I am angry. I’ve been angry for a long time and I didn’t know why, but now my anger is focused. I’m angry because as a teenager I was slut-shamed by my own father for wanting to wear a mini-skirt to a party. I’m angry because nine years ago a man was charged with rape in the South African High Court, and now he is (still!) our president. I’m angry because just last week, SABC Chief Operations Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng was given a cow, a calf and a wife as a gift.
Jacob Zuma was acquitted, but with everything else that he has been involved in and gotten away with, I remain skeptical. How could I not? Motsoeneng himself has also been found suspect of various irregularities, and yet still holds his cushy appointment at the SABC, that stalwart of truth and democracy, where he has been given these gifts for being “committed to his job” and “understand[ing] the strategic objectives of the SABC”. Both these men have been under investigation by our Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, and what a remarkable woman she is. Yet for all she has done, Madonsela has not spoken out against the blatant misogyny perpetrated by these men, in some cases even against her, and that is fine, I don’t blame her. That’s not what’s she’s here to do, she has other fish to fry.
But who is taking a stand against patriarchy on behalf of South African women? Where are our role models? For the life of me, I cannot think of a single popular public figure who is standing up and actively speaking – though really at this point they should be shouting – for basic women’s rights. The right to have agency over your own body is a right we all think we have, and yet every twenty-six seconds in South Africa, that right is taken away from a woman. While that’s happening, the ANC Women’s League, perhaps the most visible women’s rights campaigner, hasn’t organised a proper march for gender issues since 2012 (and even that was a tepid one with little impact). Today it’s satisfied to stand silently next to the families of victims in court, especially when those cases are high profile, such as the Reeva Steenkamp-Oscar Pistorius media circus.
The ANCWL has been criticised for not taking enough action lately, and rightly so. I do not think, however, that the blame lies solely on their shoulders. We ourselves are to blame as well. We are too easily pacified, too happy to sit idly by as statistic after statistic is trotted out before us, as another Anene Booysen case flares up before we lose sight of it in the shadow of the latest episode of Game of Thrones, too happy to participate in a Hashtag Sandstorm-in-a-cup and feel we’ve accomplished something. Are we so removed from the reality of the South African socio-economic and cultural landscape that we genuinely believe this is how we’ll change the world? How long will it take, how many more women will suffer, be humiliated, shamed, blamed, be beaten, will die, before we stand up together and cry “enough is enough!”?