An essential part of every debate is to get the correct terminology and definitions related to your topic – as much as you possibly can. But if you can’t even acknowledge the true origins and intended meanings of the term your entire debate is based on, how valid is the conversation?
This is the question I asked myself after watching the most recent episode of SABC 1 The Big Debate which focused on whether or not South African politicians are out of ideas to woo voters.
During the contextualisation of the debate, the use of young beautiful women in campaign activities was highlighted and it all seemed to go downhill from there.
Commentators were particularly incensed by the ANC’s use of a model in their campaign material and the fact that the DA hired Moonchild Sanelly to perform at one of their rallies.
Based on this, the show’s host and moderator Redi Tlhabi lead into the conversation by asking for comment from Khanyi Mbau, who is notorious for her first marriage to a rich businessman and the flashy lifestyle they lead during the first few years of their marriage.
“Whether you accept it or not, you are seen as the original slay queen,” began Redi.
To which Mbau answered: “The whole idea of saying I’m the ancestor or the original slay queen is really sad because I come from a generation of go-getters. Women that believe they want to make it. But then, we live in a society where those in power want to take advantage of that because they have the resources and they see the hunger in young women such as myself.
“We look at the western world and these young girls that are driving these amazing cars before the age of 30 and these are what African children want. But it’s the people in power that are taking advantage of these girls that should be fathering them and teaching them how to do it themselves and that’s where the slay queen thing got lost.”
I agree with Mbau for the most part, but what I agree with above all is her comment on how the idea of what a slay queen is and does has gotten lost in translation.
The term was inspired by slang unique to the drag world and the LGBTIQ community, intended to positively affirm those around them.
Used in its original form, “Slay, Queen” was an instruction of sorts, often given to a good looking person who is well-dressed, has a face full of impeccable makeup and whose hair looks good.
“Slay queen” is now unfortunately been used as a veiled insult for women who one makes an assumption about based solely on their outward appearance.
Women who care for their appearance and love makeup, wigs, extensions, long nails, and the trendiest clothes are usually grouped into this category. As are women with curvy, hourglass figures.
The assumption is that these women are not intelligent or hardworking and that they use their appearance, which is often shared on their social media pages, to get ahead in life or earn a living.
What people often mean when they call someone a slay queen is to insinuate they engage in transactional sex and that doing this is wrong.
This gross misappropriation of the term was proved when a young girl stood up and during her contribution, she made the comment that some girls’ parents do not care about them and so they become slay queens. She went on to conflate being a slay queen with being a sex worker.
As she did this, the live feed lit up with comments such as “she’s right ke difebe”, “a slay queen is a political prostitute”, and “ Issa prostitude (sic)”.
With that said, it was very disappointing to see that the show’s research team and the show’s host clearly did not take the time to research the etymology of the term and how it ties into the phenomenon they were trying to unpack.
It was also incredibly disappointing to see that they had invited Inno Morolong and Jackie Phamotse onto the panel as they are two problematic voices who do not have a holistic understanding of the subject matter they are touted as experts in.
Both Morolong and Phamotse are dangerously myopic in their understanding of the term, the phenomenon, and the consequences thereof.
In recent months, South Africa has become obsessed with “Blesser culture” and slay queens without even understanding what these topics mean.
Countless shows have developed storylines around the subject matter, the government has dubbed it a pandemic of sorts and developed countless programmes to remedy this while talk shows have discussed these topics ad-nauseam.
Through it all, however, no one has stopped to really question whether or not they even know what they are talking about.