The civil service is plagued by an environment that embraces nepotism, sexism and patriarchy

The past few months have been an embarrassing precursor to Women’s Month for the Eastern Cape government. The province has recently been rocked by a plethora of scandals relating to sexism and nepotism which have left women at the receiving end of callous maltreatment and abuse.

Women’s month is meant to be a time for women of the country to be honoured and celebrated for the role they play in society and for their endeavours during the struggle to end apartheid. The now famous 1956 women’s march has come to define Women’s Month, where women came together and took a stand against the demeaning pass laws implemented during the apartheid era.

This was considered to be the turning point of women’s suffrage in South Africa. Every year Woman’s Month comes and goes, yet the more things change the more they seem to stay the same. If anything, Women’s Month has come to represent and highlight the continuous inequalities endured by woman as a result of the system of patriarchy perpetuated by the failure of government and civil society to eradicate prejudicial treatment by men.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Eastern Cape. The province is at the forefront of patriarchal practices in the country, driven by conservative and traditional values that seek to undermine and disadvantage women at all levels of society including all three spheres of government. These attitudes serve to reinforce and entrench the archaic values and attitudes of yesteryear where patriarchy was the order of the day. This situation can simply not be allowed to continue to prevail in a constitutional democracy and certainly not in our Provincial civil service.

Most notably is the recent “sex for jobs” scandal where stories of women, particularly young interns, have been coerced into “selling” themselves in order to secure a job and their future livelihoods. Senior government officials are apparently given “Carte Blanche” to prey on young unsuspecting women who have entered the job market under the guise of self-empowerment. This however, as many have come to realise, comes at a terrible price.

Education is meant to be the foundation of opportunity and empowerment, especially for women, who through education are meant to be able to liberate themselves from the inherent oppression that exists from birth. Through education women equip themselves with the necessary skills and knowledge to become independent and self-sufficient. This is also expected to liberate them from the yoke of patriarchy and oppression; this is by and large not always the case in the Eastern Cape.

One would expect that a state institution such as the provincial legislature would be the one place to uphold women’s rights and ensure freedom from discrimination and oppression. However once a woman enters into the work place or rather, in this case, the public sector, she is still faced with many challenges where her worth is not judged according to her skills, knowledge and capabilities but rather by her willingness to engage in the degrading act of having sex in order to earn or retain her position in work place.

The Eastern Cape government appears to be tolerant of this shameful behavioural practice through their laissez faire approach to the investigation of the “Sex for Jobs” scandal which coincidentally appears to have excluded the legislature as “provincial government apparently has no mandate to investigate the legislature”. Countless women have spoken out about their harrowing experiences at the hands of these “sex pests”, yet the perpetrators have not been brought to book for their abuse. While the process appears to be stalled it allows for the continued victimisation of women.

Whilst this practice continues woman are being patronised and placed into positions that they are perhaps not qualified or competent to fill. This practice of “Sex for Jobs” is also compounded by the so called practice of cadre deployment where people are appointed according to their affiliation to the governing party or their relationship to senior government office bearers. The recent case of President Zuma‘s young graduate daughter being employed as a chief of staff in a national minister’s office is a case in point. This does not only potentially compromise the quality of our civil service, it compromises the image of all the woman in the civil service.

Government constantly highlights the need for initiatives that will promote youth employment opportunities such as learnerships and internships. Despite the emphasis that government places on education, youth and female empowerment, what it is inadvertently saying is that regardless of having worked hard for her education the only place for a woman in the work place is ”on her back”. This speaks volumes to the continued abuse and victimisation that women must endure in the work place especially at government level which appears to remain unchecked. This is a most concerning trend not only at local- and provincial government level but also nationally where we recently saw the COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi embroiled in a very controversial sex scandal with a junior staff member.

The civil or public service and the provincial legislature in particular should be the bastions of constitutionalism and they should be exemplary in every respect with regard to fair and lawful labour practices, not to mention the issues of nepotism and sexism.

If they are found wanting in this regard, there must be accountability responsibility by the administrative and political leadership. This is sadly apparently not evident in our provincial legislature or our provincial administration due to the fact that the example set by our president regarding accountability is so woeful. There is a saying that says that, “a fish rots from the head down”, there is a decidedly fishy smell in this province in this regard and it’s not fresh!

Apart from sexism, nepotism is also a barrier to productivity at government level. Again the Eastern Cape government has come out tops in this regard when news broke last week of the ‘jobs for pals’ scandal where the superintendent-general of rural and agrarian reform, Lumkile Ngada, was accused of hiring 15 of his relatives in key positions at an agricultural research institute (where he was in charge for many years.

At the moment agriculture is a highly a contentious topic in the country, yet we have government officials who employ relatives into an industry that is fundamental to the growth our economy, yet performing so badly. The inability or rather unwillingness of government to employ appropriately skilled “first amongst equals” individuals that are fit for purpose is a regrettable manifestation of the contemptible practice of cadre deployment and sexism that is compounded by arrogant power abuse.

If we are really going to honour the women who are our grandmothers, mothers, wives, partners, sisters and daughters, we as society and men in particular will have to say, NO! NOT IN OUR NAME!

The governing party, the ANC, will have to undertake to hold all of its leaders — that means all — to account and show zero tolerance to sexism, nepotism and cadre deployment. It is clear that all we’ve done to date in this regard, is pay lip service to these topics that cause such pain in our society. — Athol Trollip, DA Eastern Cape Provincial Leader