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How Feminists Failed Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

By Thabi Myeni

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zumas campaign was plagued with gross sexism, anti-blackness and racism,
largely because of her black womanhood. The way her campaign was received was a true reflection of
our colonised patriarchal societys attitudes towards sex, power and the place of Black women in
positions of leadership and everyone witnessed it, including feminists.

This was a testable moment for feminists, particularly those who claim to be radical. Heres a Black
woman that you supposedly dislike, experiencing sexism and misogyny on public platforms, feminist
principle says defend her. So why didnt mainstream feminists pass the test?

Black feminism is an ideological position and therefore it must not be compromised by ones feelings.
Black feminism at its core is a radical political movement to end sexist-racist oppression while remaining
cognizant that all black oppression is fostered by colonisation. One of its main principles is to defend
marginalized and dehumanized lives by any means necessary. Thats Black feminism.

So in the absence of viable Black feminism in South African society, NDZ was left to fend for herself
against patriarchy and misogyny. Not only was the lack of solidarity and defence of NDZ by feminists
extremely disappointing but it exposed that mainstream feminists are unprincipled.

Black women have been spectators of power for centuries, in the shadows behind powerful men, having
burning aspirations to break the glass ceiling, but being relegated to secretarial duties or mothers. NDZ
dared to contest the highest position in the country and feminists failed her on two basic grounds;
support and defence. They failed to support her pro-black policies and they failed to defend her from
sexism and racism.

Their silence was loudest when patriarchs relegated NDZ, an accomplished black woman doctor, anti-
apartheid activist and former Chair of the African Union, to being Zumas ex-wife. Their lack of outrage
when certain politicians tried to convince her, and in extension all black women, that we dont have
what it takes to lead the nation is sad.

In fact this situation shows that liberal feminists have internalised patriarchy and misogyny. Perhaps
theyve taken on some of the societal conditioning that theyre apparently against. They dont like or
defend NDZ because they hate President Jacob Zuma. The ironic narrative is that NDZ is an extension of
her ex-husband. This problematic take on NDZs political identity is exactly whats wrong with
unprincipled feminism.

If a black woman hits me today, and an able-bodied man hits her tomorrow, principle says I must defend
her with my life. Thats black feminism. We take the same position of solidarity with Black consciousness
when we defend the likes of Mmusi Maimane, Lindiwe Mazibuko and Patricia de Lille from attacks by
the racist Democratic Alliance (DA) beyond political party lines based on simple and intentional

Feminists must learn that just because they dont like NDZs political identity, it doesnt make her
immune to the same patriarchal, misogynistic, racist oppression we all experience. The Black feminist
movement is based on solidarity with marginalized folks. You dont get to look the other way when you
dont like the victims identity because principle dictates that we defend to advance the liberation of
black women.

This is definitely a teachable moment for Black feminist discourse in South Africa. We need to remain
grounded in the principle of solidarity and separate our emotions from our duties as vanguards of Black
women emancipation. In addition, we should always put a marginalized person before our own
socialized feelings about their political, social or physical identity.

We must learn from Assata Shakur, a revolutionary feminist whose years in the Black Panthers was
plagued by sexism. Not once did she forsake the principle of Black unity because Black men themselves
are marginalized. Once she understood this, she reinforced Black feminist ethos in the movement to
eradicate the sexism. We need to move towards principled Black feminism with the same logic, where
principle forces us to defend even Black women we have problems with from patriarchy and misogyny.