Lindiwe Mazibuko’s waistline and her fashion sense are of no value to me

2013-06-16 22:39

Nothing is more disturbing than the causal use of vulgar, sexist ad racist language in the heated national debates. It creates a psyche in which abuse, patriarchy, racial supremacy and stupidity become a norm. In what they thought was a clever use of language to take a swipe at the DA’s Lindiwe Mazibuko, ANC’s John Jeffreys body weight or waste-line a matter worth mentioning in a national parliament.

This interest in Mazibuko’s body weight and accent has been around for quite some time and it has popped up in heated parliamentary debates before.

This was in response to Mazibuko’s questions and sniping comments on president’s leadership and budget vote. This could easily be responded too, even harshly, without making fun of her femininity, whatever people think of it. The Westminster parliamentary system is partly to blame for fostering a bifurcated political culture of ‘war’ between the governing party and so-called opposition’ parties.

But the vulgarisation of the political discourse has been on the rise for a time now and Julius Malema took to great heights. Archives of the liberation movements in exile and in prison show how the leadership displayed an intolerant attitude to this as un-ANC and un-PAC language.

Even those who drew fun comments Mazibuko’s dress code or waistline know there is nothing to be gained by dehumanising another person. This is especially sore when the person being dehumanised is black given the fact for centuries the black person was projected as a wretched of the earth. It thus echoes beyond Mazibuko and affects every other black woman of similar body weight. It is just impolitic to say these things in a public debate for a member of the ANC, given its much-proclaimed commitment to non-sexism and non-racism.

I know that Jeffreys may very well say that it is the media reports that have exaggerated this, the truth is that it should not have been mentioned at all in a national parliament. They can also argue that they did not start the mudslinging, but given the ANC’s declarations and proclamations they ought to be held to this standard. Of course, the media somehow finds this amusing perhaps because it offers some sensationalism.

They embarrassed the ANC itself by suggesting that it considers body weight and fashion important markers of acceptability and respectability in a society faced by much bigger challenges, including those that the president raised. It is very interesting that only six months ago the ANC warned its members and leaders that it would act against those who harm its brand, prestige and social standing. There is no better example to set than to reprimand its leaders when they introduce and encourage its lower levels of leadership and membership to make matters of appearance issues for debate. What happens when councillors and members start to castigate others for having long or broad noses, dark skins and Nguni accents or unattractive hairstyle? Was it not precisely to prevent this from happening that the ANC reprimanded Julius Malema for making Naledi Pandor’s British accent (which he mistakenly called American) an issue for public discourse and mudslinging?

It leaves a very sour taste in a progressive-minded person for a black woman’s body weight to be made fun of by members of a governing party that rejected the imperialists’ fun games with Sara Baartman and other Khoi women who were captured by early Europeans and used a spectacle in European museums. You cannot insult black women for being physically different just to score political points. It is very sad that the ANC Women’s League that objected to SADTU protesters’ the display of a big artificial underwear in a march to make fun of Minister Angie Motshega’s body just went quiet on comments about Mazibuko’s waistline.

The sooner that the ANC realises that some things are said in the amusing power play in parliament to the values of non-racism and non-sexism, and thus diminishes it in the eyes of the world, the better. I happened to be travelling through Africa and was amazed that the body weight stuff was widely reported in pan-African media portals. It is a small, but important gesture that Jeffreys will publicly apologise next week. In a context where human excrement has become a symbol of disgruntlement in the Western Cape, the use of a sexist discourse has to be arrested before it justifies worse violation of women, especially black women in society.

During the debate, Minister Trevor Manuel correctly argued that values matter because without them the society decays. He contended that social transformation happens when all become conscious of injustices. This includes not acting any way that dehumanises a people and a gender. We have to be careful not to insult blackness in the name of heated political debates. This is my view.


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