It Seemed Like a Dream Job…

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— By Akhona from South Africa

Farm Juliets is what the big town dwellers refer to us a given that a lot of us come from a small town with nothing but a church and school for entertainment. If we are lucky, we can see an already out of the box office movie sometimes. I guess we have a certain unappealing swag about us that only the city folk can identify with, but one thing for certain is that once the city bug has bitten someone, that person never wants to go back to the folklife. Whatever it was….

My name is Akhona Zibonti and I was born and raised on the outskirts of the Indian Ocean in a rural town called Port St. John’s. From a very young age I have always felt that I didn’t belong in PSJ (as we fondly refer to it). I have always felt the slight suffocation with the idea of spending more than a few seconds in the town. I guess one can say I was never really in love with my hometown from the very beginning because I am ashamed to say that I have never fully gave myself time to know and explore the much interesting parts about the town.

I think Joburg caught my eyes from a very young age. I remember I had always dreamt of coming to Joburg and my day dreams where always situated in Jozi… I felt that the city understood my personal desire for bigger and better things. For a while I believed Joburg understood me better than anyone. If I recall correctly 2002 was the year I told myself I was not going to spend another precious moment in PSJ, sadly it was also a year I was grieving my grandfather. A tall salt and pepper proud, gentle yet strict old man with a look that could stop the universe and a kind soul that could make one want to get closer to God.

So I had made a plan, which never materialized though. I guess I felt there was no point in staying in a place where some of the people who made me feel safe were no longer residing there. It might look as though it was an outcry of a grieving soul but for a split second Joburg made me feel like I was living in Never Never Land and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it for a long time. My naïve soul believed everything and everyone in Joburg was good.

Fast-forward to 10 years later and life has shown me a thing or two. I have always known and felt that my calling was helping people. When I was introduced to Khanya College I felt that I had found my purpose. Khanya is situated at end of Inner City Johannesburg in a building called the Freedom house. This organization falls under the Khanya umbrella which fights for different social-oriented causes. When you first see the building you get the idea; an inner city’s dilapidated situation with crimes, buildings without running water or electricity but always full of occupants, from toddlers to adults. Khanya is situated in Prichard Street diagonally opposite to where prostitutes operate. It always catches me off guard when I enter the building with a polite guard and a functioning elevator. The elevator is even serviced when it needs to be!  The organization prides itself of having a large area for the press as well as a full-functional kitchen. Their programs attract people who don’t trust the Inner City given all the good deeds that they have done over the years.

Khanya is draped with many good deeds. As a former worker, I can only tell you of the psychological damage one faces from the hands of Maria whose narcissist ways ensure that you are isolated when she showers her wrath on you with degrading words. I felt as though this was a form of oppression and made me question my abilities that constantly would come up in conversation …

I remember Thuli, another coworker, would always say to me “Don’t let her break you, because she wants you to break and make you beg for your job.” Thato, Nokuthaba also felt her constant torture and after years passed all I had left was Palesa. The place with its uplifting ideologies suppresses its workers while overworking…. At one point she had said to me about how she had to beg the Director and other in charge for me to get the job and that I should be grateful to her to have this job. To be honest I was petrified of losing my volunteer position.

Even though I was promised a larger salary than the one I was getting, I never questioned nor did I want to disrupt the status quo. It is sad that a number of South African or non South Africans live under constant fear everyday. When it was time for me to open another chapter in my life, I left without a heartbreak or bitterness towards her, because I finally learned that throughout the time I worked myself to a zombie and this will not change a thing. Regardless of what I would do, she was a narcissist who always thought she was superior to me. In retrospect, I had realized that I should always steer clear of self-doubt and stop it in its tracks. What is left now is figuring out: what is next?

 

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Confronting Patriarchy – The Root Cause of Gender Inequality

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— by Zanele from South Africa

The higher I climbed the public service leadership ladder, the more I experienced the gruesome realization that I was close to achieving my professional development objectives, yet too far from accomplishing my career goals. The barriers that hinder success for a young black woman are far from over. In South Africa, if you’re a young, black, educated, urban, middle-class woman, you are considered as part of the so called “privileged” generation. Little know that the journey to such a false truth as  “black privilege” is a wounding bitter thorn to a delayed success. Such ideologies are often used to reinforce the barriers to opportunities for people of color, which remain high and for women of color, even higher.

I would attend various international, regional and national meetings of all kinds; conferences, seminars or symposiums, and I would be the youngest female professional in the whole lot, the only female at most. The majority, the most represented gender, would be men. Always. Men who would approach me seeking answers dubbed by their curiosity to understand how I got to be in “their space”. In most cases, I felt forced to explain myself countlessly, having to mention my qualifications, experience and the journey that led me to be in the same “space” as my male counter parts… However, one day, I decided to stop. I decided to stop explaining myself. This enabled me to understand the underlying socially institutionalized concept of gender inequality.

Today, majority of companies in various sectors and corporate industries are largely dominated by men. This has been due to many centuries of imposed patriarchy, ingrained in the social, economic and political systems which define how our societies currently inefficiently operate, lacking acknowledgement of the various effects of gender inequality. Essentially in all societies and sectors, Men earn more than women, patriarchy has resulted in staggering power imbalances amongst men and women and this has resulted in evident income and power disparities.

When men hold positions of leadership, they hold decision–making power. As leaders, they are the ones with the authority to determine the limitations to socioeconomic, cultural and political liberation of women and girls. Therefore, to achieve gender equality, women have to strive towards confronting patriarchy in all its forms, throughout all levels of society. Men too have to reach the realization that women are key contributors to economic development, social cohesion and cultural transformation.

Women and men have to work collectively to call for gender equality measures to be reflected in policies and systems, both on a national & global level. Both genders have to partner in solidarity as feminists, to diminish gender biases but most importantly to confront and to dissolve patriarchy, patrilocality*, and patrilineality**. Through this, young people, irrespective of gender, race, social class, education, or lifestyle will have opportunities to freely make meaningful contributions to uplifting communities and making the world a better place for all, without having to explain about how they get to be where they are at.

As young women in the 21st century, we have a vital role to play in confronting patriarchy by persistently challenging the status quo, being pioneers and whistle blowers, calling for gender equality in all its dimensions. To the girl going to school despite cultural barriers challenging her to do otherwise, to the educated and strongly qualified young woman working hard and striving to build her career in a male dominated environment, to the woman who owns her own tangible and intangible assets whilst being a wife to her husband and a mother to her children – I say, rise. Rise, confront the root causes of gender equality and walk towards building futures for your generation and the next. It begins with us.

*patrilocality is when the residence of a couple (especially of the newly married) is with the husband’s family or tribe

** patrilineality is a system in which one belongs to one’s father’s lineage; it generally involves the inheritance of property, names or titles through the male line as well