South Africa: Sowetan furore casts shadow over Women’s Month

Date: August 5, 2011
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I am confused and disappointed about the public discourse and happenings in this special August month of women.

I have just come back energised from a meeting of more than 1000 women from all over South Africa convened by the Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. At this meeting women were acknowledging how far we have come as a nation in making our constitution a lived constitution where human dignity, equality, freedoms and rights are promoted and protected. They also boldly stated where the system failed them whilst committing to participating in their own empowerment and in nation-building.

In this month of August the dignity, rights and freedoms of women are being celebrated. We remember the role played by the women of 1956, our pioneers in standing for women’s dignity in South Africa. We celebrate many more sisters who have gone and those who live and work tirelessly in boardrooms, in homes, in villages, at workplaces to build a better South Africa. We are in solidarity with many sisters who continue to receive a raw deal in our society.

In this regard I am confused and saddened by Eric Miyeni’s attack on Ferial Haffajee in the Sowetan newspaper on the first day of Women’s Month.

I am also saddened because I have a deep respect for the Sowetan and its legacy in the struggle for justice in South Africa.

May I say upfront that the merits of the issue concerning the Malema family trust are not a subject of my concern here. South Africa has enough institutions to deal with such matters whilst respecting peoples’ dignity and rights. Malema is no different.

I do, however, wish to register my concern on the overt and subliminal sexist and racist attack on Haffajee as a person rather than the newspaper at which she works. To crown it all, Miyeni’s referencing of the act of necklacing has brought back memories I do not wish to remember.

As Justice Malala and Mondli Makhanya, stated in the Sowetan, necklacing was the most painful history of our nation. By the way, many South Africans live with vivid memories and trauma of being actors or being exposed to necklacing. Am I wrong that the first victim of the necklace was an African woman? Those days there were not even courts to declare people innocent or guilty.

I remain with questions: Would Miyeni have been so angry had a male colleague published the story? Could he not have articulated his views and anger and challenged Haffajee of the City Press in a manner that still respects her dignity?

I believe strongly that ladies and gentlemen of the media are very powerful and that anything they say or do impacts on society, especially young people. As a mother and a grandmother I want my children to learn to tackle issues robustly but not demean other people and I plead with Miyeni to use his intellect and gift to project that type of journalism.

I want my children to use their freedom of expression in the knowledge that ours is a constitutional state. I want my children to know that our past violent society left permanent scars and that the future is in building social cohesion in a society that still remains divided on racial, sexist, ethnic, class and many other “issues” where violence against the “other” is still prevalent.

I want my kids to “imagine” and work towards a non-racial and non-sexist society. Patriarchy lives and its effect is felt by women of South Africa every day as they face physical and psychological abuse through rape, poverty, discrimination, unemployment and carrying many burdens of society. Ours is to work collectively to eradicate these social evils.

Let us all, Haffajee and Miyeni included, continue to ask ourselves how we can exercise our profession in spirit of Ubuntu.

Remember the millions who trust you and believe in you as the media.

Thoko Mpumlwana is the Deputy Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of South Africa. This article was written in her personal capacity and is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service special series for Women’s Month.



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