Defend Truth


My Women’s Month bugbear — EskomSePush and the normalisation of gender discriminatory language


Dr Shakira Choonara is an award-winning public health practitioner and activist, and was the 2017 Woman of the Year in Health in South Africa. This piece is written in her personal capacity and represents her personal views only, not those of any entity or organisation.

Up until now, I have never downloaded the EskomSePush app and I won’t until there is a better name for it. The name is a discriminatory insinuation against women and the type of language which drives gender inequality.

It is unlikely that South Africa’s most commonly downloaded and used application, “EskomSePush” aimed at being discriminatory toward women’s private parts, rather, it seems to be centred on technology which involves push notifications for when rolling blackouts will be implemented. 

Regular folk such as you and I would not necessarily know that EskomSePush refers to “push notification technology”. Instead, the majority of us would equate the name with the widely used derogatory term in Afrikaans, “Jou ma se poes”.

Of course, this serves us well, given our frustrations, our economic downturn and the failure of the power utility in the country. For the past two to three years I have seen “Se Poes” trending on twitter/X almost simultaneously to higher stages of rolling blackouts.

Up until now, I have never downloaded the app and I won’t until there is a better name for it. The name is a discriminatory insinuation against women and the type of language which drives gender inequality.

You see, that’s the basis of gender discrimination and unconscious bias, it becomes part of our social fabric, “normalised”, it is accepted and hardly ever questioned, yet the implications are dire — women will continue not to be respected, all things negative will continue to be associated with women. These norms or practices merely continue until there is awareness or social disruption.

Read more in Daily Maverick: EskomSePush wants customers to find their communities

For example, the Cecil John Rhodes statue stood at the University of Cape Town until students protested in 2015.  Similarly, we attend school bound by rules that “African girls’ hair is unruly and should be kept neat”, until Zulaikha Patel had to lead a protest at her school against this. It’s probably the reason Trevor Noah has been rocking his natural hair lately — standing up against societal norms, kudos Trevor, way to go!

A study by cognitive psychologists on Harvard University’s Gender and Action Portal argues that language affects thinking and may lead to exhibited attitudes on gender equality. The study found that people speaking genderless languages, (i.e. languages without references to objects as male or female), may exhibit more gender-equal language about women’s roles in politics and society.

The European Union (EU) Agency, the European Institute for Gender Equality defines gender discriminatory language as “words, phrases and/or other linguistic features that foster stereotypes, or demean or ignore women or men. At its most extreme it fails to treat the genders as equal in value, dignity, integrity and respect”.

Now you may think I am being pedantic and nit-picking, but with the increase to seven million users reported in 2023, I would say that the insinuation of an Eskom and poes has become ingrained in our everyday life, thoughts and language (emails, WhatsApp groups, conversations, social spaces).

I simply ask the question: why must the failure of Eskom and rolling blackouts be linked to women’s private parts? In 1956, women had to stand up against the use of the pass, today we are grappling to address the scourge of gender-based violence, but also the undercurrents, the undetected and normalised harmful gender norms and gender discriminatory language that also shape disrespect and gender inequalities. 

Think about this the next time you easily say or read “EskomSePush” — are we referring to push notifications or “Jou ma se poes?”.

If it’s the latter, something needs to change and immediately, seven million users cannot be accepting of this language. DM 


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Chris VZ says:

    Just because your mind is in the gutter, doesn’t mean the 7 million subscribers to the app are there with you. Best not to paint others with your own brush.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    “If it’s the latter, something needs to change and immediately, seven million users cannot be accepting of this language.”
    And if it isn’t?
    Where is your point of what else needs to change for 65 million people that are being fleeced every single day?

  • Arncarstens says:

    Yip, you said it yourself, pedantic and nit picking. I think it is more troubling that you assume the majority of users of the app cannot determine the difference between “poes” and Push… and of course it’s about push notifications 🙄. This is the kind of drivel that makes people dumber… absolutely pointless.

  • Johan Mynhardt says:

    As an Afrikaans person in tech, this article’s free use of the degratory term is much worse than the app’s title, since the app’s title doesn’t refer to lady parts.

    I’ve also noticed how all the English folk on Twitter love to cuss in Afrikaans, goodness knows why 🙄 And I have to clarify that it’s ladies throwing p-bombs the most on Twitter! (and almost never in the context of ESP)

  • Mark Jacobson says:

    The reactionary comments only show that the writer has touched a nerve. It is bleeding obvious to any South African that “ESP” is a play on “JMSP”. It is the app title that is in despicably poor taste, not the article that is rightly raising the issue.

  • Stuart Hulley-Miller says:

    What a dumb thing to say and still expect to be taken seriously. 7m users and this is the only ‘clever’ one amongst them??

  • andrew phillips says:

    Have we lost our sense of humour? Thanks to the writer for pointing out the association! Now I can have a laugh!

