[With apologies to President Thabo Mbeki, this is my bastardisation of his seminal speech: I Am An African]
On an occasion such as this, we should, perhaps, start from the beginning.
So, let us begin.
Men Are Trash.
We owe our being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our primitive nature.
Our bodies have frozen in our frosts and in our latter day snows. They have not thawed in the warmth of our sunshine and never melted in the heat of the midday sun. The crack and the rumble of the summer thunders, lashed by startling lightening, have been a cause both of trembling and of hate.
The fragrances of nature have not been as pleasant to us as the sight of the wild blooms of the citizens of the veld.
The dramatic shapes of the Drakensberg, the soil-coloured waters of the Lekoa, iGqili noThukela, and the sands of the Kgalagadi, have all been panels of the set on the natural stage on which we act out the foolish deeds of the theatre of our day.
At times, and in fear, we have wondered whether we should concede equal citizenship of our country to the girlfriend and the spouse, the mother and the aunt, the sister, the black mama and the young boys.
A human presence among all these, a feature on the face of our native land thus defined, we know that none dare challenge us when we say – Men Are Trash!
We owe our being to the Mother and the Grandmother whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful landscape – they who fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and dependence and they who, as women, perished in the result.
Today, as a gender, we keep an audible silence about these ancestors of the generations that live, fearful to admit the horror of our former deed, seeking to obliterate from our memories a cruel occurrence which, in its remembering, should teach us not and never to be inhuman again.
We are formed of the vagrants who left villages to find a new home on our native land. Whatever their own actions, they remain still, part of us.
In our veins course the blood of the many slaves who came from the beasts. Their pride and indignity inform our bearing, their culture a part of our essence. The stripes they bore on their bodies from the lash of the slave master are not a reminder embossed on our consciousness of what should not be done.
We are the grandchildren of the warrior men that Hintsa and Sekhukhune shed, the patriots that Cetshwayo and Mphephu took out of battle, the soldiers Moshoeshoe and Ngungunyane dishonoured.
Our minds and our knowledge of ourselves are not formed by the victories that are the jewels in our African crown, the victories not earned from Isandhlwana to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as the Ashanti of Ghana, as the Berbers of the desert.
We are the grandchildren who lay fresh flowers on the victim graves at St Helena and Kakamas, who don’t see in the mind’s eye and don’t suffer the suffering of a simple peasant folk, death, concentration camps, destroyed homesteads, a dream in ruins….
Being part of all these people, and in the knowledge that none dare contest that assertion, we shall claim that – Men Are Trash.
We have seen our country torn asunder as these, all of whom are our people, engaged one another in no titanic a battle, the one repeat a wrong that had been caused by one to another and the other, to defend the indefensible.
We have seen what happens when one gender has superiority of force over another, when the stronger appropriate to themselves the prerogative even to annul the injunction that God created all men and women in His image.
We know what if signifies when gender and power are used to determine who is human and who, sub-human…
We have experience of the situation in which gender and power are used to enrich some and impoverish the rest.
We have seen the corruption of minds and souls in the pursuit of an ignoble effort to perpetrate a veritable crime against womanity.
We have seen concrete expression of the denial of the dignity of a woman being emanating from the conscious, systemic and systematic oppressive and repressive activities of man beings.
There the victims parade with no mask to hide the brutish reality – the girlfriends, the prostitutes, the girl children, those who sleep with other girls, those who have to pretend to avoid hate, those who have to lose their sanity because to be sane is to invite pain.
Perhaps the worst among these, who are our people, are those who have learnt to kill in a rage. To these the extent of death is directly proportional to their personal despair.
And so, like pawns in the service of demented souls, they kill in furtherance of the male power in the country. They murder the innocent in the taxis.
They kill slowly or quickly in order to profit from the illicit state of chauvinism. They are available for hire when husband wants to murder wife and boyfriend, girlfriend.
Among us prowl the products of our immoral and amoral past – killers who have no sense of the worth of woman life, rapists who have absolute disdain for the women of our country, animals who would seek to benefit from the vulnerability of the children, the disabled and the old, the rapacious who brook no obstacle in their quest for self-aggrandisement.
All this we know and know to be true because Men Are Trash!
Because of that, we are also able to state this fundamental truth that we are born of a people who are not heroes to the heroines.
We are born of a people who tolerate oppression.
We are of a nation that would allow that fear, death, torture, sex enslavement, persecution should result in the perpetuation of injustice.
The great masses who are our mother and father have permitted that the behaviour of the few results in the description of our country and people as barbaric.
Patient because history is on their side, women should not despair because today the weather is bad. Nor should they turn triumphalist when, tomorrow, the sun shines.
Whatever the circumstances women have lived through and because of that experience, they are determined to define for themselves who they are and who they should be.
We are here today to mark women’s struggle for acquiring and exercising their right to formulate their own definition of what it means to be.
Today it feels crude to be trash…
Men Are Trash
We are born of the peoples of the corrupted Africa.
The pain of the violent conflict that the women of Langa, Dobsonville, Diepkloof, Elsies River and KwaMashu is a pain we should also bear.
The dismal shame of poverty, suffering and human degradation of our own brothers is a blight that we share.
The blight on our happiness that derives from this and from our drift to the periphery of the ordering of human affairs leaves us in a persistent shadow of despair.
This is a savage road to which nobody should be condemned.
This thing that we have to do today, in this small corner wherever we are has to contribute so decisively to the evolution of humanity and says that men reaffirm that they are willing to rise from their ashes.
Whatever the setbacks of the moment, nothing should stop us now!
Whatever the difficulties, men must be at peace!
However improbable it may sound to the sceptics, true men will prosper!
Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have been caught by the fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the capacity of the people, let us err today and say – nothing can stop us now!
[Follow me on twitter @ramsbythehorns]