Even your friendly under-the-rock dweller has seen a few of the #FeesMustFall tweets and has an idea of the demands of SA students. A tweet from Ndinda reminded me today of the place of history in protests; the way the past, the present and the future meet every so often to fortify.
Once in a (long, thankfully) while, I post something personal on the internets. This is one of those moments. Not so much the feels as a minor explainer about the way I feel about politics and history.
My parents had me quite young and in a sense, I grew up with them. When this happens, your parent is learning lessons, navigating life, with you by their side. So it was that in the 90s, my father left our little home to go to Kamukunji, to take part in the Saba Saba protests. So it was that our household, led by a woman because her partner was in school, almost saw the chance of a brighter future taken away because that partner had been visited by state functionaries. His crime: writing and editing an incendiary magazine at his college, chumming about with Wafula Buke and the lot.
For many years, before I understood how women can be eliminated from the narratives of the revolution, I considered my father the revolutionary . My mother, well, she was Mummy. Bread and broth on a Saturday morning, love, the one who spoke my first language. Not a revolutionary. Yes, the student of history (one of the only 2 As I scored in KCSE) thought that being lobbed with teargas was the measure.
Women hold the planet up, women sustain the revolution. For this reason, I am terribly excited about the fact that the protests are being led by young women. Listen, my maternal grandmother was a news junkie (I know where that comes from) and when Nelson Mandela was released and went on to spurn Winnie, she reminded my mother who it was of the two of them that had kept the struggle alive; who it was that had continued to risk their life.
Women have been written out of revolutions for so long, it’s refreshing to see them front and centre now. African women, black women, outspoken women who will not be silenced like their mothers, their grandmothers, their aunties. Women like my grandmother who, over 10 years after Kenya gained independence, still had no photo ID that was just hers. Women like my mother, who had to be issued a passport on a man’s file, my father’s.
I have been paying attention to history for a while; what option do I have with a family like mine? And yet, I absorbed the falsehoods that are wrapped up in a product created by the oppressor. What I know is that 12 years of studying History in Kenya had me believing that Jomo Kenyatta was a hero, that the land question was answered when the White Men left power, that the oppression of the Black person ended when the White Men left, that the face of freedom and progress is a man’s. These women stand the real risk of being erased, being forgotten, and the girls of the future believing what I too believed for so long; women are not revolutionaries.
Teach your children these truths: the Mau Mau had women among their ranks, say the names of the women who fought oppressors (Mekatilili wa Menza, Wangari Maathai, Winnie Madikizela Mandela), teach them that women fuel the revolution, they feed it, they strengthen it, they instruct it, they lead it. Teach them what the revolution looks like.
And to my mother: Thank you for keeping my father and I alive with food, love and support during those years. Thank you for telling me the stories of the women in our family who fought against the forces that tried to keep us down, thank you for keeping my grandmother’s memory alive these 20 years. Thank you for doing the valuable, unappreciated, undervalued work that is care. Thank you for those stories about the past that are really glimpses of the past, history primers. Thank you for saying the names of those people and those places that this country would rather forget. May I never again forget.
Asante, asante, asante.
Note: I have undertaken to write a post a day for a year. I’m collating all the posts (spanning 3 blogs) using the hashtag #CuminWrites366. If you have questions,compliments, or want to find out where the bodies are hidden, the address is firstname.lastname@example.org