Natasha Tibinyane a woman with voice: having worked with Natasha Tibinyane in Sister Namibia and Katutura Community Radio over the past years, it comes as no surprise to me that the dominant theme of her life has been to find and develop her own voice.
Born a feminist
Recalling her childhood, Natasha remembers that "as a young kid at family gatherings like funerals, weddings or family meetings, I could never understand why the men are treated better, why they must get bigger plates of food, why they must sit separate and women have to cook and clean and serve them."
As a little girl she would challenge her aunt to explain why men were treated like this, and was told that it was because they were strong men who needed to work hard, so they needed to get bigger plates of food. "I would say, 'You also work hard, you have been working since six o'clock this morning!' 'No, that's the role of women,' I was told. But I could never accept this and started questioning gender roles already at a very young age. I think I was born a feminist!" she exclaims.
Raised by strong women
When her peers admire Natasha as a strong and assertive person, she quickly refers to her mother and the many other women in her family. "I have always been surrounded by strong women my whole life--my aunts, my mother, my grandmothers. They had so many problems, husbands who beat them or who were absent, but they woke up every day, they went out, they raised their children, some of them had jobs, they would go and do their jobs, then come back and make sure that the children were healthy and fit and went to school."
Natasha would challenge them about how they allowed men to treat them, saying 'but you are such a strong woman, why are you allowing this to happen to you?' "I was always the one told to shut up, that I don't know what I'm talking about. I still am," she laughs.
Realising you have choices
Being inquisitive and curious as a child, Natasha learnt to love reading before she started school, and remembers that she spent most of her childhood in books, "because to be honest, I didn't want to deal with my reality. I had a sad childhood, and realised early on that there are a lot of things in life that you don't have control over. You can't decide whether your father leaves you or not, you can't decide whether you don't have food in the house, or go to school in winter freezing because you only have a thin handed-down jersey and no shoes.
"But I knew that those things that I do have control over, I need to make the best of those," she continues. "I started making decisions or choices that I knew could take me to a better place. I didn't love school, but I knew that I had to get my grade 12 in order for me to become a journalist. Things happen to you that you don't have control over, but then you choose how to deal with these issues, and this is what makes the difference."
From active student to journalist
She became an active student at St Andrews Primary School in Khomasdal, playing netball, debating, working in the library. "I had amazing English teachers whom I just loved. They could see that I was inquisitive and would always give me books to read, motivating me to do more, informing me about interesting events."
Natasha completed her secondary education at Concordia College in Windhoek, a multi racial school. "It took me a couple of months to get used to this, because I had always been told 'don't talk to white people' and suddenly I had white teachers and white class mates--it was a whole new world for me. I was able to see that just because you are black it doesn't mean that you are stupid, or that white people are more intelligent than you just because they are treated better. You have the same capabilities."
Her hopes of becoming a journalist were put on hold after matric for lack of a scholarship, so she worked for a Windhoek hotel as a receptionist from 1995 to 1997. "It was the worst employment experience that I've had, because it was a racist environment. But I learnt how to defend myself and stand up to these people, the supervisors, the managers who thought they could just treat people like that." She stayed because she needed the money, but kept alive her dreams of a career, and luck came her way when she managed to talk her way into a job at a local media house.
Finding her voice as a feminist activist
"I think my life really began when I started working at New Era newspaper," she says with that typical sparkle in her eyes, "because that's when I started this journey to find myself and find my voice, to become the person I am today." A press conference of the Rainbow Project got her interested in human rights issues, and these together with women's rights became her main focus. After three years with the newspaper, Natasha decided she needed a new challenge, and gained a scholarship through the Konrad Adenauer Foundation to take up journalism studies at the Natal Technikon in Durban.
Lecturers such as Ashwin Desai introduced her not only to political science but to activism and the idea that as a journalist, she could also make a difference. After two and a half years of study Natasha returned to Namibia to complete her six-month in service training at New Era newspaper. However, her sights were set on working for Sister Namibia, having freelanced for this organisation during her term holidays.
"I loved Sister Namibia from the moment I walked into your office many years ago. I knew the magazine and will never forget the first day I came to look at your resource centre, discovering this safe, quiet and serene space where there were all these books, and finding like-minded people with whom I could clarify my ideas and start developing my voice and thinking more critically. I have always challenged gender roles and received flak from my extended African family, but Sister Namibia gave me the tools to negotiate my way through life as a feminist. If I had had to do this without books to read or people to talk to it would have been much more difficult, maybe my voice would have been silenced long ago."
Natasha started working as media officer at Sister Namibia in March 2003, a job that actually required of her to challenge the status quo. "My activism came alive, I was inspired everyday by the people that I came across," she says. "Like the members of the Namibian Women's Manifesto Network--ordinary rural women who mostly don't have high school education. They would spend a week together and just come alive and talk about issues; they would tell me their life stories and I didn't want the workshops to end."
Becoming a leader at KCR
Natasha was skeptical when Sister Namibia asked her to help rebuild Katutura Community Radio, having not been greatly interested in radio work before. "I knew that really we had no other choice. There was nobody else at that time who could do it, so that's when my life took a whole different path that I never thought it could take.
"I never knew that I was capable of leading a team of up to 60 people; getting a radio station up and running; producing and presenting programmes and being a station manager, working with many young people who just inspire me everyday."
Preparing for the future
At age 29, Natasha Tibinyane has many plans for her future. First comes a sociology degree through distance studies with the University of South Africa. After that she aims to work for a women's organisation at the regional or continental level for a while, again aiming to make a difference while broadening her horizons. And then? "I want to come back and work for Sister Namibia as the director, nothing else will do!" she exclaims. And after that? "All I know is that I would like to play a very important role in bringing positive change in this country. I made a joke to my mom this morning that I'm going to be Namibia's first woman president!"
Natasha's strong career focus began early in life, when she realised that "this is one thing I can have control over. I'm sorry but I refuse to build my life over marriage or a relationship or a man, because you don't know what's going to happen. I've always seen myself as a professional person, as a career person, and I would like to stay there. I'm not saying that being a wife or mother is less important, but it's definitely less important for me."
She believes that the struggle for women's rights and equality includes giving women the freedom to make an informed choice about their lives, which should be respected and supported. "Without women playing an equal role in all spheres of society we can forget about achieving any of the development goals we set for ourselves as a nation, continent or the world."
Her message to young women? "Know that you are capable of anything that you want to achieve, and don't allow society to chain you or put you in a box. You have a voice, so let your voice be heard!"
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|Date:||Nov 1, 2005|
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