Keeping women “safe” can be dangerous

Joy Watson
Joy Watson

by Joy Watson


Rape stats not improving, court stats even worse

The recently released crime statistics indicate a slight drop in the number of reported cases of sexual offences, from 66 387 in 2012/13 to 62 649 in 2013/14. Over the course of the past few years, the trend has been to drop, then increase again and then drop again at different points in time. In 2004/05, for example, there were 69 117 reported cases. By 2007/08, this had dropped to 63 818. In 2008/09, it increased again to 70 514, dropped to 64 514 in 2011/12 and then increased to 66 387 in 2012/13.

The pattern that emerges is not one of a steady decline as a result of a coherent, targeted strategy to eradicate sexual offences. Equally concerning, is the fact a small fraction of the total number of reported cases eventually go to court. In 2007/08, 6.8% of the total number of sexual offences went to court. Of the total number of cases reported to the police, 4.5% resulted in convictions. This improved marginally in 2008/09, when 7.5% of the total cases reported went to court and 5% of the total cases reported resulted in convictions. For the next two years, there was no reporting on the related statistics. In 2011/12, there was a marginal improvement with 10.7% of the total number of reported cases going to court and 6.97% of the total cases reported resulted in convictions. The subliminal message is abundantly clear – a rapist has to be extremely unlucky to get convicted.

The reasons for the vast majority of sexual offences cases not going to court varies. Some cases are eventually withdrawn by the victim, largely as a result of secondary victimisation in the criminal justice system. In other instances, the National Prosecuting Authority will drop a case if it seems as if though there is not enough evidence to support it. This is a contentious matter as forensic evidence is an important part of deciding whether or not a case can potentially be won in court.  Yet, there are significant delays in securing forensic evidence and even where it is secured, the accused can argue that sex was consensual.

We need new strategies

The fact that there is no coherent, inter-departmental strategy on the part of the state to deal with rape is one of the main reasons why we see no real improvement in addressing the issue of rape.

Much of the state and media discourse in this regard has focused on the notion of protectionism, namely, that women need to be kept safe from harm and navigate their way cautiously in public spaces, particularly at night. Embedded within this narrative of danger is the underlying view that “bad” women ask for trouble, and that women who conform to the tacit rules of how to dress, where to walk, when to be out etc., will be “safe”. Restrictions on women’s mobility are therefore sanctioned by rationalizing that it is in the interest of their safety.

Yet, rape has confounded this myth. Even “good” women who conform to the rules have been raped and the disproportionate focus on the danger to women in public spaces appears to ignore the reality that women seem to face more violence in private rather than public spaces.

Furthermore, the language of protection and safety is couched within a problematic framework of concern for women’s sexual virtue. It obliterates the fact that the everyday acts of violence such as catcalls and comments directed at women on the streets are linked to more brutal forms of violence such as rape. These daily, repetitive acts of intrusion and harassment which women are expected to take in their stride, creates the kind of social context where more brutal forms of harassment can take place.

In the longer term, the better strategy is for women to enhance their claim to public spaces as notions of protectionism and keeping women safe ultimately limit life choices and restrict mobility. This in itself can be seen as a form of violence. In the process of doing this, violence is something that needs to be contended with and addressed at its roots, that of structural social inequity. This will require that we think differently about violence against women – placing it not in opposition to risk and pleasure, but alongside them and understanding what these terms mean in their own right and when connected to each other.



Support Walk: South Africa

Walk Digital PosterWalk: South Africa is a performance piece created by a group of women artists living in Cape Town, in response to Maya Krishna Rao’s The Walk. Rao crafted The Walk as a response to the gang-rape and murder of 23 year old Jyoti Pandey who was repeatedly raped and bludgeoned with an iron rod by 6 men on a bus in Delhi in December 2012. We decided, with Rao’s permission, to create Walk: South Africa in early 2013, as a response to the gang-rape and murder of Anene Booysen.

