MIA LINDEQUE: Why does she have to fight her battles silently?
I recently sat down with four ministers for a podcast series Behind The Politics: She Fights Her Battles Silently. I have published several stories about each of these politicians on different platforms over the course of my career. I met now Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy when she was still the Gauteng Education MEC. I first heard our current Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu’s name when she made headlines after former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe called her a “stupid idiotic woman” and a “little streetwalker” when she was an adviser to former President Jacob Zuma in 2013. My path crossed with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s when the textbook scandal-hit Limpopo in 2012 as I covered the marches rallied against her to force her to resign. I only recently met Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams when I had to call her regarding the cash-strapped SABC's plans.
The picture I had in my mind of these four ministers before this podcast, to how I think of them now has changed vastly. Politicians need to be held accountable. I can almost hear the cacophony of complaints from readers: “Mia, I pay their salaries through my taxes." And yes, you are right. If they mess up, we must hold them accountable to make sure they do the right thing. Simply resigning is not good enough – they need to be able to answer for their mistakes. But we also need to realise politicians are human too. Politicians are also parents, battling the same guilt the rest of us do. They are also wives, fending off rumours and gossip. They are also siblings, facing painful family challenges.
We live in a complex world, where there are many approaches and solutions to things. It's the same when it comes to women and how we interact with each other. We all come from a different upbringing with different circumstances shaping our lives. The result is that there are many survivors, warriors, dragon ladies, academics and others walking among us. Our job is to understand how we communicate and work together, without bringing each other down in this world that makes it so easy to do so.
As Ndabeni-Abrahams rightfully put it during our interview, it starts with us. Women need to respect each other. And it continues at home where we raise the future generation of women who will continue the battles after we’re gone.
Has this new epiphany changed my view of these women? Has it changed the way I will report on them? I agree with Ndabeni-Abrahams when she explains that when something is wrong, it’s wrong, and those responsible must be held accountable. Doing stories outside of the news agenda, where we get to sit down with them and really get to know the other parts of their lives they have to make time for, humanises them. But this should never exempt them from accountability. Everyone makes mistakes, and they must face the music and make it right. But it’s how they stand up that is important, and we as women must support each other.
During the crunch time of producing the podcast, I was under severe pressure at work, and the stress spilled over into my private life and to my little family. I remember a moment in the supermarket when my one arm was full of groceries, and with my other hand, I was trying to control my toddler who thinks it’s a game to run away from me in public spaces. After finally reaching the counter to pay, I tried to take my card out of my wallet. When I looked down, I found my daughter licking the counter from side to side (as they do at this age). In that moment I screamed and I told her if she ever did it again, her tongue would fall off. It wasn’t my proudest moment, I’ll admit. But an older woman behind me in the queue gave me a death stare. Her eyes were filled with judgement. How can this woman treat me like this, I thought? Doesn’t she understand that I, too, am under pressure? And if she didn’t, why was she judging me so harshly? We are all trying to do our best, generally at more than one job – at work and at home.
Annabel Crabb, an Australian political journalist, sums it up accurately, saying "the obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children while raising one's children as if one did not have a job". That’s how I felt. And Creecy reiterated it in our discussion. She said women have more pressure on their shoulders these days than ever before, working what she calls "the double shift". Women have to perform at the office, and then go home and maintain a family with the same levels of patience.
An understanding look from the woman in the queue would not have made my experience better. But I would have felt a lot less guilty for not being able to be the perfect mother in that moment. That is the understanding we women need to be able to afford each other. And that is what I learnt while hearing the stories of all these formidable women. None of us are perfect, and there are battles some people are fighting we couldn’t possibly imagine. This means we must be more accommodating when we try to understand each other and our problems.
I’m not always the best partner, and sometimes get things wrong at work while trying to make sure I do my best for my daughter. I’m more than capable of doing what needs to get done. I don’t need sympathy, nor do I need someone to step in and take any roles away. But what I do need is to be able to feel safe when I’m around other women, so I don’t judge myself harsher than I would have.
I’m trying to raise my daughter in the same way, to make sure she doesn’t feel she has to justify herself but to also support the women around her, even if she doesn’t always understand them.
Mia Lindeque is a reporter at Eyewitness News. To listen to her podcast series Behind The Politics: She Fights Her Battles Silently, go to LifePodcasts.fm or iTunes podcasts.