The sociological pathology of gender and sexuality struggles in a capitalist edifice (South Africa): EFF perspective.
By Tshepo Masita
We are writing this paper very conscious of the fact that women globally have continuously borne a tough and painful emancipation gridlock for what appears to be an inordinate length of time. It is an open secret that by its very nature capitalism generally perpetuates gender inequality, and every so often, in such a system we have unceasingly witnessed numerous problems around issues of race, disability and gender in addition to larger concerns about sexuality (Davis, 2013).
Given the methodical and systemic failures of capitalism over the years, the discourse on gender and sexuality have for some time now been specifically located at the core of distinctive tenets and ideologies, a good case in point is the upsurge of the New Left in the 60’s as well as other offshoots of the broader feminist movement which emerged in the 70’s, mainly the Socialist-Feminist undertaking in North America and Europe.
In addition, inherent of the peculiar experiences and sufferings of Africa, Latin America and Asia, due to the kin evils of colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy and imperialism, another dimension of discourse was discovered, the radical “African Socialist Feminism”. According to White (2006:5) “their perspectives fit squarely within a history of international “Black” radicalism characterized by an opposition to all forms of oppression, including class exploitation, racism, patriarchy, homophobia, anti-immigration prejudice, and imperialism“.
Besides, South Africa harbors a capitalist social order that is dominated by a market centered economic edifice. Generally speaking the systems of capitalism and patriarchy are like a ‘net made of cotton intertwined with the most common natural fabric’. They are inextricably intertwined. As such under capitalism, and as one revisionist apostle of Marxism Eduard Bernstein might assert, society is divided into multiple classes, mainly consisting of owners, workers and the vast majority (of which women make up the vast majority) of society who often tussle for survival under the wicked injustices of capitalism (Berman, 2005: 9).
In detecting the endemic general crisis presented by the mutually fortifying hitches of capitalism and patriarchy, and in attempting to advance its role as a revolutionary vanguard organization, the EFF has often heightened a posture that essentially recognizes that:
Women have suffered most from the neo-liberal reality of the past 23 years in South Africa. The vicious circle of triple oppression has not been broken for black women in particular who continue to be discriminated against on the basis of race, class and gender. The EFF recognizes that while patriarchy and sexism is pervasive in our society, it is black women who suffer the most from gender based violence. To date, the interventions to deal with violence against women have been superficial, half- hearted and based on an incorrect understanding of the root causes of the vulnerability of women.
In as much as our expression on the issue of gender might be logical and perhaps silver-tongued, the gripping crisis that will relentlessly haunt us, is that the revolutionary glossary of most leftist African liberation movements over time continues to treat the subject of women emancipation as being interleaved to the overall question of their national liberation struggles. Whereas, in truth African national struggles and African women’s emancipation are not identical social processes (White, 2006:11). For the reason that, even in the post-colonial era the emancipation of woman remains a subject that entails great complications. It is for such a reason, that we need to be cognizant of the clear peripheries of our struggle against capitalism in South Africa, as well as the overall struggle of women, mainly in consort with complementary issues of sexuality (which enjoy no place in our discourse). We also need to ensure that we effectively move away from the habit of subsuming our struggle for socialism with that of women as well as the broader struggle of sexuality.
Moreover, in as much as our policy framework on various issues might appeal to the cold-shouldered and underrepresented populations, many opportunistic reactionaries might hasten to ask why we don’t prioritize the establishment of a Women’s Command. Then again some conservative liberal proponents are already depicting us as “very militant and masculine” organization, and assert with passionate vive that because of an ‘overgrowth of a rigid socialist ideology, which inevitably exacerbates a military style masculinity’ we conveniently shun from delicate questions of sexuality and gender.
Conversely, when trying to be wary of the perils of the being passive in the face of fallacies, then we need, as we traverse towards our arguments keep in mind some advices drawn from some inspirational proponents of our struggle, such as Frantz Fanon and Thomas Sankara. In one of his seminal works ‘A Dying Colonialism’, whilst trying to identify the importance of women in the struggle for liberation in Algeria, Fanon highlighted:
The Algerian woman’s ardent love of the home is not a limitation imposed by the universe.
In reality, the effervescence and the revolutionary spirit have been kept alive by the woman in the home. For revolutionary war is not a war of men.
