Leaders must walk the talk of gender equality

Leaders must walk the talk of gender equality

Date: September 7, 2017
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By Colleen Lowe Morna

Johannesburg 5 September:  What is of interest to the public is not necessarily in the public interest: that is one way of looking at the recent titillating revelations concerning Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s alleged extra marital affairs.

If he were in France, where the prevailing view is that the private lives of leaders are just that, the Sunday Independent allegations of multiple infidelities would likely be relegated to the back pages.

If he were in the US, where every detail of a presidential hopeful’s life is scrutinised, there would likely be a whole lot more investigation into the unanswered questions arising from the E Mails with eight women whom Ramaphosa claims to be supporting financially with no explanation as to why that should involve volumes of intimate exchanges.

He is in South Africa, where he was chief architect of one of the most democratic constitutions in the world, one of the few that claims gender equality as a corner stone, and the only one that recognises sexual orientation and identity. I propose we set a new standard in South Africa of where to draw the line between private and public. To the extent that private conduct reflects where a leader stands on women’s rights it is in the public interest. Leaders must show us that they walk the talk of gender equality and of all values in the Constitution.

Many have argued on social media that it is hypocritical to rip into Ramaphosa while we are led by a President who narrowly escaped rape charges, is a polygamist, and self-confessed philanderer. This misses the point. On the gender score, and now many others, Jacob Zuma should never have been president of one of the world’s newest democracies that won its freedom on some of the highest ethical standards around. Let us not lower the bar as we seize the window of opportunity for new leadership in 2019.

Ramaphosa has dismissed the allegations as a smear campaign using state resources because he has spoken out on corruption. He admits that he had an affair with a doctor eight years ago but has “dealt with that” with his wife and now has a professional relationship with the woman. He has not denied the existence of the E Mails (though he says they may have been “doctored”, no details on how.)

Ramaphosa denies that he is a “blesser.” Why is a presidential hopeful let alone the mainstream media even using the biblical term that has been twisted to refer to older men who give young women material returns for sexual favours?  Why do we persistently fail to recognise or question the obvious power dynamics at play in a deeply patriarchal society where poor young women (the “blessed”!) are easy prey to rich and powerful men?

Many other questions remain unanswered and the media is not pursuing them. Ramaphosa has a foundation for supporting the personal development of under privileged South Africans. Why is that foundation not the one conducting the communication with the women students he is supporting? Why three E Mail addresses under pseudonyms? Why does he conduct personal communication with the women and not the men he is supporting? Is this professional conduct for a philanthropist not to mention presidential candidate?

Ramaphosa says he and his wife are supporting 34 women and 20 men. Why? Is that because women have been historically disadvantaged and this is his way of promoting gender equality? If so, why not come out with a strong statement on what he as president would do to promote gender equality, the most important political and social revolution of our time post- apartheid? Where was Ramaphosa during the fifth anniversary of the Marikana massacres that involved one of his mining companies? What did he have to say to the widows? What is he doing for them?

These are the sorts of questions we need to be putting not just to Ramaphosa, but to all presidential hopefuls. Among the line up in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe who recently apologised for sending an SMS to a woman staffer asking for a picture of her clitoris! He also commented most inappropriately at a march on gender violence that included women’s right to wear mini-skirts he likes women in mini-skirts. When will we wake up the fact that sexist comments that relegate women to objects for the pleasure of men have no place in our democracy!

We scored a small victory during women’s month when former Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana resigned after the storm of protest following his assaulting of three young women in a night club on a Saturday evening airing their views on the succession battle. His boss President Zuma did not fire him, it took him several days to do the right thing, and he is still refusing to step down as a member of parliament. But as the first ever instance in South Africa in which a powerful man has had to pay the price for gender misconduct, this is a new standard we need to take to a higher level.

For the first time in South Africa’s history, there are three women in the presidential line up. These include speaker Baleka Mbete, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sizulu and the former African Union Chair, foreign affairs, health and home affairs minister Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma.

Ramaphosa’s main rival Dlamini-Zuma rightly makes the point that she should be judged on her merits, as a minister under Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, not as the former wife of Jacob Zuma whom she divorced many years ago. But she has failed to distance herself from Zuma’s public endorsement of her candidature; failed to pronounce herself on state capture and corruption and failed to put forward a blue print for women’s empowerment under her leadership.

It is not good enough to jump on the bandwagon of “now is the time for a woman president.” This election must not be about jobs for the girls, but gender equality for the nation. Can any one of the candidates out there tell us how that will be achieved? We the electorate are hungry for a real debate on the issues, and for leaders who lead by example – personally and professionally. (Colleen Lowe Morna is CEO of Gender Links)

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