Somizi Mhlongo (Pic: MambaOnline)
The confirmation that Somizi Mhlongo is returning as an Idols SA judge raises questions about whether same-sex domestic violence allegations are taken seriously.
In August last year, M-Net confirmed that Mhlongo would “take time off [from the show] to deal with his personal circumstances” after his estranged husband, Mohale Motaung accused him of physical abuse.
Motaung said he was “afraid” of Mhlongo and alleged that his husband broke his ribs, almost knocked out two of his teeth, had once driven him off the road, and had threatened to stab him with a kitchen knife. Mhlongo has vehemently denied all the allegations.
There were successful calls at the time for Mhlongo to be taken off the air (he was also dropped by Metro FM), but it now appears that, after six months, he is bouncing back from the scandal – despite no public resolution to the claims.
On Wednesday, M-Net confirmed that Mhlongo will return to the judging panel for the high profile show’s 18th season, alongside Thembi Seete and JR Bogopa.
Mhlongo is also back as the face of DSTV compact, promoting the pay TV package to his followers on social media.
Speaking at a press conference announcing the Idols SA judging lineup, Mhlongo responded (or not) to a question about his suspension and the allegations he’s faced.
“I believe my private life is my private life, and my work life is my work life, but also sometimes those two [coincide],” he said.
He continued noncommittally: “I can’t say anything at the moment, and I don’t want to say anything at the moment regarding that. All that I can tell you is that it was one of the toughest times of my life and my career, but we move forward and, as they say… innocent until proven guilty.”
Mhlongo’s return to Idols SA seems somewhat jarring in the current social climate.
Many brands and companies are wary of being associated with controversies related to hot topic social issues such as gender-based violence, often regardless of whether or not the alleged perpetrator’s guilt has been established.
And that’s why I find it hard to believe that a high profile company like MultiChoice, which owns DSTV and M-Net, would have welcomed Mhlongo back with such open arms if he’d been accused of violence against a woman partner.
Perhaps Multichoice believes that the public is less likely to sustain its outrage because the allegations involve a same-sex couple. (It’s telling that the response on social media to the news of Mhlongo’s return is largely positive.)
Reports that Idols SA suffered a massive ratings dip after Mhlongo left the show may also have played a part in the company’s decision.
Ultimately, we don’t know if Mhlongo is indeed guilty of the claims against him (we may never know), and I am not here arguing that he should be deprived of being able to earn a living on the grounds of unproven allegations.
But what I am doing is asking questions about what this all says about the legitimacy of same-sex relationships in our culture. And, on the face of it, it does seem that allegations of intimate partner violence between same-sex couples can be more easily swept under the carpet than when it involves our heterosexual counterparts.
It’s no surprise really that, like our lives, our relationships have less perceived value than those of others.