Revolutionary war, as the Algerian people is waging it, is a total war in which the woman does not merely knit for or mourn the soldier. The Algerian woman is at the heart of the combat. Arrested, tortured, raped, shot down, she testifies to the violence of the occupier and to his inhumanity.
Equally, Marxist revolutionary and pan-Africanist Thomas Sankara devised a speech entitled ‘The revolution cannot triumph without the emancipation of women’, in which he underscored the following:
Women’s fate is bound up with that of an exploited male. However, this solidarity must not blind us in looking at the specific situation faced by the womenfolk in our society. It is true that the women worker and simple man are exploited economically, but the worker wife is condemned to further silence by her worker husband.
Per se, as revolutionary socialists we should seek to free both men and women from all forms of oppression and thrive to realize a true egalitarian society in our life time. As such the basic aim of this paper is to reflect on the political theories that dominates the general character of gender and sexuality politics globally, and to reflect on ways of deepening gender consciousness within the EFF. Lastly, the drive of the paper is to reflect on a school of thought that will aid the organization in understanding unequal gender relations and issues of sexuality and most importantly seek to build a gender and sexuality conscious organization.
The research methodology used will be based on writings that vary according to time and theory that includes the use of literature study such as books, published articles in journals and on the internet. All the above mentioned material will be used to give a clear synthesis of the topic being discussed.
CONCEPTUALIZING THE NEXUS BETWEENTHE NEW LEFT, SOCIALIST FEMINISM AND RADICAL AFRICAN FEMINISM: LESSONS FOR THE EFF
Similar to the persistent unhappy events that capitalist countries harbor in respect to the prospects of women liberation and its budding unresponsiveness to issues of sexuality, some socialist countries have also realized disproportionate degrees of women freedoms as they also express a measure of insensitivity on issues of sexuality during different periods.
More so, despite some great advances Lenin introduced to free women from the bondages of children and family in the post Tsar epoch, Stalin retracted from those initiatives by presenting the ‘Great Retreat’ programme by which he stressed that family was a stabilizing influence on society. Stalin mainly mollified women liberties by invoking traditional values to the general role of women, as he branded women as home-makers and child-raisers. This as a result demonstrates the contradictions of socialism in guaranteeing women liberation in certain instances (Lynch 2013).
In effect, these practices emphasizes a necessity to assume a sentient struggle, mainly to alter gender relations, instead of supposing that this will inevitably be resolved as part of the socialist struggle. This has a certain degree of applicability to our struggle today, for instance, to what point should we consume “the greater good” discourse, mainly to subdue women’s liberation as well as the problem of sexuality (Nzimande, 2017).
In attempting to respond to this growing puzzle let’s look at the central thesis advanced by the New Left school of thought. The New Left was a wide-ranging left wing political undertaking which comprised of protagonists who campaigned for social transformation and for a broad range of changes on issues such as civil rights, gay rights, abortion, gender roles, in contrast to earlier leftist or Marxist movements that had taken a more vanguardist approach to social justice and focused mostly on issues of social class (Davis, 2013).
Often, the general crisis that was presented by the orthodox Marxism of the Soviet Union was that it created a severely bureaucratic and politically oppressive society (Lynch, 2013). As such, intellectuals in the New Left tried to recapture the essence of Marxism as they presented Marx’s purpose as merely to “set man free from the social bonds of capitalism and to create a more egalitarian society in which man could more fully realize his human potential. All in all, the effort of these Marxist revisionists was to keep some of the basic theory of Marxism, and yet to rework it to allow for a socialism with a human face” (Marxist Humanism, .n.d).
Over and above, the New Left contingent around the world mainly stressed that since the Soviet Union may possibly no longer be reflected as the midpoint of the proletarian revolution, new revolutionary Communist philosophers like Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro should be put in its place (Bacciocco, 1974: 21).
Also compounding the egalitarian argument propagated by the Marxist revisionists was Frederick Engels by means of his literary work the ‘Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’, where he generally identified the hypothetical basis for what we perceive to be modern socialist feminism. In the manuscript Engels generally described how a forbearing communal social order preceded the intensification of a class culture which also ensembled patriarchy, oppression as well as the materialization of the state system. Engels primarily recognized that in as much as women endured the burden of poverty, misery and deprivation which was created by the capitalist system, they generally occupied a key role in the social anthropology and economic make up of an egalitarian community that preceded the capitalistic social order (Faatz, 2017).
