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Tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu. File picture: TREVOR SAMSON.
Tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu. File picture: TREVOR SAMSON.

There is nothing feminist, pro-women or pro-poor about minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s poor governance track record in the portfolios she has occupied in government over many years.

The same is true, collectively, of the entire ANC-led government, including all the men who are her cabinet colleagues. This government is not pro-poor, not pro-women and certainly not pro-black women.

A critique of the way in which a particular black man or a particular black woman undermines the justice project, which is meant to serve black people generally, is not an inherently racist nor an inherently sexist critique.

It is important not to fall for the propagandistic tactic of fans of underachieving ANC politicians, who will continue to try their darndest to distract us all by changing the subject from an unflinching examination of the odious record of these lacklustre politicians to otherwise necessary conversations about race and gender that are wrongly attached in this instance to a straightforward evaluation of the politics and job performance of the uninspired lot in our government.

The biggest obstacle to self-actualisation and living meaningful lives for all women, and for black women especially, is the lack of commitment to intersectional politics and justice on the part of us men — all of us. We enjoy the benefits of patriarchy and reproduce it.

Even many of us who are black are fluent in antiracism but not in antisexism, and we are even less fluent in anti-misogynoir politics. A casual perusal of SA social media platforms will present you with a buffet of examples of black men who furiously critique racism but who are habitually silent on homophobia and misogyny and even silent on critiques of capitalism.

That is because many of us are driven by a careerist desire to be let into the privileged corridors of this or that company or workplace rather than by a deeper commitment to eliminating structural injustices more generally across fault lines that go beyond our biographical identity markers and brute personal material interest.

Which is all the more reason to take with a pinch of salt the rare and insincere rehearsal of allyship of some black male fans of Sisulu when they come out to play. Most of them are gaming, which is why you could not find in their public work a sustained record of fighting misogynoir.

It shows, ironically, an interest in someone like Sisulu as an individual divorced from social structures rather than an interest in structural analysis about the intersection of racism, capitalism and patriarchy. That is precisely how a patriarchal male performs the language of intersectionality for self-gain.

Why do we think being a member of an oppressed group gives you necessary immunity from criticism of how your actions may undermine the interests of the group of which you are a member?

A relentless focus on the systemic injustices black women face and experience daily would and should lead to a critical analysis of everyone in positions of power, including women who are friends of patriarchy.

There is simply no intrinsic guarantee that any particular woman is a friend of the feminist project any more than there is a guarantee that me being gay makes me an ally of all queer people or committed to a political project that seeks to eliminate oppression against queer people.

Why do we think being a member of an oppressed group gives you necessary immunity from criticism of how your actions may undermine the interests of the group of which you are a member?

Interestingly, Sisulu herself does not think membership of an oppressed group is a get-out-of jail card. Her fans clearly did not take her column about African judicial officers seriously.

If you liked her column — I didn’t, but I am here engaging those who claim they agreed with large parts of it — then you should presumably accept her implicit position that black judges can be guilty of internalised oppression despite experiences of anti-black racism.

That was a key thesis in that column we are all debating this week. But if you think about that thesis, the logical upshot of it must be that a woman, too, is capable of undermining group interests just as a queer person can be capable of exhibiting internalised homophobia.

If you are a fan of minister Sisulu’s column it would be ironic if you disagree with me, because this lesson is one of the takeaways she wanted us to walk away with from her critique of the legal profession in our country.

But, in turn, we can therefore apply the same question to her work: is Lindiwe Sisulu a friend of women generally and of black women in particular? If the mere question upsets you, then I hope you were also upset that she framed an identical question about black judges.

Of course, I may be assuming that Sisulu supporters care for consistency in their reasoning, which might be fantastical on my part. Sisulu therefore cannot be deemed to be pro-women just on account of being a woman herself. I cannot be assumed to be pro-queer people just on account of being a gay man. The bar for commitment to women empowerment and for fighting patriarchy is higher than that.

It is no different to some black men being obstacles to black empowerment after getting a seat at the table and then becoming “colour blind”.

The only unflattering thing to say about Sisulu’s poor record in government is that other men and women in this ANC-led government of which she is a part have not been better either.

Even President Cyril Ramaphosa has turned out to be pedestrian, as if he wanted to become president as an end in itself rather than with genuine interest in using the constitutional power of his position to realise a substantive vision for a better SA.

That doesn’t let Sisulu off the hook. It simply means, at best, that we have a worse leadership crisis in our country than we care to acknowledge and solve.

In the meantime, instead of fighting among ourselves as citizens, it is important to recognise that fans of these political scoundrels want to change the subject in service of their faves. Don’t be distracted.

Focus on saving the country.

• McKaiser is a contributor and analyst for TimesLIVE


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