Black women are always pushed to the margins
The making of South Africa is built on the backs of Black women using exploitative, racist, patriarchal and capitalist systems. These methods are institutionalised and Black women are always at the receiving end of their violence. To be Black and woman in South Africa is to exist in the margins of society. It is to be easily disposable, systematically erased and to exist in a permanent state of displacement. To quote the 1982 publication edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott and Barbara Smith; in South Africa, ‘’All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave’’
In this article I show the extent in which institutionalised patriarchy, hyper-masculinity and whiteness is in South Africa by reflecting on how our country treated Mam Winnie Madikizela Mandela and her legacy. I show the dominant discourses used by patriarchy, whiteness and capitalism to silence and police Black women.
The life of Black women in South Africa is a battleground for utter invisibility and hyper-visibility. Black women are always watched but they are never seen. Black women exist in both the extremes of invisibility or hyper-visibility and that comes from a history of whiteness and patriarchy dehumanizing Black women. We see this in the life and legacy of Mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela. Madikizela Mandela was constantly under surveillance from both the apartheid government and by Black men in the liberation struggle. She was constantly under surveillance and this meant that when she entered spaces, there was anticipation from forces of patriarchy and whiteness that she will act in resistance and rebellion.
In 2018, Black women continue to be put under surveillance by the same forces.Being under surveillance and being forced into hyper-visibility is dehumanizing because it is based on a perceived deviance and othering. This means that when Black women are forced into hyper-visibility, there is a gaze that follows them. We see this with how the apartheid government reduced Madikizela Mandela’s defiance against an unjust and violent regime to being an irrational barbaric other; hence the swartgevaar notion that followed Black activists during apartheid.
For many Black women, utter invisibility and hyper-visibility are used by whiteness, capitalism and patriarchy to keep Black women ‘’in their place’’. These are used to say to Black women, ‘how dare you exist, take space and be alive’. Ultimately, invisibility and hyper-visibility are used as punishment. Like hyper-visibility, invisibility is violence and it thrives on stripping the subject of their power. When you are invisible, you are dehumanized.
It is important to note that invisibility is a lived experience for all Black people and it plays a huge role in the social construction of Blackness. This is because we are Black in a world that is not only dominated by whiteness, but was systematically structured for whiteness. Because of this, black people are placed as a negation of whiteness. However, the invisibility that is imposed on Black women is more brutal because of the inherent racialized and gendered intersections of power. This means that invisibility for Black women is not only systematic, but is deliberate.
This systematic, institutional and deliberate invisibility in the South African context is often imposed on Black women for speaking and acting against what patriarchy and whiteness expects from Black women. In most patriarchal and racist societies like South Africa, deliberate invisibility often follows hyper-visibility. It often happens when an oppressive institution or group fails to supress an individual with hyper- visibility and decides to employ the violence of deliberate invisibility as a means of punishing them. We saw how the hypervisibility imposed on Madikizela Mandela’s life by the apartheid government painted a narrative about her and this resulted in her being forced into invisibility in post 1994 South Africa. Her imposed invisibility post 1994 was used as punishment for her defiance against capitalism, whiteness and patriarchy. This shows how deliberate invisibility for Black women is used as punishment and that punishment is often positioned as excusable.
Despite these structural violence(s) directed at Black women, there is a constant pressure for Black women to not be angry. Black women who are loud and angry and deliberate about their anger are further punished. We see this with Madikizela Mandela. Winnie Madikizela Mandela did not act within the walls of respectability politics. She defied patriarchal norms that said Black women ought to act in ways that men found acceptable and that Black women ought to be silent and accept oppression.
Madikizela Mandela was angry that a regime of minority rule was massacring her people. She was angry that a regime of minority rule had dispossessed Black people from their land. She was angry that the response of the oppressed was expected to be smiles, when the apartheid regime was actively killing Black people in their numbers every day. Yet, for this anger, for this very justified and rightful anger, she was punished. Her punishment was her being erased from national memory, being ridiculed and having her name tainted in dirt while apartheid officials enjoy the image of being heroes in 2018 South Africa.
Black women’s lives are marked by everyday struggles of existing in the extremes of both visibility and invisibility. These struggles are both a cause and consequence of whiteness, patriarchy and capitalism. Black women cannot continue to be subjected to a white and patriarchal gaze.
Ntebaleng Morake is a Black Radical Militant Feminist. She works as an Education Coordinator at the Social Justice Coalition. Morake is currently studying towards a Bachelor of Laws (LLB). Morake holds an Honours degree from the University of Cape Town in Gender and Transformation.