Two troubling incidents, one in neighbouring South Africa and another here at home, played out on media platforms last week. Though unrelated, the incidents speak to how people react to incidents of abuse of women and reports therefore.
Early in the week, a known ruling party activist, nominated councillor and a contender in the upcoming highly polarised Botswana Democratic Party special congress, Roseline Phanzirah-Mashome wrote in her Facebook page her take on sexual harassment in politics.
The Tlokweng civic leader who is contesting the post of deputy secretary general, from the camp of presidential hopeful, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi must have rubbed her opponents the wrong way when she stated that unlike some, she did not sleep her way to the top. Once a close confidante of President Mokgweetsi Masisi and now bitter enemy, Phanzirah-Matshome curiously stated that she has turned down many proposals and had no intention to sleep with her “leader”.
While not stating who the rejected men or the leader, were, the outspoken woman irked many of the President’s faction, known as CAVA, formerly Camp Dubai, which Phanzirah-Matshome was among its leading figures during the Tonota elective congress two years ago. Since, as is now public knowledge, she is now in the Ian Khama/Venson-Moitoi camp, New Jerusalem.
Last week’s outburst, which made it to the mainstream media, was taken as a shot at her former friends and even accusing the top leaders of sexual abuse. But of critical importance in Phanzirah-Matshome’s statement, something that should be our rallying point is her caution to young women, to avoid engaging in sexual relationships for promotion. She rightfully, stated that not all women in positions of power slept their way to the top.
Strangely, but not surprisingly, among her attackers, were women political activists, who one assumes, moved from the premise that Phanzirah-Matshome, was hitting at the CAVA leaders. Like many who dared speak publicly about this sickness, of sexual abuse in politics, or any public institution, she was stripped naked in comments and just about accused of being the opposite of what she said she was not – a product of sexual favours. Instead of women especially, taking heed and supporting her call to end sexual abuse in politics, Phanzirah-Matshome was abused, insulted, as did her husband and just about thrown to the wolves. She was intimidated, victimised for daring to speak.
The same treatment was meted to a young woman, Gugulethu Ncube, daughter of opposition leader in Zimbabwe. Ncube took dramatic action by staging a protest at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the home of South African administration, semi-naked, demanding to see President Cyril Ramaphosa. Ncube was accusing her manager at the University of South Africa, UNISA, of sexual harassment and management’s inability to protect her. She was seeking reprieve from the top office of the land, but was instead arrested and hit with charges of public indecency. She may also find herself looking at an expensive lawsuit for defamation of character by the man she accuses of sexual harassment.
Ncube’s actions, while supported by some gender activists, have been about condemned by many who instead accused her of being a psycho. She has been accused of having, in the past, accused leader of the Zimbabweans in the diaspora of rape, only for him to be found innocent, by the internal processes. She was called a liar, a mental health patient and just about found guilty, in the court of public opinion, of lying and attention seeking. The accusations also thrown at Ms Phanzirah-Matshome.
Whatever the circumstances, the truth or the lies, the two incidents, show just how people react when a woman dares stand and demand justice. We have heard cases where, locally and internationally, when a woman steps up to bare their pain in public, they immediately face public doubt, and humiliation. If the alleged perpetrator is a public figure, the victims/survivors will be accused of lying, seeking public attention and even blackmail. We have had cases where powerful politicians, and other monied men, are made to look victims and their victims, villains.
When discussing Ncube’s alleged former transgressions, one young lady, who herself was thrown to the wolves for daring to accuse a public figure of rape last year, noted in a WhatsApp group, the fact a woman has in the past told a lie, does not mean she is today. She rightly pointed out that perpetrators, especially those in positions of power, may even use the past against the victim.
Also worrying about public reaction to these incidents is the public’s questioning “why now?” Granted, the timing of Phanzirah-Matshome’s declaration can be questioned, with the party going to a special congress in two weeks’ time. She is a contender, in a tense contest. And in politics, anything goes.
The “why now?” has been used, even internationally when after many years of suffering in silence, women find the voice and say I was abused. But these revelations have led to some of the most loved and powerful entertainers such as Bill Cosby and R Kelly being exposed for what they are; sexual predators.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s time we listen to pained voices, without finding motive behind their cry.
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