Our vision for Walk: South Africa is centred around a sparse aesthetic that foregrounds the figure of the woman. Its focus is very much on the six women performers and considering the unavoidable, physical fact of their bodies – a fact which we understand rape culture to seek to obfuscate or erase.
Venue: The Dragon Room, 84 Harrington Street, Cape Town
25 September 2014 at 22.00
26 September 2014 at 22.00
27 September 2014 at 15.30
30 September 2014 at 16.00
01 October 2014 at 13.00

9 August – A poem

Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith

By Jonathan Smith

09 August

A day, They say,

We will give them a day.

A day to honour, respect, love:

to show We Care.



Those grey, They say, We recall the grey.

The march, the mettle, the martyrdom

the equality won:

We Care.



But a Day?

They say. A whole Bloody day?

Suppose 364 in ration to 1 will show that

We Care.



More pay!

they say they want equal pay.

Since when is 24 hours not enough;

surely the day proves We Care?




They say, on this day, no talk of rape.

We give you a day, a doek, a talk.

We Care.



We do Care

They say, We gave you a day.

Be happy: now it is time for supper

and bed.

PETITION: 11 yr old “willing” rape victim – DPP must appeal!

The Women’s Legal Centre, People Opposing Women’s Abuse, the Teddy Bear Clinic for abused children, the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to end violence against women and girls, and the GRIP Rape Prevention Programme are dismayed to learn of the reduced sentence for the perpetrator of multiple rapes of an 11 year old victim, in the North Gauteng High Court. The life sentence of Molefe Joseph Mphanama, who repeatedly raped an 11-year-old girl he regarded as “a daughter”, was reduced to 20 years on appeal by the High Court in Pretoria on 25 July 2014, because she seemed to be a “willing partner”.

The court accepted the state’s arguments that the young girl had been sexually groomed by Mphanama, but when it came to sentencing, acting Judge Mushasha stated that he was “concerned about the conduct” of the girl victim, which was a mitigating factor in favour of Mphanama. An example of this conduct cited by the Judge was that she opened the window for Mphanama, and “only” showed her unwillingness to have sex by closing her thighs. Judge Khumalo agreed with Judge Mushasha’s reasoning.

“It is of serious concern when the judge’s reasoning perpetuates the stereotypes around sexual violence that many organisations (and we hope government) are trying to dispel. It shows that the transformation of the judiciary requires more than increasing the number of women on the bench. It requires a transformation of the stereotypical paternalistic thinking which is entrenched in many of our male judges. This judgment shows how this kind of thinking severely infringes the rights of the girl child and removes the little trust she may have had in the judicial system to protect her. It is totally unacceptable,” said Shireen Motara, Director of the Women’s Legal Centre

“We are extremely concerned about this judgment, and believe it must be appealed. The reasoning employed by the court amounts to a species of victim blaming, and was pursued despite the absence of a victim impact statement,” said Sanja Bornman, attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre.

Barbara Kenyon from GRIP said, “We are outraged by the decision. The age of consent is 16 years, and children below 12 cannot consent to sexual contact with adults. The prosecution authority must appeal.”

Shaheda Omar of the Teddy Bear Clinic said, “The burden of responsibility here is being shifted to the child, where in actual fact it should be the responsibility of the adult to protect children.  This is a clear case of exploitation, and child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome, which could account for a child victim’s secrecy, helplessness, entrapment and accommodation, delayed disclosure and retraction.”

Shereen Mills of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (TLAC) said, “After all the work women’s violence organisations have done to educate and eradicate patriarchal attitudes that blame the victim of rape for her rape, it is of extreme concern that this kind of deluded, discriminatory reasoning can be applied by our judiciary to the rape of an 11-year old girl child. The sexist stereotypes that underlie this judgment serve not only to reinforce women and girl children’s unequal status, but also to normalize men’s continued violence against the most vulnerable in our society.”

The following additional organisations endorse the call on the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal the sentence:

  • Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust
  • Ekupholeni Mental Health and Trauma Center
  • Women and Men Against Children Abuse
  • Project Empower
  • Masimanyane Support Centre
  • TVEP
  • Justice and Women
  • Childline South Africa

The Women’s Legal Centre has also started a public petition to call on the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal the sentence, and members of the public can sign this petition electronically here.

