The Wanting Media Publicity of Women Human rights defenders in Africa

By Alexander Opicho - Lodwar, Kenya
Photo Credit:Equality Now
Photo Credit:Equality Now

Karl Marx wrote in the Eighteenth Brumaire and also in the Scorpion and Felix that memories about the dead hang like a monster on the minds of the living. And it is true, today on my mind hovers the memory of the manner in which the traditional media writes about work beyond the kitchen and social democratic endeavors of the selfless women crusading for human dignity and human rights in Africa and other spaces that have a social political connection to Africa in a historical sense. The memories are hinged on the gravitas in the social justification that the manner in which the conventional media portrays an individual can build or devastate the individual before the opinion court of the society. And thus, the media in Africa must not only peg itself on glory of being the King-makers, instead it must also serve as Africa’s Queen-maker. Unfortunately, African women human rights defenders have always been left to lurk in the lurch of unfavorable media reports and negative sport lights. This can probably be attributed to nothing else but to the conventional Political and Media culture in Africa; they are both over-influenced by patriarchal values to an extent that they only appreciate an African woman operating within the kitchen and in service to the husband. This has been our historical experience from colonial times up to date. A lot of evidence is readily available in the stories published in the recent past by the media in East Africa. It is not usual to come by a story in the media published in Kenya boldly giving public decorum to social-democratic adventures, human rights defense or environmental protection work by a woman.

A broader historical perspective readily testifies that the present Africa media-space suffocates the world with stories focusing on the flip-side of public women, starting from the very memorable glorification of the words by Desmond Tutu that ‘Mandela needs a woman to bring him the slippers’ enthusiastically reported by the conventional media in South Africa . Thank goodness for the intellectual audacity of the time evinced in the reaction by Dr. Tajuheeden Abdull-raheem in his book Speaking the Truth to Power in which he condemned the inherent patriarchal psychology in the words of Tutu by cautioning that it is not a sign of dedication to ethos of freedom to think that they are only women who can bring Mandela the slippers.

And truly yes, one should not be larupped in any way whatsoever to be wondering why women like Vicotira Mxenge, Albertina Sisulu,Dorothy Nyembe,Lilian Ngoyi, Ruth First,Helen Suzman,Margaret Mncadi,Navanetheny Pillay,Cheryll Carolus, Fatima Meer, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka , Barbara Hogan and other women that danced the Toyi-Toyi in protest and struggle against oppression have never been given significant publicity by the mainstream the media, but instead the media has always given its substantial focus on giving public grace to the woman that would stoop too low to avail Mandela the slippers.

Comparative facts from literature and politics in East Africa show that it is not only the South African Media that has persistently given a blind eye to the women in struggle for freedom, or women in all other professional adventures , but also the media in East African is a pox of its own kind under this context. The most current example is in the experience of how Kenya’s mainstream media paternalized and infantilized environmental activism work of Wangare wa Maathai. The media in Kenya never gave an upper hand on Maathai’s work towards sustainable environment but instead it gave great weight on reporting Maathai for not having a husband, for keeping dreadlocks, and for planting trees and yet she is a woman. Then Media in Kenya was also very conspicuous when it came to giving publicity to the words of President Daniel Moi about Maathai that, ‘she (Wangari Maathai) needs a man to keep her cool.’ These vulgar words by the president were published as the headline for the lead story by two mainstream Newspapers in Kenya. To the chagrin of those that are conscious on matters gender and politics, the same newspapers have never made any effort to publish any feature story on Wangare Mathai’s academic success, environmental protection crusades and struggle for political liberation of Kenya from the dark times of one political-party brutality of under Daniel Moi.

Most unfortunate was the biased manner in which the media East Africa announced death of Winnie Mandela. It was more concerned with informing the public that that late Winnie Mandela had a flawed life because of having had a controversial marriage. Going by experience in Kenya there was no any Newspaper that gave priority to reporting that the late Winnie Mandela was an organic intellectual writer, a woman that struggled with her life against apartheid , a politician with revolutionary disposition , a non-pettifogging member of parliament that had no time for anent and mutton-headed persiflage which had become the tradition of parliamentary socialization in post-colonial Africa , a passionate human rights defender , a community developer , a scholar with love for democratic praxis of the law , and a unflagging giant of resistance against racial and social exclusion.

Modern Logic will not make any other conclusions other that deciphering intellectual footling among the east African Media for choosing to think that an equable freedom fighter in the like of Winnie Mandela was still bound by traditions that required all women to be good wives. No, there was no way Winnie could be both a good wife and a good freedom fighter, just the same way Nelson Mandela was a good statesman but not a good husband.

This why I believe with minimum reserve in the philosophical position that it is the time for human society, especially African society to stop judging a woman on the basis of how much a woman has performed in her marriage. A marriage which always call for submissiveness. This is a contradiction to nature, a contradiction to the biological reality that not all women were created or were born to be good wives; some were born to be good Presidents, good scientists, good-freedom fighters or even good writers, but not necessarily good wives.

And hence, there is a lot of fashion in having the media in East Africa to go beyond the traditional patriarchal mind-sets when reporting about women, to be duty-bound in appreciating a naturalistic angle that the most intellectually gifted people are least blessed or endowed with the energy required to keep a marriage. People with superior intellectual disposition in the likes of Winnie Mandela don’t have an internal capacity to tether or cling themselves on special slavery known as marriage in times of patriarchy. And it is true that Winnie Mandela was an intellectual, a social iconoclast who brecciated the traditional tor of apartheid. And hence, her de-constructivist mettle should not be left to be blurred away by the way-ward wind in the sails of the media suffering from time-barred gender-blind breed of journalism.

The proper reporting of Winnie Mandela’s death was not supposed to miss stories that were capable to inform the millennial audience that late Winnie Mandela was a fearless crusader for social justice through political discourse , she was a comrade in the armed struggle, a veteran of court-room battles, tireless leader of the labour strikes, patron of cultural deviance, and a mandarin of ideological pantophagy through the literary front, especially in the case of her writings efforts. Obviously, such efforts would have beautifully rhymed with those of the liberal Media in South Africa which correctly praised Winnie Mandela as the Mother of freedom and a co-mother to African literature. The mother of literature due to her good work in the two books; Part of My Soul Went with Him (1984) and then 491 Days (2013).

There is a chapter in the Masque of Africa, a book by V S. Naipaul about an interview between Winnie Mandela and Naipaul in which the south African media is reported to having faulted Winnie Mandela for the scorching words she used to blame Nelson Mandela for letting down the blacks by accepting to be wheeled out of the prison only to collect money, only to accept the Nobel Peace Prize with FW De Klerk, and only to stop being accessible to the daughters he sired with Winnie without sparing Archbishop Tutu for being a cretin. Even though Winnie Mandela used these dissing words but for the reasons that were well-fitting of the political conditions of that time, still patriarchal culture in the media spaces threw series of very harsh coverages at Winnie Mandela. The most visceral part of the interview is when a whole V S Naipaul failed to see the revolutionary efforts of Winnie Mandela, only to get more concerned with how enslaving was the beauty in the face of Winnie Mandela.

(Alexander Opicho is ; a poet, critical essayist and short story writer From, Lodwar, Kenya)

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