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President Ramaphosa, Gender-Based Violence and Xenophobia: Engage the Transformation Sector

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex. He is the author of ‘You Have To Be Gay To Know God’ (Kwela Books, 2018), which won the Desmond Tutu-Gerrit Brand Literary Prize. Follow him on @SKhumalo1987 (Insta and Twitter), or like his Facebook page With Siya Khumalo.

It is not a coincidence that violence broke out this week against women and perceived foreigners simultaneously. It's Scapegoating 101 as the economy tanks.

If [Cyril Ramaphosa] does not disclose who donated to him simply because he believes the law does not require him to do so,” wrote Ralph Mathekga on CR17’s election campaign funding, “he will have to live with the speculation that he might in the future be beholden to powerful special interests” or, in Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s words, “captured in advance”.

Interest groups closest to Ramaphosa could crowd out citizens’ call for decisive leadership through South Africa’s two acute crises: xenophobic violence in CBDs and the horrendous spike in reports of violence against women and children. The matched timing of these emergencies isn’t coincidence.

Ramaphosa’s own transition from unionist to mining boss wasn’t without violence — remember Marikana — but he’s conformed to the letter of the law. This makes him attractive to rent-seekers who are experts at dog-whistling that pro-transformation, pro-regulation, pro-society voices are incompetent and corrupt; conversely, they’re brilliant at casting politicians who give them free rein as the best thing since Jesus Christ.

Without letting rapists and xenophobes off the hook, let’s understand that violence is about power, status and/or resources, as well as the inability to distinguish real challenges from imaginary enemies (which is aggravated by the utterances of xenophobic politicians).

In the words of author Sukoluhle Nyathi, “There is a negative correlation between the performance of the South African economy and xenophobic violence. When the economy is not performing, xenophobic violence escalates. The reverse is [also] true.” It’s scapegoating 101. Just weeks after hearing about rising unemployment and slow transformation, this happens. And Ramaphosa’s job, let’s face it, is massaging investment out of capital while insulating said capital from fulfilling their moral duty to exchange cost-externalising for engaging communities more reciprocally.

That this violence rarely extends to white foreign nationals and settlers (and I’m not saying it should) means the colonial status quo bought itself time in 1994. “In every society, in every collectivity, exists — must exist — a channel, an outlet through which the forces accumulated in the forms of aggression can be released,” wrote Franz Fanon, arguing that catharsis purges the self-loathing of the colonised by returning the violence of the coloniser. The reasons violence hasn’t escalated to that level in South Africa are thinning out.

People don’t always locate the explanation for their struggles in “invisible market forces”; they locate them in invisible forces they can comprehend (superstition: witchcraft) or in a visible “other”. In Adri Basson’s words, “It is always easier to ‘live and let live’ when the pie is big enough for everyone to get a generous slice. The moment you are competing for resources, it is ‘us’ and ‘them’. What determines who the ‘them’ is, is normally a mixture of urban legend, mob mentality and the most persuasive politician of the day’s agenda. It could be the Jews, the Mexicans, the blacks, the Somalis, the women, whatever fits the narrative.”

In You Have To Be Gay To Know God I pointed out that the cultural symbol for status and wealth (izinkomo, cattle) is also a word for tokens in board games, and a euphemism for female genitalia. There’s a reason men use the same expression (e.g. “ngidlile”) when they’ve eaten, won a game or had sex. A psychologist once explained that babies experience even brief separations from their primary source of nourishment as the trauma of exile from the pleasure principle, which, at that age, doesn’t come with an independent back story and existence.

You’d think men would outgrow this. They could, and they should. Instead, they’re socialised, and they embrace a socialisation, that teaches them to find their emotional existence in conquering enemies, possessions and women. Our laws are built to facilitate and condone this insofar as they were written to protect the rights of the straight white male colonial-settler master who owns black labourers and female bodies, and in whose image black men have sought to reinvent themselves ever since Ramaphosa and Co first showed what “transformation” could do for black men and their egos.

Yes, hold men accountable for their behaviour. But also, economically empower black women because intimate-partner gender-based violence is exacerbated by financial dependence on men. In an intervention on how political power could be leveraged to empower women and minimise gender-based violence, Marianne Thamm wrote, “There is enough legislation including the Commission on Gender Equality Act (1996), the Skills Development Act (1998), the Employment Equity Act (1998) and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (2000).” These all dovetail with the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act.

A return to an emphasis on broad would go far in exorcising the whiff of the cognac-swirling, cigar-smoking, Cubaña-frequenting black men who believe entitlement to women’s bodies naturally flows from their wealth status. And let’s face it: every man who has not become that has been marginalised in our societies.

Part of the challenge is transforming the transformation sector from its status as a box-ticking law-compliance machine to one that lays the socio-economic foundation of a wholesome South Africa where the contribution of genuine value trumps acquisition, materialism, and their end-result: conquest, violence and dominance.

This means (for example) redirecting their corporate social investment towards funding civil litigation on behalf of victims of sexual abuse.

And praying. DM


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