“I am not a farmer. I am trying to farm. I am learning. But if you are a woman and you are learning, you are not allowed to make mistakes.”
Thandi Modise, the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, made this statement soon after it was found that pigs on her Modderfontein farm had turned to cannibalism to survive.
Her statement may well ring true. In a society conditioned to judge women too harshly, she may truly believe that because she is a woman she is a bad farmer – or that she is being judged too harshly for erring. It’s sad but it’s true.
In years gone by, incompetent men were hired over competent women, based purely on their sex. Women needed to be exemplary, and come up with multitudes of mentions and accolades on the off chance that they would be awarded leadership positions.
Incompetent men have been filling decision-making roles for centuries. In 2004, a member of the European Union committee for women’s rights, Astrid Lulling, mentioned that incompetence has never barred men from occupying office.
But, if gender equality in office means hiring just as many incompetent women as incompetent men in top positions, then, South Africa, refreshingly, you are there.
So is this really a gender issue? Is Modise pre-empting a sexist situation when there’s none to be had? Because, honestly, the conditions on her farm were beyond a mistake (first) and, second, pigs (and other animals) don’t care what sex you are – or what race you are, for that matter – as long as they’re cared for.
Truth is, man or woman, Modise messed this up. Elaborately. What was necessary here was an admission of that mess-up, a degree of accountability – and not the assumption that this happened (or was excusable) because she is a woman.
Pigs are survivors. George Orwell knew this when he wrote Animal Farm. In the book, two pigs lead a rebellion and drive an irresponsible and drunken farmer, Mr Jones, from the farm. Soon after, they adopt the Seven Commandments of Animalism to guide them but, later, after a new elite has arisen, the commandments are replaced with this: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
Pigs are omnivorous; one of the few animals that will eat and drink almost anything to survive. But if pigs are eating pigs and there are no pigs left, where will the bacon come from?
In the Animal Farm of South Africa, all animals are equal (regardless of sex) – our Constitution mandates it. But the behaviour of politicians and leaders, male or female, seems to imply that they believe they are more equal than others. The pigs on the farm, tarnished character after tarnished character and who continue to run the system, will do almost anything to survive. To remain in power, they summon up excuse after excuse – even if it means playing the race card or, in Modise’s case, almost refreshingly, the sex card.
But this is not a sex issue. It’s a people-in-our-system issue. It’s an animals-on-our-farm issue. And, if they continue to do whatever they can to exonerate themselves, how long before they start eating each other? Who will bring home South Africa’s bacon, then?