Hlaudi’s gift: We should hang our heads in shame

2014-06-15 06:00

June in South Africa is known as Youth Month. August is known as Women’s Month. September is Heritage Month.

In the South African government there is a ministry for women and youth affairs, represented at the highest level through a deputy ministry in the presidency. Cultural and heritage affairs are handled by a department of arts and culture and similar departments in provinces.

In their manifestos the different parties waxed lyrical about women’s rights and the advancement of the youth.

Yet this week we saw the disgusting spectacle of young women being offered as a gift to SABC acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

The Mudzi wa Vhurereli ha Vhavenda, a Venda traditional leaders lobby group, offered Motsoeneng a wife as a congratulatory “gift” for the supposedly great job he is doing at the SABC.

It was also probably an incentive for him to meet their demands for better representation of the Venda ethnic group on SABC broadcast channels.

The Sowetan newspaper quoted Mudzi executive secretary Humbelani Nemakonde confirming that Motsoeneng had chosen a 23-year-old student from the 10 young women on offer.

“All the girls were there with their parents. Their parents knew what was going to happen and they all agreed,” he said matter-of-factly.

The response among many South Africans was to treat the whole thing as a joke. This was not because they did not see the wrong in it, but because the name Hlaudi Motsoeneng was attached to it.

South Africans have taken to laughing at anything to do with Motsoeneng, who miraculously climbed to a position of high influence and technical importance despite not possessing a matric certificate.

But this was not about Motsoeneng. It was about the attitude of a group of leaders towards women. The fact that in 2014 women can be seen as “gifts” should have us all bow our heads in shame.

Since the story broke, I have waited for Motsoeneng to distance himself from the whole matter. Nothing.

I waited for the SABC board to say something. Silence.

I waited for the government high-ups responsible for women, youth and cultural affairs to condemn the despicable act. No word.

I waited for the ANC Women’s League, the ANC Youth League and the Young Communist League to speak up for the 10 girls. Tjoep!

I know it would be a gross exaggeration to compare the Thohoyandou event to Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 200 Nigerian girls but both actions come from the same mentality. It is a mentality that says females are a lesser species.

To Boko Haram, the 200 girls were tradable goods to be shipped to a sex-slave market. To the Mudzi leaders, the young women were no different from livestock, artefacts or bottles of brandy – items usually used as gifts.

A month ago, the Women’s League held a protest condemning Boko Haram and calling for the safe return of the girls. The league vowed to “keep the flame of awareness burning by holding various events to highlight the plight of these girls until they have been returned safely to their homes”.

“We shall never sit back as spectators while our girls’ human rights are taken away,” the league said at the time.

Well, as the cliché goes, charity begins at home.

Let us see some outrage at the rape of the 10 young women’s dignity in this constitutional republic called South Africa.

We cannot in Youth Month claim to care about our youth, in Women’s Month claim to care about the status of women and then allow some in our society to trample on their rights while using the fig leaf of culture and heritage.

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