Opinion: Women form the backbone of struggle for liberation

By Mmamoloko Kubayi

As we end Women’s month, the struggle continues, both here and internationally.

Our struggle for a democratic, non-racist, non-sexist, prosperous, and free society has been one that required leaders of great resilience, and fortitude. At the forefront of our struggle has been the consistent participation of brave young women who made the conscious decision to fight for the liberation of our people.

As we close Women’s Month, the words of civil rights activist Assata Shakur rings truer than ever: “A woman’s place is in the struggle.” These words, and more importantly framework, are relevant today as they have ever been in our history, as women form the backbone of any successful struggle for liberation and social justice. However, when we speak of struggle we must also maintain an internationalist perspective, as our struggles for emancipation and human rights are intertwined.

As South Africans, we are acutely aware that our freedoms were won not only through the sacrifices of our own people but also due to the efforts of women in the international community participating in the anti-apartheid movement. An example of such solidarity is highlighted in the life of Belgian anti-apartheid activist, Helene Passtoors.

Passtoors risked her life during the anti-apartheid struggle by working with the African National Congress (ANC) during the darkest days of apartheid. For her activism, Passtoors was detained for eight months without charge during which time she was kept in solitary confinement and severely torture – including being poisoned.

Passtoors was eventually charged for treason for carrying out reconnaissance work and setting up of arms cachets for our armed wing, uMkhonto WeSizwe. President Jacob Zuma honoured Helene Passtoors with the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo for her contribution to and friendship with the people of South Africa. Passtoors, like many others, chose her place to be that of the trenches, in this case, the trenches of international solidarity and the global campaign to liberate our people.

We as a nation are forever indebted to people like Helene Passtoors and the millions of others who made our struggle their struggle. No amount of gratitude would be able to give back to them for their sacrifices in the attainment of our freedoms. However, in our current and future actions we can strive to live in a way that celebrates the international solidarity that we received. We can chart a way forward embodying the same spirit of internationalism and solidarity with the oppressed people of the world, and in this way do justice and repay our debt to the international community. Part of this debt is owed to the people of Palestine – a people who, together with the Cubans and others, made such great sacrifices for us even though their own situations may have been as difficult as ours.

The year 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, unlike most anniversaries this is not one to celebrate but rather a year to bemoan and mourn the lives ravaged by the apartheid state of Israel. As South Africans it is our revolutionary duty to transcend colonial boundaries that separate us in our endeavours for a just society, and a just global order. It is a global order of solidarity and friendship that will unite the global South in advancing development, and liberate our people from the shackles of our colonial past.

In 2015 Palestinian liberation fighter and icon, Leila Khaled, visited South Africa. In an interview she was asked about her message to the people of South Africa to which she responded: “We look upon your experience as an example on how to be victorious. We need you, as we are brothers and sisters. We are looking forward with your help in reaching the same goals. We appeal to South Africans and to women in particular, join us in our just struggle, support the BDS campaign and let us celebrate a free Palestine.”

The boycott, divestment and sanctions of apartheid South Africa, championed by peoples of the world, brought necessary pressure on apartheid. This tactic seems to be having the same effect today on other regimes.

The sanctions campaign of the 1980s was driven by a commitment to internationalism and it is this solidarity that will continue to contribute to the liberation of the peoples of this world. As we heed Assata Shakur’s words, we as women and young women in particular, assert that, our place, as women, is indeed in the struggle, fighting hand in hand, for the full liberation of our own people as well as the oppressed of the world.

We as South African women should and must continue to be a lighthouse of freedom, shining the light for all those who are oppressed, and with them provide guidance to the shores of full liberation.

This article first appeared in the Daily Maverick dated 30 August 2017.


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