Dear Mtutuzeli Matshoba
I am caught between feminism and feminine rage.
I feel that I should tell you that, so that you know a little about me.
It is only fair that you know at least a little, since I feel that I know you and knowmuch about you.
I feel that I know you chiefly because I think that I know where you have been. I think that I know what you have felt; what you have feared and what you have fought and fought against. I also feel that I can sense what you have loathed and perhaps continue to loathe; though I hope that it is a healthy sort of loathing.
Let me tell you why I feel that I know what I feel I know.
An autumn or so ago, I walked into a bookstore. It wasn’t just any bookstore, but one of my favourite bookstores; a place which I often go to when in need of answers. Sometimes I won’t even know what the questions are until I am led, guided to a book which will somehow contain them; contain the answers. It’s a religion with me; reading, writing, finding books. I believe that there is not a single question which I cannot answer by doing any one of the three or sometimes and quite often, all three. I believe in God, too and therefore believe that in reading, in writing, in books, my salvation has by God been placed.
On this pertinent autumn day, I found your book: Call me not a man. Perhaps more accurately, it found me, since I hadn’t been looking for it. I had climbed those wavering stairs to the African Literature section of the bookstore, looking to find Dalene Matthee’s Circles in the Forrest. I have still not found it, and if you have a copy I would very much like to borrow it. I in fact feel that you owe me a copy, as it is because of you and your book that I forgot about Dalene and hers.
I believe that it was the title of the book which stopped me dead in my search, obliterated all thoughts of Dalene, and lured and captured my part- feminist-part- feminine rage soul. It seemed; the title seemed to echo something within. Perchance it echoed my arrogant belief that most men do not deserve the title; that they are not even deserving of being part of the human race; that they ought to own up to this fact and quite loudly and audibly shout:
“I am not a man, ‘call me not a man’
I have beaten; bludgeoned; belittled and bellowed
I have hurt and hated
I have abused; used; misused and annihilated
I have stolen
I have shattered
I am not a man, ‘call me not a man’“
I answered the call, the echo and for R 70 picked up, and walked out with salvation.
I couldn’t wait to get home and start reading it.
Alas, life got in the way, in a very big way, that day. The day after that brought no relief… and neither did the day after that, until your book found its way into that little portion of my bedroom which makes up my very modest library. It wasn’t the season, I guess. It wasn’t time for the questions to be answered.
It was not time until this autumn, when Chinua Achebe died and I was then compelled to dig up that copy of Things Fall Apart which had sat untouched, for a decade. Things Fall Apart, as God and the literary gods would have it, was placed with your book. I picked it up and was immediately yanked to that day of wavering stairs and forgotten Dalene… and echoed feminine rage. And I knew that it was time, the season had come. So, I started reading.
And reading, I found:
“Call me not a man
…For neither am I a man in the eyes of the law, nor am I a man in the eyes of my fellow man.
By dodging, lying, resisting where it is possible, bolting when I am already cornered, parting with invaluable money, sometimes calling my sisters into the game to get amorous with my captors, allowing myself to be slapped on the mouth in front of my womenfolk and getting sworn at with my mother’s private parts, that component of me which is a man has died countless times in one lifetime. Only a shell of me remains to tell you of the other man’s plight, which is in fact my own.”
I had to pause. I had to pause; I was made, forced to pause. It was involuntary. I had been moved; I had been jerked … and in being jerked, catapulted from my one dimensional perspective of rage and judgment to another realm, another dimension. And suddenly I saw another dimension. I was lent a different perspective, clearer spectacles, so that before me there were generations and generations of men who had been slapped around in front of their children and their women; men who had been called boys into their 50s, 60s, till their deaths, bent over double, sowing seeds and harvesting fruit which would nourish neither them nor their potbellied children, rags clad … flies abuzz. I saw generations of men spat on and whipped until they were tattered, flesh and soul. I saw generations and generations of men who worked 12 /14/16 hour days and were still not able to feed their children. Emasculated.
And I wondered: what do such men feel?
What do such men teach their sons? Do they teach them pride and virtue? But do they know pride? How do they, how could they, know pride?
What about strength? Do they feel strength, do they have any left?
And love? Have they ever felt it? Can they show it? Can they teach it?
What does a man who has been slapped across the face by another man, in front of his son, and could do nothing but cower and apologise for a non-existent transgression, teach that son? What would he believe himself capable of imparting? And what would that son have to teach his son… and that son his sons after him, generation after generation?
What is the legacy of generations and generations of fear, of humiliation, of emasculation?
I read, and for the first time, I wanted to say:
I am sorry that without knowing, without seeking to understand you, your roots and your father and his father before, I have judged you. I am sorry that without considering your struggle, I have unsexed you and told you that you are not a man, that you are not a human being.
I wanted to say further:
You are a man and if you have in fact been so stripped, so unsexed that you no longer feel and therefore act like one, then you can decide today to be a man ; and that decision , your decision today need not be informed by your yesterday.
What can I do to help?
I read and that is what I wanted to say, to men.
And to you, Mtutuzeli Matshoba, I say: Thank you, for lending me your spectacles.
With much Appreciation,
Nomfundo Precious Duduzile (Ntshundwana) Shezi
- PS. I also wanted to tell you that I know that there is music in your head when you write. I hear it too, ragtime; jazz before it was really formed; the Blues before we came to know them. I can hear it; I can feel it, in both texture and rhythm. Of course I think that you hear it louder. I believe that it plays louder for you.
Writer: Nomfundo Shezi Photographer: Anderson / Solo