Insanity and silencing of women voices
PASCAL: “Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness”.
Recently the Kuhluka Movement hosted naked conversation between Josina Machel the founder of Kuhluka movement and our guest Gugu Ncube, the former UNISA employee who alleges that she was sexually harassed at the same institution. Gugu Ncube in her quest for justice she was labelled as insane. This article drawing on the works of Foucault’s Madness and civilisation of society and the seminal work of Edgar and Saphire African Apocalyptic: The Story of Nontetha Nkwenkwe the 21st century prophet, will unpack the gendered epithet of madness in the patriarchal architecture both in the colonial imagination.
The seminal question is, what is the connection between madness and silencing of women? The highly contentious areas of madness, femininity and political subversion come to the fore in Nonthetha’s story and her eventual demise in the Pretoria state asylum. Nonthetha is believed to have been born in 1870 near King Williams town and is described as a typical woman in the “native reserve” that would become the Ciskei homeland. She was a widow with 10 children: five survived childhood. She could not read or write. The emphasis on Nonthetha’s stereotyped position as a rural and uneducated wife and mother within a patriarchal traditional Xhosa environment, would seem to preclude the potential of such a woman to take up political, cultural, and spiritual prominence. Nonthetha was arrested for ‘seditious activities.’
What was so subversive about Nonthetha Nkwenkwe is that she preached Umanyano (black unity) at the height of the colonial machinations of divide and rule. At the time the Xhosa nation was splintered along the artificial class lines, amaqaba (uneducated ones) and amagolwa (Christian educated ones), Nonthetha sought to marry the two warring factions by preaching unity based on their ‘race’ and for all intends and purpose Nonthetha preached nascent black consciousness ideology to her followers. This annoyed and perturbed the colonial regime and their Xhosa client elites who saw as a usurper and instigator who wanted to cause an insurrection and overthrow the colonial regime. A scheme was devised to discredit her in the eyes of her followers, she was detained at Fort Beaufort mental hospital when that did not stop her followers from believing in her, she was send to Pretoria West Weskoppies mental hospital.
Even being at the Weskoppies mental hospital did not stop her followers from visiting her, twice walking more 1500 kilometres on foot from the Transkie to Pretoria, to what has come to be known as “pilgrims of grace”.
Weaving this into the story Gugu Ncube one needs to appreciate that patriarchy abhors to be challenged. Any woman who challenges those patriarchal norms and standards is viewed as deviant and lacking rational faculties imposed on the so-called ‘normal’ woman. Patriarchy with its Siamese twin misogyny is undergirded by the constant surveillance of women bodies and dictating to the same bodies how act and express themselves within the parameters of patriarchal webcams. Many men who rebel against the colonial regime including during the era of Nonthetha Nkwenkwe were never deemed insane but were treated as political adversaries. But ignominy of being labelled as mad is reserved for women. And the question arises, how can someone be insane yet commit seditious acts? The diagnosis of insanity in a very charged situations has little to do with psychological disturbances but the desire to control the narrative.
Even in the cases of proper diagnosis of mental illness, in the African worldview the mentally ill are integrated back to society after ukuthwasa (the traditional initiation of being diviner), while the Western psychiatry advocates for alienation and exclusion from society. It follows that rebellious woman are targeted as mad by the ruling class and their surrogates, this trope is meant to silence them and make their voice not to be believed.
“Wathinta Abafazi, Wathinta Imbokodo”