Sonke condemns politicians’ sexist statements

Recent statements by politicians Julius Malema and Tokyo Sexwale undermine gender transformation in South Africa. Sonke has lodged complaints against these two high-profile individuals in the Equality Court.

Julius Malema

In early January, ANC Youth League president, Julius Malema, suggested that the woman who accused ANC president Jacob Zuma of rape had a “nice time” with him. He also said, “[W]hen a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money.”

Malema’s comments trivialise women’s frequent experience of being blamed for rape or being treated with disregard by our police, courts and clinics, and demonstrate contempt for the thousands of women who experience rape in communities across the country. By making a joke about rape, Malema’s comments also undermine efforts to get men to play an active role in preventing domestic and sexual violence. “That a national leader should make such comments is utterly repugnant,” says Bafana Khumalo, co-director of Sonke. “This statement cannot be left unchallenged.”

The fact that the ruling-party has also failed to condemn Malema’s comments is also worrying. The ANC has officially states its support for gender equality and needs to back this up by publically opposing statements that undermine women and add to the difficulties rape victims face when reporting the crimes committed against them.

Sonke staff member Mbuyiselo Botha has taken the Malema matter to the Equality Court. The case has been postponed while Sonke obtains legal advise. Sonke is concerned that at the first appearance of this matter before the court, Julius Malema did not appear in person. This is an important matter, and Mr Malema should take it seriously and face up to the complaint in person.

Tokyo Sexwale

Also in January, Tokyo Sexwale, a member of the ANC national executive committee, allegedly stated at an ANC Eastern Cape rally that the Congress of the People (COPE) was using old women for “witchcraft” to win votes.

Tokyo Sexwale’s comments are problematic on two counts. First, the statement linking older women to witchcraft reinforces negative stereotypes that are dangerous and disrespectful. In parts of South Africa, calling someone a witch can lead to violence against them. “This is not just a figure of speech, it may cost people their lives,” says Khumalo.

Second, the comments assume that older women are unable to make their own choices and are being taken advantage of by others. Our constitution ensures that all adult women in South Africa have the right to vote. Women can make political choices for themselves regardless of their age and these choices need to be respected.

Although a complaint has also been made against Mr Sexwale at the Equality Court, this matter will not proceed. Mr Sexwale’s legal representatives have argued that this is not a matter for the Equality Court, and Sonke’s staff do not have the resources to take this matter further.

The comments by both these leaders are highly problematic and represented a step backwards for gender equality in this country