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An African Woman AwakenedBy Sithandekile Sibanda
18 July 2020
It’s a chilly morning, but I have to leave the warmth of my blankets. My heart is broken as I take a glance at my 9-month-year-old baby girl, and my 6-year-old baby boy, for I also have to disturb their peaceful sleep and get them ready to face the Johannesburg early winter chill.
I have no option. They also have no other option. Their immunization is due.
The COVID-19 fears have been neatly tucked away. Fear has no room this morning; it cannot have room in my mind despite the concern that hospitals and other crowded places are a hotspot for contracting and transmitting the novel virus.
If I had my way, I would go to a private hospital. But just like so many other things, I do not have it my way. The lockdown has dried up my family’s funds. We just cannot afford the R400-500 for my boy and the R200-300 for my girl that private hospitals demand despite desperate teary negotiations. My husband’s job at a restaurant in Sandton has been affected, and it looks like there is no ray of hope ray of hope anytime soon. Oh! If only you feel half the pain of being a migrant, you would shed a tear or two! I don’t even want to start about the life struggle back home in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – you might wail. No, I won’t even mention my drought-stricken rural home, Tsholotsho – it would be too much to bear.
But back in Johannesburg, and have gotten used to the cold I strode towards Hillbrow Community Health Centre with my baby girl on my back and my baby boy on my hand. At least my children seemed unbothered as their eyes darted all over the outside world after quite some time spent indoors. I breathed a sigh of relief as I noticed that despite the huge number of people at the hospital, about 200 or so, social distancing was being practiced and enforced. Everyone had masks on too, and children who did not have were given one. The organization deserves to be applauded. Kudos to the South African health department!
And then the long queue began to take its toll on my feet, legs and back. Oh, how crushed I was to discover that I was in the wrong queue after being there for two and a half hours. How I wished my husband was here with me to share this burden. How I wished care for children was not socially and culturally constructed to be the duty of women. How I wished I did not have to bear the stares I got when my child cried and I had to breastfeed her to calm her down.
As if to calm my inner turmoil, the hospital staff members were friendly and attended to me and my children professionally and speedily. On our way back though, I could not help but let myself wander into the uncharted territories of my mind.
I wondered about what could be done to encourage men to partake in the health of their children since I noticed that it was mostly women who brought children to the hospital for immunization. Surely, the argument that men are busy with work is disrupted by the current lockdown in South Africa which has rendered many people jobless. I am convinced many men could spare a few hours of their ‘hustling time’ for their families’ well-being. My thoughts could not avoid the glaring reality that although the smooth sailing societal process depends largely on the invisible and thankless contributions of women like domestic tasks, yet they remain out of the commercial circuit, or at most, at the very bottom of that circuit. These beg us to question the foundation of our societal values and implore us to start considering ideas and policies that promote the quality of goods and services over their quantity, or the use-value of goods and services over their market value or even the real needs of society over our superfluous and commoditized wants.
Maybe, just maybe it is time to start considering exactly what we prioritize and deem as success or development in our societies, as individual states, as a continent, and as a collective global state. What benefits can be reaped from the focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures when they cannot adequately and reliable measure the social welfare and well-being of people? What benefits are there in the policies that are said to necessitate economic growth when the majority of the people are left in deplorable living conditions, jobless, homeless, or living in abject poverty and hungry having been driven by urbanization? Or perhaps a more meaningful question is "who" is benefitting from our society's materialistic civilization structure, revolving around a capitalist production and distribution mechanism, promoting among other things environmental degradation activities like mining? For me, it is plain to see that it is none other the corrupt governments, political parties, and multi-national institutions and companies that prey on the vulnerable masses in one way or another. Should we be surprised when we realize that the majority of the beneficiaries of the system are men while women are the first victims and the hardest impacted by pandemics like COVID-19, HIV among others?
As we ponder on these issues, I would like to grateful that the digital media gives young women like me a platform to vent out freely. They have sparked a fire in my heart to express myself. As a young woman whose soul is bleeding uncontrollably because of social injustices, I vow never to let that fire die down. For far too long, I have stood aside and watched from the terraces. Not anymore! While I understand that a fight for social justice for women is going to be hard and does not guarantee victory, I believe choosing not to fight is a given defeat.