Contributors are invited to write on the topic above from either a research or an activism perspective. Abstracts and contributions must be written in English and in a style accessible to a wide audience. Please submit abstracts to or

No later than 7th February 2018

Agenda has been at the forefront of feminist publishing in South Africa for the past 30 years and raises debate around women’s rights and gender issues. The journal is designed to promote critical thinking and debate and aims to strengthen the capacity of both men and women to challenge gender discrimination and injustice. The Agenda journal is an IBSS/SAPSE accredited and peer-reviewed journal.

GUEST EDITORS: Prof. Songca Rushiella and Dr Maureen Tong

Conceptual Rationale:
This issue of Agenda seeks contributions on notions of land as it relates to womxn’s bodies. It postulates that womxn, in their relation to land, are viewed bio-psycho-socially as bodies of land, bodies for land or bodies from land. In essence, womxn as part of a collective indenture exist along a gamut linked, through their physical/biological, allegorical or literal presence, in cooperation and struggle with land. Indirectly this connection between womxn and land brings with it comorbidities with land tensions and cyphers.

It is trite that womxn are often associated with or deemed of land. A swift review of literature reveals the characterisation of land as feminine in both conception and description. This can be traced to the Latin etymology Terra Firma which translates to earth or solid ground. Latin, as a langauge reliant on grammatical gender characterised Terra Firma as feminine. Contemporarily however, the association of womxn and land has mutated into a peculiar perception in which womxn and womxn’s bodies are often viewed as land. Far distant from serfdom or the Roman law concept of feminine ownership, womxn’s bodies in contemporary society can be constructed as land. Land that must be owned, tended, reformed, reshaped, recultured, re-landscaped – by internal feminine drive or external pressure. Although evident in social intercourse and popular culture, it is especially evident in crimes of a sexual or gendered nature. Coupled with racialisation of sexuality and gender in contemporary South Africa – the problem transmutes to something larger than mere transitional tension. The power dichotomy between male and female is trite in South Africa and the boundary between black and white is perhaps so superannuated that it warrants only mere passing remarks. For example, the gulf between black lesbian women and those who believe that orientation can be ‘corrected’ or ‘cured’ by rape is a rift in which both power (in the masculine) and race collide within the constellation of orientation. The result is the creation (or support) of hate in a form which manifests as both a shield and sword for the actions of the ‘right/moral’ againt the perceived cult of the ‘incorrect/immoral/wrong’. Unfortunately justice does not live between these valleys and financial impecunity is the mother of silence when crimes of this nature occur. Traditionally the power functions of race and gender are ‘matters for the court’ – courts which often cannot distinguish hate and crime let alone the domination of gender on gender bias violence. Crimes of this nature, manifest in South Africa, are distinct from xenophobia of race and ethinicty but are rather directed at a characterisitc of ‘otherness’ which is inherent in the victim. Unfortunately this ‘otherness’ is perceived as curable through action on the land of the body – in this case the land of womanx’s bodies. The work of Zanele Muholi, a prominent visual activist shows the face of the reality of homophobia and homophobic violence in South Africa. For this she has been branded “pornographic, immoral and offensive” by the South African Minister of Arts and Culture. Where the lines of immorality blur across the gender divide within a particular race; masculine power becomes both a sword and shield for those in positions of authority. The community in these cases is not limited to those who associate with ‘otherness’ but extend to the community as an aganitic group within which Constituional values are intended to be alive and living. Restorativity in these communities is a task complicated by inter-racial tension, inter-cultural tension and the tension of ‘otherness’. This is but one example of violence and patriarchy against the land of womxn’s bodies.

This theme explores the kaleidoscopic panorama of womxn’s bodies as land – where the body is a tool to be corrected, cured, shamed and celebrated. It further explores the tension of hate within race and the domination struggles within communities where equality sleeps and dreams of Ithika.

Womxn, more especially those involved in liberation struggles are often connected through male lineage to struggles for land. Whether as conduits for the power of a dominant male or as equal (albeit unrecognised) co-workers in land reform the disparity between feminine/masculine actors is all too clear in recent history. For example, 2017 marks the centenary of Nokutela Mdima Dube’s death on 25 January 1917 at the age of 44. The system of patriarchy however led to Nokutela Mdima Dube’s significant contribution to the liberation struggle in South Africa being airbrushed from history. Nokutela Mdima Dube was an equal contributor, sometimes more so, to many of the achievements that have been recorded as the legacy of John Dube alone. John Langalibalele Dube founded the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) on 8 January 1912. The SANNC was later renamed the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest liberation movement in Africa. John Dube is also widely recognized as the founder of the Zulu Industrial Improvement Company in 1910 and the Ohlange Institute. Nokutela Mdima Dube, John Dube’s first wife, is however hardly ever mentioned in relation to the formation of the SAANC, the establishment of the Zulu Industrial Company nor the Ohlange Institute. Mrs Dube was not permitted membership to the SAANC as a womxn and yet she played a significant role in the movement. When she died in 1917, Nokutela Mdima Dube was buried in an unmarked grave in Brixton, Johannesburg that was simply recorded as CK9763. CK denotes that she was a Christina Kaffir, as was the government practice at the time of her death. Her grave was only identified in 2011 and a tombstone erected in her honour in 2013 after the dedicated research work undertaken by Prof Cherif Keita of Carleton University in Minnesota.

