By Zubeida Jaffer
Who am I?
I am a child of God and am part of the universe.
I was born into a Cape Muslim family.
I am neither white, nor black, nor pink, nor blue.
I am a human being, part of a common humanity.
I am a woman, a journalist and a story–teller.
Let me tell you the story about the part of the world I find myself.
Let me tell you the story of being South African.
Once upon a time long long ago, an asteroid the size of Table Mountain crashed into a spot marking out what was to become South Africa. In the Barberton Mountains east of Johannesburg, ancient greenstone rocks preserve the fossilised remains of ancient bacteria and record the earliest evidence of life 3.5 billion years ago. The wealth of pre-human and human history within its borders allows South Africa to lay claim to being the cradle of life. (1)
In the Karoo rocks, from the foothills of the Drakensberg are fossils of the oldest known dinosaurs. These include the oldest dinosaur eggs (200 million years old). Dinosaurs were present throughout the world 180 million years ago and dominated the landscape until they succumbed to an extinction event 65 million years ago. (2)
Only between 200 000 and 100 000 years ago did we begin to find clear evidence of the emergence of modern humans: Homo Sapiens. The oldest reliably dated specimen from 195000 years ago was found in Kenya.
A much younger skull, also from the Eastern Cape, near the small village of Hofmeyer, was found to be 36 000 years old and demonstrates that only after human beings spread out of Africa 50 000 years ago did modern geographic variability emerge. (3)
This means that Africans spread to different corners of the globe and over time changed in their appearance influenced by the local geographical conditions. They gradually developed the tools and skills that helped them master their environment and become the dominant species on earth.
Current thinking is that the more complex human language and symbolic thinking began to emerge between 150 000 and 50 000 years ago. By this time Homo Sapiens, maker of tools , controller of fire and effective communicator was, as we have seen, beginning to move out of Africa into Asia and Europe to inhabit virtually the whole planet. (4)
Evidence also exists that life all those years ago in this part of the world was not just about catching fish and hunting animals. It was also about song, dance and art. In a coastal cave east of Cape Town, an exciting find of pierced shells and a patterned ochre fragment has enabled archaeologists to push back the earliest known instance of art and jewellery to some 77 000 years ago. The wealth of rock paintings in southern Africa – from the Cape to the Zambezi River there are an estimated 30 000 sites – conveys invaluable information about human history, a hunter-gatherer past that lasted , for some groups of people, for millennia and well into the 19th century. (5)
African Rock Art is amongst the world's oldest surviving art, predating writing by tens of thousands of years. Today, it helps us understand how our ancestors thought, saw and portrayed their world. Some rock paintings and engravings are themselves magnificent art, comparable to some of the finest works found in the World's art galleries. African rock art is not just an African heritage, but a World heritage. (6)
The earliest people known to have lived in this part of the world were the San and the KhoeKhoe peoples (described individually by social scientists as the Bushmen and Hotentots or Khoikhoi and collectively known as the KhoiSan.
The KhoiSan were resident here for thousands of years and according to archaeologist, modern human beings had lived here for more than a 100,000 years.
The hunter-gatherer San ranged widely over the area; the pastoral Khoekhoe lived in those comparatively well-watered areas, chiefly along the southern and western coastal strips, where adequate grazing was to be found. Over time they moved north into what is known as the Eastern Cape today and intermingled with the Amaxhosa enriching the local language with their clicks. Today there are sixteen different clicks in the Xhosa language as a result of the influence of the KhoiSan whose languages were drawn from the sounds of nature. (Interestingly Madiba comes from this mix. He is maternally KhoiSan and paternally Southern African Bantu according to his DNA)
Evidence of KhoiSan presence remains in the Drakensberg areas as well. Today, 516 sites have been properly surveyed, containing a total of 29 874 paintings. By the third century AD, there was also the migration down the Eastern side of Africa from as far as Kenya. This resulted in settlements of people in the KwaZulu-Natal area where their distinctive Nguni-speaking culture had developed within their own region.