  • Alan Fine says:

    Dr Choonara’s objection to the ESP app’s name is 100% valid. I hope the administrator of the app reads this article and does the appropriate thing about it

  • colin89 says:

    Language can be very complex at times and as the world becomes more PC, language becomes more complex. A harmless word in one language can be offensive in another language. There is another saying in Afrikaans which is also derogatory “Jou ma se m**r”. However saying “Ek gaan jou moer” is a popular saying that is well accepted. A “moer” is also a nut as in a nut and bolt. So how do you walk into a shop and ask for a “moer” without the other meaning crossing your mind.
    It’s rather sad that some people are avoiding the use of one of the most useful Apps in SA – simply because their minds associate the name with something totally different. Its their choice and their loss.

  • sonp56 says:

    What a load of BS. As an Afrikaans-speaking woman I NEVER got offended by the name, so I can only assume you’re speaking on behalf of only a few females who are forever looking at how the male population are always finding ways to insult us poor women. Boo-hoo

  • Samantha September says:

    Ooefff…. country going down the toilet and this is where you decided to draw the line ?

    Shakira writes like the type that complains about Zille’s tweets but would never ever criticize those who actually are in power.

    If you know anything about linguistics you would know you’re completely wrong, language can have a myriad of forms, you can endearingly call someone a c*nt and not be a sexist – but not in Choochienara’s world.

    wake up, open your eyes, relax your Pushy, and take a look at wtf is actually going on in SA!!!

  • Bruce Q says:

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
    The late, great comedian Robin Williams once said: “There is noone more scary than a person with no sense of humour.” – or words to that effect.
    Dr Choonara and the rest of her Cancel Culture zealots are such a small group of self-important windbags. How is it possible that they are given such oxygen in the media?
    The pendulum must begin it’s return to sanity soon, surely?!

  • Karin Swart says:

    I stand corrected, but I think that the app was originally named to show the general frustration with Eskom and loadshedding (and look how bad it is this year!). Though not a name I would have selected (p*es is not part of my own vocabulary), my objection to the name, such as it is, is based on the fact that it includes this particular swear word, not that it equates the failure of Eskom with a woman’s private parts. So as a woman, I do not agree with this article’s main sentiment and consider the author a touch too sensitive or PC.

  • Craig P says:

    Wow, can’t believe Daily Maverick actually publish this nonsense.
    Everyone I know who use this app (including women) find the name a really funny and clever play on words. It’s only the author who’s mind is in the gutter. She is the only one associating an excellent loadshedding app with a woman’s private parts and clearly does not have anything important to concern her time with.

    • William Nettmann says:

      “Everyone I know who use this app (including women) find the name a really funny and clever play on words.” This is exactly the point which the article makes. It has become really funny and clever to use words describing genitalia as derogatory terms. Maybe that is a bad thing.

  • Liz Pattison says:

    I checked to see if this article is satire, and it appears not. It would never have occurred to me that there was a link between the name of an app I use daily and an offensive Afrikaans term. I can only conclude that the author has an extremely filthy mind. In fact, I found her free use of the expression “Jou Ma se…..” extremely offensive. May one suggest that she retracts the article and issues an apology?

  • Alex P says:

    The author could have engaged the app developers to address the history of the name and its rebranding to ESP, intelligently critiquing their decisions along the way. That would have been an interesting read. Instead, she opted to photograph their decade-long labour of love using a monochrome filter of “gender descrimination”. Do better.

  • Christopher Bedford says:

    What a silly, over-sensitive prudish attitude. The author’s hipocrisy would be more at home in the Anerican South, methinks – and just think for a moment about what that says about her conservatism. Sometimes I think the MAGAs were right about “snowflakes”. I’m a liberal lefty but sometimes I just have to roll my eyes at just how militantly stupid the far left can get sometimes.

    That’s one. Two, and probably more importantly, the App has not been call “Eskom se Push” for *YEARS*. It was changed to “EskomSe_” at least 3 years ago, and for at least the last year is has been ESP. An excellent reference to knowing in advance what is going to happen, I think.

    And thirdly, cutting off your nose to spite your face, anyone? ESP was always the best load shedding app (and there have been a few, over the years) – I used to have two or three, in the early years, because they didn’t always agree with each other and you had to manually check the published schedules to be sure. ESP was and has alays been the most accurate, and if ever there is a discrepancy between ESP and what really happens it has been because the Council didn’t update their notifications properly or didn’t stick to their own schedules.

  • Chrisna Geyser says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I not only remember the extreme distaste that I felt when I downloaded the Eskom app, but also the discomfort I felt that once again I , woman, is keeping quiet about something that eats away at my understanding of decency and respect that is violated. Thank you for calling us out!

  • Jeff Bolus says:

    Quite astonishing that this well-written article can produce such a hostile response. I am no prude but support the views expressed by the author. Well said Shakira.

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