Mama Welcomes Neritia to the Round Table: Dialog with an Unexpected African Woman

 Images of Africa often include some basics: elephants and lions, jeeps with their tops off taking people on safari, the open savanna and African people with their skin the color of dark chocolate.

Although all of those images do describe Africa in part; there is much greater diversity to Africa and Africans.  My guest today is someone I’d describe as unexpected in more ways than one.

NeritiaYou are probably wondering, quite naturally, what I mean by “unexpected”.   She is a woman and not afraid at all of using her voice.  She is African; but doesn’t have the face many first imagine.  She looks sweet (and is); but talks tough (when needed).  As the quote she uses on her Twitter account says: “ Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.” -DH Lawrence.  I look forward to hearing her “say it hot”.  So, here we go:

Neritia is a proud South African woman.  I’ve invited her to the Round Table to discuss a few things that are in the minds and hearts of many South African women: women’s rights, employment, China and of course that word you know I dislike so: “race”.

Welcome to the Round Table, Neritia.  I know that you’ve been here before to sit in on other interviews from time to time.  I’m really happy that you are here, especially because I’ve really wanted to invite you for a while.  So now that you have your cup of Red Bush tea, let’s settle in for a few questions:

1.       How do you identify yourself… who are you?  I’d also like to follow up on that question.   As a person of mixed heritage, I am always interested in how people identify themselves.  :  What matters most to you, your: ethnicity, culture or nationality?

I am Neritia.  I laugh, love, cry and work hard and loud!  I am woman, wife, sister, daughter and friend.  Injustice will probably be the end of me – but I have an enormous amount of hope that’s a constant in my life.

My nationality matters most to me! I am South African and I am African  – my skin colour might tell you a different story – but the drumbeat of this continent is what continuously shapes and challenges me to grow into someone who can rise above the history of our country!

2. What is your biggest daily challenge living as a woman in South Africa?

My biggest challenge is both self-inflicted and part of my history.

I need to continuously remind myself that being a woman does not equate to being less than a man.

 

3.       “As the Nigerian proverb goes: it takes a village to raise a child.” With this in mind, what do you think is the most important lesson that we should teach “our” children?

We need to teach our children that all people are equal and our differences should be celebrated.  This will allow children to grow into balanced adults who understand their own value as well as that of other!

4.       China.  For some Africans, the name is almost synonymous with opportunity?  For others, it brings to mind the new face of colonialism.  Where do you stand on the issue?

This question is both interesting and scary!  To me it looks a lot like the years when colonialism was widespread in Africa.  It is my opinion that Africa is treading on dangerous ground when believing that the billions of dollars China “invests” in Africa through funding is for the benefit of Africa and her people.  China has the money…and they play the fiddle.

The funding goes to African Governments – and although I hope I am wrong – the people and not those in Government will be the ones who will suffer the most when China starts to pressurize countries who cannot meet their debt repayment or when they have exhausted our resources. China’s need for resources is insatiable and they will be the only true beneficiaries of their largess.

I don’t think we (me) realize the magnitude of Chinese involvement in South Africa and Africa.  Forget about the pressure on resources – just think about what it does to local employment.  In South Africa, where unemployment is constantly on the rise – Chinese involvement and the fact that they bring their own laborers are putting huge strain on job opportunities.

I believe that we Africans need to start looking out for our own future and we need to realize that not all “aid” is good.

 

5.       1994 was an incredibly important year for South Africans. Can you tell me what you first think of when you hear “1994”?

I think of long queues of people – sitting and standing in the sun.  I think of colour – a true reflection of our country.  I think of the excitement, the exhilaration, the hope and the noise!  It was absolutely divine!

 
6. I am still struck by a comment made by a professor while I was a young student in university: “The only two countries that require people to be classified by ‘race’ on official forms are South Africa and the United States.” How do you feel about the word and its importance or relevance in South Africa today?

I still cringe when I think about the role apartheid played in engraving race into the soul of our country. We might be in our 19th year of post-apartheid, but it doesn’t’ change the fact that decades of segregation still have us reeling from the after-effect. The journey towards racial healing is long and needs to be addressed with utmost care.

