The woman who dared to dream

The woman who dared to dream

I and perhaps more than a few members of the public had been looking forward to the outcome of the BNP electoral race for party leader with both excitement and anxiety. Personally, this was the first time I had ever been that invested in this country’s politics, and it was all thanks to one person – Machere Seutloali.

I had heard of Seutloali before but as a person who is not well versed in politics, I had not taken note. That of course changed when I heard she was contesting for the BNP leadership. I had to sit up and take note.
What started as a casual knowledge transformed into a full-fledged fanhood. I would have staked my last cent on her candidacy. I will not pretend that I was not biased. Of course, I was, heavily. I liked that she was a woman, a young one at that. I am human and fallible enough to admit that when it comes to women’s ambitions, I sometimes do offer my support blindly. Mostly I liked that she had the audacity to dare.

To stand up to lead a well-established party such as the BNP, as a woman, a young one at that take nothing short of a crazy sort of belief in one’s self. To contest for that role against deputy ministers and other well-established members of the party is an endeavour that needs what some crasser than myself would call “balls of steel”.

It appeared Machere had them and I admired that. In her myself and others saw the kind of woman we could be if we were not so afraid of the patriarchal backlash. To have a big political party such as the BNP entertain the notion of being led by a 36-year-old woman made us stop and think, “Perhaps the BNP is the future that this country needs”.

We might have idolised her and put her on a pedestal, perhaps that was wrong. In our eyes Machere became something akin to a fairy-tale hero. I am a strong believer in fairy-tale endings. Deep down I always knew the odds were stacked heavily against her. Even my belief that the BNP would put her in that role was naïve.

There were reports, echoed by Machere herself that certain members of the party were not happy with the prospect of being led by a woman. What good though is a fairy-tale ending if it was not preceded by struggle, resilience and fortitude?

A part of me still thought we would get our perfect ending with Machere winning the BNP race, the national race and becoming our first female prime minister. We would all ride off into the sunset singing kumbaya with her on a white horse.

Like I said, that was a fairy tale ending which ignored all reality and sadly that was not to be. Delusions and naivety aside I never really believed that Machere would emerge victorious as the BNP’s party leader. What I expected, what was feasible in reality is that she would lose with honour and with her head held high.

Again, very sadly that did not happen. What happened was worse than loss, at least in the eyes of those who like me had seen something of a hero in her. She quit. She conceded and it appeared to me stepped and bowed down with her tail between her legs so the big boys can do what big boys do.
I was shattered. Perhaps I still am. Political leadership so often amounts to a proverbial swinging of balls and when the time came, she did not swing her balls. She appeared to have none and that for me was an outcome worse than a loss.

The news of her stepping down was a heavy blow but now that I have had the occasion to simmer down, I will admit that it was unfair of myself and others to put our ambitions, our hopes, and our dreams squarely on Machere’s shoulders. She has her own life; her own ambitions and I do believe that her decisions to drop out of the race was not one she took lightly.

In a world where women are scrutinised and made to bear the weight of other people’s expectations it was wrong of me to expect her to martyr herself for my benefit. She would have lost the BNP race and that would have impacted her political career negatively.
She had to do what was best for herself given the cards that were heavily stacked against her. She chose to concede now and live to fight another day and that is a decision I not only understand but admire. She put aside her ego and did what was best for herself and the party and that whilst not the ballsy move is the strategic and smart choice.

Machere did not and does not owe us a hero’s death. She owes herself happiness and fulfilment and if that happens to be something that is in line with what makes us happy then great, if not we all have the same opportunity to stand for elections should we wish. She is not obliged to set herself on fire to keep myself or anyone else warm. No woman is.

Machere Seutloali remains for me a leader that I one day hope to see on the prime minister’s seat not only because she dared to have the audacity but also because she is calm and strategic enough to know when to step back so that she may make greater inroads tomorrow.
The ability to put aside all pride and do the sensible thing is perhaps the true mark of leadership and even though it should not matter because she does not live for me, I remain proud of her.

Thakane Rethabile Shale

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