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Who is the face of poverty in South Africa?
The most accurate answer would undoubtedly be “an African woman”. Many poor women – and a high number of them are single mothers – face insurmountable economic and emotional challenges while raising their family without any support from their partners or ex-husbands.
The State has played its part in introducing child support grants and throwing its weight and resources behind family courts to make it easier to claim for child support from deadbeat dads. Sadly, the long queues at maintenance courts attest to the fact that many men still need to be forced to look after their children.
It is these socio-economic conditions brought about to a large extent by the legacy of apartheid and a dominating patriarchal system that still make it difficult for women to be treated equally and fairly in all spheres of our society.
It is equally these conditions that make our women and girl-children targets of unscrupulous pastors who masquerade as men of God who can solve all their problems at a strike of a magic wand.
Why then would these women subject themselves to be humiliated and forced to eat grass, drink petrol, get their vaginas “biscuits” to be examined in front of television cameras and their faces “doomed”? Is it not for false promises of miracles that will wipe away all their financial, emotional and spiritual woes?
I am yet to see these “prophets of doom” pitch their tents in affluent suburbs of our country. Why is that? The facts above provide all the answers. Their target is the poor and vulnerable in our society and those are black women and young children.
Take the charges that have been put to Nigerian “rapist pastor” Tim Omotoso. Omotoso is head of the Jesus Dominion International Church and was arrested at the Port Elizabeth International Airport for allegedly having molested and raped at least 30 young women who attended his church.
The allegations surfaced after an SABC Special Assignment investigation. At the time of writing this article the 58-year-old married father of three was preparing to go to court to apply for bail.
Without pre-judging Omotoso’s case, it is important to point out that there are far too many men of the cloth who misuse the trust bestowed unto them by vulnerable black women. The exploitation of black women is a race and a class issue; hence you will never see the tents go up in affluent and white areas. Their targets will never be white men or white women.
Even the black elite, who go to churches such as the Rhema Bible Church, go there because they want to belong and worship. The miracle pastors don’t go for this class of people by promises of miracles that will never manifest, because these classes of people won’t just fall for it.
Data from StatsSA also confirm that unemployment in South Africa affects largely African women. Even those that are employed are paid far less than their white, Indian and coloured counterparts. Black women earn almost as much but have a higher unemployment rate than their male counterparts, while the opposite is true for whites.
StatsSA’s gender statistics show that black women are also the group with the worst unemployment rate. “Women of all races aged between 15 and 64 have higher unemployment rates than men in the same age bracket, with black women having the worst unemployment rate of 32.5 percent.”
According to StatsSA deputy director-general Kefiloe Masiteng, one in three women live below the poverty line with an income of R305 or less, while 31 percent of men live below this line.
The higher figures of women below the poverty line was a result of an increase in female-headed households, she said, adding that women were more likely to be expected to look after orphans or relatives and so become the head of the household.
Traditionally male-dominated industries such as mining, construction and transport remain a boys’ club, with a quarter of the entire male workforce being employed in one of these sectors, compared with just 5 percent of employed women, the StatsSA report said.
So, African women are still sitting on the bottom-rung when it comes to economic empowerment in South Africa, meaning a huge section of our population still consists of mainly poor and unemployed black women.
It is this section of our population that is being targeted by all these dubious churches led by people who call themselves pastors and yet are just a bunch of scammers after nothing else but money and anything of value they can strip from their female victims.
Whoever said religion is the opium of the people was prophetic because these tsotsis who call themselves pastors are using poor women’s vulnerability and their faith that their dire situation will change if they pray hard enough or buy into the notion that this “man of God” will be able to intercede on their behalf and create miracles that will bring prosperity and material gain.
The “pastors of doom” use promises of marriage, money and jobs to lure people who are desperate for employment, for houses, for money and for a better life in general. They promise instant miracles and coerce their congregants into parting with their hard-earned cash, while they (pastors) smile all the way to the bank.
All stakeholders including government and big business need to up the ante and heed calls to transform the economy and empower women, especially the black African woman. Black women have played a pivotal role in our liberation struggle. The fact that they are still at the bottom of the economic ladder 21 years after democracy is a shame and a scandal.
As the adage says, you educate a woman and you educate a nation. I would add that you empower a woman and you empower a nation. Our children depend on it. And they are the future of this country.
- Mbuyiselo Botha is a Commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality. He writes in his personal capacity.
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.
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