You can’t leave it all to Lulu

2013-03-03 10:00

Minister’s comments in the wake of the Oscar Pistorius furore have further divided the country, writes Kay Sexwale

The thing about edited TV interviews, or even print ones for that matter, is that media consumers don’t know if pertinent information was omitted to maximise sensation.

Oscar Pistorius’ alleged premeditated murder of Reeva Steenkamp has been milked to death and, until June this year, when Pistorius next appears in court, the global media will sink to new, unimaginable lows to find any angle to keep the story alive.

This week it was Women, Children and People with Disabilities Minister Lulu Xingwana’s turn after she put herself in the spotlight of a case that appears to fall within her portfolio.

To our collective surprise, as a member of the executive that is separated from the judiciary, she attended Pistorius’ bail hearing and loudly expressed her opinion that he should not get bail. She cited that violence against women in South African society had to end and examples had to be made of perpetrators.

I’m personally giving the minister the benefit of the doubt that perhaps in footage left out of the broadcast of the now-infamous Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview that came to South Africa’s attention on Tuesday evening, she may have unpacked her general statement on Afrikaner men, for which she has since apologised.

Lulu Xingwana timeline

In essence, she spoke of South Africa still having to deal with the consequences of apartheid and its brutality, which has affected the psyche of society in its entirety.

I am inclined to agree with her that the kneejerk aggression we see playing itself out is deeply rooted in our flawed past, which we struggle to turn around almost 20 years since the onset of democracy.

But I am concerned that controversial remarks are what this minister has become most known for and her focus on Afrikaners, specifically, is not new.

In 2007, while she was the minister of agriculture and land affairs, she accused farmers of being “cruel and inhumane” towards their workers, claiming they regularly “rape and assault” them.

Enraged Afrikaner-interest farm unions challenged her to provide evidence to support these accusations. When the meeting between them broke down, then president Thabo Mbeki intervened to resolve the dispute.

And let’s not forget that it was on her watch in this portfolio that many emerging black farmers went under.

A few eyebrows were raised when she was appointed to her current position after her walkout and shocking remarks in 2010 as minister of arts and culture at the Innovative Women exhibition, where she said that the lesbian nude art on show was “immoral”, “pornographic” and “in opposition to nation building”.

Are lesbians, as a target group of “corrective rape” in South Africa, trusting of her as a minister who can further their interests and protection? I wonder.

When the ministry of women, children and people with disabilities was conceptualised in 2009, as Zuma took the reins of running South Africa, the youth were lumped in as well.

But because their voice and lobbying under the ANC Youth League was very strong, very defiant and very politically influential at the time, they fought to be removed from this nonsensical mix masala. We should all have objected against being lumped together in a structure that’s largely unworkable.

When the minister this week said that “young Afrikaner men are brought up in the Calvinist religion, believing they own a woman, they own a child, they own everything, and therefore they can take that life because they own it”, she again belied her commitment to social cohesion in a divided country.

It is not the first time and it is not the last. I wonder to what extent the minister is au fait with the Constitution and its provisions on nonracialism and the right to sexual orientation.

Critics felt she missed an opportunity to build a united South Africa and to further and strongly address violence against women. This in a country where such violence is a societal problem, and where leadership against misogyny is not provided from the top, though even the president was forced to apologise for Xingwana’s lulu this week.

What South African women must now demand is higher visibility of this ministry’s work, which should speak to our equity, equality and empowerment.

We need to speak out and take control.

»?Sexwale is a media and communications strategist, and a public commentator with an interest in current affairs and post-apartheid South African experiences

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