By: Clyde Ramalaine
Be careful what you ask for, is an adage that involuntarily thrust itself on my thinking space as I followed the debate on SONA 2020. The annual SONA Debate a standard practice that brings together both houses of Parliament .took more than a personal twist and perhaps irresponsible turn since gender-based violence a South African society social ill became a political football as introduced by the ANC. The fictional demon Screwtape in C.S Lewis work warned us, “We will make the whole universe a noise in the end.” What we saw, heard in the visual and aural assault of our television screens attests a cacophony of the state of our politics. In this regard the SONA 2020 debate actualised the Screwtape’s prophecy.
Let me then upfront be crystal clear I seldom support or appreciate the EFF’s politics, yet what is not disputable is the fact that the EFF regularly outfoxes the ANC in critical debates of discourse and easily sets the stage. It is not far-fetched to argue the EFF often sets the agenda and has the ANC merely responding. t managed to let the actual SONA Address stand eclipsed by a focus on apartheid’s last president De Klerk and his most recent apartheid defence. On Tuesday, the EFF leader Malema flipped the script and determined what South Africans went to bed with as the simmering allegations of Ramaphosa in garments of a perpetrator of gender-based violence against women and children
It all started when recently promoted ANC MP Boy Mamabolo a former friend of EFF President launched a serial though the second personal attack on Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema. A week ago during the anticipated orchestrated filibustering episode of the EFF when the SONA address was delayed with more than an hour and a half, ANC MP Boy Mamabolo rose and dared Malema to go outside with him for a physical fight. This is the state of our politics, part of the noise we are forced to entertain.
If that was drama South Africa was going to hear about something else again led by the same presumptuous Mamabolo? Mamabolo will forgive us for assuming he has a personal axe to grind with Malema. Not lending any credence to the claims levelled for Mamabolo’s hate for Malema since speculations are swirling around that Mamabolo is still angry because his ex-girlfriend fell for Malema. Politics is for some personal as we know. He was unequivocal in his assertion that Malema was abusing his wife. To this Malema was asked to respond. He did so in the whole denial of such a claim. Mamabolo was the first to reduce gender-based violence to a political football in this SONA debate.
Malema accepted the invitation extended by Mamabola and by extension the ANC with alacrity. He is always one to sense gifted opportunity to deepen the fissures of an ANC as a divided directionless organisation, upon answering Mamabolo went a step further to take the questioning to the sitting president
What Mamabolo or those on the ANC side of the House didn’t anticipate was to see Malema in Machiavellian style in proverbial sense flip the script with his primary target of President Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa was made the centre of having to answer the same question that Malema was confronted with by Mamabolo. This question on the part of Malema assumed a very logical platform. Malema made it clear, the president is but one of three people he will take his aim at on the issue of gender-based- violence. Central to Malema’s argument was to question the fitness of a political leader and president to be the face of GBV campaign and to pronounce on gender-based violence incidents when he is alleged to have been accused of the same. Malema backed up his claims of Ramaphosa as a perpetrator of gender-based-violence with a dovetailed assertion with the following words, “President Zuma can confirm that Nomazizi, the late wife of Ramaphosa used to complain to him that the president [Ramaphosa] used to abuse her” said Malema. His premise was equality of president designations of party leadership immanent in him of the EFF and Ramaphosa of the ANC. The question was raised in the Joint House meaning the privilege of the House sustained such questioning.
What next unfolded saw a flurry of ANC members of parliament, one could not also help but notice younger members of the House rose to defend their President. These were made up of both male and female members of the ANC. It is interesting that on the subject matter no senior ANC women leader in the House outrightly rose to defend the president. Those who will argue Minister Naledi Pandor spoke up, must accept she engaged on an expletive that was allegedly attributed to some EFF members as they were leaving the house. Pandor thus did not categorically rise to defend the president. What do we make of the senior members being silent on the matter when the new lads attempted outdoing themselves in a contest of who can shout the loudest to defend their president.
There is little doubt that gender-based-violence in South Africa confirms a notorious and disturbing reality. Too many psychologists and criminologists have ventured to articulate the violent nature of a South African society particularly aided by statistics on alarming women and children as victims attesting grave proportions. I recently remarked in Trevor Smith Memorial golf-buddies-WhatsApp group it is striking that despite the confirmed advancement on all fronts that define humanity in progress, society at large remains primitive in its solving of problems where there is a difference of opinions and often resort to physical violence as a means to solve an impasse.
SA must make the fight against gender violence a serious priority it thus cannot be a haphazard cheaply politicized matter. However what is indisputable that gender-based violence no dissimilar to many social ills of a democratic society is a political matter which gets dressed in various kaftans depending who introduces the topic. It is also made a political football for those who seek to use it to a political end.
We may also flag the role of Amos Masondo as presiding officer, who entertained the ANC responses and in stark political partisanship used his chair to ask Malema to leave. Was Tsenoli stopping the Tsunami of revelations Malema was going to make, on who knows who in ANC circles?
