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Women are workers too!

30 July 2013, 09:45
South Africa is notorious for being the ‘rape capital of the world.’ 30 to 60% of rape cases are withdrawn and only 7% of reported rapes in South Africa result in a conviction after two years compared with 19% convictions in the United States and 10% in England & Wales. The alleged rape case involving one of the leaders of the giant trade union movement, COSATU, has touched a chord.

The sad part is the failure of this important issue and moment to provide ample space for a wide spectrum of participants to condemn the general abuse of women in society and in the workplace in particular. One must admit that the issue does begin to question our revolutionary Marxist morality - both theoretically and practically - and therefore can be seen as a kind of 'theoretical litmus test'.

Another important fact relates to the nature of the diminished voice as represented by the silence of women in trade unions in using the moment to raise their discontented voice about the abuse of women in general. Certainly, many groups would have come to identify with this voice, making it a rallying point of mass politics when it comes to the issue of sexual violence lest we forget that workers are women too!

Sadly what has emerged in the process is the male domination of the issues showing the sorry state of ignorance about the dynamics surrounding rape in society and the workplace in particular. As a result, a form of politics that highlights social position as the important factor in determining the veracity of facts became dominant. So did the emergence of conspiracy theories. 
The  role of power in creating conditions of vulnerability as well as culpability were pushed aside as residual. In this regard, it would be correct to point out, just as Clara Zetkin (an early twentieth-century communist leader) did in many of her writings, that every class has its own distinct women question.

When a 23-year-old woman was raped and tortured to death in Delhi, the case captured the attention of the world. Two months later, a 17-year-old girl was raped and tortured to death near Cape Town in an eerily similar case. In both cases, the women were gang raped, mutilated and cut open.

One Kavita Krishnan, for example, asserted in her January 2013 article, that “rape is not an expression of lust for women but of hatred for them…” The silence of women in trade unions is deafening to say the least. Their silence may have shown trade unions as male dominated organizations. Thus bringing to the fore questions of 'male privilege' and the ostensible compensations of "maleness"- the orientation of mass culture toward encouraging women to be "man-pleasing".

Vavi once said; "As we celebrate women’s day, let us re-dedicate ourselves to the struggle for women. We take inspiration to (sic) the words Samora Machel uttered in 1973: 'The emancipation of women is not an act of charity, the result of a humanitarian or compassionate attitude. The liberation of women is a fundamental necessity for revolution, the guarantee of its continuity and the precondition of its victory….'"

While the facts surrounding the Vavi case are still a holy grail the need to speak louder about rape and women abuse is forever relevant. Sexual harassment remains a problem in the workplace. It undercuts women’s potential for social equality in the same manner that apartheid policies undercut the potential for social equality for black women and men in South Africa.

So, as Cde Vavi correctly pointed at the SACTWU Congress in 2001, COSATU must always be seen to be dedicating itself 'to the struggle for women'. Women in trade unions, in particular, cannot expect it to be 'an act of charity'. Whether in times when one or some in their ranks are accused, falsely or truthfully, to have committed misdeeds that undermine their commitment to the struggle for women. Focusing on conspiracy theories and being silent on the fundamental issues at play is selling out on the thousands of women within the ranks of Cosatu and women in general.

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