We can never forget the importance of the word ”race” – it shaped South Africa and her people much more than most care to acknowledge.

 
Our Government is making the word relevant. There are days when I am shocked by how deep-seated the classification of people still is. I am also tired of the word…it feels to me as though we’re just not moving forward!

 
7. Policy and reality are often miles apart. Many of my readers know about changes that have been made in government policy in South Africa concerning ownership of land, businesses and other programs intended to encourage equality between ethnic groups. How have you seen things actually play out on the ground?

 
Yes Mama – in South Africa policy and reality can sometimes be as far removed as the east from the west!

On paper we have excellent policies in place…but in reality it’s not aiding the people that it was designed to help.

I do feel the need to boast a little though! Finally it looks like our policies on HIV/AIDS are starting to reap fruit – and I am cautiously optimistic about the fact that we are starting to win the war against this horrific plague. The positive results we’re receiving through our HIV/AIDS policies just proves that where there’s a will there’s a way – and if we could apply the same sense of urgency to other critical policies in South Africa I am sure we’d be able to eventually eradicate corruption too.

 
8. I know that you take women’s rights seriously. For years, the discussion of rape and violence against women in South Africa has been vigorous and animated. How do you think the current Reeva Steenkamp case is changing the face of spousal abuse from that of poor Black men to something more generally prevalent? Do you expect it to polarize or broaden the national dialog on the issue of women’s rights?

I am so glad that you’re asking me this question!

I believe that rape, violence against women and spousal abuse cuts across socioeconomic, ethnic and religious groups. It happens in affluent homes in upmarket neighbourhoods, it happens in the workplace, it happens in schools and it happens in poor communities. It’s an issue that should unite women across South Africa, Africa and the world – irrespective of identity.

You know, I often wonder whether we compartmentalize these issues and the abusers in order to cope with the staggering and horrific assault of facts and violence on our hearts and minds. Life without the bewildering stats that a woman is raped every four minutes in South Africa would be sublime! If you’re in the fortunate position to not be part of the statistics, it’s easier to pretend it doesn’t affect you or that which you identify yourself with. When you are one of the millions who make up the statistics and depending on whom your abuser is, you almost effortlessly slip into the “comfort” of categorizing! It’s extremely hard for the abused to not categorize. It’s hard for family and friends of the abused to not categorize. It becomes a coping mechanism for some!

You need to keep in mind that violence in South Africa is nothing new. The lack of respect for women was as rife prior to 1994 as it is now. Growing up as a white, Afrikaner, attending the Dutch Reformed Church and being called privileged did not protect me from seeing and experiencing rape, violence or spousal abuse…the difference however is that no one spoke about it.

Post 1994 and with the explosion of Internet in Africa women have become more vocal about abuse and their lack of rights. I think the anonymity of the Internet made it easier for women to share their stories and to discover that there are other women going through the same thing and dialog, sharing and sisterhood grew from it. The world became smaller and the average South African woman now has access to resources (information and people) she never dreamed of having before. The borders of South Africa enlarged in a virtual world.

My heart would like to believe that what happened to Reeva Steenkamp will broaden national dialog on the issue of women’s rights, but unfortunately I am not convinced that it will. Although this case is a high profile case, with much international interest, the fact remains that the attention the case receives has much more to do with the man who held the gun than the woman who lost her life.

Anene_Booysen_i2e

Anene Booysen

The recent gang rape, mutilation and murder of Anene Booysen’s is but one example of what happens to dialog in South Africa. Friday, 15 February 2013 became Black Friday for Rape Awareness in her remembrance of her – but the story of Reeva and Oscar overshadowed Anene’s death. Dialog did not stop completely, but it’s not receiving the attention it deserves.

 
9. “Corrective” rape, rape to cure AIDS, gang rape and spousal abuse? With issues as important as these on the table; where and how do you find hope? What concrete steps can we take to ensure that our continent’s daughters and granddaughters discuss statistics like “every 46 seconds a woman is raped” as figures from their distant past?