It is here I wish to postulate perhaps lost in the translation are key issues that are missed. Politics by nature is noisy, yet noise does not silent cardinal matters of grave concern. Beyond the usual noise, shall we ask if the EFF Leader Malema with his flipped script on the ANC twist on the subject of gender-based violence not remotely protesting a voice against gender-based-violence with this categorical statement? For those who choose to easily condemn the EFF leader at times justifiably so, they may just hear politics but I hear a debate on what defines leadership on the matter. Somewhere in the background, I hear the vibration of an honest debate on the scourge of a social evil that annually attests alarming statistics which is placing political front and centre. Is Malema not perhaps in an unorthodox for some in a vile sense asking for the role of political leadership on the subject and the fitness of those who often are vocal in public spaces but may be in private setting be compromised? For example in a simple understanding can a private paedophile be a spokesperson for a campaign against child abuse? Is Malema pointing out that a possible reason why South Africa may never see an end to gender-based-violence is that the political leadership immanent in the highest office defines the face of such campaign as compromised since nagging allegations of President Ramaphosa keeps resurfacing?
Lest we forget that Ramaphosa as Deputy President during his campaigning in December 2017 in a Radio 702 Talk show shared his response to a claim of the late Fezekile Ntsukela ‘Khwezi’ Kuzwayo rape trial incident. Ramaphosa said, “he believed Khwezi was raped because she was brave to come forward…” in his assessment the rape was probably true. This unleashed a public response from the leader of ANCWL Bathabile Dlamini who on two occasions one in Phuthaditjaba and the other in Ekurhuleni categorically rebuked Ramaphosa for casting aspersions on President Zuma, whom a court acquitted of any rape charge. Dlamini was stinging in her 1.12 seconds clip herewith attached. Key is her categorical assertion that Ramaphosa knows from first-hand experience since he abused his former wife. Hence when Malema chooses to use this in the SONA 2020 debate it is hardly new.
Let the president respond because the rumours have been around for a long while. Let all those in office who abuse women be called out they can’t lead on this matter
We, therefore, must ask was Boy Mamabolo’s venturing into an open personal attack on Malema the second coming of a Ramaphosa’s 702 Radio Talk statement on the probability of rape charge conscious that a court has declared a claim of rape as non-existent.
Again for the record, it was an ANC member of parliament Boy Mamabolo that ventured this question to Malema at a personal level, in direct accusation. Why was this entertained by the ANC who is supposed to be much more circumspect to lead society as entrusted by a ballot? Why were the ANC Whip and Caucus leadership not desisting this callous and ill- thought invitation from Mamabolo? We understand it better when we read forwarded messages from WhatsApp groups that often confirm stranger truths. In this attached WhatsApp chat we see the very colourful ANC Chief whip Pemmy Majodima celebrating the behaviour of Boy Mamabolo confirming the endorsed by ANC parliamentary leadership.
At another level are people like Mamabolo in ANC parliamentary office space with a specific agenda and mandate albeit anchored in personal anger agenda as weaponry against a Malema against whom the ANC often have no coherent and sensible response? Why would he take the liberty to project this on a leader of a party when he and those who of his mind has no appetite to engage the same with their president as a centre?
Perhaps cause for greater concern is what do we make of the emotional ANC defenders in particular women of the president Ramaphosa? How do their individual and collective actions help any progressive debate on gender-based violence? I will contend these are not helping anyone and not the cause of women and children as victims of daily dastard acts of violence. Shall we ask of them which issue should take precedence as more pertinent if not the priority between defending a president and engaging the troublesome gender- based-violence issue that has women and children as key victims?
A SONA debate adopts a structured form. The president addresses the joint sitting of the House and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). Following his address opposition parties are extended the right and privilege to share their diverse responses as catered for usually two days are earmarked for this. Following the input understood in opinions and questions to the President by opposition parties, the president is afforded a final bite when he responds to the input and questions of opposition parties which closes out the SONA. This provision affords the president ample and rightful opportunity to clarify matters as raised and to categorically clear any levelled accusations. I say this to point out that the president has adequate privilege and opportunity to engage and has the final say on his SONA address.
It, therefore, can be accepted that in his anticipated final reply he will address this serious allegation levelled against him in being labelled a perpetrator of gender-based-violence. There was no need for anyone to defend the president since he is going to respond as is expected in a democratic parliament.
Malema’s point is valid since he is a president and was asked about his treatment of his wife. Why can’t Ramaphosa as ANC president be asked the same? So I think Julius as discomforting for some raised a necessary debate on political leadership on gender-based-violence. Can the President lead on the subject when he stands accused?
Ultimately the biggest casualties remain the growing victims of gender-based violence a social ill that yet has to be engaged in honesty, not as slogan spewed by politicians in the convenience of getting even with one another. Neither as an attempt to claim a moral high ground when questions can be asked of them in practical life experience.
Gender-based violence warrants that leaders across all sphere regardless of designation or status be exemplary in their conduct if they going to be the mouthpieces of the campaign against this prevalent evil in a SA society. Gender-based violence compels a necessary discourse, it warrants an honest debate. As with many things, gender-based-violence is unfortunately deliberately politicized but it is politicized by those who do not want an honest debate where we all are held accountable not for our words but our deeds. We must make sense of the noise because we run the risk of making the whole universe noise. We certainly have not heard the last salvo on this fitness of a president to lead the fight against gender-based violence.