Every year on August 9, South Africa under the independent government of the ANC celebrates National Women’s Day to commemorate the brave actions of more than 20,000 women who marched headlong to the trade union buildings in Pretoria 66 years ago. They protested the promulgation of pass laws that further oppressed black women and limited their freedom and mobility.
The march was led by phenomenal women and historic leaders such as Albertina Sisulu, Lilian Ngoi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Musa and Sophia De Bruyne-Williams. These women have rightly been canonised, honored and carved into the walls of South African and world history, and immortalized as the heroines they are, with schools, hospitals, roads, parks and other key landmarks of the country named after them.
However, I write this article as a clarion call to all of us to collectively honor and celebrate women who were heroes, but because of their position, temporality in history, and the cards that life dealt them, are not as well-known and celebrated—women, such as my late mother Elsie Ndayeni Chauke who sadly passed away in January 2021 due to complications from Covid-19. They deserve to be honored and their names written in the history books. I am talking about women who are prayer warriors, omama bomtandazo, women who regardless of religion or denomination pray for life, success and victory for their children, families and communities.
I grew up in the poor township of Soshanguve in Pretoria, with little prospect of a better future. My mother, like many poor black mothers in our town, prayed for me and my siblings to have a better chance at life. I am writing this article in the United Kingdom, where I currently live and work, and I can say with confidence that it is because my mother prayed fervently for my life. She manifested for me a life full of bliss, success and prosperity, even though she herself had not known such a good life as an orphaned domestic worker.
My mother prayed at least four times a day, which baffled me when I was going through a stage of atheism during my studies at the University of Cape Town. I kept asking her why she prayed so much and did God exist? I can now proudly say that I have since discovered that God is indeed real – women are literal gods who exist in two worlds, the physical and the spiritual. I sensed divinity and godliness in my mother and in many other women, whether they had children or not.
Indeed, as in the powerful song of Samting Sowet, Amam Bomtandaz, praying mothers are the stars that do not burn light in the darkness and we remain strong and strengthened because of their powerful prayers and answers.
Webafethu ngikhuluma ngestar
Amama bomtandazo, amama
No matter how hard it was, mom always planned: we never went to bed hungry, because she sold gizzards and chicken feet, old clothes, or went to work for different families, both in the village and in the suburbs. Black women who are prayer warriors are the real stars of this show called Life, which has a lot of people in the movies. Behind most of the successful black people bemoaning black taxes daily on social media is Omama Bomtandazo who deserves a lot of respect, dignity and gratitude.
My mom taught me to leave—broken, confused, and enlightened. She taught me how to pick up a million pieces and fix myself after they were spilled and wipe the floor from tears. I know how not to get stuck and leave everything, in fact, to rebuild everything from scratch. My mom was a phoenix that rose from the ashes time and time again. It is empowering to know that I will always rise, as Maya Angelou so eloquently states in her powerful poem.
My phenomenal mother was resurrected and refused to die so many times. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I still don’t believe she’s really dead and gone—I watched this woman survive a cracked skull when I was three years old at the hands of my abusive father, I saw she was building a life for herself, without any means or help, I watched her daily pray to her broken and tired bones (she literally worked herself to the bone). She would definitely be alive – she, like many women, died a lot, but managed to stay alive.
Although I grieve deeply for my mother on a spiritual level, I honor and celebrate her daily and deeply. I honor her by being perfect by following my dreams and achieving them. I honor her by giving myself softness because life has required so much strength and resilience from her and so many other black women.
I wish my mother was not a rock to “wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbokodo” because women are not rocks, they are human beings, with blood, bones and souls, and it is an unfair practice that “strong black” women” pa- is still maintained as a standard.
Mom had to be strong because she had no choice and it’s not fair; I cry for the lack of security this world gives her. I’ve lost so much, but I’ve also gained so much more. I grieve while experiencing joy and seeing breakthroughs. Grief is so strange: it visits you in moments of victory and joy to remind you of its dominion. Grief catches you with a glass of champagne in hand, about to savor your victory, and asks, “Don’t you wish they were still alive to celebrate with you?”
Then comes a deep sadness.
Perhaps then, as a person left behind and still breathing and struggling through this thing called life, it is important to realize that joy and sorrow can coexist and that in fact they can make room for each other and never completely leave; we grow up around both. My mother’s death is gnawing at my soul – I cannot find the words to express how much her death has affected me. I wanted her to see my victory, to show her that life can be good for her too. Getting the breakthrough last year was bittersweet. i wore her blouse and shorts in her favorite color, red, to celebrate and honor her on an international platform. I grieve for her death every day.
“Grief is a harsh upbringing. You will learn how tender mourning can be, how full of anger. You will learn how powerful sympathy can be. You learn how much grief is connected with language, the failure of language and the grasping of language,” said Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. My grief may have been the reason why I did not write for almost a year; maybe I lack the language and prose to express my thoughts and feelings.
However, I would like to honor Amama Bomthandazo as my mother, women who are otherwise marginalized and forgotten and whose roles are seen as expected and natural. Women who face gender-based violence from the men around them are at daily risk of being raped and killed.
I want to send a big thank you to all the women who are constantly praying for their children and the whole country: please don’t stop, your prayers are working! There is nothing more powerful than a mother’s prayer – my mother was a woman of prayer and I am still reaping the benefits; her prayers carry me while she is in the afterlife. Pray without ceasing for your children and over them: your words will remain for generations.
Omama bomthandazo, we appreciate you! Happy women’s day!
Pabalo Chauke is a writer, thinker and speaker with a passion for science, Africa and education. He has multifaceted interdisciplinary interests and works as a Malaria Training Coordinator in the United Kingdom