As pointed out by Cheryl Potgieter at the Land Summit hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal in February 2017, part of the reason that Nokutela Mdima Dube remained unacknowledged for almost a century, is because she did not have children and because she had left her husband after he bore a child out of wedlock with a student at the Ohlange Institute. The requirement that womxn should bear children before they can be recognized as ‘complete’ meant that Reverend John Dube was forgiven for bearing a child with another womxn while married. This was despite the fact that he was an ordained church minister who eschewed the practices of his ‘heathen’ fellow Africans who were non-converts to Christianity. The situation presented a clash between culture and religion. Patriarchy led to Reverend Dube being excused for his behaviour while his wife was, ‘excommunicated’ for leaving him because of his conduct. This notwithstanding the fact that his conduct was inconsistent with the values of the Christian religion.

The life and times of Nokutela Mdima Dube is intricately linked to the history of early resistance to land dispossession in South Africa. The SANNC was formed specifically to respond to colonialism and land dispossession. She experienced the harsh effects of patriarchy on and through land.

The post-apartheid South African state is implementing land reform as one of its central socio-economic reform programs to address historical injustices. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 strikes a balance between protecting property rights and insulating land reform from constitutional attack by including section 25 in the Bill of Rights and setting out the framework for the implementation of land reform. The pillars of the land reform programme – as elaborated in section 25 of the Constitution are restitution; redistribution; tenure reform and rural development. The rate of delivery on land reform is far from satisfactory – less than 10% of land has been delivered by March 2017 against a target of delivering 30% of commercial agricultural land by 2014. The land reform programme has also not altered gender imbalances in land ownership.

The year 2016 marked 20 years since the enactment of the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 of 1996, which together with the Extension of Security of Tenure Reform 62 of 1997, address the rights of individuals and communities living on commercial farms. Section 25(8) allows for tenure reform in favour of communities living on communal land. The Communal Land Rights Bill of the late 1990s that was aimed at implementing land tenure reform was declared unconstitutional on procedural grounds and no new legislation has been enacted yet. It is estimated that about 17 million South Africans live on communal land that is under the authority of traditional leaders. Yet the role of traditional leaders in relation to managing and/or holding land on behalf of rural communities remains one of the unresolved issues of post-apartheid South Africa. The Communal Properties Association Act 28 of 1996 enables communities to form juristic persons called Communal Property Associations (CPAs) in order to hold or manage property, often being land subject to the land reform program. This is at odds with the view that traditional leaders hold or manage land on behalf of communities living on land under the jurisdiction of traditional leaders, thereby leading to tension between CPAs and traditional leaders. The Constitutional Court case of Pilane v Pilane concerned the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Communal Property Association. The Constitutional Court issued a unanimous judgment in support of democratic control of land in traditional areas and established an important precedent in the approach to community rights in areas controlled by traditional leaders. The Traditional Courts Bill has faced constitutional challenge on the basis that it entrenches colonial land demarcations and unequal gender relations.

This theme encapsulates uncelebrated women who have fought for land and incorporates the themes of gender discrimination in land allocation and land reform, the extent that land reform has addressed gender inequality, rights of women on communal land, and rights of women on commercial farms. This theme may or may not be connected to the first theme in that womxn as bodies for land often entrench the notion that they are bodies of land.

If we are to understand gender as an analytical term which refers to “the state of being male or female” then gender will forever define our ‘otherness’ as opposed to becoming a mere word which, after all, is simply a social construct which defines norms, rules and relationships. Perhaps pure equality or gender restoration is found rather in perceiving/conceiving of gender as a stalwart of power. This power stands in opposition to the nomenclature of inversion, which so often hinders the protection rights of the ‘other’ status, which is especially trite in criminal justice.
If history is viewed as layers of sedimentary rock, which contain the strata of all things that have died before; the question, in our context, is how do we reinforce feminine power and mystique into existing cultures and contexts? Further, how can this value of equality be instilled in a manner that satisfies the human rights of “equality, dignity and respect, fairness, justice and the rule of law, liberty and individual empowerment, equity and proportionality, brotherhood and solidarity, effectiveness, transparency and confidentiality, community duty and individual responsibility, and freedom from fear.” The answer may lay in gender itself, or at least the narratives of gender, as shields of power as opposed to swords of separation. Each ‘gender’ has a sword and shield effect – it can harm or it can protect (in some cases against images of self as opposed to ‘otherness’ but that is a topic for another conversation). The answer, we suggest, may lie in using the wisdom of traditional tales/folklore to imbue a sense of power in gender using familiarity as a narrative of change. Janette Winterson writes:

Myths are universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our lives – they explore our desires, our fears, our longing, and provide narratives that remind us what it is to be human…
The value of and for ‘gender’ can be told, retold and embedded in the sedimentary paradigm of society to form the bedrock of equality as a value of humanity and humanness as opposed to being a simplistic ‘theory’ of human rights.

This theme explores the value of gender as both a sword and a shield through and within the framework of traditionalism and lore. This theme suggests, as Estes postulates:
Within every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. Her name is Wild Woman, but she is an endangered species.

Indeed, Estes suggests that:

… women’s vitality can be restored through what she calls “psychic archaeological digs” into the ruins of the female unconscious. Using multicultural myths, fairy tales, folk tales, and stories … [to] reconnect with the healthy, instinctual, visionary attributes of the Wild Woman archetype.

Psychology of folklore aside, the narrative tales of Africa and African womxn are often told from the perspective of men or used as tools of teaching service to kin and community. This theme seeks to re-tell the stories of African female characters (both literal and mythological) in a manner that embraces their power as womxn of the African land and landscape. This theme incorporates contemporary figures such as the Modjaji and Sangoma’s as well as historical figures such as Amina of Zau Zau, Isadshi-Koseshi and Orixa.


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