Friday, 17 February 2012

The culture of respect must reign supreme

I had an interesting morning debate with a friend. And it hit me why I don’t have real genuine regard for what many would like to refer today as “African culture”. Me, a black woman from a dusty village in one of African’s most known monarchies is not bounded by cultural might sounds extreme. Just hear me out first.
This friend was reprimanding me for dating outside my culture and saying how shameful I have become. Another friend went as far as to say that I have a low self-esteem.
I didn’t argue for it shocked me that I was having such a debate with two men my age group in the year 2012. So I gently asked my friend who has a couple of kids out of wedlock and is not in a relationship with any of the mothers what is an “African thing” to do when a man makes a woman pregnant?  The response was to shift to being defensive and say it’s not the same. I was expecting that kind of response, but in this case I was hoping to be wrong. Another thing cultural characteristic I find hard to get my head around is to say a man is right even if his faults can be fatal.
Most African cultural norms that are emphasized are those practices that protect men. In this argument between my friend and me, when my friend couldn’t rely on logic he moved to culturally blackmailing me as a woman, by reminding me that in African culture I shouldn’t be even talking back to him. I should just listen and agree that he will always be right and I should stay ignorant.  For men today culture is only good when it suits them.  They are the very same African men take to podiums and deliver good speeches about women economic empowerment when they are doing their best to drown women’s voices in their personal capacities.
 There are so many South African single mothers raising children alone and not by choice, me being of them. The African culture that my friend was preaching to me about gives women little choices and sometimes none at all.  For instance in Sepedi culture when a woman gets pregnant out of wedlock she has to tell her parents and reveal the identity of the father. The girl’s family would then go with her to the father family to report the pregnancy to his family, if he has not taken the first step by telling his parents and making necessary arrangements to reach out to the girl’s family first. Usually this is when the man is willing to take responsibility and if agreed by both parties, marriage arrangement would most likely follow. This is an ideal situation and it rarely happens like that.
On more than one occasion I have witnessed man denying that they have fathered children in front of their parents and the girl parents not even understanding the consequences of their denials. If it doesn’t suit him the man simply denies he’s the father or even knowing the girl. When this happens the man would slip back to his life of no responsibility and woman is left a single parent and an embarrassment to her whole family. Where such stories are rampant like in many rural communities, the women neither have the necessary means to prove paternity or they are left too helpless to do anything about it. What about embracing that aspect of culture where men take responsibility and take care of their children and protect women.
My friend went on to insinuate that he knows for sure that my parents cannot be proud of the choices I make. Quite to the contrary, my own father had defied the rules that barred him from marrying my mother because she was from a different class. And when he made her pregnant, he married and enrolled her to school where she studied teaching.
The only culture that reigned supreme in my house was that of respect. If you have respect, even as an African man you would know better than calling a grown man a boy because it is not his culture to go to the mountains for initiation. The best love I ever experienced was borne out of respect.

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