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‘Open your books and close your legs’ – Minister tells teenage girls

SOUTH Africans have expressed their outrage over Limpopo health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba’s school visit address where she advised the girls to “open their books and close their legs”.

A Member of the Executive Council (MEC) is the equivalent of a provincial Minister.

A video of the MEC went viral on Twitter after she visited Gwenane secondary school in Sekgakgapeng on Wednesday to monitor the first day of the new academic year.

She said the girls were being lured by older men using luxuries like expensive wigs and smartphones.

Her message has however been called out for putting the burden of sexual responsibility on girls only, as many people online said it was also the responsibility of boys and men to stop preying on them.

In the video clip the MEC says: “To the girl child I say, open your books and close your legs. Don’t open your legs, open your books. Let me hear you say it! Open your books and close your legs!”

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Despite the attacks, she received over her remarks, Dr Ramathuba hit back at “Twitter parents” and those lambasting her, saying not only did naysayers use the video clip without context, they had chosen to be ignorant about the factors that make teenage pregnancy a problem in rural areas and townships.

She said her full address contained messages for both girls and boys.

“I have learnt and I’ve studied that ‘Twitter parents’ sometimes are the ones who will give you backlash for their own narrative. They are not interested in the issues that we are dealing with on the ground. That is why I never bothered to respond to them.

“There is no Twitter parent who is dealing with the problems that we are dealing with. The children that delivered in our hospitals, who are teenagers, their parents are not on Twitter,” she said.

“Twitter parents” and their children were privileged and didn’t necessarily use public facilities or understand what life is like for parents and children in the rural areas or townships because of the class divide.

“Teenage pregnancy is rife among the poor and working class. The affluent do not understand. My children and their children [the Twitter parents] know everything about reproduction because we sit with our children and explain things like menstruation, menopause, protective s_x… we even teach them what is an orgasm. We give them that information.

“Whereas, the children I’m dealing with … these are the children who are often orphaned, raised by grannies or from child-headed families. Children who are on their own.”.

Ramathuba added that the parents of the children she addressed — and her constituents on Facebook — were grateful their children found a “bold parent” in Ramathuba who would not shy away from telling their children the truth.

KZN health MEC Nomagugu Simelane hands over a gift to a mother who delivered a baby on Christmas Day at Addington hospital. Image: KZN department of health
Data across South Africa’s provinces last year showed there had been a significant rise in the number of teen pregnancies during the pandemic.

Three weeks ago, media reported that three 14-year-old girls were among the new mothers who delivered babies in Limpopo hospitals on Christmas Day, prompting concern from the provincial health department.

The implementation of s_x education programs in some schools was halted after resistance from parents.

A Stats SA report on teenage preg_nancy revealed that 33,899 births registered in 2020 were to mothers aged 17 and younger. More than 600 of the girls were aged between 10 and 13.

Figures for national deliveries in facilities by the department of health revealed that 132,612 girls aged 15 to 19 fell pregnant in 2020 and a further 35,209 between January and March 2021.


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