As someone recently told me, “it’s very easy to criticise the government”. That is true, but deserves further thought.
The reality is that this is exactly what our current political dispensation fought for. The lives lost, families torn apart and the blood shed was all done in the hope of creating the very freedoms that we can take for granted — including the fact that I have the right to be critical of the government. Our country has travelled a tumultuous path to finally achieving the political will of the people. With the advent of social media and much greater access to news and opinions, we have all become much more vocal in our points of view.
Therefore, when observing the speaker and the giggling president in Parliament last week, the realisation (yet again) that this is not what was fought for rears its head. The manner and the words of the speaker, Baleka Mbete, raises the question of whether she actually understands what the purpose of her role in Parliament is. All that we have been able to gather from last week’s question session is that some people are more equal than others and that the rules of Parliament are applied selectively. When the EFF defied the speaker, they were forcibly and violently removed from Parliament. Why was the same treatment not meted out to the president? The president was aggressive, blunt and did not accord the rules of Parliament much regard. With increasingly adamant denials and avoidance of the facts, he has had another good day in office. The speaker’s uncanny ability to have selective hearing is a wonder of nature — how is it possible to hear everything said by the non-ANC MPs, yet snide and unparliamentary conduct by members of the ANC is never noted.
How can it be, that the president refers to an MP as an “intombazane” (girl)? This comment, together with the speaker’s earlier assertion about the president’s degree of equality vs other MPs has received startlingly little coverage.
By referring to an MP as a girl, the president has displayed a deep-rooted disregard and sexist attitude to women. This should come as no surprise after the outrageous comments that were made by the very same man. Echoing his 2009 comments that young mothers should be forcibly separated from their children until they have completed their schooling. How do we as a society condone such attitudes? We are already faced with shocking levels of gender-based violence. We are one of the rape capitals in the world and the fact that women are never treated as equal to men is blatantly apparent.
When the leader of a country has multiple wives and partners, has a ministerial department called “Women, Children and people with Disabilities” (does this mean women are considered on the same footing as children? Or is being a female a disability?) makes unacceptable comments about women and giggles when admonished, embellishes the perception that the rights of women do not deserve the same respect as men. Why are we silent about this? Is the subjugation of women in our society so deep-rooted that comments of this nature do not cause offence?
The time to raise awareness about this type of attitude is now. We cannot allow those that we have elected to go unchallenged. This is what democracy is. These are the rights that we have — to question what those wielding power say and do. To create accountability to us as citizens and respect the Constitution and all citizens irrespective of gender.