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The Erasure Of Black Women In Activism Does Not Begin With Marikana

Imagine having to work for the very establishment that killed your husband and refused to take accountability for it.

16/08/2017 03:57 SAST | Updated 16/08/2017 14:49 SAST
Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters
Asange Mditshwa attends to her child next to her husband's mining boots and hardhat at Marikana's Ikaneng township in Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg January 24, 2014.

Months ago, I read Khaled Hosseini's "And the Mountains Echoed" and I was particularly struck by a part in the book between a father, his son and daughter. The father and the son are discussing the building of a guesthouse and the little boy asks his father if he can assist, to which the father replies: "You could help mix mortar".

When the little girl asks what she can help with, her father tasks her with providing water for them when they get thirsty during the job. The little girl seems quite disappointed with this task because, as the author puts it forward, she wanted to get her hands dirty too... but her brother rightfully assures her that, "without you fetching us water, we'll never get the guest house built."

This made me think of the role that the women in Marikana played in the 2012 protests and how this role has been extremely downplayed by South Africa. Unfortunately, this erasure of black women in activism does not begin with Marikana.

If one were to critically analyse the role that women have played in South Africa's history of activism, you will clearly note how this role has been extremely overlooked. Most of the history that is taught in South African schools does not provide any insight on the struggles that black women went through and most importantly, the resistance movements that they played a part in.

The discourse on apartheid revolves around the struggle of the black man and little or no attention is paid to experiences and perspectives on gendered struggles. When the black woman's role in the history of resistance in South Africa is discussed, the narrative is often in relation to her husband, never her alone. Often, when black women are incorporated into writings on this history, their role is reduced to the wives or mistresses of struggle heroes.

Why does society not talk about the role of the women in Marikana in high accord?

These struggle heroes are always the men who were in the front line of the movement. Little or no attention is paid to the people behind the movement. The people who handle the intrinsic details, details crucial for the survival of the movement.

This brings me to the case study of this article: Women in Marikana. What most South Africans know about these selfless women is that they are the significant others of the men who died fighting for a salary increase on the 16th of August 2012. 34 striking mine workers were shot at by police on this fateful day for merely protesting for a basic monthly salary of R12,500.

We know these women in relation to their husbands, never them alone. We know the role their husbands played in the 2012 strike, not their role. So, let us talk about this role and why many do not think of it as significant.

Most of the mine workers in Marikana live with a significant other. This woman's duty is to take care of him and to make sure the home is efficiently run while he is at work. Daily routines include the fetching of water, washing of clothes, being caregivers to the mine workers when they fall ill, preparing meals and taking care of the children.

Basically, creating an environment that is conducive to their partner's emotional and physical needs. Every day the cycle continues as such for the women in Marikana. Why does society not talk about this role in high accord?

The women in Marikana played a vital role which enabled their partners to attend to work fully.

Well, because social reproduction is not seen as labour, more of your duty as a woman. I use Asanda Bhenya's 'The invisible hands: women in Marikana' to accurately explain the term "social reproduction". Here, social reproduction is defined as "the creation and maintenance of social relations, the ability to replenish or reproduce labour power."

This definition, taken from "Depletion: The Cost of Social Reproduction",informs us that the women in Marikana are tasked with creating an environment that makes life easier for their partners. An environment that makes it possible for them to carry out their tasks on the mines efficiently, without worrying about the labour needed at home to carry out daily duties.

The role the women in Marikana played enabled their partners to attend to work fully. When the protests commenced, this role enabled the miners to focus on the protests without the burden of having to rush home to make a meal, feed the children and wash everyone's clothes.

Furthermore, this role extends far beyond the fateful events of August 2012. In "Imbokodo: The Widows of Marikana", a documentary by SERI; it is evident that after over a year and a half since Marikana, most of the women had to take up posts in the mines because the income that their husbands brought was no more.

Imagine having to work for the very establishment that murdered your husband and refused to take accountability for it. In the words of one of the women, Betty Gadlela, "It does not feel right. I am only working there because I have no other choice". She further adds, "I wonder, did the police who shot the miners know what it's like to work underground?"

SIPHIWE SIBEKO / Reuters
Women carry placards as they chant slogans to protest against the killing of miners by the South African police on Thursday, outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, August 17, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The documentary had me thinking of the evil history of the migrant labour system in South Africa. A great deal is said about the men who had to leave their families and spend years in the city in overcrowded hostels and unspeakable living conditions, all in the name of providing for their families.

However, not much is said about the women who were left to uphold their families alone. Cook, clean, take care of the children, take care of the in-laws, fetch water, cut firewood and still attempt to hold together a piece job because the money that their husbands sent back home was never enough.

Not much is said about the women who never got paid for their emotional labour. The women who received no money from their husbands, who had since got girlfriends in the city and started new families. Not much is said about the women who contracted sexually transmitted diseases from their husbands. Husbands who came back from the mines infected and proceeded to infect their wives.

Not much is said of the waiting women. The women who were left by their husbands for the mines and waited to no avail because they never saw them again. The women in Marikana continue to highlight a recurring theme that women face; zero to very little recognition for the social reproduction and emotional labour they continue to provide. An erasure of this role.

Apparently, August is Women's Month. For the women in Marikana; this month is merely a reminder of the massacre that took their husbands and held no one accountable. A reminder that South Africa is a patriarchy-ridden country that does not care about women. During this month, spare a thought for the Women in Marikana.

* This post originally appeared in bantuknots.