Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
4 March 2008

On miniskirts and transformation

I have to confess that I am a great fan of miniskirts. A man in a miniskirt is a particularly sexy sight, but I also feel proud when I see my South African sisters walking down the street in a tiny miniskirt. Those who wear miniskirts (men or woman) are boldly asserting their independence from the patriarchs who for too long have ruled our lives.

Granted, they are not very practical as they generally do not have pockets (where does one keep the car keys and the wallet?), but wearing a miniskirt makes a statement. It says that one does not “belong” to anyone, cannot be possessed by anyone, and need not be constrained by the dictates of the powerful men who have always ruled our world by imposing their views of how the rest of us should live or behave ourselves onto the rest of us who do not have the brute strength to fend them off.

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Three cheers then for radio personality, Redi Direko, who led a march of miniskirt wearing woman (where were the men in skirts?) to protest against the scandalous behaviour of Taxi drivers in Johannesburg who last week attacked Nwabisa Ngcukana (25) at the central Johannesburg taxi rank in Noord Street because they said she was indecently dressed. Drivers and hawkers allegedly tore off her clothing because she was being “taught a lesson about wearing a miniskirt”.

These kinds of attitudes and behaviour are deeply troubling because they are so obviously based on sexism. Those taxi drivers obviously think that woman has a duty to please men and not to think for themselves. In this view woman are no more than possessions of men who have to behave in a way that will please men.

It also suggests that many South Africans have not internalised the excellent provisions in our Constitution that guarantees for every woman the right to equality, human dignity and bodily integrity. We often talk about the fact that our Constitution is a transformative document that requires a complete move away from past injustices and oppression towards a new human rights based culture.

Sadly, when we talk about transformation this is taken as shorthand for a change in the demographics of sports teams and workplaces to more accurately reflect the racial composition of our society. Of course, that kind of transformation is important because without it we cannot begin to address the injustices of the apartheid era. But if one looks at the Constitution transformation should mean far more than merely replacing white patriarchs with black patriarchs.

What the Constitution requires is a transformation of the patriarchy as well. The deeply entrenched sexist and homophobic values in our society cannot be squared with the ringing guarantees in the Constitution. Real transformation requires that we address the kind of sexism of which the taxi rank attacks are only a crude example. Because a deeper transformation is not in the interest of new black patriarchs, they would often resist such transformation while loudly insisting on the need for a very narrow kind of racial transformation.

On this issue President Thabo Mbeki has actually been a leader. Pity not all those in his party has followed him. Pity also that the new leader of the ANC is obviously a sexist and a patriarch. What is needed is perhaps a deeper discussion on the nature of transformation that the Constitution requires of us. We need to challenge the patriarchal views of men (of all races) not only when they exhibit themselves in crude attacks like those of the taxi drivers, but also when they manifest themselves in more subtle forms at work and at home.

That is why the march by several hundred woman is an excellent innitiative. Men of all races will not change on their own – just like white people will not change on their own. They have to be nagged and cajoled and shamed and sometimes fought with all the legitimate tools at one’s disposal. Otherwise, the more things change, the more they will stay the same.

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