Lulu Xingwana, the minister “of everything but men” and who refuses to fly “lala class”, faces renewed calls for her dismissal.
Xingwana, who has been rushing around decrying violence against women, but whose department is synonymous with inertia, got herself into hot water this week for her attack on “Calvinist culture” which she told a foreign TV station taught young Afrikaner men to believe they owned women and children and they therefore believed they were entitled to kill their families.
Xingwana apologised, but that has not stopped the fury over what she said. And while it’s not the first time Xingwana has sounded off at white men, they are by no means her only target. She’s also been known to lash out at multinationals, “fat” black businessmen and even a lesbian artist.
There’s nothing in Xingwana’s political background to hint at the makings of the classroom clown: activist in the United Democratic Front, member of the ANC Women’s League national executive committee and MP in the first Mandela Parliament. She’s chaired the sports and recreation portfolio committee, the women’s caucus, the defence portfolio committee, the joint monitoring committee for women, and headed various rural development and women’s projects.
But it was after her appointment as deputy minster of minerals and energy in 2004 by then-president Thabo Mbeki that Xingwana began to earn a reputation for what she terms “hip-shooting”.
During a debate in Parliament, she lost her temper and startled the house with a scathing attack on “rich, white cartels that are continuing, even today, to loot our diamonds (and) to monopolise the mining industry”.
She later laid into Sasol over BEE and decried mining giant De Beers for having a “lily-white and male-dominated” board after it replaced one white, male MD with another.
The day before she was sworn in as Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister in 2006, Xingwana railed against white companies that engaged in “cosmetic transformation” or “fronting”.
Black businesses were also not spared.
“There are black, fat males with bulging stomachs who, when they want to clinch big business deals, drive women like a herd of cattle to portray their companies as being compliant with (gender equity and women empowerment requirements),” she said.
On her first trip abroad in this portfolio, Xingwana reportedly left her English hosts in awe when she abandoned the art of diplomacy for a touch of “hip-shooting”.
A gathering in Gloucester struggled to keep a stiff upper lip when Xingwana said that upon her appointment to higher office she had thought she would be redeployed to London so that she could “recover the diamonds the English stole during colonialism”, and went on to quip that she was going to retrieve the “stolen diamonds”, including “taking out those in the crown of the queen”. She added that she wished that Joburg would one day be “the London of Africa”. She said she was less interested in cities such as Washington or New York, because “we are not looking for the weapons of mass destruction”.
She then proceeded to pronounce: “South Africa is doing very well economically. We can tell the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to go to hell and to never come back.”
Less than a year later, Xingwana asserted that white farmers regularly “rape and assault” their workers.
Farmer unions, AgriSA and the Transvaal Agricultural Union, challenged her to back the claim with evidence, and reported the matter to the SA Human Rights Commission. The standoff was only resolved after Mbeki intervened.
In 2009, Xingwana became the butt of a fresh round of jokes when details emerged of a special mobile toilet which accompanied her on trips into the countryside.
According to departmental documents, the loo was replete with gold trimmings and worth R500 000. Xingwana pulled the chain on the jokes by denying she commanded this gilded throne.
A change of focus to arts and culture in President Jacob Zuma's first cabinet, did not prevent Xingwana hogging the headlines for the wrong reasons.
In 2010, an “irate” Xingwana reportedly confronted Sipho Sithole, the owner of music entertainment company, Native Rhythms, in a parking lot in Joburg for having refused to take kwaito artist Chomee on a government-funded trip to China.
The row ended in Sithole claiming he had been defamed by Xingwana.
There was the moment when she stormed out of the exhibition by lesbian-activist and artist Zanele Muholi, describing photographs of naked lesbian couples as “pornographic”, “immoral” and “crude misrepresentations of women”.
In the face of the ensuing outcry, Xingwana claimed she had in fact objected to “those particular works of art (that) stereotyped black women”.
Last year, in her latest incarnation, as the Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, she dismissed as “sensational hot air” a report that she had demanded to be upgraded on a flight from Ghana.
The minister had previously told MPs that “for my health I cannot fly lala class” after she was called to account for exorbitant travel costs in her department, adding she would neither sleep “under a tree or a bridge, nor fly to New York on a broomstick”.