Happy International Women’s Day. Unfortunately South Africa has to mark this important day in the absence of our official flag bearer for women’s issues, Lulu Xingwana. The minister of women, children and people with disabilities has jetted off to the United States again to torment Afrikaner men at the United Nations or insult New York’s art scene – who knows? Meanwhile, as rape and abuse statistics spiral, Xingwana is unable to produce a decent turnaround plan for her dysfunctional department. That’s R198.3 million of your money in Xingwana’s hands, without a strategy on how to spend it. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Lulu Xingwana’s career in government is something like the 22-car pile-up on the N1 earlier this week – multiple wrecks with no real explanation for why and how the crashes occurred. Xingwana must be the ultimate survivor, wreaking havoc in the three ministries she has served in and yet still able to hang on to a position in Cabinet.
It’s not just poor performance and ineptitude that has defined her career in government; by no means. Xingwana is in a league of her own when it comes to that ever-burgeoning category of public servant, Cabinet Ministers with a Penchant for the Absurd. She has spewed vitriol, tripped herself up on her own statements, launched bizarre attacks on white men and gay people, blown taxpayers’ money on gold-trimmed potties and chrome-legged chairs, wrestled a baby from its grandmother, given Parliament the middle finger and made a mockery of the suffering of abused women and children.
Even in the already crowded theatre of the absurd that is South Africa’s government, she stands out.
Xingwana was pretty harmless as an ANC MP from 1994, but 10 years later she was appointed as deputy minister of minerals and energy by former president Thabo Mbeki. And thus began her trail of destruction.
The first sign of trouble was during a parliamentary debate when Xingwana blew up, lashing out at “rich, white cartels that are continuing, even today, to loot our diamonds [and] to monopolise the mining industry”.
Sasol also later received a tongue-lashing over black economic empowerment and mining giant De Beers was whipped for having a “lily-white and male-dominated” board after it replaced one white, male MD with another.
According to IOL, Xingwana also had choice words for black business: “There are black, fat males with bulging stomachs who, when they want to clinch big business deals, drive women like a herd of cattle to portray their companies as being compliant with (gender equity and women empowerment requirements).”
When she became agriculture and land affairs minister in 2006, Xingwana turned it up a notch, resorting to insulting foreign governments and the British monarchy.
“A gathering in Gloucester struggled to keep a stiff upper lip when Xingwana said that upon her appointment to higher office she had thought she would be redeployed to London so that she could ‘recover the diamonds the English stole during colonialism’, and went on to quip that she was going to retrieve the ‘stolen diamonds’, including ‘taking out those in the crown of the queen’. She added that she wished that Joburg would one day be ‘the London of Africa’. She said she was less interested in cities such as Washington or New York, because ‘we are not looking for the weapons of mass destruction’,” IOL reported.
And to the world’s finance institutions: “South Africa is doing very well economically. We can tell the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to go to hell and to never come back.”
In 2007, Mbeki had to intervene to pacify AgriSA and the Transvaal Agricultural Union when Xingwana claimed that farmers regularly “rape and assault” their workers. The two farm unions challenged her to provide evidence to back her claims and reported her to the Human Rights Commission. Mbeki’s intervention eventually resolved the standoff.
In 2009, Rapport reported that Xingwana had a R500,000 mobile toilet imported for her exclusive use when she had to travel to rural areas to hand over land. According to a Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs document, the toilet had gold trimmings.
In President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet, Xingwana became arts and culture minister and was again embroiled in controversy. Sipho Sithole, the owner of music company Native Rhythms, claimed he was defamed by Xingwana when she apparently accosted him in a parking lot over his refusal to take singer and dancer Chomee, who regularly performs at ANC events, on a state-sponsored trip to China.
Xingwana also infamously stormed Innovative Women, an exhibition of photographs by Zanele Muholi at the Constitutional Court, calling the work “pornographic” and “immoral”. These were mildly explicit photos of same-sex couples embracing each other. To quell the resultant storm, Xingwana’s spin doctors claimed the minister objected to the stereotyping of black women and was actually protecting women’s rights.
As Daily Maverick noted at the time: “How does publicly boycotting, then castigating female artists for portraying women (even if the work is not to everyone’s taste) somehow make the attacker a defender of women’s rights or a promoter of a 21st century revolutionary agenda?”
But it has been in her capacity as minister of women, children and people with disabilities that Xingwana has taken her buffoonery to its most dizzying heights.
The Sunday Times reported how she threw a tantrum on a flight from Accra, demanding to be upgraded from economy to business class. Xingwana allegedly shouted at a white airhostess: “Shut up, shut up, is it because I am a k*****?”
She later denied using the word and shouting, but said she was “shocked by the rude and disrespectful attitude” to her request for an upgrade. When the airhostess told her she could not be upgraded to business class because she held an economy class ticket, Xingwana responded: “But I am a shareholder of this company.”
An unnamed passenger who witnessed the incident told the newspaper Xingwana had refused to let her hand luggage be stowed away for take-off. “The minister was like a naughty child. She snatched the bag and put it on her lap with her arms locked around it,” the passenger said.
