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Thomas Sankara public lecture reflects on the life and legacy of the late revolutionary

​The Division of Student Affairs, Thomas Sankara Postgraduate Residence and the University of Johannesburg Library hosted the fourth annual Thomas Sankara Public Lecture on Wednesday October 13, 2021.

The lecture, titled ‘Thomas Sankara’s legacy and its implications for the education and development of women in Africa’, was presented by Professor Kammila Naidoo, Executive Dean: Faculty of Humanities.

Prof Naidoo’s presentation focused on the legacy of the late revolutionary and reflected on his leadership and contributions to women’s emancipation. She reflected on Sankara’s beliefs – a Marxist revolutionary who was against Western imperialism and capitalism – a man who subscribed to a form of Marxism that was humanist and his ideologies linked Pan-Africanism, Anti-imperialism Anti-neocolonialism.

“Sankara was not inclined to embrace so-called universal truths and simply transfer them to the African continent. He engaged with multiple sets of ideas and truths related to nationalism, socialism, Anti-colonialism and Pan-Africanism. He was a transformational, charismatic, revolutionary, thoughtful and servant leader.

Through his leadership Sankara sought a type of critical consciousness to encourage reversing the psychosocial damage and violence of colonialism, said Prof Naidoo.

“He wanted to end what he referred to as a black inferiority complex to restore dignity and self worth, to cultivate self love and confidence.”

Can this sense of self-worth and dignity be the spark to stand up for gender equality and women’s emancipation, asked Prof Naidoo.

Between 1984 and 1897 Sankara managed to make significant progress in Burkina Faso, inspiring, encouraging and uniting the people to invest in the revolutionary project of the country. Sankara also focused on the expansion of women’s rights.

“He strongly believed that the revolution and women’s liberation go hand in hand. He felt the suffering of women was underpinned by the double burden they faced as victims of imperialism and neo-colonial domination and as victims of patriarchy, male domination and that the solution to this lay in the systematic transformation in both the materialist and ideational sense of the system through which societies – political and economic life – is organised. It is by only changing the social order, the capitalist system, that those leading change would be able to create the conditions for women’s genuine emancipation.”

Prof Naidoo stated that gender justice was integral to Sankara’s understanding of revolutionary leadership.

“He believed the patriarchal system and its corresponding global power structure must be eradicated so that Africa will experience transformative development which coincided with his view of a revolutionary society.”

She concluded that the lessons from Sankara’s reign included keeping the women’s struggle on the agenda, solidarity, educating women and girls to self-empowerment, engaging with traditions and cultures that commodify women, and self-love/respect to help aid women in defending themselves in finding solutions to the violence they face.

“Subjugating women continues to impact not just on women but on society’s potential for development and general improvement. Let us draw on these lessons to tackle the problems facing women today. To begin with a development agenda we need to begin to engage with the spirit in which Sankara raised the critical questions for us to address.”

Respondent Dr Nolitha Vukuza, Senior Executive Director: University Relations, Student Affairs and UJ Sport, referred to Sankara as a feminist, a social reformer, women’s rights activist, liberationist and rightist.

Dr Vukuza emphasized the point that in every classic revolution, the final stage was signalled by acts of mass opposition by women to ancient regimes.

Here at home, similarly, the most successful struggles in our history are the ones in which women played the most active roles, she said.

“One of the most dangerous weapons of women’s destruction is the perception embedded in the minds of society on what constitutes a woman. Women face a highly uneven and contradictory process of what women must do and what they must look like. This results in her always having to have one foot planted on either side. Her genuine desire to be herself and the desire to meet the expectations of those who ascribe what she should look like.”

She found resonance in Prof Naidoo’s speech on self-love, esteem and respect reflecting on how the dressing down of African women and the reinterpretation, remodeling, reengineering, re-imaging of a woman, continues to have an impact on children today.

“Whether it is strategy or tradition, women are hard done by.”

In closing Dr Vukuza agreed with the lessons offered by Prof Naidoo, adding that access to information was essential for women.

October 15 marks the 34th anniversary of Thomas Sankara’s assassination. The trial of 14 men accused of complicity in his murder is currently underway in Burkina Faso.

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