Department of Basic Education spokesman Elijah Mhlanga. PHOTO: Twitter

JOHANNESBURG - Parliament's portfolio committee on education on Wednesday condemned tweets of semi-naked women posted by Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga for the 'Read to Learn' campaign, saying they were inappropriate and objectified women.

Mhlanga posted a series of suggestive photographs of women reading over the weekend, urging people to read books as part of the department's campaign. Committee chairwoman  Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba said the pictures sent a wrong message to the public.

"Mr Elijah Mhlanga’s approach to the Read to Lead campaign for the basic education sector misses his target market completely and does more harm than good. Furthermore, South Africa has made big strides since the dawn of democracy in the emancipation of women," said Mbingo-Gigaba.

"The comments and distribution of images of this nature by a person of Mr Mhlanga’s stature undermines many of these gains. We cannot but condemn these images of scantily-clad women, which attempt to promote reading by making it ‘sexy;."

Mbinqo-Gigaba noted that Mr Mhlanga had first tried to justify his tweets and then apologised. 

"This is not enough. We cannot be objectifying women and especially not in Women’s Month. What are we teaching our boy children in school by communicating like this? What message are we sending out to our girl learners that their bodies are to be used in this fashion."

The tweets drew widespread condemnation on Twitter. One photograph depicting a naked woman reading while lying on bed was captioned "Let's make reading sexy. Do it as a habit. You can do it everyday. It feels good when you get into it. #ReadToLearn." Another tweet posted read: "Reading for leisure is also therapeutic. It relaxes the mind, body and soul."

Mhlanga initially defended the tweets, saying he was happy he got Twitter users attention.

"I have previously promoted this reading campaign on Twitter using the same images in 2016, 2017 and 2018 however, there was no discontent or discomfort raised at the time. In fact it started a discourse on reading," he tweeted as people requested him to remove the images.

Mhlanga then tweeted on Monday: "Contemporary audiences that consume media tend to be open about sex and sexuality. I therefore have a full understanding of representation and metaphoric content...and in this context, I pushed the boundary slightly in order to play around with meaning, and push a narrative about reading as an activity that can be done for fun and leisure."

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga distanced herself and her department from the tweets, labelling them as "sexist." She said she has instructed the department's director-general to institute appropriate action against Mhlanga.

African News Agency (ANA)