Com­fort in pol­i­tics and me­dia for se­rial abusers

Sunday Times - - Opinion - ONKGOPOTSE JJ TABANE

The cha­rade called 16 Days of Ac­tivism against Gen­derBased Vi­o­lence ends to­day. It seems fair to con­clude that South African women — es­pe­cially women who are vic­tims of gen­derbased vi­o­lence — have lost faith in such cam­paigns, which do not gain much trac­tion. In the me­dia, which per­fected the art of mak­ing women sex ob­jects to be used as sales tools, ac­tivism from women is muted. The news­room is a pa­tri­ar­chal platform; many women in me­dia work for misog­y­nists and just grin and bear it.

How do you ex­plain a lack of ac­tivism where there are so many women talk-show hosts yet there are hor­ror sto­ries of sex­ual ha­rass­ment in so many news­rooms?

Look at the SABC, for ex­am­ple — so many tow­er­ing women hosts there, yet so much sex­ual ha­rass­ment. At least the new board has had the courage to in­ves­ti­gate, but we have yet to see whether the preda­tors will be brought to book.

Early this year a fe­male pre­sen­ter at a Gaut­eng ra­dio sta­tion called a fel­low fe­male pre­sen­ter and broke down on air about sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the sta­tion. There was never an in­ves­ti­ga­tion about that — the same ac­count­abil­ity is needed in pri­vate me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions.

There is, how­ever, an ab­sence of ac­tivism even by some of the most ar­tic­u­late talk-show hosts in places like this — that is why it is easy for man­age­ment to fail to ac­count for their acts even as the me­dia calls ev­ery­one else in so­ci­ety to ac­count.

Sto­ries in the tele­vi­sion and mu­sic in­dus­try are dis­gust­ing, where women ac­tors are asked for sex­ual favours in re­turn for ca­reer ad­vance­ment. The sex-for-jobs habit has be­come a modus operandi of many work­places and the abusers go about their busi­ness as usual, just wait­ing to harass the next per­son who needs their largesse.

This is the nub of the is­sue where fail­ure of these cam­paigns is con­cerned. Our so­ci­ety has not ma­tured to a point where vi­o­lence against women is frowned upon. In many a cir­cle of friends it is ac­cepted, and so the abusers find emo­tional refuge. In our work­places there is no sol­i­dar­ity with vic­tims. Col­leagues move on and turn a blind eye.

If there was ac­tivism in these places, the tide would have long turned and women hope­fully would feel safer. I sup­pose we should not be too sur­prised if you look at the political land­scape.

Parliament is not led by ex­am­ple — women bash­ers are pro­tected and even pro­moted. I am not aware of a woman basher whose ca­reer did not ad­vance be­cause they beat up a woman. Mduduzi

Manana, whose in­ci­dent was well pub­li­cised, still went on to be elected to the ANC’s high­est de­ci­sion-mak­ing body, rub­bing shoul­ders with some of the most coura­geous women ac­tivists of our time who are members of the NEC.

The pos­ture of pa­tri­archy is a stench across all political par­ties and sadly there are no con­se­quences. So we should not be sur­prised by hor­ren­dous lev­els of femi­cide: if an MP can sit in parliament for months and not be pun­ished, or a male MP thinks it is OK to threaten a fe­male MP, we will not win this fight.

In the ed­u­ca­tion fra­ter­nity, women stu­dents are forced to sleep with pro­fes­sors for aca­demic favours. And at ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion level we hear sto­ries of teach­ers sleep­ing with mul­ti­ple pupils and get­ting away with it. It’s a total mess all around where abuse of women and chil­dren is con­cerned and there seems to be no place that is safe for them.

As if that is not enough, the church has be­come the worst place in­stead of a place of refuge. The cur­rent case of Pas­tor Omo­toso’s ram­pant sex­ual abuse is sadly not an ex­cep­tion. Preda­tors in the pulpit. So should we re­ally be sur­prised if the 16 Days cam­paign is not taken se­ri­ously by the women of our coun­try?

If there is no ac­tivism in the NGO sec­tor and the me­dia, where there is no lead­er­ship by ex­am­ple in our high ech­e­lons of lead­er­ship (the pres­i­dent gave us Batha­bile Dlamini to lead the fight: go fig­ure), what are you go­ing to do?

Lead­er­ship is not go­ing to come from above. It is up to you and you only to stop the abuse of our women and chil­dren.

In our work­places there is no sol­i­dar­ity with vic­tims; col­leagues move on

Tabane is the au­thor of Let’s Talk Frankly and an in­de­pen­dent political com­men­ta­tor and com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­pert

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