IN 1995 – armed with an honours degree in education specialising in English and literature in English – I was posted to Kiptulus High School in what is today Nandi County in Kenya as a graduate teacher.
However, 1995 stands out for me because it was in that year while teaching in Nandi County that I had a chance meeting with a gentleman by the name of Elijah Malakwen.
Over time, Elijah became a bosom friend and gave me a book that changed my life – forever.
Yes, forever, inasmuch as I am acutely aware that this is a hefty claim to make.
The book in question is MR Kopmeyer’s Thoughts to Build On: Thought Power for Successful Living.
I will return in a bit to why I introduced this instalment with my experiences in Nandi County and the place of Kopmeyer’s book in the grand scheme of things, but for now allow me to introduce my topic for the day: sucking up to paternalism as eloquently exemplified by statements and actions of the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) in the recent past.
It was reported in the mainstream media that the ANCWL leadership was of the considered opinion that time was not yet ripe to have a woman to lead the ANC.
The league’s secretary-general, Sisi Tolashe, was quoted as saying “with time we will have women presidents in the ANC. As a liberation movement we’ll celebrate one day to say that time has come and nobody will ever say no when that time comes . . . I think we are almost there now.”
But the good lady was not done.
She followed the above with a bizarre assertion that “we are the only organisation in the country and the continent that recognises the fact that women can be leaders themselves”.
For a while I thought that I was a master of making sense of political discourse but I must admit that the above statements of one good Sisi overwhelmed me.
What does she mean when she says “women can be leaders themselves”?
Does her understanding of leadership exclude the position of the ANC president?
Maybe! Actually, it is so! In the ANC!
Something in me started weeping for the women of this great land.
As I wept, however, a further statement – this time attributed to the ANCWL president, the ebullient Angie Motshekga – caught my attention.
She is quoted as saying that “we know the ANC, we understand the ANC, we understand the ANC processes, and no one wants to go into futile battle. There are traditions, there are processes and those processes have a long, long life.”
Granted, she must be a genius in matters ANC, but doesn’t she realise the damage that her understanding of matters ANC as expressed and her apparent acquiescence to the reeking paternalism that largely defines the ANC could be doing to generations of younger South African women who look upon her as a role model on matters leadership?
What does this statement make of the millions of talented women in this patch of land on the southern tip of Africa that God designated as our home?
Before I lose it any further, let me get back to Kopmeyer’s book for in there are words which may serve to ameliorate the harm that these women leaders have inflicted on all the talented and believing women in this country as well as the men who are big enough to cheer them on as they shatter the glass ceilings and other ceilings!
In chapter 28 entitled “Press on!” this self-styled American success counsellor categorically states that “how much better it is to know that, while by natural process you haven’t been created equal – you still can, by persistence and determination alone attain a measure of value, and ‘Press on!’ to become not merely equal, but superior”.
Wouldn’t it have served this country far much better were the good ladies leading the ANCWL just have borrowed this simple paragraph from Kopmeyer to address the leadership challenges in the ANC rather than sucking up to paternalism?
Had they had gotten round to reading the above paragraph from Kopmeyer, they would definitely not have missed the following paragraphs from the same chapter that state:
“Equality does not come by natural process, nor can equality result from environment, nor can equality be bestowed by some benevolent government. Equality must be earned by persistent and determined effort – by ‘pressing on’ to individual achievement.
“And nobody need stop when he or she merely has earned equality – because simply by continuing the same persistence and determination, simply by ‘pressing on’ superiority can be attained.”
Need I say anything more to lift up the good women who were grossly short-changed by the apparent sucking up to paternalism by the leaders of the ANCWL?
While you pick yourself from these unwarranted blows, let me leave you with the words of one Larbi Sadiki – a senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Exeter and an occasional columnist for Al Jazeera online.
In an opinion piece entitled “Inception: Dreams of revolution” posted on February 2 2011, he says:
“In history as in the lived and lively film of life, giant steps often result from the little but creative and self-empowering dreams. The incapacity to dream is slow death…the right to dream cannot be entrusted to demagogues, megalomaniacs or leaders without the earnestness to be of import to their peoples.”
Accepting the fallacious views of the ANCWL leaders would amount to “slow death” as well as entertaining these “demagogues” and “megalomaniacs” to dream for you.
You possibly can’t let that happen.
So, good sisters, go for it!
Entertain and have the “little but creative and self-empowering dreams” – always!
You have men like me who have your back as you go for superiority cheering you on!
Dr Munene Mwaniki is a senior lecturer/researcher at the University of the Free State. You can follow him on Twitter @munenemwaniki