South African white feminists benefit from Black oppression
May 21, 2018
By Thabi Myeni*, AFROPUNK contributor
On the 9th of August in 1956, 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings to protest against pass-laws for black women. Pass-laws were the equivelant of a local travel passport system that allowed for segregation and state control of black people’s movements, if you were found without a pass you were detained. At the end of the day, when the petitions were submitted and the dust had settled, white women went back to the homes that black women were dispossessed of during settler colonialism and the apartheid laws that followed such as the Native Land Act which allowed white people to physically remove black people from their land.
The contradiction is violent and painful. White women benefit from black oppression but only intervene when it does not disturb their oppressive gains. The point is black women and non-binaries remain landless, this could have been a historical opportunity for black women to organise for land. The historical sentiment attached to this day makes this critique unpopular; the march should have gone from the Union Buildings, to the homes and estates of the same colonial settlers.
South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world. Imperialists continue to plunder our resources and the effects of colonialism which continue to thrive, is evident in every corner of this country and in the lives of black women of all intersections. Colonial settlers arrived on our shores with their own beliefs, bigotry and values that they imposed on African civilizations. These systems continue to have dire consequences on black women. The worst barbarism Europeans imported, were their capitalist-patriarchal values. The imposition of capitalist-patriarchy diminished the power and agency of black women in society, so you can imagine that if white women belonged in the kitchen, black women didn’t even have kitchens.
It’s important to understand the ways in which settler colonizer attitudes towards black women impact today’s society, where we remain disproportionately vulnerable and impoverished because we are still landless. And unless we are honest with our assessment of the conditions of black women, we can never be liberated from the violence of any system of laws or physical cruelty without genuine historical change happening at the base level of our oppression – which is land dispossession. Therefore it is necessary for us and non-binaries to fully entrench ourselves in the land question in order to secure our reparations.
Land is the only weapon for black women, particularly the poor, those exiled from society and the physically imprisoned, to reclaim their traditional power and influence in our nation. The fight for women’s liberation that speaks to the freedom for women to have influence over their own destinies will be legitimized by land.
So in the spirit of our mothers who paved the way that day, the petitions must rest and our marches must lead us to the settler-occupied land.
* Thabi Myeni is a student activist and aspiring writer