Letters to the editor: October 13 to 19 2017

A woman prays at the Nizamiye Masjid in Midrand. Despite the rainbow nation’s liberal values, the rights of Muslim women are elided in South African marriage law. (Daniel Born/Gallo Images/The Times)

A woman prays at the Nizamiye Masjid in Midrand. Despite the rainbow nation’s liberal values, the rights of Muslim women are elided in South African marriage law. (Daniel Born/Gallo Images/The Times)

DA fails Muslim women

When most people get married divorce is the furthest thing from their minds, but life happens and many get to say “See you in court!” But not if you are a Muslim woman in South Africa.

Doesn’t sound right, does it?

Why wouldn’t a Muslim woman go to court and claim a fair share of the marital estate and papgeld for her children? This is South Africa, after all, and we have the best Constitution in the world.

As a new Democratic Alliance councillor, I was particularly looking forward to attending a march organised by the party to the high court in solidarity with Muslim women.

I am a Muslim — but I also know that women and children are the most vulnerable — and anything to protect their rights is always worth my support.

I was bitterly disappointed to find out that the march was cancelled simply because the party wants to remain “apolitical about religion”.

What does that even mean?

This is not purely a religious issue, but a human rights’ issue. Therefore, as a political party, you do not get to be apolitical when women and children’s rights are being trampled on.

The DA is home to many special interest groups, which I fully support. This includes laudable support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) issues. If the DA can march for LGBTI rights, then why not for other sometimes controversial issues? Why can’t I get the same support — as a Muslim woman — when my sisters, mothers and their children need it the most?

While many welcome and celebrate the new law that the National Assembly has passed — which means parents who do not pay maintenance won’t be blacklisted and blocked from getting credit, or even faced with jail time — Muslim women are still waiting to be recognised as the wives that they are.

You might ask: “Why can’t they just go to home affairs to register their marriage?”

Well, for many years the Marriage Act 25 of 1961 specified that a marriage should be between a man and a woman, which meant that polygamous marriages were disregarded.

Democracy was won and there was a push to recognise customary marriages that allow for polygamous marriages to be recognised under law, but Muslim marriages were left out.

This means, as a Xhosa woman, I can walk into any village and find a husband and all is well. But, if I happen to be of Muslim faith, I am opening up myself to a “vat ’n sit” situation for the rest of my life, unless I go to home affairs.

Why is that not just an option, but a must, for us Muslim women if we want protection?

As a Muslim woman — who also happens to be Xhosa — I find this to be very undemocratic. I have a right to choose who or what I pray to, and who I marry, but if things go wrong the courts will throw me out with no access to housing or a divorce settlement.

Can you imagine living your life with a man for years only be told that your marriage never existed and, therefore, you cannot be granted your rights as a divorced woman?

It is time for the DA, as the liberal voice and the party committed to freedom and fairness, to show leadership on this matter.

What would Helen Suzman say? — Zimkhitha Sulelo

Fair elections need strong institutions

As the Kenyan (I am Kenyan) re-election day looms after the annulling of the results of the recent elections by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), I have been reassessing the value of voting.

Elections do play an important role in democracy as the right to vote gives citizens the power and choice to elect their desired representatives.

But aren’t we overrating elections? Shouldn’t we put more emphasis on building and defending strong, independent and credible institutions? I mean, how can Kenyans (as a case study) have free and fair elections if the body tasked with that mandate is not above reproach?

The Kenyan judiciary, on the other hand, the six SCA judges — “wakora” if you like — in particular, staffed with men and women worth their salt make the case for the need for exemplary establishments.

The importance of strong, independent and credible institutions is akin to knowing that, despite the vicissitudes of life, the sky will always be above one’s head and the earth under one’s feet. Such institutions ensure life continues as normal as possible in spite of the uncertainties of life in general and the tricks of politics in particular.

Voting should be secondary to having credible, independent bodies. If Kenyans or Africans in general have to have a true sense of normalcy, security, stability, peace and prosperity, then institutions with integrity should take their rightful place in the order of things — and take a primary role to voting. — Mike Idagiza, Katlehong

SAPS: We will never betray our people

There is always an added responsibility to those who are held with high regard by the community to never betray the trust they have on them. Indeed the voice of Dr Johan Burgeris held in high esteem by the community, therefore that power must never be abused.

Army members are trained to go to war, therefore there is always the danger that when they are deployed in communities for long periods of time, that there will be certain violations,” said Burger.

“While they are supposed to receive training on police rules and conduct before they go into a community, they may find themselves in a situation where they do not have the experience to handle it correctly,” he continued.

Burger may be forgiven if he had taken a holiday outside the country in 2015, during operation Fiela. But that could be difficult to forgive in someone who prides himself as a security expert — he ought to know better. It is not certain if colleagues of Burger’s cared to share with him, while he was on holiday, that there was no danger posed to communities, and neither did our people have complaints about the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

I am not sure who said the SANDF will be deployed for a long time as the “the good doctor” suggests, or perhaps Burger is also a sangoma who threw stones and predicted the deployment period of the SANDF members.

“The other danger is that when you deploy a whole lot of young men into a community where there are young women, we’ve seen in other places in Africa that it doesn’t take long for complaints to surface. It’s not an ideal situation.”

So “the good doctor” honestly thinks that young men who sworn to defend this country, who have been deployed in many parts of our continent for peacekeeping missions, are a bunch of sexually hungry men who will rape young women at first sight? Since the dawn of democracy, our SANDF members have never betrayed our people on that scale. What exactly is he opposing here?

“However, the Constitution and the Defense Act make provision for the deployment of the SANDF members to support the South African Police Service (SAPS) when deemed necessary. There are strict prerequisites for this.”

Finally someone whispered to “the good doctor” that indeed the Defence Act makes provision for the deployment of the SANDF to support SAPS. It is amazing that the article was written or published. I can only conclude that “the good doctor” wanted to send a wrong message to readers that he suspects SANDF members will go on a rampage and rape young women.

We therefore have a duty to inform all readers that we have absolute trust in the level of the SANDF members’ professionalism, and that they will never betray our people. Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula does not interact with South Africans through the media alone; he also interacts with them through izimbizo and organised mass meetings. One clear message from the community is: “Mbalula, do something! Criminals have taken over our streets!”

I therefore invite “the good doctor” to join the minister in these izimbizo and listen to the plight of our people. — Vuyo Mhaga, Ministry of Police spokesperson

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