Furthermore, Socialist feminists contend that freedom can only be attained by working to end the mutually reinforcing economic and cultural foundations of women’s subjugation. Socialist feminism mainly contains twofold theoretical foundations that expands the Marxist feminist discourse mainly to highlight the oddity of capitalism in the repression of women (Ehrenreich, n.d).
Respectively, African black feminists all over the spectrum have relentlessly been stressing that there can never be any form of momentous women’s emancipation in the absence of a persuasive and synchronized end of ‘structural racism, homophobia, heteronormativity, ableism, class oppression, neo-colonialism and global power structures, transphobia and trans-misogyny’ (Nagarajan, 2014).
Lastly, deriving from Nagarajan (2014:5) “radical African feminists argue that we must move away from an exclusive focus on women’s disadvantage, and examine power relations between women and men, how the gender identities among both are socially constructed and manipulated. Thus, in order to understand how “femininity” is socially constructed such that women become disempowered, we must also understand how “masculinity” is constructed and inscribed in structures of power”.
It is for such a reason that we as the EFF should explore a multi-pronged theoretical approach that amalgamates all the above discussed theoretical tenets mainly as we consider establishing a gender and sexuality conscious comradery. Mainly with the establishment of a Women’s Command as a primary objective of our revolutionary project.
CONJECTURING THE BROADER GENDER AND SEXUALITY STRUGGLE IN SOUTH AFRICA
The post-colonial South African setting, posits a far greater challenge for women, homosexuals as well as the larger community of trans-genders. Their standing in society remains horrendously unimportant for they continue to experience massive amounts of violence in the form of physical attacks, murders and rape.
According to Mlambo and Pillay (2014: 18): “in some South African studies men have disclosed of having being physically violent to their partner, and 40 – 50 percent of women have also reported experiencing such violence. Intimate partner violence is often sexual and emotional, and many women undergo several forms of violence”. However there are no dependable national statistics for the pervasiveness of intimate lover violence and similarly there is limited data on the incidence of ‘LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) discrimination and hate crimes in South Africa which can be used to inform services, interventions and advocacy’ (LGBT, 2016).
Accordingly the Bill of Rights undersigns that sexual preference and gender equality in South Africa should be a matter of individual freedom, and any sexual violence against sexual preference or gender is a violation of those rights. However the irony is mainly presented by the fact that the South African society is still very much littered with bigots, misogynists and chauvinists (Posel, 2004: 55). More so, the government machinery is still very much rutted and some of its constitutional practices seem incomprehensible as even in this day and age we still find no apportionment of separate toilet precincts for the LGBT population in most public spaces.
Furthermore, drawing from Jenkins (2013: 144) “homophobic violence is, the subject of black masculinity and its linkage with a lack of power within a racist and sexist society perpetuates the status quo with regards to homophobic violence. Such a phenomenon coupled with an already strained economy, where high levels of unemployment exist, results in black men using violence as a way to assert power and control over their own masculinity”.
More so there is to date no component political party formation in South African that thoroughly dispels the notion that homosexuality is a non-African social construct of the west. Very often the ANC leadership has done little to defuse of CONTRALESA’s (Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA) drunken conceptions that to engage in homosexuality and lesbianism jeopardizes Afro-centric principles and leads to deviations from the black community. By itself, many in the ANC still hold that homosexuality perpetuates a loss of black manhood in black communities (Jenkins, 2013: 143; Masango, 2012).
Furthermore as it appears the problems of gender inequality as well as LGBT discrimination in South Africa do not occupy the standpoint of their intrinsic worth. This actuality may be ascribed to a number of factors including the masculine attitudes endemic in leading figures in our society, coupled with the growing inability and uselessness of the ANCWL (African National Congress Women’s League) to play a leading role in society to mainly emasculate some of their leaders and to quell general toxic masculinity in society at large.
THE POWERLESS CRUX OF THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS WOMEN’S LEAGUE
As noted before the crucial catastrophe of women’s struggles in South Africa is that they are advanced by the ANCWL who advocates for ‘motherist’ methods that are imbedded in philosophies of a South African feminism that supports traditional gendered characters (Hassim 1991). Thus unqualified radical Feminism failed to cement itself inside the liberation movement, and continues to be unsuccessful in gaining momentum in the main political life of the ANC (Hassim 2014).
