DBE Spokesperson Apologizes, Sort Of, For Scantily Clad Women Pics in #ReadToLead Tweets

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Riyaz Patel

Department of Basic Education (DBE) Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga has apologized and, at the same time, defended his posting of various images of scantily clad women in an attempt to promote reading by making it “sexy.”

Mhlanga tweeted the images on Saturday as part of a DBE campaign called “Read to Lead,” drawing a swift and angry backlash from netizens.

In these tweets, Mhlanga captions pictures of scantily clad women reading with comments that reading is “therapeutic,” “relaxes the mind, body, and soul” and “feels good.”

While Mhlanga apologised to those who were offended by the images, he added that he’d posted similar images before without backlash, and that by doing so, he’d “started a discourse on reading.”

“On Saturday, I posted a series of tweets about the department’s Read to Lead Campaign aimed at promoting reading amongst young adults and people of school going age and society in general,” he said.

Mhlanga added that: “Contemporary audiences that consume media tend to be open about sex and sexuality. I therefore have a full understanding of representation and metaphoric content, and in this context, I 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.”

Debbie Schafer, MEC for Education in the Western Cape, also waded into the debate.

“We hope this issue will heighten interest in and sustain a conversation about the importance of reading and its significance in human development,” Mhlanga said, before concluding his Twitter statement with a thank you emoji and the greeting: “Yours in reading.”

“While Mr Mhlanga apologised to ‘sensitive viewers’, his apology only served to highlight that he failed to grasp the substance of the complaints. It is deeply concerning that this patriarchal view is espoused by a government department spokesperson, particularly a department that has such power to shape young South Africans,” Christine Hobden, philosophy lecturer at the University of Fort Hare, told The Daily Vox.  

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