One of their great leaders, Autshumayo, was recognised by Madiba when he became president.
Further north, artefacts at the Thulamela site indicate that the northern Kruger National Park was first occupied in the 13th century. The ruins of Mapungubwe, where artefacts from as far away as China have been found, are the remains of a large trading settlement thought to stretch back to the 12th century. Agro-pastoralists, these people brought with them an Iron Age culture and sophisticated socio-political systems.
The Europeans came to settle much much later in 1652 under the auspices of the Dutch East India company which needed a refreshment post on their trading route to the East. But then they became aware of the potential and beauty of our land and decided to stay.
Their relationship with the KhoiSan was initially one of bartering, but a mutual animosity developed over access to pasteurs making the KhoiSan realise that they were under threat. The first major sign that the threat was to be realised came in 1657 when nine men working for the company were released from their contracts and by royal decree granted title deed to land along the Liesbeeck River. Each were granted 15 morgen of land in what is now known as Bishopscourt very close to the Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba’s residence. And so began the systematic appropriation of our land and the 150 year resistance of the KhoiSan. Land ownership was organised differently in the oral tradition something which the Europeans refused to recognise. The written title deed of the Queen of the Netherlands had more validity in their eyes. Just imagine if the Khoisan or the Sothos had landed in their country and imposed their system on the Dutch.
In that same year, 1657, the first slaves were imported from the Indonesian Islands and India, bringing the skill and labour that built the Cape. In 1659, they started building a wooden fence, with watch towers, from the mouth of the Salt River, through Rondebosch to Kirstenbosch, using the deeper parts of the Liesbeeck River as part of the barrier. To finish the barrier quickly, a hedge of indigenous wild almond trees (Brabejum stellatifolium) and thorny shrubs was planted along the section between the river and Kirstenbosch.
It locked out the indigenous people who had freely enjoyed access to the Salt River, the Black River and the Liesbeeck River so named by the Dutch East India Comapany.
The earliest discernable presence of Xhosa-speaking people can be traced back to the seventh and eighth century AD. By the end of the sixteenth century, they were living around the Mtata river, the Kei, Keiskamma and Great Fish Rivers.
Like the Khoisan they too resisted the European encroachment and for a 100 years and in nine wars they fought heroically. The pattern was similar for the Zulus and a number of other groups. The Zulu kingdom had succeeded in building a sophisticated state. The British only managed to defeat them through a lengthy military campaign and then broke up their land into pieces and handed plots to European farmers.
As with most matters in life, every experience has two sides – the negative and the positive. The Europeans brought war and dispossession but also brought the written word around the beginning of the 1800’s with the coming of their missionaries and their Churches.
Through exposure to this skill, we slowly added it to our ways of recording our stories alongside our oral traditions kept alive by the imbongis and oral story-tellers across the country. (The most well-known being Gcina Mhlope who straddles both traditions). Today we have a mix of skills contributing to a rich culture within which our profession finds itself. . Journalists were some of the key players to resist colonialism and apartheid. I am one of those journalists and remain committed to grow a country free of racism, sexism and poverty. I am a South African. This is is where I practice my craft, sending stories into the world. This is who I am.
Francis Wilson in his short history of South Africa called Dinosaurs, Diamonds and Democracy
Zubeida Jaffer, The Life of Charlotte Maxeke, unpublished manuscript.
