Life is complex and therefore consciousness about life is caused by a myriad of issues internal and external to each person and society at a particular time. In this instance cause and effect do not sit in rigid anti-thesis one from the other. Therefore, presentation of things in a one-sided manner as Jessie Duarte did, leaves her blind to a number of permutations that are at play in society which cause what we think we already know as alive to be in reality both dead and alive at the same time, dependent on the angle from which it is analysed.
In our contribution in the public discourse, we have a responsibility to explore the complexity of the questions confronting us and present them in a manner that dialectically exposes their various elements in order to collectively arrive at relatively scientific conclusions, whose weakness will be proven by time and better resources at investigation. Duarte in her article does none of this.
Charge 1: Women are passengers in relationships
In her attempt to fight patriarchy, she uses well-known patriarchal arguments that have been used to reduce women over the years. She turns them into merely objects of history and not as subjects. They cannot cause, but are merely recipients of effects. She says women are not “gap fillers while a family man is waiting for a baby”. This means women who decide to participate as “gap fillers while a family man is waiting for a baby” often do so against their will.
Here, she presents women as something akin to children that cannot take decisions on their sexuality and determine how to utilise it. Her argument ignores the reality that often, as much as men utilise their social standing in society to get into unequal relationships; women for various reasons choose to have relationships with “powerful men” rather than the ordinary Joe.
There are a myriad of reasons for this that I choose not to explore because of space, but the fact is, society is riddled with stories of how women chose to abandon an ordinary Joe for a man in a powerful position or for a man with a flashy car, house or a man who is generally financially stable. Nobody can say in all of this women are unwilling participants that are dragged kicking and screaming, more often than not, they are willing participants who determine their sexuality and how to utilise it much to the bitterness of the ordinary Joe.
Patriarchy is well-known for its treatment of women as mindless and incapable of intellectual rigor let alone independence to the extent that many societies used this antiquated notion to exclude women from voting or participating in decision-making processes using the feeble argument that women will have their men vote and decide for them. Closer to home, the payment that a man is required to pay for having sex with an unmarried woman or having impregnated her moves from the fallacious notion that she was not an active participant in the sexual activity that took place but was simply a hapless recipient.
I agree with Irvin Jim here, we must reject “the portrayal of women, whatever their position, as mindless morons incapable of moral judgment”.
Of course, I am aware of the argument that levels of consciousness depend on a whole lot of events. Thus, what some hold as consciousness, can be actually false consciousness. This means that someone because of their levels of intellectual development can know their world in a manner that prejudices them. This is prevalent throughout our society, more-so for the working class.
But can this not be used to disallow people from voting using an argument that they are not educated enough to know what is good for them.
This suggests that a woman who may have willingly participated in a relationship where she acted as a “gap filler” is not supposed to be held responsible for the choice she made, is not different to arguing that she must be disenfranchised because she is not conscious enough.
Charge 2: Gender relations are power relations
Duarte is absolutely correct to argue that in a society such as ours gender relations are by nature power relations, therefore meaning women by nature of this society enter into relationships disempowered. Because this is patriarchal society, the power relation is tilted primarily to the benefit of men.
However, because this is patriarchal society, we must therefore fix the matter firmly in our minds that literally all men that are in relationships with women are primarily beneficiaries of unequal gender relations. On this basis should we then outlaw all heterosexual relations and wait until patriarchy is defeated because in this society all gender relations are power relations? Is this possible? Would this not be equal to saying workers must not seek jobs because by so doing they will work and develop capitalism?
Clearly this is not what Duarte is arguing against because this would put all humankind in peril. All she is doing here is argue that the relationship that has to do with Vavi is THE only one that is unequal, and thus the only one that must be condemned. This is both factually incorrect, unscientific and probably intellectually dishonest.
Take for example, a president of a country is an extremely powerful man, therefore, nothing short of outlawing the president from engaging in sexual activity with citizens of his country would prevent a president from being accused of using his position to find love. Maybe, presidents must date other presidents in order to ensure that the relationship is relatively equal. This is not possible. Sexual relations by nature are a result of attraction.