For more information, contact:

SHIREEN MOTARA – 021 424 5660

SHAHEDA OMAR – 011 484 4554/4539

BARBARA KENYON – 013 752 4404


Beauty pageants with our taxes in eThekwini

By Nicole Graham

Women in eThekwini, much like any South African society, get a pretty raw deal. Women, especially young ones, are more likely to be unemployed, earn less and be undermined by colleagues and society than their male counterparts because of their physicality and gender. As a young female councilor, I have had to regularly take on colleagues who though that making comments about my looks, weight and body was acceptable. I don’t mean one or two isolated incidents- I mean weekly occurrences across the spectrum of race and age. Very few political office bearers in eThekwini are young women.

Young women in eThekwini regularly face abuse, violence, rape and murder. I am told that in the past month, three women have been found raped and murdered in Lindelani, north of Durban. They were found dead on fields and in open spaces, one with her bloodied underwear stuffed in her mouth. These brutal and horrifying incidents are sadly not isolated, and there is little media attention or public outrage. The response from government at various levels is generally slow and insufficient. Our cities are still not safe for women.

The eThekwini Municipality’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Unit have formulated a proposal to spend over a million rand of tax payers’ money (R 1 023 278, 05) on a beauty pageant. The proposed pageant, dubbed ‘Miss eThekwini’, is only open to women who wear a size 28- 34. It makes no bones about the fact that the contestants must be ‘physically beautiful’, occasionally referring to ‘smart women’ for good measure. The winner, by virtue of her physique and dazzling smile, will become an ambassador for our city. It is apparently vital to make us seem like a ‘lifestyle destination’. The proposal makes little mention of tourism or tangible benefits to our city, and offers nothing in terms of Durban’s diverse and fascinating cultures.

There is an undeniable link between creating structures that praise physicality above all else and treating women as though their value is derived from their body. It is these exact attitudes that continue to decrease women’s agency. The idea that this pageant would advance women is laughable. Women will be advanced through education, opportunity, safety and equality.

It is unreal that the municipal unit tasked with managing public spaces, in which many attacks on women take place, would decide to use their money on a pageant as opposed to making these places safer. In Umbilo Park alone, which falls in my ward, a number of young women and school girls have been mugged, attacked and raped in the past year. When I ask for increased security, I am told that there is insufficient funding available. There is now a million rand available for a beauty pageant.

Across political divides, eThekwini Municipality should its money to create safe and livable spaces for residents, particularly vulnerable women. Projects that contribute to inequality cannot be allowed. Let us spend that R 1 023 278, 05 on additional security for public spaces in Lindelani, Kwamashu, Phoenix, Glenwood and other parts of the city in which women are routinely attacked. It is time this city treated the safety of women seriously, and rejected the idea of women’s value being represented through their looks.

(This item was referred back to political caucuses for discussion at committee level. The Democratic Alliance will not support this item if/when it is brought back to committee.)

The danger of opinions about rape

Masutane Modjadji

By Masutane Modjadji

One Monday morning I received a frantic phone call from a friend whose 9-year old niece had been raped by a neighbour. The family reported the rape at the local police station that is at Ga-Kgapane in Bolobedu area. Three days later the rapist was still casually waltzing around the street as if what he did can be pardoned by an apology. Sincerest apologies were offered to the victim’s family. In the end an apology from the rapist’s family is the only justice the 9 year old and her family got. Police failed to apprehend him or visit the family to take their statements. This despite the fact that the suspected had raped a child before and had got away with it. Everyone in the community knows this, I was told. Shortly before my friend’s niece was raped the same man is said to have tried to rape a six year old toddler. Fortunately for her she escaped when a little boy saw the man taking off his pants while the girl lay spread on the bed. The boy screamed and the would-be rapist got a fright and fled. But not for long it would seem, he came right back and he raped again.

Making excuses

I remember the opinions that were offered in our newsroom at the time. They ranged from blaming the community for complicity to pointing fingers at parents for not keeping their children under 24 hours surveillance. It annoyed me how quick people were willing to excuse the rapist.