Neil Mostert, Frontiers, The Epic of South Africa’s creation and the Tragedy of the Xhosa People
Karis and Carter, From Protest to Challenge, Volume 1
Trust for African Rock Art. www.africanrockart.org
John Leibrand, The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation
1. Francis Wilson, Dinosaurs, Diamonds and Democracy, Page 11
2. Francis Wilson, Dinosaurs, Diamonds and Demcracy, Page 14
3. Francis Wilson, Dinosaurs, Diamonds and Demcracy, Page 24
4. Francis Wilson, Dinosaurs, Diamonds and Demcracy, Page 24
5. Francis Wilson, Dinosaurs, Diamonds and Demcracy, Page 30
6. Trust for African Rock Art. www.africanrockart.org)
Last Updated on Sunday, 02 November 2014 18:45
Female Imams Blaze Trail in China
It did come as a big surprise when I heard that there is a tradition of female imams and female mosques in China. My good friend, Fawzia Gydien and her husband Anwar spent Eid in China with their son, Agmad who is teaching English at the University of Chengdu, a town in the middle of China. Beijing is situated in the North West of the country. She sent me a series of photographs of Eid Day in China and I have placed these in my gallery. What struck me too was that mosques are generally organised with businesses around it and some of the profits of those businesses help to run the mosque and organize meals during Ramadaan amongst other things. Muslims have lived in China’s Henan province for over 1,000 years. Four years ago a journalist by the name of Louisa Lim, the author of a book on the Tianamen massacre, visited Kaifeng, a predominantly muslim city in China. She shared her experiences that follows:
It is 5:50 in the morning, and dark shadows scurry through narrow alleys to the mosque, as the call to prayer echoes from a minaret in Kaifeng. This city in central China's Henan province has an Islamic enclave, where Muslims have lived for more than 1,000 years. In an alleyway called Wangjia hutong, women go to their own mosque, where Yao Baoxia leads prayers. For 14 years, Yao has been a female imam, or ahong as they are called here, a word derived from Persian. As she leads the service, Yao stands alongside the other women, not in front of them as a male imam would. But she says her role is the same as a male imam. "The status is the same," Yao says confidently. "Men and women are equal here, maybe because we are a socialist country."
Yao Baoxia is a female ahong, or imam, at Wangjia Hutong Women's Mosque in Kaifeng, in central China. She sits alongside believers during prayers, not in front of them like male imams. She believes male and female imams are equal in their role as teachers and leaders of prayers. China has an estimated 21 million Muslims, who have developed their own set of Islamic practices with Chinese characteristics. The biggest difference is the development of independent women's mosques with female imams, something scholars who have researched the issue say is unique to China. Yao studied to become an imam for four years, after being laid off from her job as a factory worker. First she studied under a female imam, then with a male imam alongside male students. Her main role is as a teacher, she says. "When people come to pray, they don't know how to chant the Quran, so my job is teaching people about Islam, helping them to study one line at a time and leading the prayers," she says. Mosques Began As Quranic Schools The modest courtyard of Wangjia Hutong Women's Mosque contains within it the entire history of China's mosques for females. It's the oldest surviving women's mosque in China, with one gray plaque high up on a wall dating back to 1820.
Like other women's mosques, it began as a Quranic school for girls. These sprang up in the late 17th century in central China, including Shanxi and Shandong provinces. They morphed into women's mosques about 100 years ago, starting in Henan province. Remembering her own childhood, 83-year-old Tang Guiying says even then the women's mosque was the only place a girl could receive education. Women at the Wangjia mosque work early in the morning in the kitchen. They were the only places girls could receive an education; now, they also serve as community centers. "I didn't go to school when I was small," she chuckles. "We were all too poor; none of us girls studied. But I came here to play and study. The old imam was very, very old — she was 80-something, and she had bound feet." Tang is sitting in the mosque's washroom as she talks. This is where women conduct ritual ablutions before prayer. This space — and the mosque itself — doubles as a social center for these women, the heart of a community. In Kaifeng, there are 16 women's mosques, one-third the number of mosques for males.
A Unique Chinese Tradition
Shui Jingjun, of the Henan Academy of Social Sciences and co-author of a book on the phenomenon, says that so far there are no women's mosques in other countries. In most of the Muslim world, women pray behind a partition or in a separate room, but in the same mosque as men. Shui points out that the women's mosques in China are administered independently, by women for women, in addition to being legally separate entities in some cases. "After reform and opening up [in 1979], some female mosques registered independently, which shows the equality of male and female mosques," she explains. Controversy still rages in the Muslim world about whether women can be imams. In 2006, Morocco became the first country in the Arab world to officially sanction the training of female religious leaders.
