Freedom] But for women as well?: Male power is under threat in the new South Africa. David Cohen asked four men how they feel about it

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The Independent Online
'You strike the woman, you strike the rock.' For years, this feminist slogan of resistance was asserted more in hope than in conviction. But now, South African women, from farm labourers to boardroom executives, have united across racial, ideological and ethnic divisions to ensure that democracy translates into equality for women.

Last year, when a new constitution for South Africa was being drawn up, women overcame strong resistance from African chiefs to enshrine non-sexism along with non- racism as the two principles trumping all tribal and religious laws. It was a famous victory - for centuries customary law has treated women as legal minors, barring them from owning and inheriting land, signing contracts or making major decisions.

Some of the champions of women's rights - such as Albertina Sisulu, Lilian Ngoye (who led the momentous 1957 march of 20,000 women on Pretoria in protest against the pass laws), the trade unionist Ray Alexander and Helen Joseph (who died last year) - are well known. But there are thousands more. (Ironically, Winnie Mandela, president of the ANC Women's League, never made her name in the women's struggle. Her controversial election to the post last year was seen by many as an attempt to neutralise her radical tendencies by bringing her inside ANC power structures.)

Afrikaner society is extremely patriarchal; the world of commerce, essentially English-speaking, operates unofficial pay discrimination and entrusts few women with directorships. But after the elections on 29 April there are likely to be more than 100 women in parliament (the outgoing one has fewer than 10).

At least one-third of ANC candidates are women. Frene Ginwale, an ANC parliamentary candidate, says that the ANC is 'the first liberation movement to link the emancipation of women to the emancipation of a country. Across Africa, it was national liberation first, women later, and, of course, the 'later' never came.'

But the struggle for real equality will be a hard one. Despite public comments from Nelson Mandela that men should do their share of the cooking and housework, most males, black and white, are products of chauvinist cultures in which women are expected to be obedient. South Africa also has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world. If women are to translate the equality provisions into reality, they will have to challenge men in the workplace and in the home.


Hezekiah Kubheka, 47, a migrant worker, grew up in a traditional Zulu village, where polygamy is the norm. He works as a security officer for a building that houses, among other concerns, the Rural Women's Movement, an organisation that is strongly opposed to polygamy.

I ONLY have three wives, not much when you consider that my grandfather had more than 20. My first wife, Musa, is a girl from my village in Natal. She worked as a domestic worker for a white priest and I used to clean his church. I paid 11 cows for her and we got married under customary law when I was 24.

Two years later, I took my second wife, Joanna, a domestic worker in Pretoria. Musa said she wanted to see Joanna, to make sure that she approved of her. So I brought Joanna back and Musa said it was fine and we gave six cows for Joanna.

A year later, I married Revival while working as a mechanic in Durban. We paid 11 cows and one horse for Revival. In my culture, another one to love is another one to love.

I had six children with Musa, three with Joanna and five with Revival. I live with Joanna in a township outside Johannesburg, Musa lives in our Zulu village and Revival works as a nurse in Durban. I rotate among them and I love them all the same. I earn R1,900 (about pounds 460) a month, most of which I send to Musa, who shares it among my wives and children.

I am lucky because my wives get on well. Some of my friends' wives are very unhappy. They try to poison themselves and their men are scared their wives will poison them, too.

I have seen terrible things happen when wives live together. Sometimes they kill each other. Sometimes they are disloyal. In our culture, a woman must respect her husband, listen to what he says. My neighbour has 10 wives and he sjamboks (flogs) them because they don't respect him. I don't believe in the sjambok. It's our tradition, but I don't like it.

Women are saying that our customary ways are backward and barbaric.

You don't have to be a genius to see that polygamy oppresses women, men oppress women, employers oppress women - everybody oppresses women. Men womanise. Men won't help in the house. Men give women no say in the law. It's all wrong.

In the rural areas, women aren't allowed to own property. If a woman displeases a man, he can tell her to pack her bags and go. When he dies, the property is passed to the males and it causes big friction with the mother and sisters.

In my will, all my wives and children, boys and girls, will inherit equally. I don't want my sons to practise polygamy. It's unfair to others because you can't support or be a father to all your children. My children never have enough - two of them have died from sickness already.


Frank Brummer, 29, is an Afrikaner and lives with his wife, Gail, and their three-year-old daughter. He is a salesman, his wife is a book-keeper and their combined salary amounts to R7,000 ( pounds 1,400) per month.

THERE is no discrimination against women in this country. At least, I've never heard of it. Women can do whatever they want . . . well, maybe not whatever, but at least 60 per cent. Women want equal pay for equal work, but it's not so simple - women don't work as hard as men.

Take me and the wife. We both work the same hours, from 8am to 4.30pm, but she sits in an office all day while I drive hundreds of miles.

