Gigaba engaged in mutually consensual sexual relations, so what?
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The video was alleged to have been part of a scheme to blackmail Gigaba. However, on Twitter there is speculation that the video was leaked by an ex-partner of Gigaba’s.
We want to argue that whether it was meant for his wife or a girlfriend is not important. It does not matter if the person making the video is a corrupt politician.
What is more significant is the fact that as a society we continue to respond to sexuality, including to sexual violence, in disturbing ways. Some of these ways include being horrified that politicians masturbate and have (consensual) sex. Equally disturbing is not being as outraged when people in power commit acts of sexual violence.
There are two important points that the emotional content of the responses to Gigaba’s self-pleasuring video indicate about our collective sexual morality.
Firstly, as a society, we tend to be more horrified by explicit non-harmful sexuality than by acts of sexual violence. There have been calls for Gigaba to resign and he has apologised to his family and the nation for the “harm” caused by the video. He said on Twitter: “I take this opportunity to publicly apologise, in advance, to the rest of my family - especially my kids, my mom and my in-laws - and the South African public for the pain and embarrassment the likely wider distribution of this private material will cause.” We see no reason why he should have apologised for having his privacy invaded.
In cases of sexual violence a range of politicians have retained their positions of power with limited consequences. Mduduzi Manana, of the ANC, remained a MP until June 2018, despite assaulting two women in August 2017, and Malibongwe Ngcai, who was appointed as general manager of corporate services at Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs despite being implicated in a sex-for-jobs scandal in the Eastern Cape legislature.
Although the ANC has moved against men such as Marius Fransman, as Sam Waterhouse from the Women and Democracy Initiative has argued, “the ANC’s inconsistency shows that it is only when a member falls out of political favour that they run the risk of being called to account on gender-based violence.
“It’s also unacceptable that political parties are so quick to call other parties to hold their people to high standards of accountability, while they protect their own members for the same behaviour.”
Secondly, we should ask, so what is it about Gigaba’s video that disturbs us so much?
Our anxiety as a nation with explicit consensual sexual material is rooted in colonial and Calvinist regulation of sex.
Sexuality was central to forming the morality of the colonial empire in South Africa, especially who could have sex with who and under what conditions. Sexuality came to operate as a way to construct racism.
During apartheid, sexual morality was further regulated in the form of the Immorality Act. The Nationalist government was particularly concerned with sexual intercourse between people of different races as this would disrupt the process of separate development.
The acts and accompanying sexual politics created both shame and anxiety around sexual relations. Black men in particular were much more harshly punished for violating apartheid sexual morality. It seems the response to Gigaba reproduces this.
Despite the dismantling of sexually restrictive legislation, South Africa remains a conservative and sexually repressed nation. We are unable to talk positively and constructively about sex. A man or woman cannot make a video of themselves masturbating to send to their intimate partner. As Guguletho Mlotshwa says on Twitter: “We all have sex who cares about a damn sex video?”
The most serious problem is when sex is non-consensual. But if we are unable to talk about positive, consensual sex, it makes it much more difficult to talk about sexual violence. If we know what good, consensual and safe sex is, we are better equipped to recognise and call out sexual violence.
We should not be ashamed for engaging in mutually-consensual sexual relations. We should encourage people to masturbate and engage in other consensual sexual pleasure. We should not be ashamed of sex. We should be ashamed of the way we have shamed Gigaba.
* Rebecca Helman is a PhD candidate at Unisa. She is also a researcher at Unisa’s Institute for Social and Health Sciences and the SA Medical Research Council-Unisa’s Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit. Rebecca’s research interests include gender violence and sexualities within post-colonial contexts.
** Kopano Ratele is Professor in the Institute of Social and Health Sciences at Unisa and researcher in the Medical Research Council - Unisa Violence, Injury & Peace Research Unit. He runs the Transdisciplinary African Psychology Programme and the Research Unit on Men & Masculinities.
*** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.