GENDER POLITICS can sometimes be a bit of a jungle, the more so when a traditionally-progressive publication such as the Mail and Guardian, engages in conservative tongue-lashing.
Philip de Wet’s review of a memoir by apartheid spy and double-agent, Olivier Forsyth certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons.
After complaining there was “scant sauce” in a ‘honeypot’ memoir” Agent 407: A South African Spy Breaks Her Silence, the special agent 407, herself, responded with a bit of feminist rabble-rousing. ‘Sauce’ for the gander a disgrace to their gender” attacked men in general. Forsyth was lucky to gain the right to respond to De Wet’s piece — since by implication “what was good for the goose was now also good for the gander”.
One of apartheid’s notorious super-spies thus attempted to shift the blame for her activities, which included sexual blackmail and dirty tricks in support of the pro-rape regime of Botha, Malan and Vlok, et al, onto her book reviewer and all men in general. The ploy seems to have worked, since this piece of agit prop theatre was quickly followed by an outrageous defence of the apartheid rape rooms to which Forsyth had relegated many white detainees during the struggle.
So long as there was an attractive female involved, the fairer sex “anti-hero’ could become the heroine of the moment, and thus Haji Mohamed Dawjee (presumably a Muslim theologian) weighed in with a screed on why the M&G and other newsrooms need more women, specifically using the problematic Forsyth review as a starting point. By implication, this was just another moral lesson, a case of misogyny by white males, an opportunity to prove that Muslims in South Africa are, well, hip to gender rights, even if it means revising history to accommodate a rewrite of apartheid.
The contemporary hadith, was quickly followed by a piece which can only be described as ‘Gawker meets Jezebel’, by Victoria John, accusing De Wet of jumping on a “slut-shaming bandwagon”. The salacious title certainly added value for the publishers.
M&G reduces former spy to a vagina on legs, must take the cake for the most ahistorical leap of faith conducted by any “feminist writer” this century, since it practically vindicated and excused Forsyth’s participation in a regime which killed Steve Biko and other anti-apartheid heroes, such as Ashley Kriel and Neil Aggett.
That too many men were killed in the struggle, didn’t seem to rate in Victoria John’s estimation (is VJ simply a nom de guerre, for Vagina?)
If s/he was attempting to make a point, it probably should have been this one — that our history has focused too much on the worth of male lives lost in battle, and not on the men and women raped in administrative detention because of persons such as Forsyth.
So let’s put this story into better perspective than the one supplied by the venerable but ailing Mail and Guardian:
A lot of people were molested, abused and raped during the struggle. The TRC Final Report documents figures, such as this one: Almost 80% of apartheid detainees, both male and female, were raped during administrative detention by the apartheid state.
If anything both De Wet and Forsyth (and her supporters) stand accused of gunning for the existential frisson supplied by thrillers which treat French double-agent Mata Hari as an exciting date with Jeanne Moreau. A genre certainly worth exploring by fiction writers, but highly dubious when it comes to tell-all works of non-fiction.
[NOTE: Mata Hari (aka Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” Zelle) was a spy executed after World War 1, but unlike Mata Hari, Forsyth, walked free, and without anything resembling full disclosure.]