These are the women who rock
In this month of August, it would be more than justified – nay, required; nay, necessary; nay, compulsory – to salute two women who represent the idea of an unbreakable rock much better than the faux leaders who will be damaging our ears with chants of “Wathint’ Imbokodo” over the next few weeks.
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela and parliamentarian Makhosi Khoza have aptly played the role of the boulder blocking the march of corruption, malfeasance and the normalisation of bad politics. Like the tough rocks they are, they have stood firm as the elements have battered them and sought to erode their being. They have withstood the chiselling away at their dignity.
The similarity between these women is that – other than the usual influences of family, religion and community – their standpoints were shaped by the political movement that now considers their marriage to ethics and probity as treasonous. They were cooked by the Mass Democratic Movement, a political school that was grounded in social justice and service to others.
Madonsela spent much of the 1980s in the trade union movement and anti-apartheid activism, suffering harassment and incarceration at the hands of the apartheid security police.
Madonsela was a surprise choice for Public Protector in 2009, with many believing that newly elected President Jacob Zuma was deliberately picking a lightweight who would go easy on him. At the time, her public profile was only slightly higher than that of Kjell Jonevret when he was unveiled as the coach of the mighty and glorious Buccaneers six months ago.
Instead of being the lamb that people feared she would be, she turned the institution into a formidable watchdog. Her arrival could not have come sooner. The Office of the Public Protector had been gutted of any boldness and forthrightness under her predecessor, Lawrence Mushwana, a former MP who just wanted to play nicely with his former comrades.
During her tenure, Madonsela earned herself undeserved enemies, not least the man who had appointed her. Rather than celebrate her breathing life into the institution, they scorned her. Insults, death threats and conspiracy theories followed her.
Khoza is another “child of the revolution” who has found herself being ostracised for speaking in defence of that very revolution. An activist since her teens, she also suffered at the hands of the apartheid system and had her home destroyed by forces loyal to the cantankerous chief from Ulundi.
She is almost certain to be kicked out of the political organisation whose core values she is espousing and will lose her seat in the Parliament where she has been an exemplary representative of the people.
For being a good South African and for speaking out against the rot in the ANC and in government, Khoza has been rewarded with death threats, insults and conspiracy theories.
But she has been steadfast. She declared that her “refusal to support all that which is inconsistent with the ANC mission has resulted in insults, threats on my life, condemnation”.
“They threatened to kill me. I exposed them. They tried everything to silence me. They failed. They accuse me of having political allegiance elsewhere because I hate corruption because of its devastating effects on the poor. I refuse to allow the ANC of Nelson Mandela, Lillian Ngoyi and Ahmed Kathrada to be synonymous with corruption,” she said.
In this Women’s Month, we will be subjected to speeches and pronouncements from some of the worst women leaders the progressive movement has ever had.
The ever-chewing leader of the ANC Women’s League will be in our faces, telling us why her preferred presidential candidate is South Africa’s weapon against gender inequality, patriarchy, misogyny and other ills. We will be hearing from said presidental candidate, a once fine individual who has allowed her standing to be demeaned and corroded by the company she keeps. The minister who once told the nation that it is fine for the rand to fall because we can just “pick it up” will also be bludgeoning us with her fongkong wisdom.
During the month of August there will be a cacophony of voices of people who will be trying to convince us that they are the custodians of the legacy of Charlotte Maxeke, Rahima Moosa and Frances Baard. These will be the voices of women who hoisted an unashamed misogynist to the nation’s highest office. A man they have been cheering on through the years as he demeaned women with his actions and words.
These individuals who will be leading our Women’s Month celebrations are the very same ones who either joined in or looked on as the women of courage were abused by the menfolk in their party. To them there will no contradiction between their pro-women rhetoric and their practical support for misogyny and patriarchy.
At least we do have something to celebrate in these two exemplary citizens, who do not prize comfort, personal reward and upward mobility above principle. They are by no means exceptions to the rule. There are millions of South African women just like them in different spheres of society, women who daily show courage and integrity. The exceptions to the rule are the compromised and amoral.
So, in celebrating Madonsela and Khoza, we are celebrating the South African woman.