During our conversations I could detect my friend’s feelings of helplessness. Mine were sufficiently hidden. I calmed her down and promised to help with follow ups to the police. I uttered a little prayer. When dealing with the police one needs all the help they can get. After a week of following up through emails, phone calls and smses no one from the police or Limpopo’s department of safely and community liaison bothered, no help was forthcoming. Each phone call that yielded no solution, each email or SMS that went without reply felt like a kick to my stomach.

Just when we were ready with our last attempt to direct attention to what was happening through a community radio station, the child’s aunt phoned  and appeal with me to let it go. They were not prepared for a long drawn battle to get justice. She assured me that the family wanted to focus on their child’s recovery and counselling. Going back and forth with the police was proving to be too traumatic for them. I respected their decision and the privacy of child. I stopped pushing. I moved on inspite of my feeling of anger, hurt, frustration and guilt at not being able to help a little girl who had her innocence stolen from her.

Placing the blame – our mothers, ourselves, our society

Move Magazine articleFor a while it appeared that I was over this incident. Sadly it came flooding back to my mind by an article I came across in Move magazine while visiting a friend two months later. The trigger was a story about a 22 year old Phindile Khumalo who was raped by her teacher when she was 14 years old. Her crime was in trusting someone who she looked up to as a mentor and her teacher. I read her story and saw myself in every detail that lead to her being drugged and raped. At that age I was just as trusting to people I looked up to, whether they be a teacher from school or any local adult I considered an uncle. Familiar and older persons in most communities are either uncles or aunts to most children. No one warns you that they might get raped by your uncle, teacher or even your neighbour you have know all your life. I think this as natural, no one anticipate any sort of sexual violence especially from people they know and trust.

Our mothers did not raise us to see a rapist in every man we come across. I found myself in the middle of an ugly exchange with my friend who blamed Phindile’s mother for landing her daughter in a situation that resulted in her rape. Phindile’s naivety could have apparently been avoided should she have been told not to trust any men, so said my friend. The fact that she kept insisting that this was her opinion with an air of superiority and self assurance woke me up to the danger with opinions. They are everywhere and everyone can afford to have one.

Suppose a woman has no mother to blame what would stop people from locating a reason so that they can place the blame anywhere except where it really it belongs- with the rapists. Isn’t this the reason why some people go as far as questioning what a woman was wearing, her prior behaviour etc. Such attitudes should be unnerving for anyone who cherishes their freedom and their right to be.

Self blame is another reason why some victims of sexual crimes rather suffer in silence than speaking out against crime committed against them through no faults of their own out of fear of reactions. I shudder to think of what lies buried inside those victims and how it creeps up each time they are faced with scathing opinions. It’s bad enough to think of women who have to deal with police who don’t have a clue on how to deal properly with rape cases. For some victims their pain includes having to face the rapist every day. The power of public opinions is something most people have underestimated.

Somehow I cannot shake the nudging feeling that by placing blame in victims or their circumstances one is implicitly saying they must accept what happens to them as punishment.

Freedom of speech vs. harm to others

I respect each person’s right to have their own opinion. More respects to women like Phindile who work out the courage to speak out and agree to have their faces put behind their names.  Our justice system needs serious reforms that will enable it to deal adequately with sexually violence and send a strong message to rapists. This is a progressive right. While those progressive steps are being taken I stand with those who are forever challenging a mentality that justifies rape in our communities. Fighting recrimination of rape victims might be the only justice some people will ever know.

The thing with opinions is that everyone has them. In South Africa I can conclude that when it comes to rape other people’s point of views is exactly like having salt added to an open wound. It can be intensely painful to listen whether one is a prior victim of rape or just an “overly sensitive female” like I have been accused I am.

We live in a democratic society. I am learning to subdue my emotions and try not to wreak vocal havoc each time someone attempts to rationalize why some women deserve sexual violence more than others. The bottom line though, is that rape cannot be explained away. Ensuring freedom of speech is paramount, but I wish that people would make the effort to be a little more informed about the impact of their speech.

