditional Courts Bill that discriminate against rural residents and particularly women.

OPINION: Youth Day – a lost understanding but not a lost opportunity

The length of the pause a South African teenager took on television today was a little more than just awkward. She was asked, in an interview, about the significance of June 16th.

The pause led to nothing but a confession that said she did not know the significance of the day, except to say that “on this day we wear our school uniform and don’t go to school”.

That pause though was more than enough time for me to formulate my dramatic shock at the ignorance of young South Africans who now understand very little of the patriotism and hope for a bright future which was expressed by the youth of 1976.

I guess that’s it, we have reached an era where the sacrifices made by the young people that came before us have become insignificant, merely a small slice of the great history that makes up this young democracy.

This young girl was indeed just one of the millions of young people in South Africa who are celebrating the lives they’re afforded today, non the wiser of the blood which was shed so that we could walk into an elevator used by white people also, share the same public toilet seat as our white fellow citizens and also, but most importantly benefit equally from an education system which was previously reserved for those South Africans who were not black.

I cannot help but wonder about the relevance of these all these celebrations which we’re a part of today in commemoration of the anti-apartheid struggle given the lack of understanding of the occasion particularly among the youth of today.

The baton was passed onto us a long time ago and even though we have run a long way, we have a really long way to go.

I cannot fully exclude myself as I doubt that I, or you as the reader, will ever fully understand the plight of the people that lived during the apartheid regime and the struggles they willingly pursued so that I may be able to write my thoughts to share and that you may be able to read them, freely.

The students who protested in 1976 did so with the prospect of a quality education and essentially a better life; many of them lost their lives and in doing so lost out on the opportunity to see the fruits of their labour.

They did however leave a platform on which we can appreciate their work in the name of freedom as well as advance it by utilising it to the best of our ability the opportunities that have been given to us.

But have we pioneered on to ensure that we can curb our vulnerability to the dirty remnants of discrimination, unemployment and inequality that are ever so difficult to make clean. I would hate to think that the courage expressed by the youth that came before us was in vain.

I figure that if we don’t fully understand the efforts of those that participated in the June 1976 protests we should at least try our level best to grab all the opportunities that have been laid out for us to seize and make the best of.

The baton was passed onto us a long time ago and even though we have run a long way, we have a really long way to go.

Aside from the annual celebrations we are to do the best that we can to make sure that we live, and we live well, for those who made the decision to afford us this opportunity.

We must rise above our circumstances, as the youth of 1976 did, to make the best of our lives in this democracy.