Of course, Vavi having a relationship with an employee was clearly an own-goal that must never be repeated, precisely for the fact that it has the capacity to poison a working environment not because of some moral standard that cannot stand up to scrutiny, but because of the disunity can be caused by a person who has the personal affections of the so-called boss. On this, I find solace that Vavi apologises for this act and I am of the view that he has to regain the trust of society on this rather than expect instant trust. He too, accepts by the way that he will have to regain trust, it will not come back automatically.
Charge 3: Vavi rape
Using thinly veiled expressions, Duarte infers that Vavi is guilty of rape: “a powerful man used his position to coerce a subordinate to have sex with him”. This is despite the usual notion in society that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. Of course, Duarte is not society, she is just a member of it. She is well within her rights to flout this societal notion in accordance with her whims.
Anyway, the notion of innocence until guilt is proven is merely a legalistic argument, it does not hold for the court of public opinion. This is why in some instances a judge can conclude that someone is innocent and society would beg to differ, while in some instances a judge could conclude that someone is guilty and society would still beg to differ. Therefore even we, the hoi polloi can have our bite.
To be fair the fact that Vavi’s accuser has not decided to take the matter to court prejudices Vavi in a very serious manner. We the public, have been robbed of an opportunity to listen to both sides of the story and make up our mind about the issue. For now, we are left to do guess work on the basis of the fragments that are at our disposal.
Given the gratuitous exchange of goodnights between Vavi and his accuser days after the alleged rape, amid congratulations for having sired twins and pats on the back about having a nice name such as Zwelinzima that are all contained in the SMS exchanges, it is difficult to conclude that these are conversations between a victim and a perpetrator but rather present a picture of lovebirds whispering sweet nothings till the dead of the night, hardly a cocktail of conversations between a rapist and a victim.
Charge 4: There is no conspiracy
Duarte’s contention that “there is no conspiracy” cannot stand-up to closer scrutiny. Yes, she has a point, lust is a co-conspirator against Vavi. This he is to blame for and he has already apologised both to his wife and the public as profusely as possible.
Despite agreeing with her that lust is a conspirator, clearly, the tactic of accusing Vavi of rape with no intention of reporting it to police is indicative enough that there is a conspiracy.
Secondly, Vavi claims that the complainant herself confirms in one of her SMSs that there are people who are promising to give her a million rands if she agrees to expose him. This is another instance of conspiratorial behaviour. Here are people who are not encouraging a woman to open a case but are rather encouraging her to assist their political ends. Is this not another instance where conspiracy exists?
For that matter, the conspiracy to get rid of Vavi in Cosatu has been there long before there was an allegation of rape. It started doing rounds in newspaper peddled by anonymous sources. It has carried on in newspapers since late last year now. Is it this that comrade Duarte is so overzealous to deny?
The conspiracy of a person’s zip can perfectly co-exist with a conspiracy to use that zip as a political football that must be kicked towards a goal of removal from. These are not mutually exclusive. Duarte’s attempt to present them as mutually exclusive is both dishonest and unconvincing.
Charge 5: Vavi employed a person not having followed procedure
What we have here is simply an allegation, none of this has been proven, I am wont to say that on this the jury is still out and as a Cosatu employee I will argue that for me, this is sub-judice. All I can say is that, someone must point out a single organisation between the ANC and SACP that has advertised all its posts and I will show you a pig that flies.
In the fight against patriarchy we need to direct our energies towards ensuring that there is true gender equality. We must collectively ensure that women enjoy the same right as men to determine their sexuality and decide how to exercise it without the prying eye of the public, which will pass erroneous moral judgment on their choices different to what it does for men.
We need to condemn all forms of sexual violence and reserve the full wrath of our anger for those women and men who lay false rape charges. This weakens the case of women who are real victims of rape.
We must fight the triple burden placed on working-class women by the capitalist, by race and by the family which exploits them at every turn and weakens their participation in society and turns them into junior partners to men. We must do this by knowing the real enemy and avoiding throwing hand-grenades at imaginary enemies.