Her majesty Kgosi Gaboilelwe Moroka, Woman King of Barolong Boo Seleka, Thaba Nchu, in the Free State Province laughed when The Woman King, the movie, came out.
Kgosi Gaboilelwe, the first woman to be crowned as a tribal ruler of her tribe, seems to have a destiny that was preordained. Starting with her name Bogosi Gaboilelwe Its closest meaning is “you cannot divorce yourself from the call of Royal leadership”. She was crowned on the same month as the movie was released. Her birthday is on September 8th. The day the late Queen Elizabeth II passed away. The very day they were in prayer preparing for her ascension on the 10th, the day of Charles III’s anointment. A full moon was sighted in Thaba Nchu, a good omen for the new Kgosi’s coronation.
What is a Woman King you may ask. Well, Kgosi Moroka’s role is no different from what you might imagine from monarchs such as Elizabeth or Rama IX of Thailand. Gaboilelwe says that a Kgosi is a jack of all trades: “1st come the people and taking care of them, the preservation of culture and heritage, but as the mother of the nation, you are an educator, a doctor, a social worker, a policeman, everything. Even if you work on governance and social issues it is always about the people, being a parent and what you would do to safeguard your family.”
The Moroka dynasty began its rule in 1833, when her forefather moved to Thaba Nchu, purchased land from Basotho King Moshoeshoe and settled his people. When her father passed, both of her brothers subsequently ascended the throne and passed away in turn, leaving her and her sister, which led to a succession crisis and her family dethroned lacking a male heir. While her story might sound preordained until now, it was far from it. They took the dispute to the courts. “It took ten years. My mother wanted to give up, and that might be why they call me the woman king. I said: ‘I will fight for this. I will fight like a warrior even if It means fighting alone.’ I was thinking back to the tribal wars when our family settled here. It felt like the times of spears and shields, except different kinds of spears and shields. We went to war, came out victorious and the royal family trusted leadership on me.”
Although Kgosi is a gender-neutral term, all Kgosi insofar were men. As a woman she would be expected to be Kgosigadi, a queen, impressive, but the kgosigadi is not a ruler, she is the Kgosi’s wife. Gaboilelwe is a Kgosi in her own right, but also a woman. A woman Kgosi! A Woman King!
While she enjoyed the movie it is that aspect of womanhood that she finds lacking in the Hollywood depiction of an African female monarch.
“I saw the movie, I liked it. Sometimes these blockbuster movies become so unreal, I wish there was an added element. The day-to-day struggle of what women have to overcome to prove themselves. The journey. The film shows the warriors, it is part of the struggle to an extent but superficial.”
Kgosi Gaboilelwe takes her responsibility in addressing societal issues with the same passion as taking on the courts. As a princess she ran an organization, Princess Gabo Foundation, focusing on reproductive maternal and child health, and Kangaroo Mother Care, involving skin-to-skin contact with newborns. Various youth programs, including responsible reproductive and sexual education, one project for instance was a flagship of the Free State University taking a holistic approach involving the school, parents and community.
Her motivation is her journey into motherhood, but also observing what can be done to prevent societal challenges such as GBV.
“We have a saying “Le ojwa le sa le metsi” - you mold or bend the stick while it’s young - in the same way you mold a child while they are still young. The success of a child is knowing love. The warmth of being given love and embraced gives the child a turbo start to life. It gives the child emotional stability and contentment which they will be able to reciprocate later in their life. What we see with GBV are unaddressed childhood issues. The vacuum which many carry that makes them empty inside. When you are empty there is no way you can fill someone’s cup.”
GBV became an issue in 2016 she came from an angle of SRH with community level dialogues “Women Let’s Talk – Basadi a re bueng”.
“Women could not utter a word or even answer a simple question during the dialogue because it was deemed taboo. They weren’t comfortable talking about issues that affect their own health. We resorted to having an anonymous box for questions or comments. Which showed me how critical it was to address the issue.”
In 2018 the “Blessers (sugar daddies) Must fall” follow up dialogue looked at the lived reality of female dependency on men for financial support and the spiral it creates in terms of long-term empowerment and women’s control over their lives.
She is now working with the Ministry of Social Development who visited Thaba Nchu for a 3-day activation on GBV intervention. Five hundred people attended the opening prayer, three hundred came to the dialogues, and they have now 142 GBV ambassadors in their villages.
“We need a permanent presence, soldiers on the ground, addressing local issues, with local solutions. Letting people take control and teach others. Systems have paralyzed society so much that there is hope for a savior to come from somewhere and we need to change that. People need to take ownership with pride: right is right and wrong is wrong for the sake of the future of our nation.
What is GBV? To me it is any situation where you feel violated. In a way we have all been victims of GBV. It is not just physical or about a woman or a child or LGBTQA+ experiencing violence, but men as well. I have not been physically assaulted but I have had words said to me. And sometimes those are the most salient of them all. Issues are different from the perspective of government, society, community and family.
We have lost the African way of doing things and misunderstand European ways and modern terms like equality. These misunderstandings affect families and create instability. We need a mindset change, building harmony between genders so there is no competition.
The danger of what we have done as humans is to un-nature nature. Everything in nature works in harmony. Even in equality, women have the right to assume leadership roles but let her do so in her own power and femineity and let men do it in their own masculinity and find balance. When we say harmonize, it doesn’t mean playing into patriarchy. As a woman king I understand that I am a woman and will never be a man. I execute my duties as a woman which is no less than a man. And it is the same for men.”
UNODC ROSAF’s engagements with traditional leaders, on a response to GBV began in August 2022, during Women’s Month in South Africa. UNODC hosted an event with the Limpopo leadership and the Deputy Minister of Correctional Services to highlight the high incidence of femicide in the country. Engaging traditional communities can bring culturally sensitive solutions to GBV. Since then, the National House of Traditional Leadership, the Royal Network of Princesses and the Woman King have solidified a relationship with UNODC. UNODC ROSAF is currently finalizing a Quick Reference Guide in collaboration with Traditional Leadership, the South African Ministry of Justice and the Deputy Minister of Correctional Services on integrated responses to GBV by traditional leadership and government sectors, due for release in 2024.