Forget the skirt, arrest the fashion police

This post was originally posted on the Mail and Guardian Thoughtleader platform, and has been reproduced here with permission of the authors (detailed at the end of the post)

If Lindiwe Mazibuko and Angie Motshekga appear poles apart politically, there is one reality they have shared socially — being subjected to public sexist insults.

Mazibuko’s case is only the latest in a number of public incidents where women are dismissed on the basis of body, age and dress — that age old language of reminding women that even when we have earned our right to leadership, we are not truly to be taken seriously in the public sphere.

This kind of belittling manifests itself even more aggressively in public spaces outside the plush carpets of Parliament. Too often these scenes play out in our taxi ranks where black women are punished for owning their bodies.

The pattern of crowd subjecting the woman to humiliation is remarkably similar. Like in the taxi rank, the scene had its ring leaders (‘bra Manamela and ‘ta Jeffery), cheering spectators, mostly older women (imbokodo), who watched as the patriarchs disciplined the wayward woman who is, in their eyes, a perpetual minor.

But this letter is not about Mazibuko.

It is about all black women. From the taxi rank to the Parliament women are subjected to sexist insults and are undermined regardless of their position and role as leaders. Respect is now reserved for men, some defended on the basis of their so-called “eldership” rather than political office.

Potso ke hore: tlhompho le thlomphano ke eng? Re botsa hore re utloisise hore na baholo ba reng ha ba re Lindiwe Mazibuko o hloka tlhompho. Tlhompho le tlhomphano tsebong ea rona ke tlama-thata; baholo ba bonts’a tlhompho ho baena hore baena ba tsebe tlhompho ea ho itlhompha le ho ba hlompha.

Ngabe abafazi inhlonipho ayibafanelanga na? Ngoba kutheni thina siyaqhizwa esidlangalaleni?

Kwezinye intsuku kuthiwa sityebe okwee “mvumbu” okanye okwee “ndlovu”. Ngenye sithi sibukele umabonakude sibone iibloomers zabafazi sivezwa esidlangalaleni.

Lusikizi olu.

Nontsizi Mgqwetho rightly proclaimed that “asinak’ukuthula umhlaba ubolile” (we cannot keep quiet while the world is rotting); in this case, we cannot keep silent because the decay is playing itself on our bodies.

Njengo kuba sinibeke pha ePalamente, asinibekelanga ukuba nichithe ixesha ne mali yethu niphikisana ngeempahla zethu bafazi. As former police commissioner Bheki Cele once said — stop playing fashion police, just do your jobs!

Signed by:

Nomalanga Mkhize (lecturer, history, Rhodes University).
Mathe Maema (PhD candidate, computer science, Rhodes University).
Babalwa Magoqwana (lecturer, sociology, Rhodes University).
Siphokazi Magadla (lecturer, politics, Rhodes University).

* We have chosen to write the letter in three languages, English, Sotho and Xhosa. We do so because we believe that as feminists, specifically black feminists, we lose the debate even before we start if we use English. We need to be able to articulate this feminism in our own languages. We also wish to respond in a language that the people involved will understand. Thus we are not willing to translate the message into English. In this country, it should be easy for the English speakers to find someone to translate the bits they do not understand. This is an act that all other South Africans do on a daily basis, translating English into their languages. The reverse should also be possible and not peculiar.

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