EFF leader Julius Malema accused President Cyril Ramaphosa of gender-based violence during the SONA debate. Malema had been accused of abusing his wife by ANC MP Jacob Boy  Mamabolo. Pictures: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)
EFF leader Julius Malema accused President Cyril Ramaphosa of gender-based violence during the SONA debate. Malema had been accused of abusing his wife by ANC MP Jacob Boy Mamabolo. Pictures: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

'Finger-pointing' undermines the fight against gender-based violence

By Bathabile Dlamini Time of article published Feb 24, 2020

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Events that took place at parliament during the SONA debate brought to the fore the issue of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Unfortunately, at the centre of the heated exchange of accusations and counter-accusation of GBV, were men.

It is an indisputable fact that violence against women has reached a crisis level in South Africa. Last week we missed an opportunity to face and fight patriarchy, misogyny, and machoism, which are the three evils contributing to GBV. The African National Congress (ANC) also missed an opportunity of self-correcting within its realms and reaching out to society.

It is widely acknowledged and accepted that most gender-based violence is inflicted on women and girls, by men. Further to that, causes of gender-based violence, or violence against women, are deeply rooted in power inequalities between women and men, bringing to the fore the issue of patriarchy, and misogyny.

Forms of gender-based violence are wide-ranging and involve physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women.

We have seen the parties involved in the spat in Parliament apologise to each other. Still, the question lingers – do those apologies erase the damage, or they simply seek to mask the real issue, and stifle the debate?

As the ANC, it is crucial for the organisation to self-reflect on its role in fighting GBV. Commitment to fighting GBV is not through sloganeering and paying lip service, but it is measured by the real action we take even in our private spaces.

GBV cannot be an issue that gets weaponised for any political purposes. It is wrong on so many levels. This constant weaponisation of GBV has been commonplace in the mainstream. The most significant damage is that it deprives the real victims of an opportunity to receive support timeously, and mainstreaming the issues experienced by women.

The issue of Deputy Minister Dr David Masondo comes to mind when looking at the complexities that can be created around gender-based violence, especially where power and hierarchy are concerned.

Just a short recap, reports state that Dr Masondo was allegedly involved in a relationship with 'Ms X', a 30-year-old woman who got pregnant with his child. Without over-elaboration, it is reported that Ms X was arrested for two days in a law-enforcement 'extortion' sting suspected to have been sanctioned by the deputy minister. But a WhatsApp exchange showed that Ms X did not want his money.

Further to that, Ms X claims that she was forced to have an abortion. The matter ended up with accusations and counter-accusations between the two parties. Law-enforcement agencies got involved, but the NPA dropped the charges early this month – a development we find unfortunate.

When news of Dr Masondo's case broke, it coincided with the period when there were appointments for the chairpersonship of the Public Investment Committee (PIC). The timing of the revelations, then, raised suspicions to many – especially because his appointment as PIC chair was almost imminent. Separating the coincidence of the developments from the GBV case became a challenge for the organisation.

This case is one of a few that throw a spotlight on the ANC and challenges the organisation on its role in the society, especially in the fight against GBV. As the organisation, we have found ourselves trying to balance between defending the organisation and dealing directly with issues that directly affect women.

When the organisation finds itself with divisions and deepening chasm caused by political differences, it is easy to lose sight from dealing with the real issues affecting women due to political polarisation. As the ANC, we have learned of lessons that have contributed to our struggles, deepening and sharpening our understanding of response to GBV, we need to use that.

To make progress and advancement in the fight against GBV, especially against women and LGBTQIA+, we need to break away from a political system that is structured in a way that protects patriarchy. As a society, we need to veer away from the immediate instinct of attacking and blaming the victim, or attacking their character, instead of putting the spotlight at the centre of the issue, which is the abuse suffered.

Gender-based violence may further be exacerbated by structural inequalities, such as societal norms, attitudes and gender stereotypes. Continued subordination of women in economic, social and political life does not help the case. The economic emancipation of women is crucial to break away the structural economic inequalities that leave women as "second-rate" citizens in society.

Fortunately, the ANC has never been afraid of dealing with issues of gender-based violence. The leadership always found ways of responding to it when it surfaced. As the ANC, we must deal with the immediate challenge, and the negative impact created all these years.

Women's League programmes such as "Molo Makhelwane" need to be well sustained and supported. Because they deal with issues at the coalface of the communities, as the liberation movement, we have to continue being the vanguard for women's struggles and lead women with conviction.

As a society, we need to continue to put the safety and support of women/men who have experienced violence first. Our commitment to gender justice, human rights and freedom from violence for all must not waiver.  

It is only when we refrain from being part of finger-pointing exercise that we will make real progress, as finger-pointing contributes to sabotaging the campaign.

We call on all men in society to also play their role in leading, teaching and talking to their families and children about the plight and dangers of gender-based violence. 

At the height of this scourge of gender-based violence, we call on the ANC to deal effectively, and decisively with the matter of Dr Masondo. The ANC mustn't only be seen to be paying lip-service about GBV, but taking action when cases involving its members arise.

* Bathabile Dlamini is the President of the ANC Women's League. 

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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