Kameel Premhid

We should all care about sexism

Kameel Premhid

Kameel Premhid

By Kameel Premhid 

If you know much about Twitter, you will know what trolls are. For those that don’t, they are (usually) faceless, anonymous people, hiding behind their Twitter and social media accounts. They spew out the most atrocious opinions parading as public opinion that you will ever see.

A few months ago, these trolls took to defaming Lindiwe Mazibuko, saying the vilest things about her physique. Many people were happy when this distastefulness ceased. Regrettably, Buti Manamela and John Jeffery, both leading ANC MPs, have reduced themselves to the ranks of trolls by attacking Mazibuko along similar lines.

What makes their remarks even less acceptable however, is that Manamela and Jeffery dishonoured the Houses of Parliament by reducing the arena of national discourse to a place where their insults qualify as debate.

Sandy Kalyan MP, the DA’s Deputy Chief Whip, has issued a strong statement condemning the ANC MPs’ behaviour and has called upon the ANC Chief Whip, Dr Mathole Motshekga MP, to bring his colleagues to order. Whether Motshekga will do so will be instructive.

For this is not the first time that the ANC or its acolytes have reduced themselves to engaging in base character assassinations. Not too long ago, it was Mazibuko’s hairstyle that threatened to turn Parliament’s third reading on POSIB into a mud-slinging match. Having watched that debate I would suggest that it did.

Whilst many people will shrug off this latest attack and put it down to unimaginative and unintelligent politicians, it must be identified for what it actually is.

The continuous belittling of Mazibuko and her office, the nasty personalised nature of the attacks against her and the attempts to deride her appearance are a blatant display of the ANC’s chauvinism and misogyny. It stands to reason why: in its 101 year history, the ANC has never had a female leader. Indeed, in the words of the ANCWL, it is not even ready for one.

The attacks against Mazibuko are an illustration of the ANC’s utter contempt for credible female leaders. That Mazibuko is black and a youngster who is not shackled by the ANC’s singular interpretation of history must cause them even more concern. And Mazibuko is not alone. Zille, de Lille and no doubt many other opposition female leaders have had to deal with more than their fair share of criticism.

Tony Leon was detested by some in the ANC and the ANCYL, but the depths to which his opponents sank are lofty heights by comparison.

I have seen some in the media suggest that Mazibuko is an African woman and that explains her curvy-ness. I have even seen some who think that Manamela and Jeffery have a point and that a serious conversation is needed about Mazibuko’s weight. What both fail to realise is that it is none of their business what Mazibuko weighs. Reducing all African woman to having curves is unfair to those that don’t. Those who want to have a serious conversation about obesity in South Africa are holding the wrong person to account (not to mention conveniently ignoring the scores of obese male politicians abound). Mazibuko’s credibility should not be measured by her body mass but rather by her contribution to the development of our country. And if people want something weighty to consider, they should direct themselves to her legacy and nothing else.

Body weight is a personal affair and should be treated as such. It should certainly not be used as proxies for measuring value and worth. Manamela and Jeffery’s latest insults if anything show just how much the ANC has moved away from being the movement it once was. And the ANC is in even greater danger of losing its sense of self if these are the people who are in charge.

Manamela and Jeffery are a sampling of the deeper-set sexism that besets the ANC. All of us, whatever our political beliefs, should be concerned by this. Not only because their sexism against an individual is worthy of opposition, but because their mindset of sexism threatens to fail us all. After all, how do we expect government ministers to tackle poverty and crime (both phenomena which disproportionately detrimentally affect women) when they themselves perpetuate sexist institutional thinking?

Those who came before Manamela, Jeffery and even Zuma staked the ANC’s feminist credentials on the slogan “Wathint‘ Abafazi Wathint‘ imbokodo.” The ANC of today would do well to learn from the ANC of yore.  

This post was originally posted on The Chirp Room 

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