By Athambile Masola
How will you make your mark? This is the kind of question that could potentially leave me paralysed for days because it invokes who I want to be, an existential crises. Often as a growing woman with many expectations from others and my own dreams in my head, I stumble when I need to make a decision for me. But nonetheless, I always seem to make a decision in spite of the background noise of expectations.
In August alone I have been on a journey of making decisions. I keep telling my friends that this a marker of “playing adult”. All of a sudden in one month I have had 3 job prospects and I may have to make a decision about soon. One of the decisions is whether or not to leave the Eastern Cape and contribute to the brain drain that takes place here as a brain drain takes place in Africa (where an average of 20 000 people leave Africa for employment somewhere else in the world).
Leaving wouldn’t have been an added anxiety until I read a report on the state of the Eastern Cape and I had to consider, “how will I make my mark here?”. The reality is, I am the minority of people in South Africa who have been privileged because of the education I received, the decisions that I made and the support system that I have. As a young woman, I’m realising that these are only a fantasy for many other women who live in poverty, neglect and abuse not only in this province but in many parts of Africa. By saying I’m privileged to have the life that any other human being should have is evidence of how warped our reality is, that we think living with the basic necessities is a privilege and the converse is the norm.
Friends and I always lament that many of us are emerging from a legacy where many women in our families did not have the choices we have. In relation to my mother, aunts and grandmothers, I am on unchartered territory. My greatest challenge is being allowed to make a decision, whereas their greatest challenge was realising that they should be allowed to make decisions for themselves but became adults within a government that treated them as minors, making decisions for them throughout most of their adult life.
Part of this legacy has also been coupled with the adage “you educate a woman, you educate a village”, where as a (black ) woman, my decisions are not my own, but have to take into account the collective who will benefit from opportunities I have because of my education. I form part of the less than 10% of young people in South Africa who have had a 15 year education (12 years in high school and a 3 year degree) and one of the few to graduate from university in my family. So the question, “how will you make your mark?” is very apt at this point in my life.
Everyone keeps telling me to relax into it and not to think too much about this. And I probably will relax into becoming an adult and accept that I am a small part of the world. But what I will not accept is being made of “tick tacky” like the people Malvina Reynolds describes in her poem “Little Boxes”.
For me, making a mark has little to do with fame and greatness but more to do realising that I do not want to be pinched by poverty or limitations but rather be like the pine-tree near the sea that D. H Lawrence describes in his poem “Poverty”, “to have a natural abundance/and plume forth and be splendid.” So I’ll make the right decisions this month and inch towards making my mark as a woman with different prospects and opportunities.