I had the great opportunity to study abroad at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa for a semester. The experience was truly a personal epiphany in so many aspects. South Africa is a country where the aftermaths of Apartheid are still very relevant. It is seen in the social issues, the interactions between people, and in the government. In honor of this month’s theme being “The African Woman,” I would like to talk about a woman I met who makes an impact on her community.
We called her Mama. Mama lived in the black township. The South African townships are very underdeveloped urban living areas where mostly non-whites live. The conditions in the townships are barely basic. Trash everywhere, no electricity, homes made out of different forms of debris. Mama provided food for the children in the townships. Everyday beautiful, innocent lively children would leave their homes with one or two bowls to go to Mama. They knew that Mama would have something for them to eat. Something that would hold them over for the day, maybe even enough to take back home. Mama would invite these children into her modest home lined with chairs for them to sit while she cooked. She cooked out of one huge pot. Mixed together whatever she already had or received from donations in order to feed the children. These children depended on her to wake up everyday and provide them at least one meal a day and more than that if she could afford it. I sat back as I watched this woman; cooking, laughing, and talking to the children. When we got a chance to speak to her she stated in broken English that she would starve before she let the children go hungry. I didn’t understand what she was saying when she spoke to the children, but she spoke with such spirit, not like someone who was quick to complain about the responsibility she had. Her words were profound to me at the moment, and looking at all the things I had learned holistically, she was just one of the many women who had this undeniably intense drive to serve.
I listened to stories and read many books on the great women of South Africa who not only marched and fought alongside men, but who quietly but courageously stood up against Apartheid. Women who continue to fight today not only for their own personal rights, but the rights of all people. A woman’s influence is often overlooked, and attention is paid to more boisterous and “dominant” roles. But woman have never taken the back seat to fighting against injustice. Women have always been in the forefront, anywhere from South Africa to to America. The actions of women as a whole should not be diminished to what some see as minuscule daily tasks because women strategically have used those tasks in order to fight back.
There is a famous freedom song which pays tribute to women who have played a role in shaping the history of South Africa when they marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria in order to demonstrate against the white minority rule in the year 2000.
“Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!” translates to, “You strike a woman, you strike a rock!”
This is in honor of all women, nameless to some, but the impact left will always be felt.
In honor of MAMA and all those like her everywhere:
She may be a nameless woman, but her actions speak words that many will never fail to understand
She may be a nameless woman, but she works hard and takes care of her community
She may be a nameless woman, but that does not mean her name is not important, that her name is not spoken
She is mama to all, caretaker for those who need her
She may be a nameless woman, but her footprints are seen everywhere, never missing a step, leaving an imprint that can never be erased
Sister, Grandmother, Cousin, Auntie, she can be many names or no name at all; it doesn’t matter
For she forever transcends the limitations placed on her, many times allowing herself to be the ladder which we climb to reach our own potential
Nameless woman, but a strong woman
A humble woman, whose pure presence motivates me
Whose voice elevates me
Who continues to fight diligently, inspiring me
She may be a nameless woman, but her essence can be seen in all of us for she birthed us, nurtured us and continues to uplift us
She may be your nameless woman
But I call her Mama