Head Gear: Tribute to the widows of Marikana

17 March 2015 - 02:20 By Sandiso Ngubane
16 August 2014 Miners gathered at the Kopie to commemorate the second anniversary since the police killed the 34 miners during the strike in Marikana. The Marikana widows carried candles during the event. File photo
16 August 2014 Miners gathered at the Kopie to commemorate the second anniversary since the police killed the 34 miners during the strike in Marikana. The Marikana widows carried candles during the event. File photo
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali

If we depart from Western feminist ideals and think about African women and their agency, the doek doesn't have to be seen as a symbol of oppression, says Cape Town performance artist Sindi Mkaza-Siboto.

This was just hours before the cast of Iqhiya Emnyama, her latest work, went on stage at Infecting the City, the annual public art festival that transforms Cape Town's central business district into an outdoor venue where anyone can access the arts free of charge.

Mkaza-Siboto's piece was staged at the Company's Garden on Thursday and Friday last week. Peggy Tunyiswa-Mangote, Buhle Siwani, Somila Toyi and Khanyisile Mbongwe brought the grief of the Marikana widows to life, something Mkaza-Siboto believes there's been little attempt at in mainstream media.

"We hear the stories of the men who died; what about the widowed women?" she asks. "There are expectations that come with being widowed, but we don't usually talk about them."

Iqhiya Emnyama is Xhosa for "black doek" - African women are expected to wear them while mourning. But, in African "culture", women are compelled to wear a doek in other circumstances too: when visiting a fiancé or spouse's family home, in her home as a show of respect to her husband if he requests it, and sometimes in public.

The doek is central to the patriarchal construct of womanhood. It was for this reason that the Department of Arts and Culture's Wear A Doek Friday campaign became the subject of controversy when it was initiated to celebrate women's month last year. Many accused the department of having an ill-conceived idea of how to celebrate women.

"The#wearadoek gimmick is the antithesis of the struggle for women's rights," tweeted gender activist Nomboniso Gasa.

''But it helps on bad hair days," Mkaza-Siboto laughs.

"Women now have more of a choice about whether to wear a doek," she says. ''But when I put on my doek I'm reminded of my situation as a widowed woman: this is where I am right now."

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