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Of Alcoholics, Trojan Horses and Fatsos

By Thakane-Rethabile Shale


…As we bid farewell to Mama Winnie

In the wake of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s death, the discourse has been about how women have been vilified and struck off the history books of the years, in the words of her daughter Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, “it has become clear that South Africa and indeed the world holds men and women to different standards of morality…”.

Articles have been written praising Winnie and clearing the name of a woman who it appears was more iconic than the patriarchal discourse had let us believe.

Of great importance was utterance made by Julius Malema outing those who sought to act as if they cared about Winnie in her death but had been part of destroying her when she was alive.

Julius speeches were great up until the point he called Bathabile Dlamini a “Drunkard of the Nation.” This is not the first time Bathabile’s alleged alcohol problem has been used to mock and discredit her and it certainly may not be the last.

The problem is Bathabile allegedly had an epilepsy problem and does not even consume alcohol, even if she did, how is this a matter to be used to discredit her political standing?

Granted one would prefer that holders of public office refrain from substance abuse but unless it can be proven that Bathabile’s alleged problem has impaired the performance of her duties then is it any of our business?

Does Bathabile even drink, no matter, the issue is not whether she had a substance abuse problem but rather why it is a matter to be used to tarnish her name.

For a man who sought to glorify Winnie’s fight against patriarchy and the policing of women’s morals it is a faux pas for Julius to then police Bathabile’s morals. How many male politicians have been forgiven far damaging and often proved wrongdoings?

Donald Trump has admitted to groping women without their consent and after the initial buzz the world moved on, one could name more than a few but that is not the point.

The point rather is one cannot attempt to celebrate Winnie’s legacy and the fight against patriarchy by mocking and subjecting another woman to the very same double standards that Winnie fought against.

The problem is not only isolated to Bathabile and Malema, women in politics are today still subjected to double standards when it comes to morality while we let their male counterparts get away with literal murder.

From Thandile Sunduza’s fat shaming incident in 2014 to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential campaign being viewed as a Trojan horse move by her former husband, South Africa has an ugly past with patriarchy in politics, but in light of the conversation Winnie’s death opened up one was hopeful of a new dawn but the casket was not even underground yet when moral policing reared its ugly head.

And if indeed Bathabile has epilepsy and a speech impediment problem and not the substance abuse problem as claimed, is South Africa going to wait till her death to clear her name? Has the nation really learned anything from Winnie being cleared after her death?

The lesson I had hoped was that we do not have to wait till someone dies to tell their side of the story.

Perhaps it is easier to celebrate women after they are dead because no one has to fear a dead powerful woman, but one who still breathes might challenge the patriarchal status quo.

Celebrate Winnie Madikizela-Mandela but I dare say that she would appreciate it more if lessons were learned from her struggle against patriarchy.

Thakane-Rethabile Shale is a lawyer, writer and an investigative journalism intern with the MNNCIJ

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