Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Parliament has urged the department of basic education to take  action against its spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, following his allegedly “sexist and chauvinistic” tweets for a reading campaign. 

Mhlanga caused a stir on social media at the weekend after he posted a series of tweets accompanied by pictures of semi-naked women, apparently to promote a culture of reading among young adults and pupils.

While Mhlanga later apologised, he sought to justify the tweets saying “contemporary audiences that consume media tend to be open about sex and sexuality. I therefore have a full understanding of representation and metaphoric content.” 

“And in this context, I pushed the boundary slightly in order to play around with meaning, and push a narrative about reading as an activity that can be done for fun and leisure,” Mhlanga said in a series of tweets.

Parliament’s basic education portfolio committee chairperson, Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, condemned Mhlanga’s “inappropriate tweets and images”, saying they objectify women in a campaign that is meant to encourage pupils to read in order to lead.

“These images of near-naked women must be condemned. Mr Elijah Mhlanga’s approach to the read to lead campaign for the basic education sector misses his target market completely and does more harm than good,” Mbinqo-Gigaba said.

“Furthermore, SA has made big strides since the dawn of democracy in the emancipation of women. The comments and distribution of images of this nature by a person of Mr Mhlanga’s stature undermines many of these gains. We cannot but condemn these images of scantily-clad women, which attempt to promote reading by making it ‘sexy’.”

Mbinqo-Gigaba said that Mhlanga had first tried to justify his tweets and then apologised.

“This is not enough. We cannot be objectifying women and especially not in Women’s Month. What are we teaching our boy children in school by communicating like this? What message are we sending out to our girl learners that their bodies are to be used in this fashion?

“We urge the department to take drastic action again Mr Mhlanga for his thoughtless, sexist, chauvinist approach to a worthy and noble campaign. The committee will, as part of its oversight responsibilities, take up the matter with the department when it meets again during its next scheduled meeting.”

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga distanced herself from Mhlanga’s tweets.

“As minister of basic education, I didn’t authorise nor was informed of such a campaign involving semi-naked women. Even if I was informed, I wouldn’t have given any permission purely based on the principle that women aren’t objects. The objectification of women is an affront in our battle against the pervasive nature of patriarchy and the scourge of gender-based violence,” Motshekga said.

“I distance both the ministry I lead and the department of basic education from this naked display of male chauvinism. The objectification of women has no place anywhere in our society, let alone in our quest to promote reading.” 

Motshekga said she has instructed the department’s director-general to institute appropriate action.