Today in a remote, grindingly poor village called Kwa Zulu Natal lives a courageous and tireless woman known as the Female Nelson Mandela and the “Mother” to tens of thousands poor rural women. She has been called “the unsung heroine creating a role model for others to emulate.” She, like her fellow South African, Nelson Mandela, has dedicated her life to abolishing discrimination and injustice and she too has had to endure defamation and cruelty so the establishment could maintain the status quo.
This woman’s name is Sizani Ngubane and she is the founder of the RWM (Rural Woman’s Movement), a grass root organization that has 500 community based groups, 50,000 members and 2000 orphans. These women and orphans of RWM suffer even more today than in the time of apartheid, and thus need her example, leadership skills, undying commitment and clear vision as the followers of Nelson Mandela did twenty-five years ago.
Although she was born among the poorest of poor, when she was six years old and witnessed her own mother’s suffering at the hands of her father, she swore to herself she would not marry and become an activist for women’s rights.
And so she has. Sizani has given a voice to women who were once beaten by their husbands for speaking out. (In fact, she is proud to say that men who once beat their wives for attending an RWM meeting now babysit the children while their wives attend the meetings.) She is especially passionate about achieving women’s independent rights to land, property and inheritance, with the hope that one day more than half of rural poor will not go to bed hungry every night. She knows it is the woman who has to be taught and educated so positive change can occur.
Every day of her life is dedicated to fighting inequality and injustice, as she informs rural women about their rights and empowers them to speak out in public and even run for local elections. From workshops with the students from Davis University where they learn to video and edit, to boycotting conferences about rural women that aren’t allowed to attend, to assuring that The Communal Land Rights Act was passed in 2009 giving both men and women the right to property, to recently picketing the World Health Conference because the children of Kwa Zulu Natal only have putrid smelling water laced with e-coli to drink: it is the RWM that rural women turn to for legal defense against discriminatory government policies and to defend them when they have been illegally evicted, abducted, or banished by their in-laws. But you probably were under the impression that these atrocities died with apartheid.
The fact is that rural women are worse off today than in the time of apartheid because they have to cope with the dual crisis of HIV/AIDS and gender violence. Young girls are often kidnapped, drugged, raped and then paid “iabolo” as they are bought and sold for 12 cows (eleven for the father and one for the mother); widows are forced into marriages with the male relative upon punishment of loss of their children and property if they don’t acquiesce and it is the woman’s sole responsibility to work the fields, tilt the land, collect water and firewood, as well as care for the sick and dying, without any compensation.
Although Ms. Ngubane is revered by the women and children of RWM and has been the recipient of numerous international rewards such as The African Women of Empowerment (2007), finalist for South African Woman of the Year,.and invited to represent African rural women AGAIN this February, today it is she who is being abused, defamed, harassed and accused of crimes she never committed without a shred of evidence. It is she who those who do not know her personally are turning their back on and rescinding their funding because of the lies that have been defused on social networks, radio and newspapers.
But as we all know, it is very easy for the brave and nobel to be defamed by those who are more powerful and greedy. And this is where the comparison with Nelson Mandela ends. Sizani cannot spend the next 25 years of her life in jail. She needs to be in the field: feeding the orphans, administering medicine to the sick; traveling to over 16 countries explaining the plight of the rural poor, speaking her truths at the United Nations and organizing the 5000 women she leads so that they can create permanent changes. She needs our help NOW.
Today there is a conspiracy against her because she defended the women of the RWM who were not paid for arduous work by an ex pat from the United States. This man and his cronies are considered dangerous so our sources were afraid to give their names.
If allowed to succeed, the destruction of Sizani Ngubane and her Rural Women’s Movement in South Africa will represent one of the greatest setbacks the rural poor women of Africa could possibly experience. Please write to the Editor of the KwaZulu-Natal newspaper THE WITNESS and request a full-scale and unbiased investigation journalists into what has occurred. The email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org