CNN’s portrayal of Steubenville rapists makes waves

Tammy Sutherns
Tammy Sutherns

By Tam Sutherns started a petition, calling for CNN to apologise on air for sympathising with the two Steubenville rapists. While the petition is now closed, generating over 200 000 signatures, it has raised some critical problems embedded in society.

The petition was created after three CNN reporters spoke about the tragedy of such young men being sentenced for the crime, men who had promising futures as football athletes. Their sobbing in court was also mentioned, however, there was no mention of the victim by any of the reporters.

The petition states:

Your coverage of the Steubenville rape trial’s verdict Sunday morning was a complete disgrace and a breach of journalistic ethics. To have three of your personalities blatantly portray the rapists as the victims in this situation while not so much as acknowledging the actual rape victim and what she has had to put up with since — death threats and the hostility of that entire football-crazed town — is nothing short of disgusting.

I request that you apologize on-air, several times over the course of the next week, at the start of every hour, for your shameful coverage that only served to perpetuate a culture in which young people will grow up not understanding the concept of consent and in which rape victims are blamed, ostracized and threatened. Start with Candy Crowley, Poppy Harlow and Paul Callan themselves issuing their apologies several times, then extend that to the rest of CNN’s staff and Jeff Zucker himself. Admit that your coverage was extremely off base and tell us why it was off base. Use the content of this letter as a starting point if you need to.

A culture that sympathizes with rapists and encourages them while shaming rape victims can no longer be considered socially acceptable, and that change must start with you. As journalists for a major network that reaches millions of households in the United States and worldwide, it is your responsibility. Accept it.


Responses to the petition have been emotive. One signer said:

“These boys were rapists. They knew what they were doing. To say that their poor little lives were ruined for RAPING SOMEONE? They deserve far more than serving a year in Juvie and being registered as a sex offender for life. Disgusting, CNN. That poor young woman who was assaulted… and then made into the perpetrator rather than the victim? Absolutely foul and inhuman.”

Another said:

“This was just sick. All this talk about lives falling apart and lasting trauma and no mention of the true victim? Shame on them. This was pathetically unethical reporting, and they should be held accountable.”

The outcry raises some very important issues when it comes to the media’s portrayal of violent crimes. Victims should not be lost in this portrayal – ever – and CNN has made a fatal error in its media coverage. More crucial is that CNN’s reporters have simplified the issue – another grave mistake. The questions they should be asking – as journalists, as human beings and as members of a violent society – is why these young men committed this act and how their environment contributed to making it OK.

CNN’s Paul Callan said:

“The most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law. That will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

Perhaps it’s this attitude – that because these young men are young, good students and held the potential of becoming football stars – that the world owes them something and they are not accountable for their actions.

CNN’s portrayal of these young men as victims is alarming and a glaringly obvious metaphor of the problem at large. In a world where two men commit rape and somehow become the victims in the story, how are we meant to show how very wrong their act was? How are we meant to remember the real victim in this story?

The victim, a 16-year-old young woman, was intoxicated beyond consciousness on the night of the rape. Her clothes were removed and the two convicted rapists filmed her while inserting their fingers inside her vagina (an act defined as rape by Ohio law). One of the convicted also attempted to put his penis in the unconscious teenager’s mouth. These videos were shared among students, on YouTube and on social networking platforms.

Will this not haunt her for the rest of her life?

See the responses and original petition at:

20 March – feminist reading list for the morning

read me

1. A guide for foul mouthed feminists – click here

2. Gender angle for premiership race – click here

3. Have you ever used sex to get something that you want – click here

4. Men that rape are our fathers, lovers – click here

5. ANC Women’s League – what have you done for women’s rights lately – click here

6. Will the new Global Development Paradigm do anything to improve the lives of young women? – click here

7. The feminist declaration for the Post 2015 development goals – click here

8. New website on sex, rights and the internet – click here

9. Why we have too few women in leadership – click here

10. On catcalling – no I’m not asking for it, and no it’s not a fucking compliment – click here

How much does violence against women cost the South African Government?

