Opinionista Siviwe Gwarube 13 June 2013

Jeffery’s low blow: That fatuous ‘fat’ comment

Earlier this week, ANC MP John Jeffery took a swipe Lindiwe Mazibuko – at both her importance and, no jokes, her body weight. That sexism has gone this far should send shockwaves through us all.

During the Parliamentary Budget vote debate on 11 June, the conduct of ANC MPs nosedived to staggering new depths when ANC MP John Jeffery rose and said: “…while the Hon Mazibuko may be a person of substantial weight, her stature is questionable”.

The DA’s Chief Whip Watty Watson raised a point of order, but the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Nomaindia Mfeketo, refused to rule on whether these comments were un-Parliamentary – saying she needed to study the record.

There is no grey area here, however. It is obvious that what Mr Jeffery said about the Leader of the Opposition was sexist and has no place in Parliament.

To demonstrate this growing trend within the ANC, Buti Manamela, sweeping in Parliament during the Presidency budget vote debate today, spent most of his time discussing Ms Mazibuko’s fashion sense. The fact that even young MPs like him ascribe to this bigoted behaviour is an indictment on the ANC.

What breed of leader is the organisation grooming?

Rigorous debate is welcome in Parliament and, more broadly speaking, in politics. But attacks on a person’s integrity and physical appearance are not just un-Parliamentary, they are prejudiced in the extreme.

Have you ever witnessed male members in the National Assembly insult each other about their appearance? Can you imagine John Jeffery commenting on a male member’s pot belly?

The Deputy Speaker has a professional duty to rule those comments out of order in Parliament, but she also has a personal duty, as a woman leader, to speak out against them publicly.

What was most worrying for me – a young woman who aspires to work in the male-dominated world of politics – is the fact that many female members in the National Assembly seemed to find Mr Jeffrey’s and Mr Manamela’s comments funny. For them to laugh is for them to condone his chauvinistic behaviour, and take the cause of women in South Africa a significant step backwards.

I find the whole incident deeply disappointing.

I am disappointed that men like Mr Jeffery and Mr Manamela are elected as leaders in our country when their behaviour and judgement clearly leaves so much to be desired.

I am disappointed that the level of debate in the House has deteriorated to such an extent that members regularly play the man – or woman in this case – and not the ball.

I am even more disappointed that our women members in Parliament seem unable to stand on principle against such discrimination. What should have happened during both instances is that every single woman in the House, from every party represented, should have lined up condemn both these comments.

Here is a young woman, at the age of 33, doing the unthinkable by leading the opposition in Parliament. She embodies the kind of attributes we need from our nation’s leaders.

But, instead of being treated with respect, women like her are put down with comments on their appearance.

We have a long way to go, South Africa. DM


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