We earn similar salaries, but my job is more pressured. When we come home, she cooks, washes the dishes and baths the child. So at the end of the day it's about equal.

Often she says: 'Look, you're working, I'm working - we've got to share housework and child care.' I must be honest, it hurts. Sometimes I nearly crack. It's not nice to see the wife working in the kitchen while I sit and watch TV.

But if I try to help, I get in the way. When I cook, she says my food is too spicy. If the baby cries for milk, she says I make the bottle too hot and it burns the baby's lips. So I let her do it. I never change nappies because I've got a weak stomach. Every now and then I run around with the vacuum cleaner but the wife does most of that stuff.

My dad was the boss of our house. He used to come home, chuck his pay-slip down and say: 'Now your mother's going to smile.' He made the decisions. My grandfather always said a man makes law and a woman makes trouble. I inherited these ways but my younger brother - can you believe it - he got provincial colours for netball] He's soft on the chicks, not hard like me.

The ANC Women's League promise women the world but they won't be able to deliver. The blacks know that things run better with a man in charge. Like in my household, we're equal, but I am the boss.


nHlanhla Sicelo, 29, is a playwright and actor. He is single and lives in Yeoville, a suburb of Johannesburg.

WHEN I was a child, my father was the superintendent in charge of a township in Natal. People came to him for houses and he had the power to say yes or no, so they bribed him with liquor and that's when he started drinking.

My two brothers and I used to sleep in the same bed and we used to push each other around. One night, my younger brother screamed and my father came in and threw me on the floor and kicked me in the head. Every weekend he got drunk and hit me. It was very heavy.

My mother loved him, but she couldn't take his abuse. Whenever he hit her, she would take us and run away to a relative. We had to share beds there. One night I woke up and he was in my pants. He raped me. I was six years old, I said nothing. But something died inside me.

One night, my father attacked my mother with a red-hot poker. She jumped out of the window and ran, naked and screaming, and never came back. A year later, we left to look for my mother in the Transvaal. She brought us up. I never saw my father again until I was 16 years old and I never missed him.

The abuse I experienced at the hands of men allows me to understand what women are fighting for. I hate the way my father behaved. Maybe, having been brought up by a single woman, I have different ideas to most men.

I broke my virginity when I was nine years old, with an older cousin, but for most of my adult life - except for an eight-month relationship with a girl from New York - I have been celibate. I'm not looking for a traditional woman to own like a possession. I want a partner who can be my friend, my equal. I am completely independent of tribal structures.

Women are claiming the rights they deserve, but my question to women is: if they were to design a gun, would it have a barrel? In other words, will they propose a more just society, or are they simply trying to beat men at their own game? We need to bring male oppressive behaviour into the open. It has been secretly accepted for far too long.


Joe Duze, 53, was born and bred in Soweto, where he lives with his son and wife, Gladys. He works in the picture library of a Johannesburg newspaper and earns R3,000 ( pounds 600) a month.

MY AFRICAN culture told me that a woman must do everything her husband says. Her role was to cook, clean and bring up the kids, and mine was to put food on the table and provide security.

When I was young, I couldn't accept it if my boss was a woman. But things have changed and women have become educated; these days that old attitude is completely out of me. Today I give women's rights the green light. But that doesn't mean that I am no longer the head of my house.

Many moons ago, my wife was a nurse, but I encouraged her to leave because the job paid badly and the shifts were too disruptive for our family life. A woman's main job is to keep the home fires burning. I don't want to tell a lie - I don't do a thing to help with the housework, or the child. I've never changed one nappy, I've never washed one dish and I don't think I ever will.

Recently, my wife joined a women's organisation. I encouraged her, I said 'go for it'. I'm proud of the ANC Women's League and the way they've fought for their rights. She comes home after a meeting and says things like: 'We are sick and tired of you men trying to be above us. If you don't change, I'm going to chuck you out.'

I laugh it off - I can tell she's not serious. She can't change me. Or herself. It's the way she grew up. She's used to those things. Sometimes she asks me to wash my dishes or hang out my socks. I tell her: 'Absolutely no] I am not doing it.' I agree with women's rights, but not in my home - I myself am not prepared to change.

Some women's ideas are bullshit - like this 'rape in marriage' argument. You can't rape your wife. If I want sex, she must just agree. It's our culture. If she wants it, I have to satisfy her, too. And I hate, hate women getting drunk. Women become too free and easy, too sexual when they are full of booze.

I used to get drunk every weekend but I stopped two years ago because it made me violent to my wife. I would come home and want sex and she would say 'nieks'. Then I would drag down her panties and try to force her and she would lock me in the room and eventually I would just sleep.

I used to have cherries (mistresses). But for the past 10 years I have been loyal, as an example to my children. I feel divided between this modern thinking and this primitive culture in my blood.

(Photographs omitted)