Widow’s political pleas challenge traditional beliefs

Widow’s political pleas challenge traditional beliefs

Date: April 20, 2017
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By Lucia Makamure

The outspoken comments by Barbara Hogan, the widow of Ahmed Kathrada, following his death have challenged the beliefs around mourning and widowhood in the African context. Hogan defied tradition by making her voice heard at her husband’s burial when she questioned the integrity of the President, Jacob Zuma.

In an unprecedented  move , more than 100 000  South Africans from across the  political divide, races and walks of life gathered on 7 April in solidarity at the Union Buildings calling for Zuma to step down.

The march came just a few weeks after the nation bade farewell to Amhed Kathrada who was one South African’s iconic citizens and a key African National Congress (ANC) figure in the fight against apartheid. Typical of his nature, his burial set the stage for renewed calls from citizens for Zuma to step down as he had failed in his duties to serve the people of South Africa.

Breaking with tradition where widows usually take a back seat and are rendered voiceless at burials of their partners, Hogan (who herself is a politician of note) used the occasion to speak out and challenge South Africans to come together and fight for their country.

This was in response to the dismissal of the Finance Minister, Pravin Godhan and his Deputy Mcebisi Jonas, which resulted in the plummeting Rand, and the downgrade of the country into junk status by rating agencies. The President and the ANC have both tried to downplay the effects of the country’s junk status but economists have warned that the effects will hit the poor the most who the majority are women.

Hogan challenged South Africans saying; “For the ordinary citizens of this country, it is time for your voices to be heard. This is not a time for petty differences amongst us to divide us. Our sworn enemies – and we all have our little fights in the progressive movement – can no longer be enemies”.

“Looking to citizens of our country, I think all of us are utterly dismayed. We live in this country, we love this country and we have hopes. The majority of people live desperate lives of poverty and marginalisation. That a president can think to withdraw a finance minister and his deputy from an incredibly important international roadshow, to think that he thinks he could just do that and there is no consequences for the poor, shows what an inept president we have,” she said.

Hogan, who joined the ANC in 1977 after the Soweto Uprising, became involved in its underground work and mobilised people who opposed Apartheid. By 1981, she became the first white woman to be charged and convicted of treason. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1982. She was released in 1990 from Pretoria Central Prison. She met Ahmed Kathrada after her release from prison in 1990.

Her comments came under fire from some sections of the South African community who quickly pointed out that her behavior was inappropriate for a widow. This is because in most Africa cultures there are expectations on widows to observe certain mourning practices and rites, which have been challenged by advocates for gender equality for robbing grieving women of their voices and most importantly their dignity.

Social media coverage of the burial showed mixed reaction from the public as some applauded Hogan for her brevity for speaking out against ANC the same party that she and her husband sacrificed their lives to. However one post from social media platform Twitter said, “Barbara Hogan is a failed politician …She must be observing her 10 days”.

In most cultural practices a widow is not allowed to speak at her husband’s burial. Her last words to her husband are usually conveyed through a family member or friend.  In some cultures she is not even allowed at her husband’s graveside or when she uses public transport she has to sit at the back away from everyone.

Professor Matsobane Manala from the University of South Africa in a paper entitled African traditional widowhood rites and their benefits and/or detrimental effects on widows in a context of African Christianity points out that in many African traditions, compliance with the mourning rites and practices is a sign “… that a widow is grieving properly and that she respects her deceased husband”.

This incident sets the stage for meaningful debate on challenging cultural and traditional practices that infringe on the rights of women. Especially at a time like now when we have legal instruments like the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and the Agenda 2030, that protects the rights of women regardless of their social standing.

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