Capital, Race & the Gender Debate

SEEKING RECOGNITION: A picket was held outside the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town while a case to force the government to recognise Muslim marriages was being heard inside it yesterday. Picture: David Ritchie

A while back the New York Times sat down with, Dilma Rousseff, the deposed president of Brazil, for an interview. In it Rousseff mentioned two striking things which could serve as lessons for South Africa.

The first is that she regrets making extensive cuts in corporate tax. There is a belief that the more corporate tax you cut, the more companies invest to generate more jobs. This is a myth, suggests Rousseff, because it certainly was not the case in Brazil. Companies simply made more profits without reinvesting. While in a state of economic turbulence, the outlook on Brazil remains positive and growth of the economy is bound to happen.

It is an expensive lesson even for South Africa. During the height of the state of emergencies and sanctions during the 1980’s, the Apartheid regime was taxing companies at a rate of 50 percent for normal tax on taxable income. Today that figure is nearly less than half of that, at 28 percent despite the structure of the economy remaining virtually the same.

Yet companies operating in South Africa went on to make astronomical amounts of profit, especially in the immediate years after the dawn of democracy. Research done by scholars, Seekings and Nattrass, has indicated that as labour productivity rose during the late nineties, the wage bill on average remained constant thus allowing for profits to be gained without reinvesting into more jobs. As a result, more unskilled jobs were lost than gained through these profits. This research shows that Rousseff’s sentiments about cutting corporate tax applies to South Africa as well.    

However, when one studies other markets and their corporate tax rates one concludes that South Africa remains competitive. For example, China’s corporate tax rate is at 25 percent while Egypt is at 22. Indonesia, with the same junk status as South Africa, is at 25 percent while major emerging economies such Brazil and India are both at 34 percent. The Russian rate is at 20 percent while the Nigerian is at 30 percent. 

If major emerging economies such as such as Nigeria, Brazil and India are all above South Africa’s 28 percent, it would not be out of line for South Africa to be raising corporate taxes at least by a percentage point or two. This idea of raising tax could be easily sold to companies as the government needing to invest more into human capital sectors such as health and education because only they, as the private sector, would gain from such investments.   

Yet Rousseff gave another interesting lesson to South Africa. She attributes the coup against her as having a “very misogynist element” in it. The former president insisted that those responsible for the coup had double standards for men and women. She adds that she had been “called a cow about 600 000 times.”

In South Africa, we are all familiar with the story of Sara Baartman. A Black woman, she was taken to Europe to be put on display in order to entertain her onlookers. Housed in a cage while exhibited, Baartman came to personify the objectification of the Black female body; her ‘exotic’ body being the envy of the Caucasian misogynist. Yet that misogynist could easily have been Black too.

Two hundred years after Baartman, our country has no less misogynists. We live in a society where the institutional and physical violence against women continue on a daily basis. The statistics roll off our tongues as easily as do the sexual yet sexist statements men make. Like Baartman, Black women have to confront daily the glare, the gratification and the gory grilling of men who impart their self-hatred onto the bodies and souls of their partners or colleagues. The Black woman remains the focus of our appalling attention 

A South African based NGO called, Gender Links, put out the Gender Progress Score of South Africa towards women’s month last year. The survey found that only 61 percent of women and 75 percent of men said that women and men should be treated equally. 

Thirty-two percent of women and 37 percent of men think that when a man beats a woman he loves her. A third of women and nearly half the men surveyed understood a woman wearing a mini-skirt meaning that she was asking to be raped. 

We are acclimatised to the statistics already: one in three women will be abused. One in two South African women will be raped in their lifetime. It has become normal.  

Yet it is normal because the Black woman, like Baartman, bears the brunt of our hatred in this country. Not a week goes by, where some or other Black female is not used to entertain or as an object of scapegoating; especially in the print media.

Black women must be held accountable, especially if they are in public office or where public resources are involved, but they must be held accountable to the same standards that we hold men. 

For example, when last did we hold a White man accountable? Who is the last White man held accountable for failure to do his job? When was the last time we had a public lynching of a White man in our newspapers? Instead we always find or make excuses for them, the old collusion (white SA) versus corruption (black SA) debate.  

Mention Penny Sparrow and we all know ‘monkey’. Do we know the names Willem Oosthuizen or Theo Martins Jackson though? Surely not. Do these names get off lightly or altogether simply because they are not public officials or public resources were not involved? Yet these two men stand accuse of putting Rethabile Mlotshwa into a coffin alive. 

Does anyone know Tim Osrin? The Capetonian who beat up a domestic worker on her way to work mistaking her for a sex worker? Do we teach our boys that the racist and misogynistic devil personifies himself in the form of Osrin?

Rousseff will not be surprised with misogyny in the South African press. This racist and misogynistic narrative is popular simply because it is the narrative that is easily accessible and more importantly it is the sort of rhetoric that exists in our DNA as a country. 

We cannot possibly have a Black woman as the next president not only because as patriarchal society we believe that a woman can do nothing without her man or better still should be at her husband’s side. A Black woman simply cannot be the president, our national psyche tells us, because Black women are at the lowest end of the pecking order. 

If the reminder that a self-educated, former herds boy and who even today has an affinity to the rural areas reviles us as president what still about a Black woman?  

Again, we are not suggesting that those holding public office should not be held accountable. Rather the question is: are we holding all men accountable with the same standards as we hold Black women accountable? 


Bathabile Dlamini is the President of the ANC Women’s League  and the Minister of Social Development