You know how people always say your body has a muscle memory – well I think my body has a “hope memory”. My relationship with God gives me hope. Conversations with women give me hope. My girlfriends give me hope. Good deeds of individuals, a solitary voice rising above the noise and women rising above their circumstances – these are the things that fill me with hope. We’re a resilient nation Mama – we’ve overcome much – and we will rise above and beyond this too.

I believe that each and every woman in Africa should be actively involved in eradicating all forms of rape and spousal abuse. We’re all aware of the fact that education is of utmost importance. We know that we need better policing, more convictions and harsher punishment – but I would like to address other social issues here.

Women raise the men who rape…and every rapist is born to a woman. Can you imagine how different the world might be if women and men were treated the same. In being treated the same there should be less reason for men to want to dominate women through acts of violence!

We need to educate our daughters and mothers need to educate their sons. We need to use storytelling and role models as a tool to create awareness of the wrongs of any form of violence against women. It needs to start at home, it needs to be carried through at school and it needs to be in the media on a daily basis! Every communicative resource needs to be applied in fighting this war against women!

Men need to be involved in raising children and fathers need to teach their sons what masculinity is. I don’t believe that boys are born violent – we make them violent! Men need to understand that dominance and aggression is not what defines “manhood”.

Through the collective actions of individuals who are prepared to safeguard the daughters of our continents social change will ensue!
When girls realize they are not objects they will flourish!

 
10. I ask this next question of all of my guests, presidents and farmers alike. Now, I will ask it of you: If you could wave a magic wand over Africa and change just one thing, what would it be?

That all people in Africa can learn to respect themselves, which will ultimately lead to respecting others!

Neritia, I love your blog and have always enjoyed dialog with you. We’ve talked about everything from politics to faith, from women’s issues to work and I have to say that despite that, I hesitated, just a little, to pose a couple of these questions. After all, color is a touchy subject in South Africa and tends to instantly create a heated dialog. In my youth, I’ll be honest in saying I wasn’t sure what role (if any) Whites had to play in South Africa’s future. I was blinded by the injustice of it all. After all, apartheid was such a dirty way of dealing with your fellow man. I feel a need to not only “confess” this to you; but to thank you. It is in part through our friendship and via our discussions that I learned that we do, in fact, have a very similar vision for our beloved continent. Your openness and frankness have allowed me to evolve my view of the world, and for that I sincerely thank you. I am proud to call you “sister”. Keep fighting the fight for African women and women everywhere.

 
If you have any questions or comments that you would like to add… please do so in our comments section below. After all, you know what I say so often “Dialog matters, without it no lasting solutions or friendships are found.”

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12 thoughts on “Mama Welcomes Neritia to the Round Table: Dialog with an Unexpected African Woman

  1. Neritia, thank you for inviting me to read this. What powerful words. I feel far too ignorant about all you’ve discussed here, and am thankful for those who, like you, speak out and open eyes like mine to all that is happening. Keep speaking out and opening eyes

    • Thanks for stopping by Ruth and for your gorgeous comment!

      I still feel far too ignorant to discuss the points Mama is so comfortable with addressing! When she sat me down…I did contemplate running…really, I did! It’s never easy to speak out…far less so when you’ve never done so on a public forum!! 🙂 But there’s always a first time for everything – and I am thankful for Mama and her questions.

      You know, we all have something to give, value to add and eyes to open! Above all we have our voices and as we choose to raise them – one by one – I can imagine…a multiple of voices joining, so that together we will be a “beautiful noise” of speaking up, calling out and asking for truth and more transparency!

      Not everyone will appreciate the sound…but that’s not the purpose! The ultimate purpose is transformation!

      Without dialog – we cannot begin to comprehend each other’s hearts!

      xoxo

  2. Very well written. I, for one, do NOT subscribe to notions of race. NO ONE can tell me who and what I am or must be. I define myself. As a quadri-racial person (and that only describes those “races” I know about), I refuse to be pigeon-holed into a category of someone else’s notion of who I am.

    • You go girl!!!

      As a white South African the topic of race has never been easy! Given our country’s history – that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

      It’s an emotional topic and sometimes I think we’re so blinded by our past, our hurts and our fears that we just cannot hear each other – even when we’re shouting!

