August is National Women’s Month in South Africa. It is a month dedicated to the achievements of women and the important role they play in South African life.
In an ideal world, the celebration and respect of women should be something that occurs as naturally as drawing breath. However, until that utopia is reached, it is necessary to have special days and months to remind us of what we all aspire to.
That said, it’s a shame that people who should be setting an example for others in this regard are the very same ones whose behaviour and actions against women have been called into question this August.
The month began with a South African deputy minister, Mduduzi Manana, being charged with assaulting two women at a nightclub in Johannesburg. While one would have thought that some of the loudest voices attacking the minister would have come from organisations such as the ruling ANC Women’s League, the nation was shocked when senior female ANC leaders appeared to side with the disgraced minister.
It took two weeks after the vicious assault by the minister and the furore surrounding it, before he was reportedly carpeted by President Jacob Zuma and told to either resign or be fired. The minister chose the former action and he has since apologised for his behaviour and promised to seek help. He will still have to face his accusers in court, and that is as it should be.
Just as the furore over the now former minister was dying down, reports emerged of Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Grace Mugabe, invoking “diplomatic immunity” to skip the country in an attempt to escape being charged with the assault of a 20-year-old model, Gabriella Engels.
Mrs Mugabe, who ironically is head of the Zanu PF Women’s League, is alleged to have attacked the young woman with an electric extension cord when she happened upon her at a Johannesburg hotel room reportedly occupied by two of Mugabe’s sons. The graceless Zimbabwean first lady, who coincidentally was born in Johannesburg, and who is said to own property in South Africa, may find it very difficult to return to the country after this outrage, which has driven one SA lobby group, Afriforum, to call for a review of the decision to grant Mrs Mugabe diplomatic immunity.
Interestingly, Afriforum, the group at the forefront of fighting for Ms Engels in the case against Mrs Mugabe, is known for its virulent opposition to affirmative action as well as the renaming of streets around the country.
As Women’s Month draws to an end, I shudder to think what the over 20,000 heroic women of the August 9, 1956 march on SA’s seat of government, the Union Buildings in Pretoria, who gave us the cry, “When you strike a woman, you strike a rock”, would think of us if they were to see what’s happened during the special time we are meant to be paying tribute to their struggle.