Prisoners of Venda culture

DA city councillor for Joburg Martin Williams

DA city councillor for Joburg Martin Williams

Degrading, trampling on the rights and dignity of women.

That’s the image of Venda culture projected by the traditional leaders who held a press conference in Johannesburg to clear up reports that SABC acting chief operating office Hlaudi Motsoeneng had been “given” a wife.

Instead of repairing any reputational damage, they made matters worse. Before Sunday, critics thought some Vendas might have backward ideas about women. Now we know for sure.

These folk are living in a time warp where they can order people to get down bended knee, where half-naked women prostrate themselves in obeisance. Journalists described the meeting as bizarre, yet they went along with the game, taking off their shoes and genuflecting when ordered to do so, as bare-breasted women lay down next to them.

Why do we put up with this nonsense, pretending it’s okay because it’s a custom? Just because something is traditional does not make it right.

A prime example is the Traditional Courts Bill, which is in limbo after objections to its unconstitutionality. Under this proposed law the rights of women in rural areas would be squashed. First introduced in 2008, the Bill allows (male) chiefs to act as judges, prosecutors and mediators in disputes. No legal representation or appeals will be allowed. It is unclear whether the Bill “lapsed” with the dissolution of the previous Parliament, but it was drafted and supported by ANC MPs, with active encouragement from the IFP.

In other words, there are still many people in positions of influence who think it’s okay to deny equal rights to women. Men who have sworn to uphold the constitution turn a blind eye when it comes to women’s rights, all in the name of tradition.

In the Venda matter, which was first reported in The Sowetan on June 13, Motsoeneng, as a senior representative of the public broadcaster, should have immediately distanced himself from claims that he had chosen a wife from 10 women paraded for his benefit.

Instead he reportedly said in Sesotho on SABC2: “Ba mphile mofumahadi (they gave me a wife).”

By playing along, whether in all seriousness or not, Motsoeneng helped perpetuate the idea that women can be offered and accepted as gifts.He may have taken his cue from President Jacob Zuma, who has been married six times and has about 22 children. In December Zuma said he would marry a Venda woman if he was not already married to his four wives, because “they even lie down to show respect for other people”.

By saying so, Zuma was indicating his support for the subservience of women. Those who thought this was a joke have now been given evidence that it is indeed a Venda practice.

What we are witnessing cannot be dismissed simply as a clash between Western and African cultures. The concept of equal rights for all, regardless of gender or race, is not a whim that can be turned on and off, depending on whether one feels inclined to appease traditional prejudices. It is a founding principle of our democracy.

Nor can the practice of lying down “out of respect” be acceptable on the grounds that women do it willingly. They have been conditioned to a subservient mindset that denies them their full humanity. By continuing to bow and scrape they perpetuate their subjugation and that of others.

They become prisoners of Venda culture.


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