It is a scathing indictment of a political party that lays claim to a commitment to non-sexism, that one of the most senior figures in the Democratic Alliance made shockingly inappropriate remarks about women in a leading newspaper. It was worse that these widely reported remarks were made during Women’s Month.
In an article published in The Star newspaper City of Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba called women who work for the City ‘girlfriends’. He was quoted as saying “”the days when they [read ANC administration] allowed their girlfriends to run state institutions are over”.
Mashaba’s words carried in the article that was syndicated online – were appalling, sexist and demeaning: and an insult to liberation icons such as Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Suzman, Winnie Mandela, Sophia de Bruyn and even Bettie du Toit, among others.
That the DA has until this point not seen fit to distance itself from these derogatory comments infer that the party sanctions what Mashaba said. With one broad and sweeping stroke he condemned women in the ANC government, inferring that they are not capable of working their way up, but must have prostituted themselves to get there.
It has been encouraging however that civil society has taken a stand through the #SexismMustFall campaign. Some of the women who support the campaign include those who belong to professional organisations such as the Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF), Young Women for Business Network (YWBN), the Black Management Forum (BMF), as well as from the ANC Greater Johannesburg Region and the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL).
There can be no doubt that Mashaba’s comments have absolutely no place in our society that is committed to the values of non-sexism and non-discrimination as well as gender equality.
It is for this reason that a group of women have laid a formal complaint with the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE). We will not allow the ravings and ranting of one chauvinistic male to derail the gender equality project in our country.
South Africa has a long list of heroines who devoted their lives to taking a stand against the injustices of the apartheid regime, and to advance women’s development and empowerment. These remarkable women made history in their own right.
The outgoing Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, businesswoman Basetsana Khumalo and the Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, are just a few of today’s inspirational women.
They continue to serve as inspiration to many younger women who are climbing the leadership ladder.
Younger women are making a name for themselves, including in careers that were previously male dominated – and they are excelling in them, including in the City of Joburg.
Mashaba’s poisonous statements, which threaten to taint these respectable women’s public statue in our society, must be harshly condemned.
Women in business and government leadership have long been insulted in a democratic South Africa, and often by men who usually personally empower women who do them sexual favors and then assume that this is the status quo everywhere.
Not long ago, business executive Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita, was told she slept with all politicians when she stood her ground in her field. Another business executive, Judy Dlamini was also tainted with allegations that she achieved her success because of her husband Sizwe Nxasana’s influence.
These are just a few successful women who clearly threaten the likes of Mashaba with their success.
Sexist and demeaning statements like those of Mashaba defeat the cause for gender equality in our nation and mislead young girls into believing that they need “boyfriends”, “sugar daddies” or “blessers” to empower them.
Mashaba is attempting to dilute the role of women in our society.
If men in leadership are allowed to just make statements that insinuate hardworking women slept their way into success, then what message are we sending to the next generation of our society?
How does Mashaba look at those executive women he found in the city when he has already insulted them before he had even launched his much publicized “skills audit” in the organization?
How does he expect them to continue commanding respect from their subordinates when he has already tainted their image with his sexist statements?
There is no woman in a position of leadership in the City of Joburg who was not interviewed and found to be qualified for her position, If Mashaba has evidence that there has been any instruction that a woman leader must be placed in a key position because they are so and so’s so-called girlfriend, let him provide the evidence.
It is not fair to any of those women executives in the city to be generalized and stereotyped as “girlfriend-appointments”.
The #SexismMustFall group of women filed the sexism complaint against Mashaba with the Commission for Gender Equality following a picket at the municipality’s head office, the Metro Centre in Braamfontein.
It was unfortunate that Mashaba was so arrogant that he did not come himself to collect the memorandum as per the scheduled time which was communicated to him in advance.
A memorandum was subsequently handed over to MMC for Health and Social Development, Mpho Phalatse.
We are demanding that Mashaba unreservedly withdraws his published sexist statements, apologize to South African women and commit himself to advancing gender equality in the city.
As concerned women, we have also noted that it is not possible that Mashaba was misquoted by the newspaper that published his sexist statements because there is no record of his complaint against the newspaper for it.
We hope that Mashaba responds to our demands within seven working days – ending on Monday, 24 October 2016, wherein he must also outline how he is going to advance women empowerment in the municipality that he leads.
LOYISO MASUKU IS THE FORMER REGIONAL SECRETARY OF THE ANC YOUTH LEAGUE IN GREATER JOHANNESBURG AND ANC MMC FOR COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT