Women's month shame | Fin24
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Women's month shame

Aug 15 2016 06:00
Mandi Smallhorne

I WAS going to write about the tsunami of press releases we journalists get from various businesses during ‘Women’s Month’, so many of which just seem to miss the point. It’s not meant as a celebration of femininity, or a time for poor mom to get a break in the kitchen, really.

It’s a celebration of women’s political and social power, and if you don’t understand that, go and read some history before you come up with advice like this, titled Women’s Day the Weighless Way. After the standard line about how it’s inner beauty that counts, the release says (sic):

There are various reasons why you could be selling yourself short from being a queen and shying away from the world. Maybe you feel your hips are a little wide, your collar bones stick out to much, or simply don’t like certain features about yourself. Try these simple tips which help you top up your confidence [...]

  • Dress sense is a key ingredient to how beautiful you feel and how serious others take you. Wear clothing to complement your body type with natural makeup highlighting your unique features and splashes of a fresh scent to create a statement.
  • Don’t forget a simple elegant accessory to embellish your attire; an exquisite handbag, solitaire earrings, a striking watch and a remarkable pair of shoes are sophisticated ways to definitely turn heads everywhere you go.

I am sure Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph et al would have welcomed this advice, ensuring the people then in the Union Building would take them ‘serious’.

And I could go on. And on, and on. There’s no shortage of material.

But ag, I’ve lost the heart for sarcasm.

Because: on August 10 2016, two friends of mine were driving out of the gate of Community Led Animal Welfare in Durban Deep. They found a crowd outside, gathered around an injured old lady and a tiny, bewildered little boy of about two or three.

The old lady had gone to Nedbank Roodepoort with her ‘daughter’ from church, a young woman, the mother of the little boy. ‘Social workers’ had told her the grants for her grandchildren had been deposited into her account; these social workers gave her a lift to the bank. She drew R5 000.

Outside the bank, the trio was confronted by men posing as police officers, who forced them into a car. They robbed the granny at gun- and knifepoint; they beat her PIN number out of her, pounding her face. Then they pushed her and the toddler out of the car and sped off – with the young woman.

When my friends arrived on the scene, the car had just driven away, seconds earlier. The people who’d rushed to help the shell-shocked granny and toddler had seen it, could describe it and tell which direction it had taken.

So my friends flagged down a passing police vehicle. The male and female officers inside were reluctant; they only stopped when my friends took a picture of their registration number. The female officer didn’t even get out of the vehicle; both officers apparently laughed – laughed! – and said they were busy on something else and that the granny should go to the police station to “get a reference number”.

What was happening to the young woman, trapped in that speeding car with a bunch of violent criminals, while the police – mandated to serve and protect – were dithering and prevaricating? What has happened to her since? It’s a day later as I write, and no one has seen or heard anything of her. My heart is frozen with fear for her.

Armed robbery and abduction: this is serious crime, affecting two women in Women’s Month, when retailers and banks and government bodies blither on about how we value our women and how special they are…

Instead of getting on the radio and starting a search, calling out the helicopters, all the police offered was to take gran and toddler to the police station – in the back of a police van! What sort of training do they get, that at a time like this they do nothing, nothing to pursue and try to save a vulnerable person at such great and immediate risk? There was a chance here, slight, but nevertheless a chance.

My friends took the pair to Roodepoort Police Station themselves. Where the usual wait for service commenced, no sense of urgency required.

The toddler, of course, didn’t understand what was going on or what had happened to his mother, but he knew his ‘granny’ was upset; as the tears rolled down her swollen, battered cheeks, he reached up and wiped them away with his baby fingers…

In an April 2016 speech, Minister Nathi Nhleko quoted Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature: “The source of the state’s pacifying effect isn’t just its brute coercive power but the trust it commands among the populace.”

This, Minister, is not how you gain the trust of the populace. In Women’s Month, I urge you to give immediate attention to the service the Saps gives to the vulnerable – the women and children – of these teeming West Rand townships. Their lives are as precious as any others. That little boy may have lost his mommy, a loss that will scar his life. Teach your officers to get back in touch with their humanity, and their sworn duty, I beg you.

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