South Africa’s Feminism: Has History and Politics created a Patriarchal society?

As the world transforms into an era of newness, an era that is for women, South Africa seems to be stagnant.

The topic of feminism in South Africa is one that evokes a lot of controversy. With African culture perpetuating censorship and binding limitations to women, the evolution of feminism in South Africa has been quite dimmed. While most may frown upon the movement of feminism, it has been clear, especially over the past five years, that women in South Africa live in an environment that is infested with patriarchal norms. The hardships that women face owe their origins way back to history and are deeply rooted in black cultures as well as the ideologies that were once presented a long time ago. Unfortunately, most African communities still carry these principles.

Putting historical perspective in context with feminism

It is true that many years ago; the entire world had put a set of gender roles on women: cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children. This was the case with African history. However, what made it particularly different was the over-sexualisation of women. The most atrocious: measuring a woman’s worth and dignity based upon a societal concept that is dubbed ‘virginity’. To decipher this, in some African cultures, a girl would be shunned if she had a baby before marriage or if her seniors found out that she had been with a man prior to marriage. Moreover, certain African traditions require young girls for exhibiting their sexual organs to the males. What is significant about the ideas presented is the fact that such things are still praised and are highly-encouraged. The progression in South Africa’s modern world versus the stagnant principles that remain in the traditional world seeps through the dynamics of the changing world.

Feminism in the modern world

Toxic masculinity is definitely an epidemic in South Africa because young boys grow up being taught superiority over women at homes; this is an issue that most certainly prevails when men have encounters with women. The greatest effect of this cause has been the roaring gender-based violence in South Africa. Over the past five years at least, women have been under constant attack – be it rape, domestic abuse and even murder. The murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana in September 2019 caused national protests over gender-based violence. The lack of safety for women has been an issue in South Africa for a prevalently long time. The fact that dominance over women is what is laid on the table to boys is a major issue that has to be untaught. Further, gender inequality in the government and major companies is conspicuous. With over 50 JSE (Johannesburg Stock Exchange) companies in South Africa, only one holds a woman as the CEO in the office. The issues that women face in the corporate world are formidable; particularly in politics – a playground for men – where women are completely prohibited. Most political figures are men with misogynistic traits. Women in offices tend to be slapped out with a corruption scandal, as puppets for men and essentially, as voiceless beings.

Hope for change

In 2019 during the inauguration of President Cyril Ramaphosa, there was a glimmer of hope. The President’s first move was ensuring that the cabinet had 50% of women for the first time in history. But it ends right about there. There has been no change so far. The Department of Women in South Africa, a cabinet sub-unit, is harshly neglected. In fact, it is not even included in South Africa’s national budget. The minister appointed for the particular position, is barely seen in public and is never given a platform to bring forth the issues that many women face. As mentioned previously, politics in South Africa is a political playground for men. One can safely assume that the current Minister of Women, just like her pre-successor, is a mere puppet in a playground that does not belong to her.

Final thoughts

The evolution of feminism in South Africa is an issue that young women speak about. However, their cries have fallen on death ears. As the world transforms into an era of newness, an era that is for women, South Africa seems to be stagnant. The way women are perceived and treated is evidently rooted in patriarchal African cultures that foster misogyny.

Lesego Makgale is a Tswana-born South African writer. She was raised in the town of Potchefstroom, where her teachers had a strong influence on her love of literature. Makgale began writing when she was thirteen years old. Four years later, she completed her poetry collection, ode to my dead uncle, which is currently being published in the United Kingdom. Lesego's personality is firmly rooted in humanitarianism. Her passion for helping others is focused on a number of global issues. She identifies mental health, child labour, education, and social and legal injustices as persistent societal irritants. She considers herself a feminist and has been an outspoken supporter of one of her country's atrocities against women: gender-based violence. Her broad outlook on life and being grounded in individuality are concepts that she holds dear because of some of her notable authors, including Charles Bukowski and Oscar Wilde. Lesego is now a freelance writer and editor, with her own website, the publicised journals of lesego makgale, where she openly discusses her struggles with mental health and other issues.

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