Many serious things are said in jest — or ignorance.
Senator Morgan Femai, who admittedly suggested to parliamentarians at a workshop in Kadoma last week that women should be forced to bathe less and shave off their hair to make them less attractive to men and help curb the spread of HIV, now says it was all meant to be a joke.
On the surface it sounds comical, but deep down this reinforces stereotypes and prejudice.
His own party, MDC-T, had to issue a statement this week.
“The MDC notes with concern utterances in the public media attributed to Senator for Chikomo Honourable Morgan Femai on HIV and Aids.
“It is unfortunate that some sections of the media have interpreted these remarks to be the party position.”
Yes, if it’s not a party position they should categorically say so.
Femai’s utterances got worldwide condemnation with feminists calling for his expulsion from political office.
“The MDC recognises that the HIV and Aids pandemic as a national emergency with socio-economic ramifications and, as such, supports a national prevention network through the establishment of state-of-the-art clinical facilities, drug procurement channels and financing mechanisms for the treatment of Aids.
The MDC-T said the spread of HIV and Aids (rightly making the distinction between the two although they are linked) was most rapid where there “were substantial social and economic inequalities, where people lack adequate and secure houses, where there is unemployment and where people lack basic health services”.
Yes, we need research-based, empirical, provable findings and conclusions to arrive at workable solutions.
But just days later, MDC-T deputy spokesperson Thabitha Khumalo came out strongly to Femai’s defence, saying: “The issue of Femai happened at a workshop when Members of Parliament were discussing HIV and Aids issues.
“Unfortunately, there was a journalist, whether he was invited or not I do not know. Instead of picking up issues to do with HIV and Aids, he decided Femai was a scoop.”
Well aware that MPs at workshops laugh and joke like us all, that the public media does lie and exaggerate and State intelligence agents attend such workshops to magnify the slightest indecorum and indiscretion, Femai could have fallen victim to a sting operation, but with his experience, he should have been more guarded in his remarks as he spoke at an open forum.
That’s one possible side to the story.
The other side is that some politicians have shown a high degree of ignorance and shallowness.
A lot of ignorant things have been said by politicians. This is not confined to Zanu PF.
So, suppose Femai said this in all seriousness, was this not in the public domain?
Even if there had been no journalists around, did that guarantee that these remarks wouldn’t reach the media considering the fact that he could have been recorded on audiotape or cellphone video? You are held to what you say.
What’s at issue here is whether those words were said or not and that the “joke” is now on Femai is entirely due to his impolitic remarks.
Apparently, from Khumalo’s response, these words were actually said. So the journalist rightly captured what was said, highlighting these sexist
Whatever gets into the public domain is fair game for reporting and comment.
To give an extreme example, it’s like saying sports reporters at the National Sports Stadium on July 9, 2000 should have stuck to the match report and nothing else when 13 football fans died and scores of others were injured following a stampede during the World Cup qualifier match between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
This reminds one of an almost similar occurrence at a rally of the Ncube-led MDC last year when Women Assembly chairperson Thandiwe Mlilo said: “Look at (Thokozani) Khupe, the
MDC-T deputy president has lost all her hair fighting to be (Morgan) Tsvangirai’s deputy.”
The MDC didn’t deny that these unfortunate, scandalous words were spoken, but only that they had been wrongly attributed in the public media to party secretary-general Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga.
This further reminds one of when soon-to-be United States President Bill Clinton, probed by the media in 1992 on his reported drug-taking while a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in the late 1960s, tamely replied that he had smoked marijuana, but did not inhale, but the difference is the same.
It is a fact that in society there are unreconstructed characters not reconciled to social, political, or economic change; maintaining outdated attitudes, beliefs, and practices.
There is no rational or research-based logic or argument to back their position.
There is a danger among politicians of claiming to know all things, but knowing them badly. Whenever this happens, the Press, as the proverbial Fifth Estate in the business of imparting news of note and commentary of interest, must expose this from whatever quarter.