Beat the women!

26 March 2004

Thabo’s comment that if his sister went out with the ACDP’s Kenneth Meshoe, he would beat his sister, is making mere ripples in the pond. Apparently the ANC is saying that it was an off the cuff remark, and he didn’t mention any leader by name. So bloody what? The point isn’t Kenneth Meshoe, its woman abuse!

And of course the way the media in South Africa handles these things. Earlier this year we had the disgusting spectacle of Debra Patta (read Noseweek for more dirt on her!) publically chastising Salome Isaacs on the 7 o’clock news for laying a ‘false’ rape charge against Siraj Desai. Now, who knows about the truth or falsehood of the charge, but very quickly Desai got turned into a martyr by the SA media (South African man held in dingy Indian prison! The shock, the horror – those dark foreigners are barbarians, etc, etc!), and Mark Isaacs’ story of being a ‘betrayed husband’ overshadowed anything Salome Isaacs had to say. In fact, I don’t recall ever hearing Salome Isaacs being quoted on this, she was straight back to South Africa and into domestic confinement.

In Guerra Sociale’s “The Reasons for a Hostility – About the Mass Media” (scroll down to see it) they mention that “Thoughts and actions hostile to this society must not appear. They must be silenced, falsified or rendered incomprehensible.” What the South African media silences is precisely the position of violence against women (sexual or not) as being not marginal, but constitutive. The patriarchal family is a kind of “male deal” (thanks to Terisa Turner for that phrase), where ruling class men bind subaltern men to their side by offering a guarantee of domination over women in exchange for loyalty. The manipulation of “tribal” tradition in South Africa led to a particular variation on this, where the identity of men as the “free” provider contrasting with the “domestic” women was enforced by the migrant labour system.

The peculiarity of South African society is that Black men were simultaneously men and boys – men, in their roles as “traditional” patriarchs (and identity which carried signifiers of noble, savage and incomprehensible), and boys, in their role as super-exploited labourers. Black masculinity thus got caught up in the struggle against Apartheid – one side of the struggle became the struggle to be men. O god, what a disaster! Now you can see how it was easy as 1, 2, 3 to transition into a non-racial form of patriarchal domination – just mix around the terms of the deal a bit, and there you go! A nasty brew indeed – and all the media tells us is that male success = power and domination (you know, all the image of those slick Nubians males). Let us not talk about women’s role in “keeping it all together” – women’s labour is automatic, it is natural – and to focus on the sexism and violence of our great leaders could all too easily lead to a focus on the everyday violence that compels the great flow of free labour that is called “women’s work”.

So, Thabo, joke about beating the sister. Its a nudge and a wink, and the little bosses go home to the hearth to delineate the space where they rule, naturally!

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