China is the only country to have such a long history of female imams. However, there are things that, according to the customary practices of Chinese Muslims, female imams can't do. They can't, for instance, lead funeral rituals or wash male corpses. Forty miles away in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, white-sashed mourners wail as they process through the streets carrying the coffin from a mosque. No female imams are participating.
Opposition Still Exists To Women's Roles
In central China, most Muslims support the female mosques, but there is some resistance closer to China's border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, closer to the harder-line Wahhabi and Salafi influences. "Historically in northwestern China, there were no female mosques," says Shui, the researcher. "There was resistance because people thought that building female mosques was against the rules of religion. But in central China and most provinces, people think it's a good innovation for Islam." In the past decade, some women's mosques have been established in northwest China. The phenomenon appears to be spreading, helped politically by the Islamic Association of China, a state-controlled body that regulates Islam and issues licenses to practice to male and female imams alike.
Women pray at the Wangjia mosque in Kaifeng. There are 16 women's mosques in the city, one-third the number of mosques serving male Muslims. This is part of the anomaly that is religion in China — the atheist Chinese authorities are endorsing a practice some Muslims find unacceptable.
While there is broad support among Kaifeng's Muslims for female mosques and imams, there is also some opposition. "The education of Islamic women is a very important job," says Guo Baoguang, of the Islamic Association of Kaifeng. But he admits that he has been criticized for organizing religious education forums for Muslim men and women to take part in together. "There were some criticisms that women ought to be in the home, and ought not take part in social activities. I think these criticisms are too conservative, and don't account of the importance of women's education in Islam," he says.
Guo believes that when it comes to female imams, China is leading the way.
"Given the fast development of China's economy, and as its political status rises, I think Chinese Islam will become more important in the Islamic world," Guo says. "The developments Chinese Islam has made, like the role played by Chinese women, will be more accepted by Muslims elsewhere in the world." For Bai Yanlian becoming a female imam took seven years of study, including three years of Arabic-language training. She then had to take an exam to get a license from the state. For Bai Yanlian becoming a female imam took seven years of study, including three years of Arabic-language training. She then had to take an exam to get a license from the state.Greatest Challenge Is Economic In the women's mosques, most of the faithful are elderly. Young women with families often don't have the time to worship, especially given the lengthy purification rituals several times a day.
Third-generation imam Sun Chengying, who has been practicing for 21 years, worries about the future. "I haven't had any students since 1996," she says, shaking her head. "Women don't want be imams anymore, because the salaries in the mosques are too low. No one is willing to do it." Female imams sometimes earn as little as $40 a month, one-third of what can be earned in other jobs. Younger women need to earn more to support their families.
And so it appears the future of female imams in China is threatened — not by the state, not by resistance from inside Islam, but by the forces of market economics.
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 October 2014 20:29
The president holds the key
By Zubeida Jaffer*
Lets not defend the indefensible. President Zuma has led his party and the country into a quagmire. Last weekend’s story in the Sunday Times has further added to the drift, leaving many of us hanging our heads in confusion and disappointment.
Phylicia Oppelt’s team has sifted through 3369 pages of court documents and added further detail to the way in which the arms company Thale and Jacob Zuma and his team conducted their business relationship.
The transcripts are of testimony given under oath at confidential arbitration hearings held earlier this year in a fee dispute between Sooklal and Thales.
Confirming earlier allegations, the transcripts reveal how Thales fixer Ajay Sooklal allegedly arranged flights, fancy clothes, legal fees and lavish hotel stays in Europe for the president when he faced corruption charges linked to the arms deal. Thales as some other powerful companies will not even blush.
As we head for 19 October, South African Media Freedom Day, our profession can hold its collective head high for bringing facts to the public attention with regard to this matter. We don’t always get it right but with this matter we have not failed in our duty to the public. To build and further transform our profession, THE JOURNALIST will focus on our strengths and weaknesses this month. (Read us every WEDNESDAY at www.thejournalist.org.za)
Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 October 2014 18:20