Why does Parliament continue to protect women abusers?

By Jen Thorpe

On September 14th 2017, Mduduzi Manana, former Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, pleaded and was found guilty of three charges of assault. While he resigned from his post as Deputy Minister of Higher Education, he remains a Member of Parliament.

Manana still an MP, despite being a women abuser.

Prior to his guilty plea, On 24th August 2017, the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) submitted a complaint to the Acting Registrar of Members Interests in Parliament, and to the members of the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests.

The Women’s Legal Centre submitted the complaint in terms of clause of the Code of Ethical Conduct and Disclosure of Members’ Interests, which applies to all Members of Parliament. The Code outlines the minimum ethical standards of behaviour that can be expected from public representatives. It holds Members of Parliament to the values of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, openness, honesty, and leadership by example.

In terms of the Code, this complaint must be investigated by the Registrar and the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests. The WLC argued that by perpetrating an acts of violence against women Mr Manana has breached the Constitution, his oath of office, and the Code of Ethical Conduct. As Mr Manana is bound by the above obligations, so are the Members of the Joint Committee on Ethical Conduct and Disclosure of Members’ Interests, and all the Members of the National Assembly.

In terms of the Code the National Assembly has the authority/power to decide on the appropriate sanction to be imposed on a Member of Parliament who has breached the Code. In these circumstances, the WLC were of the view that the appropriate sanction is the dismissal of Mr Manana as a Member of Parliament. The Committee will meet tomorrow, 1 November, to discuss this complaint.

Usually meetings of the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests are closed, however this is not a requirement of the current rules of Parliament. In fact, it is up to the discretion of the committee. The WLC has thus asked that as this meeting is a matter of public interest, the meeting be held open. This request has been supported by Sonke Gender Justice.

Whether the meeting will be open or closed has not yet been announced.

Parliament a repeat offender in not addressing women abuse 

Yet, this is not the first time that a Member of Parliament has been accused of violence against women. Thus far, Parliament has not issued a clear message against having violent abusers as Members of Parliament.

In 2015, the Sowetan reported that the Chairperson of the Select Committee tasked with dealing with women’s issues in the NCOP, Jihad Mohapi Mohapi, was responsible for beating an ex-girlfriend. Also in 2015, the DA confirmed that a charge of sexual harassment had been laid against a DA Deputy Shadow Minister, unnamed in the article, in Parliament for forcing a woman to touch his crotch during a protest. In 2013, charges were laid against then EFF spokesperson, now member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature Patrick Sindane, for participating in the gang rape of a sex worker.

There has not been a statement on these abuses, and at least two of these men continue to occupy their positions.

Parliament’s resolutions on gender-based violence a mystery for South Africans

For many years, Parliament has held a women’s parliament, or a version thereof, each August. Each one of these events involves the making of resolutions about addressing gender-based violence.

Each year, a report is produced, but this report is not publicly available online, making tracking Parliament’s resolutions around gender-based violence impossible to do. To date, it’s not clear that any comment on violent Members of Parliament has ever been included in these reports.

What next?

The inner workings of Parliament are of course only known to those who work there. But from the outside, it’s not clear that Parliament is committed to holding Members accountable.

It’s not clear what decision Parliament will take tomorrow on Manana, but what is clear is that Parliament needs to do more to address a culture of silence surrounding violent MPs, and to make a clear statement on holding violent men accountable. Without this clear statement their annual 16 Days of Activism events will seem even hollower than usual.



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