I’ve had it with the men in this country and their Neanderthal views toward women — whether in relationships, from the judiciary or Parliament — the workplace or motherhood.

Women constitute more than half the workforce in this country and overwhelmingly carry the burden of child rearing. There are more single mothers than women in marriages, yet few men pay maintenance, never mind playing a role in the lives of their children. A little respect and gratitude would be in order but instead we carry the highest rates of rape, domestic violence and femicide in the world. That is not to mention workplace exploitation.

Among those men, one would hope that some use intellect to manage their lives — businessmen. But there we also get 1930s attitudes toward women as revealed in a poll on Fin24.com‘s website for the movers and shakers in South African business:

Q: Does motherhood harm careers?

Yes, employers discriminate — 34%
No, it doesn’t affect your career — 9%
Mothers shouldn’t be working — 56%

Who voted in the final category? I’m sure some women voted there too but most would have been men. What world do they live in, I wonder?

As a male friend, Pat Capel, who lives in England observed after seeing that poll: “There is something ironic in the idea that motherhood is not real work or men thinking that mothers should not work.” He pointed out the difficulties some of his friends in England face where the woman, who may have greater earning potential than the man, stays at home with the child because childcare is too expensive and so one crucial income is lost while she uses her graduate skills to change nappies and warm bottles.

South Africa has rapidly moved toward the same situation: after years of saying domestic work is demeaning, we now have millions of unemployed women who lack the benefit of caring employers who help pay for groceries, medical bills and school fees. Many more women can’t find good child care for their children, so they drop out of the workforce — so many are dropping out in the US, it is becoming a national problem — and corporates blithely ignore requests to subsidise child care or have such facilities on premises.

Do those men that voted “Mothers should not be working” not realise that if mothers don’t work the economy would collapse? Are they oblivious to the fact that 60% to 80% of farming in developing nations is conducted by women, often with babies strapped to their backs? What would happen to global food security (already tenuous) if mothers stopped working?

The Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa presented research in 2008 that showed there are more women in government employment than men — 649 718 women compared with 536 688 men (that poll also showed women earn less and are in less senior positions than men). So if mothers didn’t work, our already inefficient civil service would collapse. Women form a significant part of our police service, predominate in courts as prosecutors and dominate the media. A growing percentage is some of our finest judges, and they account for one-third of politicians.

What those who voted for in the “Mothers shouldn’t be working” category display is not only astonishing ignorance of society and life, but also the many ways in which men fail as parents.

The United Nations Population Fund shows that every year of a mother’s education corresponds to a 5% to 10% lower mortality rate in children under the age of five. In South Africa where, disgracefully, our maternal mortality and infant mortality rates are already on the rise (and contributing to lower economic ratings for the country) we need to be cognisant of that.

Yet the UNPF reports that in most countries women risk dismissal should they become pregnant and experience less overall job security and income than men. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture? If globally one-third of marriages end in divorce and one in two in South Africa, shouldn’t employers ensure that women have more job security and higher incomes than men? If women are responsible for our future in terms of how we raise our children, should they earn more than men — and if not, why?

Robert Morrell and Linda Richter of the Human Sciences Research Council show in Baba: Men and Fatherhood in South Africa, that in Umlazi, Durban, for example, only 7 000 out of 67 000 people ordered by the courts to pay maintenance complied in 2002. In the same year, district courts received 372 000 complaints of maintenance default in the Durban area alone. These figures are repeated across South Africa.

Across Southern Africa those living in the direst poverty are single mothers and their children. But lousy fatherhood is a classless situation; wealthy men are often the worst, as they have the financial means to pay expensive lawyers and bribe court officials to ensure that their failure to pay maintenance can never be contested.

Maintenance investigators, in place since 2003, have fewer powers than the sheriff of the court; in 2005 there were only 104 of them.

Because men shirk responsibilities, the state (taxpayer) has to fork out. In 2005, social grants accounted for 3,5% of GDP, and 20% of the population relied on these to survive, according to Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel. The child support grant is the biggest slice of social grants.

A 2002 commission of inquiry into a comprehensive system of social security in South Africa, the Taylor report, found that in the absence of a comprehensive social security programme, 58% of South African households would fall below the R40 subsistence line. By 2004, the HSRC revealed that 57% of South Africans lived in poverty — most of them women with children.

Richter and Morrell noted too that 25% of children are sexually abused each year (most often by incest) and only 20% of fathers who were not married to the child’s mother at the time of the infant’s birth are in contact with their child by the time he or she reaches the age of 11.

And then we have this article in today’s papers:

Father jailed for raping daughter
20 August 2008
Age saved a father, on Tuesday, from a life sentence for twice raping his own teenage daughter. Cape High Court Judge Rodger Cleaver said the fact that the man would be 80 on his release from prison if life imprisonment were imposed, justified a less severe sentence.

He said life imprisonment was extremely severe, and had to be reserved for extreme cases.
Cleaver instead jailed the 60-year-old for 15 years. An aggravating factor was that the girl had fallen pregnant after the second rape, forcing her as a child under the age of 16, to have to make adult decisions for the benefit of her baby.

The judge said the girl had … expressed understandable bitterness towards her father, and had in fact asked the court that he never be released from prison.

Judge Cleaver said the father and mother had enjoyed a good relationship, with the mother unaware of what was going on. The judge added: “even when the girl informed her mother about what was happening, the mother would not believe her”.

It was only when the girl became pregnant that her mother finally believed her.

Judge Cleaver said Parliament had ordained a minimum sentence of life imprisonment for the rape of a child under the age of 16. He said the courts had been urged to apply the minimum sentences consistently, and not to deviate and pass less severe sentences for flimsy reasons.

He said a court could only deviate from a prescribed sentence if the sentence was unjust and too harsh in the circumstances.

Who is Judge Cleaver and how does he come to this appalling set of conclusions? Why is the Cape Bench packed with such poor examples of the judiciary?

If raping and impregnating your daughter is not an extreme violation, then what is?

I’ve had it with South African men, I’m sick of the disrespect, the bar-room jokes about women, the rampant sexism, the failure to assume parenting responsibilities and those with power whether in the boardroom, judiciary or Parliament not honouring those who nurture the future.


  • Charlene Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist, author and media consultant. She has had 14 books published, one of which was shortlisted for an Alan Paton award. Television documentaries for which she has worked have also won awards. She has worked as a broadcast journalist and radio-station manager. Smith's areas of expertise are politics, economics, women's and children's issues and HIV. She lives and works in Cambridge, USA.


Charlene Smith

Charlene Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist, author and media consultant. She has had 14 books published, one of which was shortlisted for an Alan Paton award. Television documentaries for which...

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