/ 27 August 2012

Zuma to Khanyi: The worst Women’s Month yet

Khanyi Mbau launched her new book this month
Khanyi Mbau launched her new book this month

This week draws to a close the worst women's month ever. Okay, so we've only had three so far, but I think we can safely say we've set the bar pretty high for future generations. Or is that low?

I tried to resist doing a round-up of all the moments that made this such a terrible Women's Month. Really I did. I had already written my bit when the farce that is usually Women's Month kicked off and I didn't want to be a drag. But really, the list has penned itself. Herewith, Women's Month 2012, as brought to you by braindead celebrities, powerful politicians and, of course, the requisite missing-the-point-entirely pastor.

Much has been said about the newly released biography of the hollow and ridiculous Khanyi Mbau, South Africa's so-called Paris Hilton wannabe. But no one has said the obvious, which is that whoever allowed it to be printed should perform harakiri using the paper-thin premise of her story to slit their belly. Referring to her relationships with older men, who gave her money in exchange for owning her, she boasted that she "was tearing down walls. Breaking taboos. Because of me, younger girls now have the confidence to walk around holding hands publicly with their sugar daddies. They're inspired by my story." Insert sarcastic statement here. Any will do when you're working with that sort of material.

Errors Naidoo
You know when something is DOUBLY awful because it was done by one of your own? That. Errol Naidoo is Christian. And Indian. Thank goodness his surname isn't Pillay. In case you hadn't heard, Naidoo is the conservative local pastor who made the bizarre link between the Marikana massacre and feminism, claiming that "abortion-on-demand", driven by radical feminists formed a "culture of death" in South Africa. That's right. It probably had nothing to do with the abysmal poverty and desperation of the forgotten communities in the areas where the Marikana miners came from. It had nothing to do with absent and out-of-touch leaders who failed to listen to people they led.

People like Naidoo make me so angry. They conveniently forget an incredibly important message of the Bible, which speaks to caring for the poor and fighting for social justice. Instead they obsess about the private actions of individuals, dictating certain behaviour to those who have never chosen the underlying beliefs of that behaviour, which one would imagine should be the first step. If Naidoo wanted to make an impact as a Christian he should have gone to Marikana and seen how he could have helped the affected communities and families. Attacking those who believe in women's rights is a cheap and nasty shot. I could write more about this but it's a topic for another time. The real issue here is the continued assault on women – here in the sphere of the church – on the vaguest of pretexts.

Achingly stupid Todd
Then there was American Senate hopeful Todd Akin confidently telling the world that a woman's body apparently knows how to shut down a "legitimate rape". Like Naidoo, he should have won an award for silencing feminists instantly as most didn't even know where to begin with their statements.

(Ok so that last one was an American act of stupidity whereas Women's Month is a South African thing, but still. It sucked.)

Jacob 'All the single ladies' Zuma
Next up we heard our president, Jacob Zuma, opine that it was wrong for women to be single and that having children was "extra training" for a woman. Again, feel free to voice the jokes that are writing themselves at this point. There were no extenuating circumstances. Even in context, it was sad and disturbing to see the leader of our nation so fundamentally misunderstand the issues facing women and families. In a country and continent that is plagued by absent fathers who leave the lives of so many people shattered, he chose to lecture women about motherhood. In a culture where rape, abuse and violence against women is just another fact of life, he told women that it's not good to be single. Suck it up and stay in a relationship. The alternative ain't cool.

There's so much more. What cruel irony it is to hear Helen Moffett tell us this month that a stalwart organisation like the Rape Crisis Centre is close to shutting its doors after 35 years of helping the desperate women our systems have failed, yet get told to "get in line" by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille when they ask for help to keep going. How awful to listen to female journalists covering the Marikana massacre relate how the miners violently told them to stay away before the shootings, threatening to do "unspeakable things" and even to kill them, according to Eyewitness News reporter Gia Nicolaides.

It goes on. And here's the scary part: we only notice it because it's Women's Month when, you know, we're supposed to behave and stuff. And not say what we're thinking.

I, for one, can't wait for September. It speaks of Spring in South Africa, new life and new beginnings. I can only pray that the tide will turn, and that in future we can celebrate Women's Month knowing we are delivering real victories to the most vulnerable women in our country, instead of the casual betrayals and insults that have, frighteningly, become our norm.

  • Verashni is the deputy editor of the M&G online. You can read her column here, and follow her on Twitter here.