The writer says the question of gender equality and the sorry scourge of violence against women and children requires our might to fight it. Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)
JOHANNESBURG - As South Africa continues with its celebrations during Women’s Month, some have articulated the parlous state of gender-based violence in both our social and filial relations.

The feeling is that there was very little worth celebrating. And despite our gender-sensitive Constitution, institutions and policies, the contrasts between policy and reality are glaring. The question of gender equality and the sorry scourge of violence against our women and children requires our might to fight it.

Cushion of hope

Our Constitution is a cushion of hope, directing us to the hard power that we should exercise in the economy, and service delivery. I once had a discussion with late Struggle stalwart, Mme Ruth Mompati, many years ago,

Mompati recalled the historic period when liberation was in sight and returning from exile on the horizon. She said it was, however, clear that their male counterparts were not with them. She said the women approached then party president Oliver Tambo and asked him what would become of them when they got home.

Without any waste of time, Tambo convened a meeting and aired the matter to his male contingent, who felt that women should go back to doing what they do best: taking care of their husbands.

According to Mompati, Tambo told the men to their faces that women had an important contribution to make. He addressed patriarchy at its root, and a resolution from that meeting led to the move towards a 50-50 gender representation across the board in ANC structures.

But Mompati said regrettably men continue to use women for political fronting, while they rule supreme. This was a disturbing point.

Aggravating this pattern of behaviour was the recent social grants debacle, which led to the most vulnerable in our society - the elderly and children - whom the Constitution intends to protect, not being able to access their grants during the coldest month of the year.

This was the cruellest thing to see, given that the debacle was not about the shortage of funds, but wrangling among the middlemen to get their cut. That the government was unable to deal with this matter smacks of nothing but the highest level of irresponsibility.


During my days as the statistician-general, I was confronted with the plight of enumerators - a person employed to take a census of the population drawn largely from the unemployed - and could not be paid by a service provider we had appointed. I instantly terminated the services of the provider, brought in a bank and paid the enumerators within a reasonable time.

We subsequently met in court, but the enumerators who numbered in excess of 100000 were paid. Minister Trevor Manuel on my management advice led the charge to help us solve a disaster of momentous proportions.

The numbers differ significantly between the enumerators and the beneficiaries of social grants. But the point illustrates the imperative for moral decisiveness for the vulnerable.

When we - by our own hand - victimise the vulnerable, we open ourselves to dishonour and invite a dinosaur that will soon devour us. This is the central message many have given and continuously give.

Apathy is hurting South Africa That we could not revolt against the treatment government continues to mete out against the elderly and children is not an isolated instance of apathy.

In 1976, parents were indifferent to their children’s demands. Similarly, the students of the 1976 uprising, who are parents today, folded their arms when their children took up the #FeesMustFall call.

Statistics SA says its surveys show that we have placed education as priority number 15 far below water, sanitation and everything else This, in my book, defines apathy as to what eats us as a nation.


Little wonder then why 60percent of fathers claim to be married against 30percent of mothers who claim this status does not cause us to sit up. I have repeated this statistic, as it defines how we have come to accept the most unacceptable schizophrenic condition that we impart to our children.

And they are uncertain as to who is actually responsible for their upkeep as children.

Statistics tell a profound story of a nation at war with its children, and mothers have rightfully dismissed fathers as husbands and parents, because they have long neglected this role.

Our edifice as a people and a government shows serious cleavages and fault lines in how we have failed to treat and pay pensions to the elderly and grants to children on time to how we manage the process. We have not, as society, prioritised children, because if we did, education would be our number one priority.

We have relegated that task to ministers in basic and higher education.

The debates on land have brought the ugly face of patriarchy to the fore, because women work the land more so than men. Our migratory labour system tells us that women have long worked the land. I think it is time we heeded Tambo’s injunction.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of SA and the former head of Statistics SA.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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