Of mischievous boys and virtuous girls

Jacob Zuma is one of the revered veterans and freedom fighters of the anti-apartheid struggle. He has popular support for being a political maverick, a people’s person and a good dancer. Without a higher education he is regarded as highly strategic and with street savvy. He is the ultimate Macho Man, having fathered many a child. He is the fun-loving mischievous boy. All these attributes easily identify him with the lay person. But the question begs; as a mischievous boy could he be deviant? What is mischief? Is it a cocky man with serious attitude, sex appeal and a high libido? It appears that in South Africa today a mischievous boy is someone who is harmless. Is JZ mischievous? My answer to these questions is framed in the analysis of the mischievous boy versus the virtuous girl syndrome. The mischievous boy in this context made a commitment to a cause and was a freedom fighter. In the construction of the image of the freedom fighter, the freedom fighter sacrifices self for the greater good and for the eventuality of liberation; embracing discipline and passion. This image conjures up the potency of a warring body; a body that ultimately makes the greatest sacrifice by serving its people and risking death. Loyalty is owed to the freedom fighter for the ultimate sacrifice made and in the successful delivery of liberty. The materiality of the freedom fighter’s body as written in the annals of history with many a dead afford the surviving freedom fighter respect and dignity. The freedom fighter becomes the icon of our liberation possessing elegance, sophistication and forgiveness. But there is an edge to the freedom fighter that allows the freedom fighter the privilege of vacillating between passion and reckless abandon, which falters on being seen as mischievous. But even with these attractive and outrageous constructions of the freedom fighter, a democracy is obliged to observe the laws of the nation as the ultimate price of liberty by rooting out injustices such as corruption. Many South African women during the dark days of apartheid endured violations at the hands of the security police and by some of their comrades, highlighting the high price women paid in the struggle. It has been documented that some women were treated as sex slaves within the camps to service their comrades because it was considered their duty and their contribution to the struggle. This is not a new revelation; many a war of independence fought on African soil have followed a similar trajectory. The abuses’ that women face as part of our history against apartheid signifies that the struggle for the nation has been fought on the materiality of women’s bodies. The virtuous girl in South Africa today is strong and silent. She is not meant to challenge her position in this society; her duty is to obey and support her man. Her man is respected for his contribution to the struggle for freedom. Her responsibility is for the eugenics of our society by producing offspring for the nation and imprinting on the progeny cultural knowledge of her ancestors. Yet, her place is never illuminated. She is relegated to the domestic sphere whilst her man protects her from the public struggles of the State by imposing his power and dominance, whilst continuing to subjugate and violate her body and thus the body of the nation. This virtuous girl, as a sacrifice to her man’s struggle, has been silent for a long time. If by giving her voice we make her public she can no longer be relegated to the private domain where her abuses go unnoticed and unchallenged. But by making her public she robs herself of her goodness to the man because she betrays his desire of projecting the struggle for a nation onto her body and subverts his hold on power. Her betrayal is seen as a conspiracy to dismantle the nation and the efforts of the masculine racial liberation; for this she is censured into exile. The South African woman’s body still faces the injustices of apartheid by serving the upper classes, by being condemned for voicing violations and by being subjected to a binary system that privileges men. Where is the respect and dignity owing to South Africa women for their contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle? Why have women not been afforded justice for their violations during the days of the struggle? For so long men have fought and won their wars but the woman’s body is still the body of a struggle for a nation seeking justice and freedom from violence towards a more comprehensive liberation, a liberation of choice to imagine oneself as a first-class South African citizen. l Nadira Omarjee is the Research Manager at POWA. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.

May 2006
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