Officials within the department of basic education (DBE) have responded to the department spokesperson’s controversial tweets. Both the DBE minister Angie Motshekga and the basic education parliamentary portfolio committee chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba have distanced themselves and the department from the Elijah Mhlanga’s inappropriate ‘Read to Lead’ tweets.
Mhlanga published a series of offensive tweets captioning pictures of scantily clad women reading with comments that reading is “therapeutic,” “relaxes the mind, body, and soul” and “feels good” on August 10. Following the backlash for his tweets, Mhlanga apologised in a series of tweets. Mhlanga also said he “pushed the boundary slightly in order to play around with meaning, and push a narrative about reading as an activity that can be done for fun and leisure.”
The department’s Read To Lead campaign was launched in 2015 and set to continue till 2019. The focus of the campaign, according to the department website, is “to improve the reading abilities of all South African children”. It aimed to ensure that “all learners are able to demonstrate age appropriate levels of reading by 2019”.
Motshekga: “I didn’t authorise nor was informed of such a campaign involving semi-naked women”
Motshekga distanced herself and the department from the tweets. “I distance both the Ministry I lead and the Department of Basic Education from this naked display of male chauvinism. The objectification of women has no place anywhere in our society, let alone in our quest to promote reading,” she said.
The minister also said she would not have permitted the campaign. “As Minister of Basic Education, I didn’t authorise nor was informed of such a campaign involving semi-naked women. Even if I was informed, I wouldn’t have given any permission purely based on principle that women aren’t objects. The objectification of women is an affront in our battle against the pervasive nature of patriarchy and the scourge of gender based violence.” Motshekga said.
“I have instructed the Accounting Officer of the Department of Basic Education to institute appropriate action in this regard to ensure that in future, no official engages in folic of their own in the name of the department,” Motshekga said.
The minister did not clarify what “appropriate action” would be instituted.
“You cannot tell our pupils that they must read while they are naked”
In an interview with Clement Manyathela on 702’s Xolani Gwala Show, Mbinqo-Gigaba condemned Mhlanga’s tweets, saying his actions are undermining. “We are of the view even though the campaign was meant to encourage children to read, the pictures that he used have missed that point. We condemn what he has done and we think that he is undermining people in general. You cannot tell our pupils that they must read while they are naked,” Mbinqo-Gigaba said.
Gauteng secretary of the Educators Union of South Africa Kabelo Mahlobogwane also condemned the tweets. “We live in a country that faces high volumes of women abuse and we see tweets like this, where he is subjecting women to objects that he can use as a tool to market, that is wrong and it is the biggest form of misconduct and it is misleading to people,” Mahlobogwane said.