Guest Column

Jeff Radebe's sexting scandal points to a larger problem

2017-05-24 15:19

Oliver Dickson

While our Sunday headlines were set a slip by reports of Jeff Radebe being embroiled in a sexting scandal in the Union Buildings, it can’t be missed how familiar this sort of story has become with our political leaders at the centre of it. Importantly, it points to a bigger problem within our public offices, a problem that is, however, not divorced from corporate South Africa either.

While South Africa is lauded the world over for gender parity in its Cabinet (and rightfully so) this can't be extended to key and important positions of leadership. This speaks to why, 23 years into democracy, people often still think we should have debates about “whether South Africa is ready for a female president” as though there’s a special type of readiness that’s required based on the gender of the leader.

Often times when women make it to key and strategic positions, like within the ANC, they are at the mercy of a patriarchal network to the extent that they become defenders of this toxic patriarchal network and not so much speaking out against it.

An example of this could be seen in how the ANC Women’s League ferociously came to the defence of Jacob Zuma during his rape trial (before they even had any judicial proclamations on the facts of the case), and remains silent on a plethora of issues facing women at the hands of male public leaders.  

Importantly, what the Jeff Radebe scandal points to is a culture of sloppiness on the part of our leaders in how they treat and think about women. It is a cancer that has spread so far across the points of leadership that it even enjoys a fertile toxic breeding ground in youth and student politics too, where the sex lives of young female leaders are often thrown into political debates to silence and humiliate women, to cast them as irrelevant and incapable to render rational arguments within the political discourse.

Crucially, Jeff Radebe’s sexual advances on a junior staffer in the Union Buildings points to the macro and micro-aggressions that female public officials and leaders have to deal with in their work spaces. Within political spaces, the backlash that they face when they speak out on these behaviours are incalculable. Often times, when women speak out on these issues, much like Radebe’s victim now, they are characterised as a 3rd force to cause instability within the movement. At worst, they are vilified as opportunists who are trying to extort money from politicians, much like the backlash that Malusi Gigaba’s mistress continuously face and what Khwezi faced during the Zuma rape trial.

More prevalent though, is that women don’t speak out on these harassments out of fear for this backlash and more frighteningly, out of fear for losing their jobs and losing any prospects of rising to leadership.

This speaks to a rife and toxic culture of reducing women to mere accessories to the rise of men, and often as objects of sexual fascination and satisfaction of men. That’s to say that the female voice in public office is rendered mute and moot at any attempt to establish themselves as legitimate and important voices within these spaces.

Undoing this culture is going require the same ferocity, sincerity and aggression that we have when we focus on other burning issues of corruption. This is going to require the same collective action that we’ve seen opposition parties and civil society organisations foster over the last few months while trying to get rid of Jacob Zuma.

This means that these parties, too, must walk the talk when it comes to the promotion and protection of women. That means organisation like the DA need to come to the party on these issues. The DA, under the parliamentary leadership of Mmusi Maimane and John Steenhuisen, can’t continue to only have 25% of their parliamentary body be female and 9% of their parliamentary body be black female. They too need to consider the matter as urgent and important. Similarly, so should the EFF within their executive.

Women will only be protected from the scourge of harassment and sexual reduction when they hold the majority force within public leadership, divorced from the mercy of a patriarchal network. 

- Dickson is a socio-political analyst and an award winning competitive debater. Follow him on Twitter: @Oliver_Speaking.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    sexual harassment  |  women
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