Why are the police reluctant to deal with Manana?

I DESPERATELY wanted to write something positive this week. After all, this is the week when we are supposed to celebrate the glorious struggle for equality waged by South African women, and we recall the march on August 9, 1956 by thousands of women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest at pass laws.

For those too young to remember, pass laws were introduced to keep Africans out of the cities because the apartheid government believed they should restrict themselves to rural homelands. A pass became a hated document that all Africans had to carry with them, especially in the cities. If you were found without one, you could be sent to jail.

But we have moved on and now have a democracy where we can all live wherever we want in South Africa. Of course, there are some people, especially in the Western Cape, who believe foreigners should be welcomed in our city and not people from the Eastern Cape, but that is a subject for another column.

I was determined to be positive this week and to remember the many amazing women who played a part in shaping the man I have become. Among these are my mother, who worked as a domestic worker or any other job she could find, but still found time to teach me to read so that, by the time I went to school, I could read books that were normally read by children who were already at school for a few years.

My two older sisters looked after me when my mother was not around. I was the youngest of five children but my brothers never seemed to care for me in the same way as my sisters did.

Since then, there were many other women in my life, including aunts and cousins, but my special women remain my wife and three daughters, who put up with me and all my peculiarities (for want of an understated word).

But just as I was preparing to be positive, the news broke about the deputy minister of higher education, Mduduzi Manana, who assaulted a woman at a night club over the weekend.

What angered me most about this case is not that it happened in Women's Month - any assault on a woman is bad, irrespective of when it happens - but the response from the authorities.

To say the police were slack is a compliment. It seemed police were trying to find reasons not to arrest the offending deputy minister, hiding behind the need for a “proper investigation”. This was, of course, after Manana confessed that he “slapped” the woman. Video evidence suggested the assault was, in fact, more violent than that.

Out of respect for my mother and all the women who helped to raise me, I have a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women. It is something I practise throughout my life and not only for 16 days in December, like some politicians.

Perhaps because this assault fell outside of the 16 days when politicians focus on violence against women and children, most political parties were not very vocal on what I consider to be a serious issue. Violence against women and children is one of the most serious issues affecting especially poorer communities and perpetrators will find solace in the police reluctance to act against Manana.

At the very least, I would have expected Manana to be arrested immediately, or to give himself up at a police station. He admitted his guilt, even if only partially, and he must be prepared to accept the consequences.

The only way to deal with serious crimes - and I consider this to be one - is by making examples of perpetrators. Criminals must know they will be arrested and prosecuted and, if convicted, they will spend time in jail.

At the time of writing, the police minister had announced that Manana was going to appear in court. Why an announcement? Why not just arrest him and take him to court? The police and the ruling party are sending out a wrong signal with regards to this case. But, I suppose, this is not unexpected given that people more prominent than Manana have gotten away with perpetrating even worse crimes against women and not much happened to them.

As we celebrate Women's Month, we need to remember the bad men who give all men a bad name.

These men make it difficult for us to celebrate women fully and freely because, as long as people like them are around, women will always be in danger of assault or worse. If Manana does not want to be seen to be one of those men, he should have done the right thing. He should have faced the consequences of his action, handed himself over for arrest and resigned from his position in government. Oh, I forgot, we don't do that in South Africa.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 12 August 2017)