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

If you live in South Africa, watch the news or social media, or listen to the radio you’ll be aware that violence against women is common. You might also know that in the last five years around 60 000 rapes have been reported each year (that’s each year, not over five years). You could know that estimates vary but that statistically most women do not report a rape against them. You might know that most sexual offences committed against women are committed by someone they know, and that one in four men in South Africa has admitted to raping someone he knows.

When it comes to domestic violence you probably know a bit less. This might be because the South African police services do not report on domestic violence statistics annually, because ‘domestic violence’ is technically not a crime. Why technically? Well, because it depends on what type of violence that is, and it’s up to the police to record it as an incident of ‘domestic violence’. This means that sometimes it’s recorded as assault, assault with the intention to do grievous bodily harm, attempted murder, murder, etc. So, when the police report on these crimes against women (if they disaggregate their data at all) they don’t report how many of them were related to domestic violence. One figure we do have (you’ll see them in these interesting research reports at the bottom of this blog) is that over 200 000 new incidents of domestic violence were reported in 2011. That’s new and reported.

Suffice to say that we have a significant problem of intimate partner violence and violence against women in general in South Africa. There are two main laws which govern these types of violence – the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 and the Sexual Offences Act 32 of 2007. These laws define the crimes, prescribe the role of various Government Departments, and make requirements on those Departments to provide particular levels of services. What these laws (and others that affect women’s rights to safety, housing etc) don’t do, is require Government Departments to budget together. This means that each Department (that’s the South African Police Services, the Department of Health, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, and the Department of Social Development) has to try and estimate the scale of the problem, and ask for money to do their bit, separately and in a way that is not connected to working with other Departments or ensuring that victims of violence against women get the best and least traumatising service. Add to the fact that when the scale of the problem is so massive, these services are not going to come cheap.

Yes. I find it as strange as you do. When laws require Departments to work together in implementing them and don’t make sure each Department has enough budget to do so, they are essentially setting themselves up for failure. Even more importantly, when laws don’t make exactly clear what each Department has to do, it is really very seriously tremendously (do you get my point) unlikely that Departments will altrustically go on spending sprees to make sure those services are available.

At a research recent seminar three papers were produced on Government spending in relation to gender-based violence. Two of these looked at specific departments – the South African Police Services and the Department of Justice – and asked Departments to report on exactly what they were spending. The other tried to consider Government spending as a whole. This was almost impossible for a number of reasons:

  • Government Departments do not budget specifically for violence against women services;
  • Not all Government Departments provided information to Parliament on their spending when requested to do so;
  • Sometimes Departments simply did not know how much they spent because they included some services in general budgets.

Nevertheless, the third paper reached an estimate of Government spending at at least R311 051 687 in the 2013/2014 financial year alone. This excluded the costs of the Department of Health and Social Development who did not report. It also excluded the costs of the Department of Correctional Services (who had not yet been asked on their spending on the perpetrators imprisoned for violence against women), the Departments of Education and Communication who should be responsible for awareness raising and preventing violence in schoools, or the Department of Community Safety.

Violence against women is thus significantly costly for the Government. Urgent prevention programmes and responses are required to ensure that equal spending is invested in prevention as is spent on the response. Critically, Government needs to begin to consider how it could budget more holistically to ensure that services are standardised, and that each and every victim of violence regains her right to safety.

What’s important though is that the highest cost is obviously borne by the victim of violence. It is borne by those who survive it, and those who do not. It is also borne by those young South Africans trapped watching their family members inflicting violence against one another, and learning that this is the way that things are resolved. These costs have not even begun to be measured but it is certain that they will be very high.