      At the end of the day – we’re human. We belong to the human race….and the goal should be to see that and to embrace it!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I loved hearing your voice and heart!

      xoxo

  3. I was blessed to meet Neritia through the online community of bloggers, and have come to respect her as a writer of great generosity and courage. This is such a wonderful interview. As an American who loves Africa, I am so encouraged to read her honest words of hope for the future of this great continent. I’m especially intrigued by Neritia’s comments about China–on a recent visit to Rwanda, I had many of the same concerns about the investment China is making in Africa. This investment is not pure benevolence, and we should all be deeply concerned. Thank you for speaking truth to power.

    • Ah Kathleen….I love that you love Africa too!! Thank you so much for your comment.

      Whenever I read or think about China’s involvement in Africa, Proverbs 22:7 comes to mind: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender”. It’s rather unsettling – don’t you think? That said – I also know that there is but One in control of this continent…and He is enough!

      If we take into consideration the fact that in mineral wealth Africa is probably the wealthiest continent on Earth – it is hard to understand how we’ve allowed to be exploited like this for so many centuries. It’s terribly sad that the people of this continent are not reaping the fruit of what is in and on this land! Our Governments in Africa need to look out for their people – especially the vulnerable ones – women and children. Africa should not be given away…nor should the land go to non-Africans! Tough, but true!

      I could perhaps carry on for another hour or so – if you’d like – we can definitely dialog around this some more!! You know how to get hold of me.

      xoxo

  4. I received a message from someone asking if I would pose this question on their behalf. It is a *really* tough one; and I don’t generally post things that come through via email. Frankly, they aren’t my words and I hesitated before typing them. But, I have always believed that the toughest and least comfortable things to discuss are often those which most need to find someone brave enough to discuss them. You and I are wearing our brave shoes today; so let’s do it:

    **I have made a couple of grammatical corrections; but no more than that**:
    (an excerpt from the email I received recently):

    “I am sure that you mean it when you say you feel African. But, how can you talk about the colonization of Africa’s soil by China when you are the product of colonizers and their abuse of generations of native Africans? Apartheid might be over but whites still have privilege. If we allow China in, its wrong. But if whites stay, they are Africans? How long does a group have to live on African soil to be considered African? Won’t China’s kids just say the same thing in 50 to 100 years that you are saying now? At least with China we can decide the terms of the agreements”

    Neritia, I’ll allow you to answer first since the question was posed to you. But, I hope you’ll give me permission to reply as well when you are finished. ANYONE is welcome to comment of course.

    Wow, I knew that this interview had the potential to become one of those situations that makes you wiggle in your chair with discomfort. But, I am at least glad that we’ve kept a basic amount of respect for each other in the process and that the comments have been overwhelmingly positive and supportive despite a few of the subjects being “touchy”.

    Thank you all for continuing to talk both here and on Twitter. Let’s keep it going… even when it hurts a little to do so.

    Love, Mama

    • Whoop-whoop….Mama!! You weren’t joking when you said *really* tough….but what’s the point if we can’t dialog, right!!

      Before I get going – this is but an opinion – mine! Also, I can’t wait for you to reply….I just know it’s going to open my eyes even more….! Thanks again for a platform and your believe that DIALOG MATTERS…..it does!!

      It was hard for me to answer the “email” in one go – so for clarity I’ve taken the liberty of breaking it down and answering the points made to the best of my ability! 🙂

      But, how can you talk about the colonization of Africa’s soil by China when you are the product of colonizers and their abuse of generations of native Africans?

      Exactly – as you rightly say – I am a product of colonizers, but that does not blind me to the horror this country and continent has had to live through for centuries. The fact that I am a product of colonizers who arrive in Africa some 360 years ago does not qualify me as an abuser of Africans.

      Apartheid might be over but whites still have privilege.

      Yes, due to the fact that I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s – I was privileged. As a result I probably have a head start compared to my contemporaries who had to live under the apartheid Government. However, I would like for you to elaborate or be a bit more specific concerning the privilege you’re addressing here. It will assist me in trying to give you a more appropriate answer.