Furthermore, according to Thobejane (2014) “the African National Congress (ANC) Women’s League provides a good example of the folly of subsuming the struggle for gender equity into the agenda of a political party with different priorities. The league works more as an extension of the recruitment machinery for the ruling party”.
In actual fact the only time we witness the ANCWL promoting women’s rights is when it can be noticed nationwide. They latently fail to disempower immoral men, even hardcore chauvinists and misogynists like their president Jacob Zuma and his minion Mduduzi Manana. They’re only in support of women when the truth seems to be curtailed. They express unity under deceitful charades and go from place to place behaving like possessed women. They in essence do their utmost best to advance patriarchy and serve admiration to men every opportunity they get. Moreover, as a women’s body of a governing party– they are completely hopeless (Myeni, 2016).
However, despite of the modern failures of ANCWL, we also need not entirely devalue the spirited and courageous role that was played by prominent women in our struggle for liberation. We should in this regard embrace specific female protagonist, mainly in ilk of Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Mamphela Ramphele, Charlotte Maxeke, Lilian Ngoyi, Ruth First and Helen Joseph. Despite the fact, women led substantial battles under the banner of the African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) and FSAW (Federation of South African Women), these women still played a marginal role in the core leadership of the ANC. As such, the African nationalist mission pondered the issue of race as the principal problem and anticipated that as soon as racial incongruities were handled, other problems that related to gender, sexuality and class disparity would afterwards be resolved (Mafatshe, 2015: 55).
Nonetheless, truth is, even the aforementioned heroines and other male radical and Marxists proponents who collectively advanced our struggle for liberation floundered in thinking that the overthrow of colonialism and Apartheid would in some way amazingly result in an egalitarian society (Thobejane, 2014).
As we can observe the politics of gender and sexuality in South Africa are by and large rooted in power relations. Where the male community maintains a particular hegemony over their female, gay, lesbian and trans-gender counterparts. Furthermore, drawing from Masita’s (2016) analysis of the concept ‘hegemony’ one can sever the following excerpt:
Hegemonies constantly desire to sustain their supremacy by not paying implementation outlays, thus this situation fashions a structure where they enjoy the probability to limit the yields of power and also to commit to neither dominate nor to abort this powers. This is normally prepared through establishments which are difficult to transform. These bodies usually validate the hegemon, but then again they also offer security in addition to a stable atmosphere for whole world
Clearly, instituting change around gender and sexuality issues appears to be complex because women and LGBT’s are themselves are not a standardized groups and as such their encounters in the political space are informed by their uniqueness mainly along the lines of race, class and sexual orientation (Bock 1991:31-33).
As such this is moreover the growing conundrum that is confronts the women contingent in the EFF. There exists a big void and vacuum in the South African political spectrum in this sense. Having assessed the various theoretical tools which are both radical and revisionist in character, the common denominator as we observe is mainly centered around how we can transform firstly our organization, and society at large to be more receptive and sentient to the struggles of women and LGBT’s.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
It is important to identify that the purpose of the study was mainly to emphasize that revolutionary consciousness is developed through engagement with theory and practice. As we can observe from the study by assessing the various theoretical tools which are both radical and revisionist in character, the common denominator as we have observed was mainly centered around how we can transform firstly our organization, and society at large to be more receptive and sentient to the struggles of women and the LGBT community.
Thus to be to more effective, the South African Political discourse need a fresh and vibrant radical socialist feminist movement that will rise above the present stale restrictions that the political spectrum presents. We thus hope to recommend for the general adoption of a concocted theoretical approach that will best aid our course in establishing a viable vanguard for the women and LGBT populations in our society.
As we advance to mainly quell the scourge of sexism and gender stereotypes that are prevalent in some quarters of society, we at the same time need to build a robust and conscious cadreship that can respond to such enterprises. It is time to breathe new life into South Africa’s feminist movement to earnestly fight the continuation of patriarchy and the highly noxious phenomenon of toxic masculinity.
We essentially can’t claim to be a party that espouses genuine participatory democracy, in the mold of democratic socialism or Marxist democracy, if when we don’t have a Women’s Command, particularly when women make up the majority of our population.
Lastly, the South African feminist movement needs to move away from the ‘motherist’ and ‘ageist’ character of the ANCWL and establish a new direction for the 21st century. The virtually silent voices of both men and women must begin call out at full volume against patriarchy and fight to fully empower not only women, but also the entire gay, lesbian and transgender community.
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