Misogynist and racist material offensive

31 March 2003
WE, the academic and administrative staff of the African Gender Institute, are deeply disturbed by the blatantly misogynist and racist material published and distributed in the UCT Rag Committee's Sax Appeal.

We are furthermore dismayed that such offensive material should be in circulation in the name of fundraising for causes as worthy as SHAWCO, whose valuable work we have long supported.

We are particularly incensed and offended by an anonymous article “Dave's Page of Hitting Girls”, accompanied by three full-colour photographs of a man wearing boxing gloves illustrating his “technique” on a blood-spattered woman.

In a country where violence against women has reached epidemic proportions, where one in six women is battered by her partner, where a woman is more likely to be killed in her home by her spouse or partner than anywhere else, the publication of this article, along with “how-to” pictures, is inexcusable.

On a campus where it is reported that as many as three violent rapes have occurred in the past three months (Varsity, March 13, 2002, front page) the sentiments being expressed under the pretext of “humour” become nothing less than criminal.

Also repugnant was an image on the page entitled “Jellybean Journal”, of Muslim women dressed in burka, lined up and aiming fire-arms, along with the caption “Help Mum so she can defend you from Dad”.

Besides entrenching racist stereotypes of Muslims as fanatical and inherently violent — a dangerous attitude in the current global climate of growing anti-Islamic sentiment — this picture also trivialises the very serious issues of domestic violence and child abuse. Appearing as it did, in a week where two Muslim women in traditional burka were found shot dead at the side of a road in Lenasia, and a young Muslim girl seriously injured in the shooting (see www.news24.com/News24/South_Africa/News/0,6119,2-7-1442_1329393,00.html ), to describe this article as tasteless is an understatement. It is not only racially offensive, but also an endorsement of the sentiment that Muslims are a fair target for violent attack.

It is incomprehensible that UCT which, as part of its mission, strives “to transcend the legacy of apartheid in South Africa and to overcome all forms of gender and other oppressive discrimination”, has allowed this publication, which reinforces every racist, sexist and xenophobic stereotype, and overtly encourages violence against women, onto the streets of Cape Town. We are ashamed to be associated with it. It goes against the grain of every value a “world class African university” would wish to instill in students and future leaders of this country and continent.

It is ironic that this deeply offensive material is sold to fund SHAWCO, which runs health outreach programmes in underprivileged communities, when its content and message are so obviously at odds with the underlying principles of SHAWCO's youth development and health programmes.

Would the communities SHAWCO serves approve of this material? What do members of the public who have bought this magazine think of it? What does it say about the attitudes of UCT students generally, and those on the editorial team when they deem this type of material suitable for mass dissemination?

At the AGI we are committed to eradicating all forms of social injustice, be these patriarchal or racial, and we strive unstintingly to educate people for social transformation and the attainment of gender justice in this country and on the African continent.

This process of education, changing attitudes, and facilitating critical awareness of the impact of gender on every life, culture and society, is painstaking, but one we are deeply committed to as individuals, as well as in our collective capacity as the African Gender Institute.

The same sentiments sustain continental networks of women working on similar challenges all over Africa, and which daily enrich and inform the intellectual work of the AGI. The publication of this year's Sax Appeal, and the ideas espoused in it, does immeasurable damage to this work, not to mention the institutional and intellectual climate experienced by women, and which students taking gender studies courses have to live out daily on this Campus.

It is also deeply embarrassing that this pitiful effort is all students could muster and present to the world as the “face” of UCT.

We therefore add our voices to all those sharing the deep sense of insult we feel, not because we lack humour, but because sick humour has long ceased to be funny, and needs to be challenged when it undermines so much of what South Africans have worked for, struggled for, and enshrined in laws and policies, and which we hope will transform all our institutions and daily lives for the better.

— African Gender Institute

Response from Rag Committee

FOR the first time in many years the format of the magazine was altered. Instead of jokes downloaded off the Internet and articles written about old issues, the editor decided to make the magazine what it used to be: a controversial edition which brought awareness of issues on Campus, in South Africa and in the world.

This is exactly what the magazine accomplished. Some might debate this, but the issues were raised in a satirical and sometimes humorous manner.

This humour and satire were not seen in the same light by the general public and societies of Cape Town. RAG has had many citizens applaud the uniqueness and brilliance of the magazine while others have been offended by its offensive nature and biased opinions.

Admittedly, some procedures were not followed in the publication of the magazine but RAG still managed to sell 80% of those magazines and raise an estimated R300 000 for SHAWCO. Because of the controversy over some of the articles, the magazines are still selling.

In concluding, we would like to say that the magazine was not written to attack members or groups from societies or students from the University. The intention was to bring real concerns to the attention of the public and make them think about what is going on in the world!

If you have any more queries, please don't hesitate to contact us at the RAG office.

— Alasdair Kelly — RAG Chair
Gerald Gondo — Vice-Chair

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