SA Elections 2009 – Sexist slurs

Date: January 1, 1970
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A mix of hard news reporting, features and opinions, these articles chronicle a particularly virulent point in South African politics in the period preceding and following the country’s 2009 general election (Note: “ANCÀ refers to South Africa’s ruling African National Congress while “ANCYLÀ refers to its youth league)

  • Articles analuysed:
  • “Sexwale to be investigated, Malema next?,” Mail & Guardian, 28 January
  • “’What women want is taxi money,’ says Julius
  • “It’s an outrage…,” Mail & Guardian, January 30 to February 5 2009
  •  “Court may put brakes on motormouth Malema,” The Star, 13 May 2009
  • “ANC ‘astounded’ by Zille jibe at Zuma,” Buisness Day, 13 May 2009
  • “ANC steps away from youth slurs,” The Citizen, 14 May 2009
  • “Human Rights Commission concerned at mud-slinging,” The Citizen, 14 May 2009
  •  “Cope fingers Helen, ANCYL,” The Citizen, 14 May 2009
  • “Zille ‘running a Cape Bantustan,’” 14 May 2009
  • “ANCYL stands by its attack on Zille,” The Star, 15 May 2009
  • “Political decency defaced by sexual slurs,” BuisnessDay, 15 May
  • “Mud-slinging politicians disregard pledge of unity,” The Times, 15 May 2009
  • “Zille takes out her claws!,” Sunday Sun, 17 May 2009
  • “We can do better than this,” Mail & Guardian, May 15 to 21 2009
 These articles may be used to:
  • highlight the different formats within media that can be used to spark discussion on gender issue
  • examine the subtext of sexist slurs;
  • debate media’s role in advancing gender agenda and promoting justice.
Trainers’ notes:
In the run-up to South Africa’s general elections in 2009 as well as in the period immediately following it, politicians from all sides of the political divide began using sexist slurs as their tools of choice to attack opposition.
Although gender issues are often sidelined in mainstream news, in this case the over-the-top nature of the slurs coupled with their subjects’ public roles meant there was no shortage in coverage on the sexist slurs hurled during this period. See “’What women want is taxi money,’ says Julius; “Sexwale to be investigated, Malema next?;” “ANC ‘astounded’ by Zille jibe at Zuma,”)
What facilitated this sustained coverage (roughly four months) was not only the audacity of the remarks, their speaker’s high profiles and the public outrage, but also the multiplicity of the different kinds of stories journalists were able to produce once the initial hard news of the comments themselves had broken. Here are some of the creative ways journalists used to not only flesh out the fully story, for instance gender disparities that were the subtext beneath many of the slurs but also to keep gender issues in the limelight for longer:
  • Hard News: These pieces coincided with the actual incidents in which slurs were said. (See “’What women want is taxi money,’ says Julius,” and “ANCYL stands by its attack on Zille”) Just as important if not more so, these pieces also appeared as speakers dealt with the formal consequences of their comments.  See: “Sexwale to be investigated, Malema next?;” “Court may put brakes on motormouth Malema;” and “Human Rights Commission concerned at mud-slinging”) 
  • Follow-ups like reaction pieces and letters to the editor: These included reaction from the general high-profile segments of South African society that were not necessarily gender experts such as political parties and trade unionists trade unionists, (See “ANC steps away from youth slurs;” “ANC ‘astounded’ by Zille jibe at Zuma;” and “COPE fingers Helen, ANCYL).
    Papers then took these reaction pieces one-step closer to the public, choosing to publish public reaction to the slurs they found voiced in letters to the paper, usually called “letters to the editor.” (See: “It’s an outrage…” Also an example and “Mud-slinging politicians disregard pledge of unity”)
  • Expert commentary and editorials: Media can sometimes choose to provide their audiences with context or sensitisation on a sensitive subject by introducing expert commentaries whether as part of stories, commentaries or editorials. (See “It’s outrageous…” Political decency defaced by sexual slurs,” “ANCYL stands by its attack on Zille;” and “We can do better than this”)
Sexist slurs – like racial slurs – often have their basis in inequality and stereotypes. When ANCYL president Julius Malema says the woman who accused President Jacob Zuma of rape “had a nice time,” he undermines the seriousness of her allegations. When he says women who “have a nice time (during sex) will wait until the sun comes our, request breakfast and ask for taxi money (before leaving),” he is touching both perceptions about women’s sexuality and economic status. When ANC national executive committee member Tokyo Sexwale accuses old women of witchcraft, he is speaking about the marginalisation both social and economic of women, particularly of those living alone. When Helen Zille attacks a man of colour and calls him a womaniser, she reinforces gender and racial stereotypes that often link colour to promiscuity.
These sexist slurs reinforce the gender inequality that results in the re-victimisation of rape survivors by, for instance, law enforcement, as well as socio-economic power dynamics that underlie aspects of gender-based violence and the marginalisation that results in the vigilante mob-violence targeting of “the other” such as old women or immigrants. Every day, at least four South African women die as a result of gender-based violence, according to the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, a gender-based violence advocacy and research facility that provides legal resources to survivors. With rates like these, sexist slurs fuel already deadly dynamics.
Discussion questions
  • Do you believe media is supposed to be unbiased? If so, how does this relate to pushing certain human rights-based agendas such as that of gender? Does this comprise media’s objectivity?
  •  What, if any, is the role of media to advocate for gender equality? What impact does this have on society and governance?
  • Do we have different expectations of female and male politicians when it comes to gender-awareness? Would you be more shocked if a woman was gender blind than is a man was? If a male leader promoted gender equality more strongly than a female counterpart? Are these realistic? Are these perceptions themselves informed by stereotypes?
 Training exercises:
  • Find out if stereotypes and sexist slurs happen in media itself, for instance TV or radio shows or advertising. Look for examples around you, remembering that these may be subtler than those discussed here and may be more evident in the portrayal of men and women.
  • Investigate what is done in your country to sensitise law enforcement and justice to survivors of gender-based violence. Are officers trained how to deal with rape survivors? How often are these cases taken to court? How often do they result in convictions? Are their specialised courts to deal with survivors who are underage?
  • Conduct interviews with the woman and man on the street. How common are sexist slurs in the lives of people and how do they affect them?
Other Training Resources
Click here and search theme "Elections" for more related GL Commentaries. 

Download : Sexwale to be investgated, Malema next
Download : Court may put brakes on motormouth Malema
Download : ANC steps away from youth slurs0001
Download : Human Rights Commission concerned at mud-slinging
Download : COPE fingers Helen, ANCYL
Download : Political decency defaced by sexual slurs
Download : Zille takes out her claws!0001
Download : We can do better than this0001

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