Remembering Biko: Black Women and Misogyny

Steve Biko. Photo:

The 12th of September 2016 marks the 39th anniversary of Steve Biko’s death. The famous slogan “Are you Free or are you Dom?” from one of the ad campaigns by a certain cellphone network a few years ago comes to mind as I ponder on whether we really are a democratic nation or whether the notion of democracy is yet a delusion in our land.

Twenty-two years after democracy, Biko’s notions of black consciousness and black pride seemingly died with him as today we still face issues of colonialism and white supremacy where skin-bleaching is increasingly on the rise and young black girls are facing pressure at schools all around South Africa not to wear their hair in its natural state.

Some of these scholars are also being discouraged and sometimes demoralised for speaking their mother tongues at their English schools. One of the things we remember is that Biko was poetry in a world that was still learning its alphabets.

We remember Biko as a visionary, as a freedom writer and martyr. More than we’d like to admit, we also remember him as an adulterer.

One of the plights many women face (particularly black South African women) is that our society is still deeply entrenched in a patriarchal system which allows for the oppression of women on many fronts.

One such display of patriarchy and misogyny is noted in the irony of how we choose to remember Biko for his bravery in the fight against racism and black colonialism, and yet, we always choose to turn a blind eye to Biko’s indiscretions while never failing to mention them when we speak of Dr Mamphele Ramphela, who also, like him, was one of the founders of the Black Consciousness Movement.

She too fought for black pride and black consciousness but despite all her efforts, she remains to this day Biko’s famous side chick. Cheating is a form of misogyny because it’s the abuse of power and a violation of trust.

To be intimate with someone, is to be vulnerable to them. In marriage, Biko should have held his vows as sacred as they most probably would have vowed to be faithful to one another, which is another way of saying we vow not to abuse our power.

When cheaters cheat, they commit acts of power, of gaining an advantage by keeping the other person in the dark. The cheater knows what he or she is doing — you do not.

How ironic is it that we fight the same notions when we fight for equality at work, in parliament, in economic and political freedom but we murmur and stutter when it comes to fighting for those same values to be upheld in marriages and relationships – that men should not abuse their power when it comes to women?

It can easily be said that the fact that when he died, he had fathered five different children at three different women has nothing to do with his political achievements but it needs to be acknowledged that Biko’s private life is just as important as his public legacy and his personal life.

It’s too hypocritical to have persecuted Bill Clinton for his betrayal to Hillary with Lewinsky but not choose to see the same behaviour that manifest with our own – then blame it on culture.

For many black women, faithfulness in the home is politics for them but sadly, the world never gets to hear their statement and stance on this because the world is always siding with the men on this.

Often, the trend of judging women more harshly than men manifests itself in cheating and also rears its ugly head in rape crimes, where the women’s role in the cheating is often questioned.

Case in point? President Jacob Zuma who is a polygamist, alleged rapist and has on several occasions made sexist remarks, yet how many people have challenged him on this? It all gathers momentum, makes great copy for journalists after which the matter is forgotten again and so the cycle continues.

We ought to challenge ourselves to consider seeing our lionized political leaders for the flawed individuals they might have been and not excuse the behaviour of their infidelities “as men being men” while we persecute the women these men “were being men with”.

One of the many issues that are given a shrug or are widely accepted in black communities are the infidelities of men – where women are shunned if they do it but when men do it, they are “just being men”.

South Africa needs to realise that there is something wrong with this notion because where does this leave illegitimate children born out of these infidelities?

The macho culture of our society, which promotes polygamy but shuns polyandry suggests that it’s okay for men to have multiple partners and it gives them what we refer to as male privilege.

It in turn gives way to the culture of rape that are born from male entitlement and indirectly contribute to HIV/Aids statistics in that men are given leniency when it comes to faithfulness.

Women’s rights in South Africa go far beyond political and economic but as the old adage goes – “Charity begins at home”.

Our women, particularly black women, will never be free long as they remain imprisoned by the pain that comes from having to accept that their boyfriends and husbands are given an okay by society to go out there and plant their “royal oats”, while the women stay at home being good wives and home makers, because all men do it and all good women accept it and move on with life.

It’s no longer acceptable to blame these things on habits and culture, for these are known to be subject to change. Women cannot simply be docile in accepting what they want.

Men who advocate for change and equality, must too be willing to advocate for it in their homes, in their relationships, and mostly, in themselves, reassessing their morals and also what it is that really makes them men. – Pulane Choane