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Magnificent Banyana Banyana: ‘Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater’

Published Aug 7, 2023


I was privileged to address the Speakers Forum of South Africa held at Umhlanga Rocks from the 1st to the 3rd of August. The name of Manthatisi the Regent Queen of Batlokoa born in 1784 and (who) died (in)1847, has to be invoked against the backdrop of Banyana Banyana as they fought gallantly to occupy the round of sixteen in Women’s FIFA World Cup in style and beating Italy 3-2 in a splendid display of skill, style and stamina.

Sheer will to win and they won. Manthatisi the Regent to her son Sekonyela, whose father Chief Mokotjo died when he was nine years old, held fort courageously for the Batlokwa throughout the Mfecane.

Mmanthatisi was known as a strong, brave and capable leader, both in times of peace and war. She was referred to by her followers as Mosanyane (the tiny one) because of her slender body. Her motto was that “their shields dried outside in the field of battle, and not in their huts, where they remained wet with blood.” Manthatisi had warrior blood in her veins.

The Banyana Banyana preparation for departure a few days away from the month of women in South Africa, was unceremonious to put it mildly. It was marred by scenes of contemptuous conduct towards this team of women. This was not because of what they did on the field of play. But it had to do with everything and everything about what happened off the field of play.

It was in the air-conditioned warmth of offices that their fate was sealed. They would not relent but showed their disdain for the treatment they received. Mr (Danie) Jordaan posed with them before cameras; like Manthatisi they stated their case and their displeasure.

In the month of women, the Speakers Forum kicked off with a discussion on how far South Africa had gone in its struggle against gender inequities. It was in the midst of the presentations that news broke that Banyana-Banyana had just beaten Italy and proceeded to the round of sixteen.

What Banyana Banyana had been subjected to is no different from how deep-rooted systems of patriarchy continue to conspire against women and girls.

In my presentation to the legislators, I took them through a few examples of what represents not only discrimination, but shifts in economic sources of livelihoods away from historical forts of competence held by women.

Women are known for constructing and maintaining rondavels with a mixture of cow dung and earth, plating themes on the wall outside that render the homestead beautiful. This is only tolerated when the building is head high.

Once it exceeds head height and takes on a new dimension of being rectangular and requiring a scaffold, this skill of not only building structures but homes and human settlements, is outsourced to men who only build structures.

The community empathy that goes with the structure evaporates into thin ether of money in male pockets. Women brew alcohol as an economic activity for domestic consumption and form of nutrition from the sorghum sediment (moroko which is partaken by children and fed to pigs as well).

When Tlokwe came into the scene, women were left out of this historic economic endeavour, and it was taken over by men. Women collect firewood and dried cow dung for cooking. All this is done as a load on their heads. Once this is introduced on a donkey cart or sledge, this historic function is taken over by men. Carting water on heads is a historical function of women, but once it is on a wheelbarrow, even the man who fights over shade cover with dogs jumps onto this opportunity and displaces women.

Very few women are known to be chefs, a task couched through life of tendering is suddenly taken over by men. As we grew up as young boys in the sixties, we continued on the tradition of training calves to gore women, should they dare collect cow dung when a herd is in the kraal or in the field. The practice was based on a strong belief that should women be in the midst of livestock it affects the calving of cattle, and they should only undertake the dung gathering when the kraal is empty, or the grounds are free of cattle. Calves grew to be cattle goring women, should they dare walk through a herd.

In the 2016 study on access to technology, a feature associated with women of secretarial work such as typing showed a massive shift in access in favour of males with the advent of computers, which most probably was deployed for typing purposes. Suddenly access to the gadgets favoured males.

This systematic and malicious practice of discrimination and structural transfer of resources once there is an introduction of even the most rudimentary of technologies on wheels, on scaffolds, and on computers, shows in many ways how resources are siphoned from women to men through technology infusion in spheres of life by economics. It is subtle and deadly. But just wait and learn about the great virtues of women as augmenters and multipliers.

David Gray puts it best, “Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she'll give you a baby. If you give her a house, she'll give you a home. If you give her groceries, she'll give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she'll give you, her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her. So, if you give her any crap, be ready to receive a ton of shit!”

Manthatisi was a great warrior, perhaps Banyana Banyana should be renamed after this warrior, Manthatisi, to mark the women’s month of August and their victory against all odds in the race for world cup glory.

South Africa may reconsider the name Bafana Bafana to that of Makana, the Xhoza King warrior who was incarcerated at Robben Island which remains an iconic structure and statement of struggle. The football club on this island was called Makana FC. We need to reflect on the respect and naming as part of cultural affirmations of struggle and our women have augmented ours.

Trust me if it is crap, we give them, a ton is waiting around the corner, this time despite the crap we gave them during preparations a ton of glory emerged for this, our battered nation. These are the Manthatisis of our time. Perhaps this will provide a historical sense of social compacting that is alive.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the director of the Economic Modelling Academy, a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg, a Research Associate at Oxford University, a board member of the Institute for Economic Justice at Wits, and a distinguished Alumni of the University of Ghana. He is the former Statistician-General of South Africa.