Even in his apology Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana sought to blame the victims, says the writer. Picture: GCIS

THE CASE involving Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Mduduzi Manana beating up two women at a restaurant a fortnight ago has once more brought into sharp focus the issue of gender-based violence in our society.

The outrage, by women in particular and society in general, is understandable. Minister of Women in the Presidency Susan Shabangu and chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Thandi Modise were infuriated by Manana’s conduct - that came out in their reactions.

Shabangu said the incident was unacceptable and nothing could justify his behaviour. Modise said Manana was out of order for assaulting the two women.

They both captured civilised society’s sentiments about his conduct. Both men and women who abhor gender-based violence were disgusted.

The same, however, cannot be said for ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini who reportedly told a Sunday newspaper that there were other senior government leaders who were worse culprits. Why she hasn’t raised this before the incident involving Manana remains curious. However, that is a matter for another day.

Her comment is unfortunate and sends a confusing signal to society, especially because the ANCWL had initially released a statement that condemned violence against women and called for perpetrators to face the full might of the law.

Whereas some had expected the ANCWL to be even more appalled and call for Manana to fall on his sword (its statement was mild), none had expected its president to argue political tools and motives where, frankly, none exist.

Manana needed no political motives by others to land himself in the mess he is in.

Calling for his removal from the government is not a political tool but an insistence on accountability - a rare commodity among the political class. Everyone, even politicians and officials, should be held accountable for their actions.

The government's leaders like using the passive voice to refer to their bad decisions and conduct. “Mistakes were made”, “things got out of control” and so on. Even when they say: “I take responsibility”, they almost never take responsibility by, for example, resigning.

Although Manana is entitled to his own life outside the workplace, beating women in public places (even privately) is not something he is entitled to.

His conduct was publicly offensive. Those who choose to politically serve the community will inevitably have their private lives and public action under scrutiny.

Manana’s less-than professional behaviour raises questions about what we, as society, expect and deserve from our elected officials.

As someone who is in the education sector (not that it would make it less offensive if he held another portfolio), he set a poor example for the youth at tertiary institutions.

Elected officials should be the role models and pillars of our society, not the scoundrels that woman abusers are.

We, as the people they represent, have a responsibility to demand that they be held accountable. And if their superiors and comrades won’t do it then we must remember that the next time we go to the polls.

Unless society shows it's seriousness about stopping the abuse of women, this problem will continue.

We need everyone to grasp that violence against women and girls is a problem and it is for all of us to eliminate.

We expect those in the government to be at the forefront of the battle against woman abuse.

In recent years South Africa has strengthened its efforts on the role of men and boys in challenging violence and shifting attitudes, and this is key to addressing violence against women and girls.

This is all commendable and one would have thought that Manana would be alive to how his strategic position could be used to influence the behaviour of young men, particularly at our tertiary institutions. It is a role he could still play, provided he understands what remorse is.

Unfortunately, even in his apology he displays the social norm that removes responsibility from the perpetrator and seeks to blame the victims. This is unacceptable as it allows social norms to promote the idea that the victims are to blame.

This is damaging to the victims and also tends to influence how women and girls affected by violence are dealt with by institutions, including the institutions responsible for protecting them.

And then we wonder why the police were not prompt in arresting Manana.

Bravo to Mandisa Duma and Tina Mapita, the victims of Manana’s attack, for refusing to be silent and invisible statistics. Others could have been intimidated by his public office.

Manana is a likeable young deputy minister with a lot of potential. I once listened to him during a parliamentary debate and he impressed me.

However, he must take responsibility for his behaviour and learn to make safe, respectful and non-violent choices even in the face of extreme provocation. He is a public figure and an elected official, after all.