“Are we not building another Eva Perón?” An active Facebooker posted recently. While some claimed ignorance of who he was referring to, many responded, adding their take. One friend even dared to say; “Grace Mugabe…”
I marinated on this; the debates, curiosity around our First Lady, Neo Masisi. MmaAtsile has in a short space of time, created waves, even threatening to surpass the popularity status of President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
I had to go on Google to check why. Sadly, Wikipedia, which has a lot on María Eva Duarte de Perón, the First Lady of Argentina, who departed this world 64 years ago, but remains an icon, had little on our First Lady.
I went to her Twitter account where I suppose she is more active being world travelled and exposed than most of us Facebookers, and still little told me who Neo Masisi is, or her thoughts, which I will put my penny on.
Why then is our own, an accountant, compared to an actress, who within a year of marrying an army officer, Colonel Juan Perón, saw him rise to the presidency? A self-made powerhouse, trade unionist, and gender activist, who fought her way out of poverty not only to be the First Lady but also to form a women’s political party. I wondered if Batswana are wondering if MmaMasisi, like Lady Evita, could one day challenge for the top post.
As I follow commentary around MmaAtsile, a thought struck: she is a threat. Her on-your-face presence, has many of conservative us uncomfortable. Despite our talk that women should be given the space to take positions up power, it is all lip service. We want our First Lady to walk a step behind the President, so we praise and say ‘behind every successful man is a woman’.
The world shuns women leaders
Walking alongside, or even stepping up front is still shunned. Not just in Botswana, but the world over.
We have seen a powerful woman, with all the credentials for the presidency of the US, Hillary Clinton, defeated twice; first in the Democratic Party elections against former President Barak Obama and then in the national presidential race against Donald Trump. Not to take anything away from Cyril Ramaphosa next door, but members of the ruling the African National Congress, failed to see the ability of the party veteran and ex-wife of former president Jacob Zuma. Yes, factions, as is always the case, played a major role in Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s loss last year, but when realising they had nothing much against her, opponents brought in the mess that was her ex to discredit her.
If Zuma was one seeking election, and Dlamini-Zuma had skeletons scattered around her, would he have been sacrificed? I doubt. And then our famous neighbours; the darling
The world, still has a long way, is really appreciating the ability and power of a woman. Yes, there have been a few women who have made it to the top.
In Argentina itself where more than 50 years after Eva Perón attempted and withdrew her candidacy for the post of vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was elected the president, crediting the late icon for the early fight.
We have also had women presidents in places like Liberia, Malawi, Ireland, the UK and longest-serving chancellor in Germany.
And of course, the popular Croatian president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, whom we ‘met’ during the FIFA World Cup early this year. Not surprisingly, instead of talking of her credentials, as a politician, a leader highly educated and high ranking military officer, the world was fascinated by her beauty and pictures of her in bikinis splashed over the Internet.
That’s how the world would rather see and portray powerful women. To be comfortable in women leaders, we have even coined a term ‘beauty with brains’.
When Neo Masisi steps up, and is all over the place – leading BDP high teas, advocating gender and children’s rights issues, addressing Kgotla meetings and even marketing our diamonds – we shift uncomfortably in our seats.
Of course, there are wrong platforms that we need to ask questions over; sitting alongside the President in government meetings with the international community should bother us. MmaMasisi, is not a government employee or official as her husband is, therefore has no business on that table.
But for the First Lady to be out there, is not wrong. Her detractors are moving from wrong premise that first ladies are there to serve visitors tea at the State House, stay unheard in the background.
But even the previous three – Ruth Khama, Gladys Masire and Barbra Mogae – were never women hidden in the kitchen. They had public personas, and worked tirelessly in their different charity work.
The current, being a professional who has worked mostly outside the country, in the UN structures, cannot be expected to come home to rust. No. She is the First Lady of modern times, and taking her place, in her own pace, fast one which is shaking the establishment.
Yes, maybe we are building our own Eva Perón! Why not?