Unity and the spirit of imbokodo have become illusive

The term “imbokodo”, meaning “rock” in IsiZulu, encapsulates the idea that strength and resilience can sometimes be illusory. Just as a rock might appear unbreakable, but it is possible to have it eroded over time

Appearances can deceive in assessing someone’s inner strength or toughness. Imbokodo serves as a reminder to look beyond the surface, and to acknowledge the complexity underneath.

Attending the National Women’s Day event at the Union Buildings recently, I was awe-struck by the festivities which symbolised bridging the gap between the past and the present.

However, upon engaging with the attendees, I was confronted with the realisation that circumstances facing women in the country are more complex than meets the eye.

Unity and the spirit of imbokodo have become illusive ideologies. The once close-knit society’s unity represented by imbokodo has eroded due to historical and ideological differences. Power struggles also add to the mix.

ANC veterans Alina Tlhabanelo and Elizabeth Magade acknowledged the progress achieved in advancing women’s rights. But they also acknowledged the absence of adequate mentorship for younger women.

Formidable figures such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and her peers are no longer around to provide guidance. The aftermath of the 1956 march has amplified significant social progress, yet persistent social challenges necessitate ongoing efforts for lasting solutions.

ANC Women’s League deputy secretary Maria Rallele of Soshanguve, north of Pretoria, acknowledges the significant strides made in empowering women, crediting the past and present female struggle heroes for paving the way for future generations to lead better lives.

But she expresses concern about a persistent gap in unity, emphasising the need for collaborative work to support, uplift, love and care for one another despite ideological differences.

Nonetheless, this is a huge challenge, as Tlhabanelo pointed out, arguing that the scars left by the apartheid regime are deeply imprinted on people’s psyche, shaping perceptions of normality based on the oppressive paradigms.

This mentality, she notes, is passed down to younger generations, perpetuating a survival-oriented mindset rooted in fear. Tlhabanelo stressed the need for awakening and guiding the youth towards a path of self-empowerment and unity, to advocate for themselves and each other fearlessly, and pursuing their dreams without restraint. However, she acknowledged significant progress that has been made, comparing the journey to the construction of Rome, which took a long time to complete.

They expressed appreciation for the strides women have taken to reconstruct the country. However, the paramount issue of safety remained a significant concern.

Hailing from Mamelodi, a township established by the apartheid government northeast of Pretoria, the young women decried the prevailing societal challenges making them feel devalued as women.

Nokuthula Khona, one of the young women I spoke to, said discussing topics such as abuse, and rape is difficult because of a prevailing tendency among women to belittle one another rather than support each other.

“It is so hard because even if you decide to report a certain incident at the police station, they brush off your concerns and dismiss your complaints. So, you keep quiet and soldier on.”

According to Masemola, women frequently remain silent victims due to their strong reliance on their partners. She explained these women often feel subordinate and fearful about seeking help from other women. She further noted a peculiar notion among them that being independent would result in mockery rather than receiving assistance in times of distress.

Khona also gave an example, mentioning they would have to end their picnic early to return home before dawn for safety reasons. However, she emphasised, “in South Africa, no moment can truly be deemed the safest”.

Nonetheless, despite all the challenges, the women agreed the legacy of the 1956 march lives on, not only as a historical event but as a guiding light for women.

The road ahead is undoubtedly challenging but with the spirit of unity and empowerment that have carried women through the decades, there is no doubt the future holds boundless possibilities for the women of this nation.

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