Gender and Resistance Work in South Africa:

An Interview with Dr. Miranda Pillay

by Evelyn Parker

While researching and writing a paper to be presented at the 2015 International Academy of Practical Theology (IAPT), I discovered the work of a scholar, Dr. Miranda Pillay, who is a member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, the group our beloved Dr. Mercy Oduyoye founded. Dr. Miranda Pillay is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts at the University of the Western Cape. Her writing and teaching are in New Testament Studies and Ethics.  Since the IAPT meeting will convene in South Africa, I ventured to introduce myself to Dr. Pillay by email. She responded immediately. During my last trip to Cape Town, I met Dr. Pillay. She invited my mother and me to her home for a traditional Capetonian meal with her family. We shared family stories and intriguing conversation about our research during and after a wonderful meal of grilled Snoek (fish) and Smoortie (tomato sauce) and other delicious dishes.

The beginning of our friendship was magical.

In a recent email exchange, I told her about The Daughters and asked her if she would tell me about a forthcoming conference entitled “Gender and Resistance” that she is hosting at the University of the Western Cape. Below is our conversation.

EP: What is the purpose/goal of the “Gender and Resistance” Conference?

Dr. Pillay: During this one-day conference (5 May 2016), we will contemplate the question of the nature and the significance of Gender and Resistance. What role do feminist concerns play in the current culture of protest that will likely be with us for some time? What biblical and theological resources are there to help us in this quest for justice and recognition that has been central to many of the protest movements? What does the history of resistance movements in South Africa, particularly as it relates to gender, have to teach us today as we are facing a whole new set of challenges in working toward a just and fair society?

EP: Why is “resistance” important?

Dr. Pillay: The theme of resistance has been (and continues to be) an existential reality, not only in terms of racism, but also in terms of gender.  While women in particular were on the forefront of resistance against the racist pass laws (which restricted the movement of black people in apartheid South Africa), it is a sad fact that today, one of the few profoundly non-racial institutions in South Africa is patriarchy. Amongst the multiple chauvinisms which abound in our country, the male version rears itself with special and equal vigor in all communities. Recently, there has been a rise in conservative or fundamentalist religious movements, often associated with conservative nationalism or right-wing politics. These movements are generally opposed to the concept of gender equality.

Dr. Pillay: The year 2015 will go down in history as the year of student protests. What started with #RhodesMustFall culminated in the #FeesMustFall and #EndOutsourcing movements. Since October 2015, students have been demanding free education on campuses all around the country, in addition to fair working conditions for university workers. On some campuses, including the University of the Western Cape, exams were disrupted and protests turned violent.

EP: Who will attend the “Gender and Resistance” Conference?

Dr. Pillay: In attendance, will be students from the University of the Western Cape and University of Stellenbosch Academics. Also, pastors (from the different churches) are invited to participate. This conference is an annual joint venture of the UWC and Stellenbosch Chapters of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians.

If you are able, I invite you to attend the conference on “Gender and Resistance” on May 5, 2016. The experience holds promise for forming new friendships at the intersection of works of justice among women of African ancestry.

Evelyn L. Parker is Susanna Wesley Centennial Professor of Practical Theology and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.