Long hard work took me where I am today
Being a black women in South Africa and going in to politics is not the easiest thing. Some though, like Phinah Chima, defied the problems and followed her heart at an early age. She did it both for herself and for other women. Through engagement and a belief that she, like all men, has a place there, she has come far. She has also met many women from both her own country and many others, who like her, fights for their rights, and it does pay off. This is a story most interesting, but equally important, because who is going to change things if not women begin themselves?
Name: Phinah Chima
Living: Mpumalanga, South Africa
You have been in politics for many years. When did you start and why did you became active?
I have actually been in politics since I was a teenager; it all started when I was growing up in my village. My mother was a domestic worker. Where she worked I had friends among the white privileged kids. When I visited them at their houses I realized we lived differently and most black people were working in the kitchens and gardens while whites were working in the offices and clinics. This experience opened up my mind and I started to develop a black consciousness.
Where my parents lived, they lived in mud houses, no water, electricity and sanitation while were the whites lived they had big houses, they had water sanitation and water even otherwise, while they were the minority in the country. As you are aware the history of South Africa has a lot of painful past, with the land dispossession where the indigenous people were forcefully removed from their native land to places where it was infertile or difficult to produce. All was done to make a way for the minority to live large and expand their businesses.
Also in 1948 the story of the apartheid system began and it was going on until 1994. It was all against black humanity. Black people were reduced to cleaners and gardeners, excluded from education, health and development. This was done deliberately to eliminate the black children and to expand so they can no longer increase their population.
When I moved to high school I came to a segregated society where black people were living in a secluded area without electricity, water and proper roads. The education we received was of a low standard. After 1976 South Africa was ungovernable and the students had vowed to fight for the end of the apartheid regime. After the famous Soweto uprising the aftermath was now spreading to our small villages countrywide.
By the time I arrived at the high school my mind was already aware of the injustices. When other students recruited me it was easy for me to join in. So at an early age my dream was to fight for the equal South Africa where all citizens are equally. The teachers even though they were black never really looked after the black child desires, but were more on serving the interests of the whites counterparts. Their actions discouraged many students that fell off from the schools.
It was in 1976 when the students finally said enough is enough with this unfair system. In the mid 80's when I started high school the country was not governable anymore. I was recruited to defend the country, the South African military heard about my involvement. Unfortunately many youths disappeared and some were killed by the forces. When the forces started to inquire about I was compelled to leave the country to seek refuge from a neighboring county while training to fight and defend my country South Africa.
Being a woman in the South African politics is not always easy. Would you say that it is a big difference being a female or male politician?
Being a female politician in South Africa is a difficult thing. You are not supported by men, but also women do not support you. There's a women syndrome how strange it may sound. Hardly no woman supports you at all. We live in a country where we don't have apartheid legacies only but patriarch problems as well and where women are not expected to lead or hold any influential positions. But for the past 10 years my political party has adopted a 50/50 gender policy to be equal in the presentation. So things are going in the right direction. Since 2009 the national election has made women in government to increase and this is welcomed by the majority of politicians and this has spread to workforce of government as well. So I'm positive after all. With hard work we women will take more and more place in decision making positions.
I assume that now when you are over fifty, it is easier. Am I right or wrong?
Yes now in my early 50's things are easier and the youth are now groomed to take over from us. Soon I will be one of the veterans of the movement and I'm glad we have done all that we have so younger women can take part in politics. We are now passing over what we know and have learned to the young women who will take a bait from us and lead the country, the regions and cities. It's not been easy as unfortunately smart women often have no interest in politics.
After 1994 when we gained independence unfortunately most youngsters in South Africa were never interested in politics, and the party never emphasized the youth involvement. It's only in the recent years my organization realized the age gap. As for now we are busy recruiting youngsters to be part of the movement and be given same opportunities.
As I know that you have met women from many other countries, I would like to end this interview by asking what it means to exchange knowledge and experiences with other female top politicians?
It has been great to meet women from different countries and even explore some of them in real as it has given me the chance to visit other places. It has also been interesting to learn about different cultures. I have gained knowledge and experiences from other top politicians and even today we still contact each other to give support and to learn what we are doing. Another thing I have experienced more clearly is that women are marginalized in politics in many other countries. Earlier in the interview I have mention that 50/50 has been decided in my party and that's much better than before when there were too few women. By supporting each other, women in many countries will have more influence. If we can do it, it can be done elsewhere.
Finally I want to say thanks to all women I've met and especially to my political mentor Paula Örn and officer at ICLD/International center for local democracy, Kristin Ekström, both from Sweden. Thanks to them I became a top politican.