Opinionista Nomatter Ndebele 14 August 2017

How dare you gather without us? We are part of the workings of the world

In the words of Nayyirah Waheed, “All of the women in me are tired”. Tired of scrambling for recognition, tired of having to speak 20 times before I am heard, tired of being left out of conversations that should be led by women. But more than anything else, I am tired of mostly male gatherings, I am tired of excuses, I am tired of sitting in a room and not seeing anyone that looks like me, despite the fact that they occupy every corner in this country.

On 3 August, what was no doubt an important group of people converged at the Cape Town international Convention Centre to participate in the Daily Maverick’s inaugural The Gathering: Media Edition. Or more accurately men (and some women) gathered to listen to other men and then pat each other on the shoulder and bask in the glory of, well, being men.

I am a fan of the Daily Maverick, I believe they are one of the most important players to enter the media landscape. They are one of the few media outlets who are willing to speak about social justice issues, they speak truth to power and as we all know they are playing an important role in exposing the levels of state capture and corruption via #GuptaLeaks. However, as a friend of Daily Maverick, I believe it is my duty to tell my good friend that I am not impressed.

Last year, my records show that the annual The Gathering had 21 speakers, of which only four were women, and one worked for the Daily Maverick. Despite being a “progressive” news publication, I feel the move in relation to female representation is not good enough.

It is disappointing that this year The Gathering: Media Edition hosted 23 participants and of those, only four were women with a further two of which are journalists at the Daily Maverick. It may not be the intention, but it shows that the publication has not done enough to push the agenda of transformation and representation beyond the corridors of its establishment. You have a great pool of writers and people in the media that are hailed as Daily Maverick opinionistas. How then, can it be possible that you cannot find more women representatives?

Two years of The Gathering, about 44 male participants and only about nine women. Is it 2017 or 1717? Because I can’t tell. The DM deserves credit for giving women like Marianne Thamm and Ranjeni Munusamy a great platform. But we need a wider array of voices, I cannot believe that beyond Marianne and Ranjeni, there were only a handful of women who were deemed qualified and good enough to be on panels.

A gathering such as this, that will gain much attention, should be a platform to assert the fact that women belong. Not only do they belong, but that they deserve sincere and accurate representation. May I remind you, we’re working towards a society that reflects the actual demographics of the country we live in. Not only, do I want to see women, I want to see women who look like me. Women whose mere presence shouts: “It can be done”. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, it can be done.

I want to hear from the likes of Khanyi Dlomo, the founder of Ndalo media, which has just turned 10 years old. I want to hear from the SABC8, Chriselda Lewis, Paula Fray, Dinesh Balliah, Lizeka Mda, Mandy Wiener, Tumelo Mothotoane, Dineo Bendile, Angela Quintal, Nkepile Mabuse, Zamantungwa Khumalo, Noxolo Grootboom, Karyn Maughan and Iman Rappetti. Are you understanding why I am questioning why things are the way they are? Or have you, like the others, simply settled for ‘this is just how things are’. Because that is not how things are, this is not normal and I want you to be on my side on this.

Without these women, where would our media be? And if engagements around the media continue to be led by men, who purposely or inadvertently sideline women, we will never know. And that is just not good enough.

But more than that, there are even more female representatives within civil society and business. The likes of Thabang Pooe, Nomzamo Zondo, Sharon Ekambaram, Adila Hassim, Vuyokazi Gonyela, Vuyiseka Dubula and Phumeza Mlungwana, and within business Phuti Mahanyele, Wendy Luhabe and Sibongile Sambo. So why do male names take precedence over the women?

For too long the role played by women in this country’s liberation, media and transformation, has been undermined and brushed aside. Rewritten to glorify the men at the expense of the women who took their bodies to the front-lines of resistance to tell the world what horrors black people lived every day. These women existed long before co-ordinated calls for the march in 1956.

Recently, the buzzword “Transformation” has taken on a new dimension. What used to be whispers in boardrooms in attempts to comply with Black Economic Empowerment and affirmative action policies, has now become shouts, emanating from every corner and every struggle in this country. The revolution will be led by women. Women who will not go quietly into the night. We are not just a “nice to have”, we are an essential part of the workings of the world.

Let me now turn to the men, many whom I respect and love. We clearly cannot trust, even the most wonderful men, who profess to be allies of our struggle. Sometimes it is best for them to step back and say “actually, this is not about me. I cannot speak on this, and I will not do so just for the sake of being seen and being heard”. This resistance is a move strong enough to advance the struggle. You are men, your ability to be seen and to be heard is not under threat. Trust me. Because if it was, maybe I would be on one of those panels, instead of having to pen down an oped in the hope that it will eventually make its way to your desktop.

As a young black women in the media and social justice world, it is incredibly disheartening to know, that at the end of the day, despite my lived experiences, my story will almost always be told, mostly inaccurately, through the lens of a man, black or white. Just because they have the kind of authority, that they do not have to earn, but is ascribed to them, because they are men.

It is this very fight that we endure everyday, that keeps women on the back foot, as if they do not belong in boardroom, newsrooms and staffrooms. When Hlaudi Motsoeneng made the news we were all fixated on him. But the SABC8, who were mainly women went unseen. Because in the bigger picture who is Thandeka Gqubule or Sunna Venter?

They are a woman, they are role models that looks like me, they too have lived my stories, they have borne the same struggles that I am in 2017, they are the media, they are power, they belong and they deserves to be heard. But the men have decided that I’ll be better off listening to Richard Poplak, who is journalist from whom we hear from everyday and Pravin Gordhan, who has been flavour of the month for months.

Every year we hear the same tired excuse “we couldn’t find anyone to speak”. Newsflash, you won’t find anyone if you fail to look beyond your boardrooms, you won’t find anyone if the only place you are looking is in your corridors. Because unlike men who can sit tight and pull the strings from afar, we women are out in the field, we are putting in the work, we are moulding the media into what it should be, we are putting our bodies on the line and going that extra mile. Yet still, where we should matter the most, we are unseen and unheard.

The bottom line Daily Maverick is this: If you are about equality and meaningful transformation, then you must be seen to be transforming and driving equality. You cannot repeat the same mistakes over three years and then sit quietly waiting to repeat them in the following year. You have a responsibility. You have the power.

In the words of Nayyirah Waheed “all of the women in me are tired”.

Tired of scrambling for recognition, tired of having to speak 20 times before I am heard, tired of being left out of conversations that should be led by women. But more than anything else, I am tired of mostly male gatherings, I am tired of excuses, I am tired of sitting in a room and not seeing anyone that looks like me, despite the fact that they occupy every corner in this country.

Representation matters, it is the foundation of knowing you belong, it is that inner confidence that allows you to walk through halls and boardrooms and know that you belong. In fact representation matters far more than your gathering, and after countless sit-ins, walk-outs, marches and acts of defiance. How dare you think you can gather without us? DM

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