Manzini fronts women's fight

South African MP Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini and other women are pushing for changes of the law and mind relating to women's liberation. Muharyani Othman reports.

VIOLENCE against women in South Africa has reached epidemic proportions as a woman gets raped every 85 seconds. Thousands are beaten up by their spouses while there have been cases of female infanticide.

The problem, said South African Member of Parliament Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini, largely stems from the patriarchal system and the age-old attitude of regarding women as subservient to men. However, South African women want to change all this by pushing for the enactment of new laws and changing existing ones to give greater protection to women as well as creating awareness on gender equality through programmes by the women's coalition and women's networks.

For a start, women who had been directly involved with the drafting of the new Constitution for South Africa had managed to get a clause included in the Constitution which regards violence against women as a violation of human rights. In 1993, a law was passed to address the issue.

'It will take time to change attitudes but we are making a concerted effort to help bring that change,' said Manzini, who is also parliamentary advisor in the office of Thabo Mbeki, the Executive Deputy President of South Africa.

Manzini, mother of a 13-year-old boy, was recently appointed to the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Though gentle and soft-spoken, the 42-year-old was an active student activist, later a leading figure in the South African women's movement and was at one time, her party's whip in Parliament.

In conjunction with her visit to Malaysia recently, Manzini spoke on the African Renaissance and why African women should be in the forefront of the social transformation, at a roundtable discussion organised by the South African High Commission and the National Council of Women's Organisations Malaysia.

The concept of African Renaissance is not a new concept which has emerged from South Africa, said Manzini.

Propounded many years ago by scholars and leaders who dealt with socio-economic development issues in Africa, it is a vision of continental renewal and reawakening based on the following:

  • the economic recovery of Africa,

  • the establishment of political democracy in the continent,

  • the need to break neo-colonial relations between Africa and the world economic powers,

  • the mobilisation of the people of Africa to take their and the continent's destiny in their own hands in the interest of Africa, and

  • people-centred or people-driven economic growth and development.

Manzini said during the struggle against colonialism, most countries in Africa believed that women's emancipation and social transformation would only be achieved after independence.

Thus, the struggle for women's emancipation was subsumed under that for national liberation. With independence, new priorities arose, relating to the reconstruction and defending of the new nation.

Issues relating to women's emancipation were again relegated to the bottom of the national agenda, and in some cases, they were regarded as divisive and irrelevant to Africa.

'In the name of African culture and tradition, women's emancipation was regarded as a western or European notion with no place in Africa,' said Manzini.

'For those countries of Africa who attained their liberation much later, for example, in the 1980s, in particular South Africa, we drew many lessons from the struggles waged in other countries, in so far as women's emancipation and their involvement in social transformation were concerned.

'We were also fortunate to participate in the United Nations Decade of Women activities, which raised the world's consciousness and commitment to women's involvement in socio-economic development.'

She said the liberation movement led by the African National Congress placed women's emancipation and their involvement in social transformation high on its agenda. Since 1994, the Government has committed itself to transforming institutions along non-racial and non-sexist lines.

Manzini said former ANC President Oliver Tambo spoke of the need for women to be in the forefront of their own liberation, as there is no way an oppressor can liberate the oppressed.

'Thus, for women to attain social emancipation, they will have to be in the forefront of the struggle for social transformation.

'But, of course, the struggle for it to succeed does not have to be waged by women only, but by men and women,' said Manzini.

'The process of the African Renaissance will succeed if it draws on the energies and resources at the disposal of the continent.'

Women constitute an important source of these resources, said Manzini. 'Right from its concep-tualisation, women will have to be involved to develop a sense of ownership of the process of the African Renaissance.

'As a major demographic constituency in Africa as a whole, women are central to generating an African renewal.

'Without women as active participants, the African Renaissance will not reach its full potential for it will lack a solid foundation in the lives of the majority of African people.

'Women in Africa are in the majority of the poor, the illiterate, and those without skills,' added Manzini.

'Thus, gender mainstreaming and the empowerment of women should be a key component of the African Renaissance, as it is key to any social transformation. This means there should be gender mainstreaming of all activities and programmes associated with the African Renaissance.

'It will also mean ensuring that all programmes proposed by governments for the continent and nations will have to undergo a gender audit. This means that governments and regional initiatives must reflect in their plans measurable gender targets.'

Manzini holds a bachelor's degree in political science, sociology and development studies from the University of Zambia and a Master's in development studies, specialising in women and development, from the Institute of Social Studies, the Hague, Netherlands.

She was an activist in South African student organisations and from July to September 1976 was detained in solitary confinement for ANC underground activities, a period which she described as the toughest and loneliest in her life. Later, she was exiled to Zambia. Between 1980 and 1988, she worked full time in the ANC Women Section and became leader of the ANC Women's League in Johannesburg from 1990 to 1992.

In April 1994, she was elected a Member of Parliament and then until September 1996, she was her party's whip in Parliament.

She has a long track record as an active participant in South Africa's women's movement and in the creation of the Women's Charter for Effective Equality under the Women's National Coalition. She also played a leading role in the writing of South Africa's new Constitution. (Third World Resurgence No. 93, May 1998)

[c] The above article appeared in the Malaysian daily New Straits Times (NST) (16 April 1998) and is reproduced with the permission of its editors.

Muharyani Othman is Assistant Editor of the Women's Desk of the NST.