NEWS & ANALYSIS

The great SONA wife-beater debate

Andrew Donaldson writes on the huismoles between Malema and Mamabolo

A FAMOUS GROUSE

THERE’S been some foul weather up here, and there’s more to come. By the time you read this, a month’s worth of rain may or may not have fallen in the past six hours and we could all be washed away should the Greater Sop, the nearby ditch that passes for a river, burst its banks. 

Like a typical winter’s day in the Western Cape, in other words.

At the moment, though, the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) remains dry and warm and we were able to devote some attention to Cyril Ramaphosa’s avuncular response to the debate on his state of the nation address. 

There was however some grumbling that this was an hour or so of our lives that we’d never get back, but there were a couple of noteworthy moments concerning “contributions” to the debate, if that is the appropriate term, from the leadership of the Economic Freedom Fighters.

There was the issue of gender-based violence. And by which we don’t mean what in Afrikaans is known as “huismoles”, the sort of domestic unpleasantry that followed the rolling home from an evening of philosophy and brandy at the Mahogany Ridge back in the old days. No, this was way more serious.

___STEADY_PAYWALL___

It started on Tuesday when Boy Mamabolo, a Limpopo ANC MP now famously known as a man who can appear in public dressed simultaneously as a bridegroom and an ice-cream vendor, rose in the National Assembly to suggest that the redshirts commander-in-chief Julius Malema “abused” his wife, Mantoa Matlala. Lawyers were consulted, and a dudgeon-stuffed letter, along with a demand for R2-million should he fail to withdraw the allegation, was mailed to Mamabolo most pronto:

“Your defamatory statements … gravely disappoint our client. To proceed to mock victims of Gender Based Violence, especially in the current climate our country is facing, by accusing innocent people of it just to tarnish their image or ‘settle a score’ is unacceptable of a person in our current society, most especially a person who is a member of parliament. Our client is disgusted by Gender Based Violence and the rate in which more and more women are abused in South Africa. Should the accusations levelled against our client and her husband have any merit whatsoever, our client would have attended to the nearest police station to report same. Our client does not require you to be her voice.”

Note, as we have, the emphasis on “a person who is a member of parliament” as if such a person is especially vulnerable to such slurs by dint of the pronounced sensitivity that comes with the often alarming elevation to such a position. When in fact such a person is not himself averse to the notion of great harm being visited upon large sections of the population.

Nonetheless, it is never pleasant having lawyers thrust into your affairs. They are service providers who charge what they believe the market will bear. A great fortune, in other words. One almost feels sorry for Mamabolo, who may already have had his fill of such people, what with being out on bail on looting and public violence charges.

Moving on. The commander-in-chief, having been thus impugned, then responded in kind on Wednesday by accusing Mamobela’s induna, the great Squirrel, of assaulting his former wife, the late Nomazizi Mtshotshisa. 

“Now chair,” Malema began, “let me answer your question on domestic violence. When I spoke here, during the state of the nation last year, I said, ‘Anyone who has never beaten his wife in the past 25 years must raise his hand.’ And I said, ‘I can do that, because I have no history of such things.’ I have never, not once, not my ex, not my wife, not anything! I’ve never laid a hand on my wife. I ask that question precisely because I got information that the president used to beat his wife, Nomazizi. The late wife of the president. May her soul rest in peace.”

Cue then apoplexy, outrage and the customary chaos as a furious ANC caucus fell over themselves in rising on points of order. Malema was enjoying himself. “If you want to be personal, I can be very personal,” he smirked. 

After some interruption, and over more shouts from the ruling party MPs, he continued, “I’m now dealing with my perspective of gender-based violence. It must not be gender-based violence when it comes to Julius Malema, and when it comes to your president, it’s not gender-based violence. I am the president of an organisation too and I shall treat your president the same way you treat me!”

Poor, dopey Amos Masondo. The National Council of Provinces chairman bravely attempted to impress upon all concerned that he was in charge of the debate and fumbled his way through what amounted to a warning that, should he not withdraw his comments, Malema would be asked to leave the chamber. But the failed gentleman cabbage farmer was having none of that. He said he had nothing to hide about abusing his wife. 

He continued over much shouting: “Can the president answer the question: did he beat his late wife? That’s the question we must answer because I have been asked the same question in this House… The president has got a history of beating up his wife, his late wife, and I’m following in the same steps!”

Several unfortunate ambiguities duly noted.

