Between the Distortion of Indigenous Knowledge and Me

[Image: The character of Shaka Zulu. He is starring at something before him with an emotionless face — © South African Broadcasting Corporation]

“Ikhanda elixegaxegayo liyofulela abafazi” ~ indoda iyindoda ngokuba umthetho wayo uhlonishwe ekhaya (isiZulu); loosely translated into English the idiom means that a man’s authority in a household forms his very essence as a man. Before I read it in Laurence Mabuya’s 1993 anthology of Traditional Literature of Zulu, as he called it, I had never heard of this phrase.

At first sight I rightfully saw it as an expression used by older men to assert patriarchy in a sanctioned way. Another phrase utilised in one text, “indoda akufanele iphathe umuzi wayo nge ndluzula nje kuphela,” translates to the prohibition of the use of violence to enforce such authority, although, unsurprisingly, in discretionary terms. Nevertheless, in hindsight, the former was created to rationalise the hegemony of men in what was, in effect, a society built to erase women. For the purposes of this text, no specific period of time is referenced. However, it is important to note the intricate history of South Africa which is fraught with nuance. More especially, the apartheid system, Native Land Act, Bantu Authorities Act, and the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act among other instruments of the legal system which preceded our constitutional democracy should be emphasised in that they largely shaped the formation of what has been detailed regarding African culture and its prevailing norms.

What is frequent in the parlance of men today is no different to what was propounded by their forefathers. The term man as it pertains to young males only implies the assuming of such authority and, consequently, mothers become the first victims of toxic masculinity; an issue which is further complicated by absent, if not partriarchal and misogynistic, fathers.

This deliberate attempt to create hegemony based on gender had an impact on the formation of masculinity within African culture; thus, producing lasting effects whose influence can be ascertained by reading reports of sexual abuse.

While I acknowledge that patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, misogynoir, homophobia and transantagonism were not “formed” (the use of this term is due to the difficulties of expression in this language) through a mere doctrine, it has certainly sustained them along with a plethora of other factors.

I believe words exist to strengthen beliefs and are subject to abuse as history suggests. Just as decolonisation is required in current education, so now, though the thoughtlessness of politics would dictate otherwise, it is important that the patriarchy embedded in indigenous knowledge be treated with the same contempt as the whiteness in pedagogical applications; lest we find ourselves back to the point in which we started: looking outward.

Systemic oppressions function in a similar manner and intersect with one another, therefore, it is important that we fight -isms collectively. Patriarchy within African literature is nothing unique, of course. It is important to me, specifically, because it was the first form of literature that I, and many other people who went to institutions which offered isiZulu, came across in primary school.

Similarly, in high school I found it unpalatable when, in a coming of age novel, the spread of HIV was centred around a woman who was “immoral” – this couldn’t be more further from reality and was clearly a deliberate attempt to move men and their various instruments of power towards innocence. It is a pity that such a beautiful language goes to the long and narrow passage of heteronormativity, misogynoir, homophobia, ableism and xenophobia – a reality we must all try to change.

Unfortunately, the colossal task before us as men cannot be modelled by Jay-Z being “vulnerable” – deep inside toxic masculinity exists bigger issues which are seemingly invisible to most men. The intersection between a system of power, broken bodies, broken communities, and HIV lies herein [the report of sexual abuse, again], in your community, place of learning, workplace, gym, bar, church: everywhere.

Where is the boundary for the single individual in his concrete existence between what is lack of will and what is lack of ability; what is indolence and earthly selfishness and what is the limitation of finitude?
  • Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 490