Opinionista Gushwell Brooks 28 February 2013

O, Liewe Lulu!

Don’t let the title fool you, I am not about to attempt a salient piece, commenting on the utterances of that office that covers the disabled, women and children, in Afrikaans. After all, nearly 13 years of almost exclusively speaking and writing English has left me a bit of a “soutie” and incompetent. The ministerial office in question, however, appears unperturbed by their own embarrassment of incompetence. In a serendipitous twist of fate Afrikaans and the office in question intersect at a very acrimonious juncture.

As with many other major events that catapult our tiny little republic at the foot of Africa to global centre-stage and infamy, the untimely death of Reeva Steenkamp has spiralled beyond comprehension. Questions have arisen on whether Oscar Pistorius will be convicted of murder or culpable homicide, many speculate about the events of the night, some remind us that a very talented young law graduate lost her life on Valentine’s morning. But the most ridiculous moment in the Pistorius case was not Kenny Kunene’s ululation of “Yes!” when Pistorius was granted bail. That distinction was earned by a completely ridiculous utterance by Minister Lulu Xingwana a few days after the bail hearing.

She of course retracted and unconditionally apologised for the statement that she gave to Ginny Stein, a correspondent with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. What particularly perturbed the average South African about what she said was that after a week of our dirty laundry being aired in every distant corner of the globe and the reprieve from this voyeuristic global scrutiny until 4 June when the Pistorius trial commences, Xingwana went and said something really silly.

We don’t like looking foolish in the global public eye, especially since we are two time rugby world cup champions and have two icons like Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela as citizens of our nation. We cannot also ignore the fact that we do not like being exposed as blithering idiots by the Australians, as they tend to do that far too regularly on the sports field. And what do we actually tell the new neighbours in Sydney or Perth, as expats?

Before we talk about what she said, let’s remind ourselves of what was said. “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 went on to talk about “our own cultural differences” such as forced marriage.

So the Afrikanerbond and Afriforum, quick on the draw, have called for her resignation. The two organisations will will in all likelihood face off with her in court as they believe that she has committed an act of blatant discrimination on the basis of race, religion and, I’m sure, a plethora of other factors. Whatever the result, it is clear that we have a minister at the helm of one of the most important portfolios in this country who is clueless, which is not only tragic but, quite frankly, dangerous.

Firstly, the obvious racial undertones that identify a certain ethnic group and its supposed theological persuasion as primary culprits diverts from the reality pertaining to the sexual violence that is prevalent in this country: that all men, despite their affluence, or lack thereof, of all races, of all religious persuasions and in all communities commit sexual violence.

It has detracted from the growing public discourse seeking effective solutions on the issue. Instead of Xingwana’s office dealing with means to end the scourge of violence, we are now caught in the midst of a partisan dispute that fails to deal with an issue that needs real attention.

This obviously takes us to the next big issue, is the minister in any position to be leading the executive organ of state that should be dealing with this issue most directly?

What every interest group, union and NGO that wishes to deal with this societal scourge is grappling with, is why it is so prevalent in our society and what is it that we need to do to curb it. Calvinist theology should most certainly not be at the forefront of the minister’s list of priorities. Though I cannot with authority comment on the religion’s allegedly misogynistic theology, as I am not a scholar of Calvinism, I really don’t think that it is the cause of widespread incidents of gender-based violence or the isolated Pistorious incident. 

She could, for example, look at our Sexual Offences Act and think about how we streamline it so that we have more than 40 people listed as offenders on the National Sexual Offenders’ Register. She could also check with her colleague, Mr Radebe, as to when we will actually see the re-introduction of the sexual offences courts and check with Pravin Gordhan whether we have the budget for it. One last thing she could put her mind to is how to teach South African men – gentile, Jew, Calvinist, Moslem, Buddhist and Hindu alike – that women are not their possessions.

She was credited with getting it partly right, when in the first half of the interview she said that Steenkamp would not have died if Pistorius did not own a gun. Gun control, wow, that oh- so-complex tenet Obama himself is grappling with. Impressive! But sadly it further demonstrates our minister’s lack of understanding regarding the drivers of violence against women, particularly intimate femicide. It is simple: you don’t need a gun to kill your intimate partner whether she is a wife, girlfriend or relative. Abusers are creative people, sadly enough their creativity seems to be loaded against the victims.

The minister needs to understand her subject matter before she can lobby the legislature and the rest of the executive to effectively deal with the current plague. A woman, child or disabled person who is a victim of sexual violence does not have a snowball’s chance in hell of defending themselves against this blight on our society if the leader of the department meant to address their concerns is chasing after Afrikaner Calvinists.

The fact that the judicial officers pursuing these cases are insensitive, the fact that children face their accusers in open court and the fact that the majority of men throughout South Africa think they own women will continue unabated. Middle-class calls for competence tend to go unheard as neo-liberal diatribes, but for goodness’ sake, could we at least have someone that knows what’s actually cooking!

Interesting how the two most important portfolios, the one meant to focusing on women and children and the one meant to focus on education, appear to be led by individuals that apparently don’t care about the constituencies they ought to be representing. DM

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"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall

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