“You came here to start personal battles without knowing the implications! … No history of abuse! But a history of love! That’s me! I don’t have a history of abusing women, I’m happily married! I don’t have a … an ex-wife that says I am beating her! President Zuma can confirm! Nomazizi used to complain to President Zuma about being abused by [Ramaphosa]…”

Ah, when in doubt, call for Mr Love Pants, an expert in these matters. But no-one was listening to Malema, who now dismissed his baying opponents: “I’m not scared of all of you! I’m not scared of nothing! … You come to me with a nonsense, I’ll give you a nonsense…”

Entertaining as this diversion may have been, and certainly, the redshirts did seem to enjoy it, all laughing among themselves as they waddled out of the chamber in a show of support for Il Douche, it nevertheless allowed Ramaphosa an opportunity to avoid addressing some of the other pressing issues raised in the debate.

It was one the Buffalo grasped with both hands. First, though, he dealt with the earlier distraction of apartheid’s status as a crime against humanity. No problem there.

Then came the issue of gender-based violence. Ramaphosa claimed he’d received a text from a young woman who was appalled at the manner in which the “weaponisation” of gender-based violence had been used as “grist for the gossip-mill” and to “settle political scores” in the debate.

He went on to suggest that the exchanges in the debate served to “politicise and trivialise” violence against women. “At a time when we are called upon as nation to intensify and deepen the struggle to end all forms of violence perpetrated by men against women, the statements made – and the purposes they were intended to serve – were disgraceful.”

Later, after some “look-on-the-bright-side” woo-woo and guff about plastering mirrors with Post-It notes that read “You suck!”, Squirrel returned to the matter of gender-based violence in his closing, off-script remarks, which he directed at Malema. 

After apologising to Malema and his wife Mantao for Mamabolo’s “improper” remarks, he pointed out that his late former wife, Nomazizi, was not able to respond to his claims which, the president said, had “politicised and trivialised” an important issue.

“And I want to say to you,” he continued, “I am a father of a daughters; I am a grandfather of granddaughters; I am a husband; I am a brother to a sister; and I also have in my cabinet… 50% of the people in my cabinet are women, and I have MPs who are women; and we have South Africans, the majority of whom are women; and these are the people all of us must stand up for, and these are the people we must serve. We must engage in this fight and bring gender-based violence to an end, and we must do so in our lifetime.”

Fine words. Honestly. Presidential, even. 

But how encouraging it would have been if he had, let’s just say, responded as passionately to any of the issues raised in the debate by acting DA leader John Steenhuisen. The small matter, perhaps, of the utter failure to resolve the Eskom crisis, or any of the other collapsing state-owned enterprises, or root out the cancer of corruption and act against the criminal elements within his own party, or deal with rampant unemployment, or halt the destruction of the economy.

Or, for that matter, take positive steps to deal with gender-based violence.

But he ignored Steenhuisen and the DA completely in his response to the debate. When he did respond to an opposition MP, it was to Floyd Shivambu, the EFF’s deep thinker and resident werepanda. 

Shivambu had suggested moving Parliament from the Mother City as it was too remote and removed from the rest of the country. “We are here in Cape Town,” he complained, “because of a colonial pact. It doesn’t make sense for [Parliament] to be at the furthest corner of South Africa.”

Ramaphosa, who had prattled on a bit about “the spatial architecture of our past, and promoting development in areas that have long been neglected”, thought Shivambu was on to a good thing here. “This is a discussion we should have,” Squirrel said. “Some research is being done in that regard. We should be brave and bold to change apartheid architecture.”

Moving Parliament out of Cape Town is, I must confess, a proposal I can endorse. I have in recent years warmed to the idea that the Western Cape should secede as no good can possibly come of it being governed by the racial obsessives in the Union Buildings. I have given some thought to the matter and even have a proposed name for the newly independent state: Spesbonia. (Ta-dah!) But more of that another time.

As for the site of the new Parliament, well, why not plonk it down somewhere in the middle of the country? 

Like Orania. 

It’s not only halfway between Pretoria and Cape Town but it’s also midway between Richards Bay in the east and Port Nolloth in the west. It’s equally remote for everybody. And it’s dry in winter. There’s very little rain all year, in fact. As for areas that are in need of development, Orania is situated in the Northern Cape close to the Free State border. Which, you will agree, is a whole bunch of wide open space and forlorn neglect. MPs will certainly have no distractions up there as they set about fixing things.

Footnote: It should be placed on the record that Mamabolo has since apologised to Malema for suggesting he beats his wife, and Malema has likewise apologised to the president for his remarks. More encouragingly, it appears that, having drawn attention to the matter last week, the EFF leader appears to have taken active steps to improve his diction and no longer speaks of “vowelence”. He is no less scary, though.