New Internationalist

A Beautiful Balding

Issue 326

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Illustration: ALAN HUGHES
Illustration: ALAN HUGHES

Africa / WOMEN

A beautiful balding
A SHORT STORY BY SINDIWE MAGONA

'Balding is an imperceptible process so slow that even the man whose head is under assault can never pinpoint the onset. But it is relentless and ultimately devastating.'

Zama listened. Only the great love and respect she had for her grandmother stopped her from shouting 'We know all that! What does it have to do with what we're discussing?' Why had she agreed to the old woman's joining their discussion? Here she was... embarrassing her in front of all these women.

'Today's young women with their schooling, their modern ways. They forget that everything is there... has always been there. All the answers these children are looking for are there. There is nothing new in the world since Qamata made it long, long ago.'

It was the first meeting of Genesis, held on the first Sunday of the new millennium - and at Zama's house in the Bronx because she couldn't leave her 95-year-old Makhulu alone. Genesis - 14 women... all African by birth or lineage, part of what was now commonly referred to as the African Diaspora. They had met at a conference called 'African and African-American Women - Facing the Fire Together'. And instead of the usual 'let's keep in touch' leave-taking they had sat down together and come up with their own vision of a group that would work for the unity of Afrikan Sistas. Genesis: a coming into being, a beginning. Zama prayed Makhulu wouldn't spoil its first-ever meeting.

The discussion raged on about funding and organizing, back and forth, back and forth. Then one of the women, Malaika, suddenly asked: 'Makhulu, what did you mean when you talked about balding?'

Makhulu smiled, crinkling the corners of her eyes. 'Oh, that,' she said. 'That is a warning to heed the little signs. To stop bad things before they become great floods that sweep away all living things. But this little-little-makes-very-big of balding also works for goodness.'

That piqued the interest of the whole group; even Zama looked at her grandmother curiously.

'Think about it,' Makhulu continued. 'If a bad thing can start small-small and grow so big it defeats a whole village - like this aids thing - why can't it work in the opposite way? Why can't a good thing start small-small and grow so big it swallows everything around it?'

'Amen to that!' Malaika echoed the sentiment. 'In fact,' she went on, a look of sheer amazement on her face, 'this group is what Makhulu is talking about. We are a small thing that is going to mushroom into a big-big thing!'

No more would they be voiceless and invisible. Makhulu was right: for every question there was an answer. If Africa was cursed with leaders who abused the trust of the people, then trustworthy leaders must be found. Instead of the African woman forever complaining of her plight, she must roll up her sleeves and fight for her rights.

'There shall be a gathering of hearts, a flowering of minds, a holding of hands across the whole wide world - everywhere an African heart beats!' Reverend Sista Grace closed the meeting and dinner was served.

The next year, Genesis held its first international conference. Each according to her talents. The group divided, with each of the 14 women undertaking to lead a new group, though they met again every three months to keep track of what was happening. And what was happening was A Beautiful Balding throughout the world wherever an African heart beat.

Children from African countries spent time with African-American families. African mothers opened their homes to children born on American land but whose forebears were plucked from the continent. Women's business, trade and expertise; women identifying talent in other women and supporting them to run for office.

Within five years of Genesis, Africa had seven women heads of state where before there had been none. Girl children were more visible in all professions and trades, answering the needs of their countries; turning deforestation around, turning children's malnutrition around... a flowering of the continent!

Ten years on. A lot of hard work. But also a lot of joy. Makhulu had known what she was talking about. She was gone now. Zama's eyes filled but her heart skipped in her chest. How lucky she was to have been raised by such a woman. It had all been here, present, all the time, as Makhulu had said. Just waiting for someone to begin, to set the ball rolling. The whole world had been pessimistic about Africa, had all but given up on it. Denuded, derided, and suffering from its own leaders, who had forgotten about their duty to serve. But what did anyone achieve by being pessimistic?

'Congratulations, Zama!' Malaika's voice came over the phone speaker.

'Malaika!' Zama shouted. 'Where are you calling from?'

'New York,' came the prompt answer. 'Sista, we're all so proud of you!'

'You all know that without the Genesis group I wouldn't have done it,' Zama said. 'Thank you.'

'The work you're doing is all the thanks we need. You would not have been re-elected to this second term of the presidency otherwise. Thank you, Madame President!'

Sindiwe Magona is a daughter of South Africa who currently works for the United Nations in New York.


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