      In the current South Africa, we are all privileged, we have the same freedom!

      There are two totally different points you’re addressing in the following statements: If we allow China in, its wrong. But if whites stay, they are Africans?

      China has a Human Rights abuse record as long as any of the post colonialism countries you are referring to. Replacing one with the other makes no sense. That said, I never said that it’s wrong to do business with China. It’s the way business is done and how corruption flourishes that I’m saying is dangerous.

      Your second point is a highly charged question!

      The black person born in America is and African-American. Would it make you feel more comfortable if the white person born in Africa is referred to as a European-African?

      You see, I do not believe that features should categorize whether you are African or not. If I do that, I’ll be no different to the apartheid Government of the past
      I cannot change what I was born into – but I can try to change some of what I see today!

      How long does a group have to live on African soil to be considered African? Won’t China’s kids just say the same thing in 50 to 100 years that you are saying now?

      I cannot give you the answer I think you’re looking for. My view is that your heart will tell you what you are!

      As for your comment regarding deciding the terms of agreement with China – I can only hope that you are right!

      So Mama…I hope you will give us some more meat to chew on….please!

      I would also like to add this….! * gulp

      Without sounding “politically correct” and keeping in mind that my relationship with God is part of my core, I would like to take the liberty to elaborate a bit on my view of race. I believe in the human race! Yes, you heard me right. The human race!

      Acts 17:26 (NIV) reads: “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands”.

      Yes, our features (skin colour and/ or physical features) are different – but that does not prevent us all from donating blood to one another, interbreed and produce healthy children or giving organs to each other. Biological differences between all of us are so minute; we can easily call them insignificant. Without getting myself into a scientific debate here…we all have melanin in our skins. Depending on how much pigment is produced in our skin….we’ll be different shades of brown!

      OK – that said….I also want to add this: i love dialog

  5. I am so very grateful to know you Neritia. It isn’t often that I find people who are willing to dig in and talk about those things that we rarely say out loud. Generally, these are things we say in whispers. Like you, I am never bothered by anyone’s viewpoint unless or until it is conveyed in a way that isn’t respectful to others. “Say anything you would like; just have the courtesy of selecting your words in a way that wouldn’t make your ancestors proud” I often say.

    Since you mentioned the Bible, I’d like to say that there is a story in the Gospel of Luke that many people know, regardless of their religion: that of the prodigal son. The eldest brother is angry about the fact that he has lived a just and upright life and yet the younger son is able to return to his father and meet open arms. Instead of vengeance, the father rejoices at the present and the future. In my opinion, this story is so well known by people all over the world because it describes our human condition: it is not easy to let go of pain. I think that is a universal truth, and a rather understandable one!

    Yet, in my eyes the key to this parable is one that people often overlook. It IS about forgiveness, true. But it is also about repentance, and above all, love. To anyone who has come from a past (be it their own, or the “collective” past of their people) which has oppressed others and gained from it… well I say, repent sincerely, choose a loving path and I welcome you to stand next to me so that we can build a better future, better relationships and a better life for those who need our help the most.

    Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t mean that it is my place to forgive you for your ancestor’s actions Neritia. Instead, I mean that it is clear that you aren’t boastful or proud of the mistakes of your “collective past”. Just as Zulu peoples are connected through their tribal past, so too are you connected to your ancestors. If you want to be the one who helps them be associated with love, kindness and generosity, (and through this action, ALL of South Africa) and if you want to create a better future… who are any of us to judge you as belonging anywhere else? Africa needs pioneers. Your voice is loud, strong and necessary. I am quite sure that women are being served by it, be they Zulu, Ndebele, American or Aztec.

    And at the end of the day, there are no peoples, no ethnic group and no individuals who haven’t at some point hurt or injured others. Our own African leaders often serve as unfortunate proof of this. At the end of the day though, who are you today? Like the Akan Sankofa bird symbol reminds us: “She stands with her feet firmly planted in the present, taking seeds of wisdom from the past, but facing her future.” I, for one, am happy to be facing the future alongside such a brave woman, no matter how much melanin you have.

    Love,
    Mama

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