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Unisa online - Exploring non-sexism in the Zion Christian Church

Prof Boatamo Mosupyoe (Director of the Pan African Studies and Cooperation at the California State University, Sacramento)

Speaking in the spirit of the College of Human Sciences’ Africa Speaks lecture series, South African born scholar, Prof Boatamo Mosupyoe delivered a thought-provoking and engaging lecture entitled Mediation of Patriarchy and Sexism by Women in South Africa.

The Director of the Pan-African Studies and Cooperation at the California State University, Sacramento, based her lecture on research conducted among women in the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) from 1994 to 1997 and in 2009. She explored how the call for a non-sexist South Africa conflicts with the ZCC’s institutional religious structures and its social cultural practices.

She began with a brief history of the church’s formation and activities from its start as the Christian Apostolic Church. She explained how Bishop Ignatius Lekganyane founded the ZCC in 1910 and the church’s “stressed obedience to the white South African government”. This stance, she said, created tension between the ZCC and the liberation and anti-apartheid movements. But the end of apartheid mediated these tensions and there has been “mutual embrace” by both the ZCC and the ANC led government.

Prof Mosupyoe’s research used an eclectic approach that included anthropological field techniques. She interviewed ZCC female members 18 years and older, from both urban and rural areas, and examined how women explained and mediated the differences in perception of their church’s practices and the non-sexist concept.

She said that the non-sexist ideological construct in the South African Constitution was in sharp contrast with the ZCC lived experience and this posed problems. For one, she said, it rendered the ZCC as one of the many South African vehicles of patriarchy. “Accordingly, the ZCC contained elements that fell within the purview of what constitutes sexism. Such a milieu of conflicting ideology and human practice embodies tension. Obviously the manifest tension needs to be resolved in the socio-cultural process of the movement towards a non-sexist South Africa. More importantly, these disharmonious perceptions in the country as a whole, and within the ZCC in particular, produced even more concerns. They created and perpetuated the limitation of women’s participation in educational and other forms of advancement.”

Prof Mosupyoe said while the women did not deny the existence of the discordance between the concept of non-sexism and the ZCC’s religious and cultural practices, their responses to this hegemony produced a degree of opposition and resistance, as well as compliance and acceptance to many hegemonic relationships. She argued that generally, religious instruction and the church’s peace theme Khotso, formed sources of knowledge production and cultural logic that informed the epistemological foundation from which women framed their conception of patriarchy and sexism.

She also shed light on the ZCC’s partnership with the government in fighting poverty, physical abuse of women and the scourge of HIV/AIDS; adding that the church has demonstrated over the years that it is a crucial socialisation body. She posited that in order to achieve a truly non-sexist society, powerful, influential institutions such as the ZCC, cannot escape the charge of massive re-education to promote the achievement of a non-sexist society.

Prof Mosupyoe also engaged with the audience, some of whom belonged to the ZCC, and challenged her research, and others who commended her for highlighting this situation and the plight facing most religions around the world.

Prof Mosupyoe will also be hosted by the college’s Department of English Studies on 5 July, where she will speak on Feminist Epistemology and Research: Gender, Institutions and Violence.

From left: Councillor Nozipho Makeke (City of Tshwane), Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde (Member of the Inter-Parlimentary Union), Prof Boatamo Mosupyoe (Director of the Pan African Studies and Cooperation at the California State University, Sacramento), Prof Rosemary Moeketsi (Executive Dean: College of Human Sciences), Leandra Koenig-Visagie (Institute for Gender Studies), Dr Rita Cameron-Wedding (California State University, Sacramento), and Prof Lindiwe Zungu (Department of Health Studies).

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