Opinionista Rev Lawrence Mduduzi Ndlovu 6 May 2015

Outside the DA ‘sex ring’: The bigger issue

Speculation over whether the alleged DA ‘sex ring’ exists or not – and the political implications – obfuscates the more serious issue at hand: what becomes of the victims of sexual misconduct in various organisations.

When politicians are in disagreement, it can be difficult to understand their logic, and the real issues become obscured. In the ensuing fracas, a real and worrisome issue sometimes emerges, which cannot and should not be ignored.

As the Democratic Alliance prepares for its election, allegations of a ‘sex ring’ have emerged. These allegations should not be ignored, not for the obvious reason of ascertaining whether or not they are true, but because they point to a real human issue – one that does not always enjoy the lengthy discussion it deserves, and which is often pushed into civil society. And that is the matter of sexual misconduct.

First off, obviously these allegations form some kind of political strategy. The timing is just a little too perfect. But be that as it may, they cannot just be dismissed.

The writer of the email in question will no doubt unfortunately not be taken seriously. The accuracy of the contents has become a secondary question rather than a fundamental one. This is owing to the manner in which the information was distributed. It comes at a time when the party is heading towards internal elections. This is the first thing that undermines this email.

There is evidently a lack of interest, however, in the area of justice and equality for those women who are trapped in the so-called sex ring in the DA. The writer’s primary interest is to make sure that those standing for election do so with their reputations compromised. This makes the email lack a certain virtue. The fact that it is also nameless means that the writer is not interested in championing this cause. A cause without a champion is no different from the many stories of injustice that make the rounds every day.

My approach to this point might seem like an attack on the messenger rather than dealing with the message. However, my greatest response to this email is in fact a great sadness. I am sad because the writer refuses to see beyond his or her own nose. The plight of women in many industries is so serious that it should not be used as a tool to score political points. So often we hear of women, and sometimes men, having to consider offering their bodies in order to get a job or the promotion that they deserve. This is a very real struggle; a very real injustice.

It could be said that the writer of the email is indeed virtuous by making these alleged facts known to the public. However, the manner in which this has been done and the response it will receive may well deter those persons who really ought to be registering their plight in the workplace or any other place, for that matter.

For many people who are exploited in any way, it is difficult to find the courage to share their experiences. Many of them doubt that they will be believed. They look at themselves against those who have victimised them and they find that they are lacking in confidence or popularity. When someone has found the courage to share their experience it is because they are on a path towards healing and transformation within a system that has failed to protect them. What the writer of the email has done is akin to throwing a pack of cards in the air with the hope that they will land in a decent pile. That is not going to happen. The persons named in that email are not going to step down from their nomination, nor are they going to be asked to. This means that the email is destined for the shredding machine, whether its contents are true or not. The real sadness is that that story of this email will discourage someone who really needs to speak.

This story is of particular interest to me because I am a Catholic cleric. We have seen many people emerge and share some of the most heinous crimes against them committed by persons in the Church. It has taken many of these people years and even decades to come forward and share their story.

However, this is not just a story of the Church, but of many human institutions, starting with the family to schools and hospitals; from the factories to the fields, this experience exists. There is also a good number of people who will never share their story because it would alter so many people’s lives.

I wonder if the manner in which the email was circulated points to an absence of structures in many institutions, where people can lodge whatever complaint they have without feeling they will not be heard or understood. We (the Church) have had to set up clear protocols for misconduct with regards to children and vulnerable adults, and also protocols for adults. These protocols are not just binding for priests, but also for all people in the Church’s employ, from teachers in our schools to the gardeners on our properties.

Specific people are put in place as safeguarding officers in all parishes and schools, so that should there be a formal complaint or even suspicion, the matter can be taken up both internally and externally through the proper legal channels. Such has been our learning from experience. It is my belief that such processes should be in place in all institutions. There is so much that is taken for granted in our institutions. For example, the people who are tasked with dealing with safeguarding and issues with regards to sexual misconduct are often people who are the very colleagues of those who perpetrate such crimes. In many cases those in charge choose to respond with great suspicion in order to protect their friends. Therefore many such cases begin to expire and the persons who have found the courage to make their complaint are victimised for doing so. Even if those cases are dealt with properly, those who have been victims still suffer tension amongst colleagues in their workplaces, because they are responsible for their friends being fired.

Perhaps I have taken this issue a bit too far in my analysis, but these are issues about people’s lives. Some people struggle daily with these issues. This is unfair to the plight of the many who are victims who need to find a voice. If it is untrue, then it is also unfair to those whom it labels as members of this sex ring in the Democratic Alliance. Whatever the case, this story should serve to educate people that it takes courage to stand in truth as a victim and make your plight known. I believe it also helps to attach your name to a complaint or comment that shows that you are prepared to see it through. That is bravery. DM

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