In 2011, Xingwana flew to New York at a cost of R6.8 million. When the expenditure was questioned, she responded that she and her staff could not be expected to stay in a “pondok” or fly “lala-class” (economy class).
Last month, The Sunday Independent reported that Xingwana splurged R2.1 million of taxpayers’ money decorating her department’s head office with new furniture, even buying visitor chairs with chrome legs. Almost half the money was allegedly used for custom-made furniture for her own office.
Also last month, City Press reported how Xingwana and her bodyguards grabbed a baby from its grandmother’s arms in rural Eastern Cape, and sped away with the child. The child is Xingwana’s nephew’s baby. The mother of the child claims she endured months of abuse living in Xingwana’s ministerial residence and that the minister did nothing about it. The woman fled with her baby to her rural home, where Xingwana arrived and took the baby away.
Last week a furious high court judge ordered that the child be returned to her mother. The little girl had been staying at Xingwana’s ministerial residence in Pretoria.
After the arrest of star athlete Oscar Pistorius for the killing of his girlfriend, Xingwana added her wisdom to the worldwide fascination with what had happened: “If there was no gun in the Pistorius home, Reeva Steenkamp would still be alive.”
She made the comments at media briefing in Pretoria, which she opted to address instead of attending a special parliamentary debate on gender violence, which Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga had to lead.
On the same day, Beeld reported that Xingwana’s ministry is rife with problems, including underqualified people being given jobs, the minister giving preference to her friends when awarding jobs, and that excessive overtime payments were made. Previously it had been reported that Xingwana had been engaged in running battles with some of her senior staff, and that she had engaged a top firm specialising in labour law to advise how she could axe them.
Beeld also reported last week that MPs lambasted Xingwana and her staff for failing to deliver documents on her department’s turnaround strategy on time. The documents the MPs did receive were apparently a “mess”. Democratic Alliance MP Helen Lamoela said Xingwana’s department was allocated R198.3 million in the 2013/14 financial year, but “there is nothing to show for it except lavish parties, trips abroad and designer furniture”.
It is not possible to check the record of work being done by Xingwana’s department as the website is blank with this message: “System Offline – This site is currently offline”.
The cherry on the cake of Xingwana’s very eventful year so far were her comments in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “Young Afrikaner men are brought up in the Calvinist religion believing that they own a woman, they own a child, they own everything and therefore they can take that life because they own it,” she said during the interview.
After an eruption of outrage, Xingwana backpedalled: “It has become clear to me that my comments may have offended some members of our community. I would, accordingly, like to retract these remarks and apologise unconditionally to them.”
The Presidency also had to step in to do damage control: “We wish to assure the Afrikaner community and all South Africans that the government’s commitment to non-racialism and diversity as enshrined in the Constitution of the republic remains unwavering,” said presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj. “The contribution of Afrikaner males in the fight against gender-based violence and also generally to the building of a united, caring and prosperous South Africa, is as valuable as that of all South Africans.”
With all this behind her, Xingwana happily jetted off to New York this week, leading a high-powered South African government delegation to the 57th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women at the UN headquarters in New York. Accompanying her are Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, Deputy Correctional Services Minister Ngoako Ramathlodi, and Deputy Police Minister Maggie Sotyu. Yoliswa Makhasi, the chief executive of the Film and Publications Board – which placed an age restriction on Brett Murray’s painting The Spear last year – and representatives from the National Prosecuting Authority are also on the trip.
Who knows if Xingwana will be able to keep her foot out of her mouth there? And who knows how much this trip will cost the taxpayer? Most importantly, how will this trip benefit the thousands of battered women and children in South Africa, victims of rape and abuse, who she is meant to assist?
It does not. This trip allows Xingwana to splash out once again and make a mockery of the important job she has been given.
After her embarrassing and ludicrous comedy of errors, how and why is Lulu Xingwana still serving in the Cabinet of South Africa? What unique qualities does she bring to government that no other person can surpass and which is able to override her litany of madness? She has repeatedly insulted the intelligence of South Africans, embarrassed the government, behaved like a buffoon and splurged taxpayers’ money like a tin-pot dictator.
She serves in government as the representative of the 26.6 million women in South Africa. But she does not epitomise or represent us in any intelligent way. Most South African women are hardworking, respectful, decent people. Lulu Xingwana is not.
She is also supposed to represent children and the disabled. She has done little to advance their interests.
Our country is in the midst of a horrific crisis over the violent abuse of women and children. Xingwana, sadly, is part of the problem through her clumsiness and incompetence. She is doing harm to the cause of fighting rape and abuse, and she should not be presiding over a department with a budget of R198.3 million.
On this International Women’s Day, let good judgement prevail. Let those who hold the levers of power realise that they cannot continuously insult the nation by keeping Lulu Xingwana in this crucial position. Or ANY position.
Lulu Xingwana must go, and go now. DM
Photo: Lulu Xingwana.