Monday, June 13, 2011

A Famous Grouse: June 11

As submitted to Weekend Argus for publication. -- AD

IT was perhaps predictable that there would be opposition to the Gender Equity Bill which ludicrously proposes giving the government to power to meddle in the affairs of private companies by forcing them to appoint women to half of all their top positions.

Some of the reactions to the bill, which is due to be submitted to cabinet in March, have, however, been depressingly prosaic, to say the least.

Here at the Mahogany Ridge, we’ve noted a common theme in the letters to the newspapers, usually prefaced with declarations from correspondents that not only are they women, but they are feminists to boot and they firmly believe in all the usual stuff about gender equality, that women should get the same income and employment opportunities as men, and so on.

This is then followed by some sort of irrational qualifying statement which, all too sadly, doesn’t do the cause much good at all. As an example, I quote from a letter in one of the dailies: “I am all for women who deserve promotion through hard work and proper qualifications for the job, but I think top jobs should go to the best candidates. Many women are not interested in working, and if their husbands can afford it, prefer to stay at home and look after the kids.”

Naturally, there are the corollaries. Many women are, in fact, interested in working, and many men, myself included, would rather not work at all but stay at home instead. Alas, life is an often difficult thing, and well, let’s just leave it at that.

It is noteworthy, however, that those objecting to the Gender Equity Bill have not singled out the most glaring example of the sort of disaster one can expect as a result of such ham-fisted interference in the workplace -- and that is the dowdy klutz hoping to drive this abomination into law, Lulu Xingwana, the Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities.

Dear God in heaven, if there is such a thing, but our Lulu has not exactly covered herself in glory as a member of government, has she? It is something of a mystery as to why the Presidency persists in keeping her on board, pushing her from the one portfolio to the next. Perhaps the thinking is that, with enough time, she’ll eventually shine at something. So far, though, the results have been dire.

Readers will remember how, in 2007, as Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister, Xingwana claimed that white farmers routinely rape and assault their workers. This hardly endeared her to said farmers and the former president, Thabo Mbeki, was called in to resolve the rowdy dispute that followed with the agricultural unions.

Then there was the matter of Xingwana’s special mobile toilet, which she dragged hither and thither to various ceremonies in rural areas.

According to a report in the Afrikaans newspaper Rapport, the loo had gold trimmings and was imported at a cost of R500 000. Xingwana’s spokesperson denied the claim, but confirmed that although she did have a specially-reserved toilet it was no different to those used by grubby common folk.

Our fondest memory, however, of Xingwana concerns the incident in August 2009 when -- as the Minister of Arts and Culture, her next job -- she fled in disgust from the Innovative Women exhibition at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, because she had been offended by photographs of embracing black lesbians couples.

An arts minister apparently terrified of art? Now there was a thing, and duly approached for comment, Xingwana explained her silly behaviour thus: “Our mandate is to promote social cohesion and nation-building. I left the exhibition because it expressed the very opposite of this. It was immoral, offensive and going against nation-building.”

As we put it here at the Ridge, but not without some rebuke from the women present: “Social cohesion? Can we watch?”

But moving on, as we must. The problem with Xingwana’s present portfolio -- minister of everything soft and fuzzy except white men -- is that, as opposition MPs pointed out this week, its mandate was vague and lacked substance. No-one knew what the minister was supposed to be doing, apart from being a waste of time and money. Which, come to think of it now, is something she’s quite good at.

However, if government really wanted to get cracking in its quest for equality in the workplace, then it should get to grips with the basics -- spare no effort in ensuring that firstly, girls go to school where they will be offered a first-rate, excellent education and, secondly, they remain at school until they have received that education.

Get that right, and the rest will follow. But then that is another matter altogether.

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