To read the research reports, click the links below:

Lorenzo Wakefield: SAPS and planning for gender-based violence, an update

Joy Watson: The cost of justice in South Africa

Jen Thorpe: The 2013/2014 financial year estimates for spending on gender-based violence by the South African Government

Under-funding rape and domestic violence services: Neglecting women’s well-being, neglecting women’s work?

shukumisa logo


Bulletin 1:

Domestic violence is the most common form of violence experienced by South African women and causes the greatest number of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases in women, according to the South African Stress and Health Survey conducted by the University of Cape Town and Johns Hopkins University. The same study found that rape, another crime overwhelmingly experienced by women and girls, was the form of violence most likely to result in PTSD, in addition to causing the most severe and long-term forms of PTSD.[1] But this is not all: depression, anxiety, suicidality, substance abuse, repeated victimisation, disability, HIV-infection and chronic physical health problems may also arise following an experience of rape or domestic violence. Good services to victims and their families are therefore crucial, both in ameliorating post-traumatic stress, as well as preventing some of these other health consequences from developing.

However, where these two crimes are concerned, no service is better than a bad service. A very substantial body of research shows that services do more harm than good when provided by people who have not been adequately trained to respond to rape and domestic violence, who also hold victim-blaming beliefs and do not receive debriefing and supervision. In other words, some degree of specialisation is required to provide quality services. Yet, in the context of funding cuts which began in 2010 and shifts in Department of Social Development (DSD) policy around funding to non-governmental organisations (NGO), it seems that fewer services of deteriorating quality are precisely what is being provided to survivors of rape and domestic violence.

This short bulletin, which draws on 17 case studies from seven of South Africa’s nine provinces, provides a snapshot of the effect of funding cuts on services. It is the first in a number of briefs and research reports around good services to rape and domestic violence survivors which the Shukumisa Campaign will release over the coming months.

The impact of funding cuts on services:

Between these 17 organisations 100 positions were lost in the four-year period between 2010 and 2013. While some organisations have been able to reinstate a few posts, this has not been on a full-time basis. In other organisations the work is either now performed by temporary staff or volunteers, or one person is doing the work of two. It is also the case that some staff continue working even though they are not always paid regularly or in full. However, because they cannot afford to cover their transport costs, their work attendance is often erratic. A few organisations, even in the face of diminished funding, nonetheless still attempt to provide their full range of service. Thus Sisters’ Incorporated (a shelter in the Western Cape) ran at a loss of R105 747 in 2011 and by 2012 had embarked on a ‘Save Sisters Campaign’ to prevent the fifty-year old shelter from closing. By 2013 they had no more than two months’ worth of running costs in reserve at any one time.

In addition to job cuts, a number of programmes have either been reduced or terminated altogether, while some services have been closed down: eight station-based services in Mpumalanga no longer exist; a Family Resource Centre has shut in the Eastern Cape and a paralegal and family law service in Pietermaritzburg also no longer functions. These services have not been replaced and the need merely shifted elsewhere. 

These problems have been further exacerbated by the release in 2011 of DSD’s new policy on financial awards to service providers. This stated that the Department would pay only 75% of organisations’ salary costs, who were now responsible for raising the remaining 25%. (The DSD seldom contributes to the running costs of organisations.) Very few are able to raise this balance and the salaries they offer are well below the market standard. As a result posts remain empty for months while organisations struggle to find staff willing to work for meagre salaries. This policy also contributes to a high turnover of staff who migrate constantly in search of the higher salaries and benefits paid by government and the private sector. Yet even where staff are willing to work for lower salaries, the stressful nature of trauma work, undertaken in settings where staff do not have all the equipment and resources required to perform optimally, also drive people to seek employment elsewhere. NGOs are thus reduced to fragile, highly stressed workplaces which function like revolving doors, rather than stable, quality services.

Relying on volunteers is not necessarily a solution either. The majority of those who volunteer are unemployed and offer their services in the hope that this may eventually result in a job. When employment is not forthcoming, resentment and disappointment may set in, contributing further to the tensions within organisations, or leading volunteers to leave. Still other volunteers leave because the skills and experience gained at the NGO has indeed enabled them to find work elsewhere.

Many organisations are thus subject to ongoing processes of deskilling and deprofessionalisation. Institutional memory and experience are also being constantly eroded and the effectiveness of programmes diminished by their closure and reinstatement, as well as changes to their management. The decrease in funding towards research and advocacy, coupled with the loss of staff, also ensures that fewer organisations are able to play an activist role in holding government to account.  

What are the causes of under-funding?

The factors contributing to under-funding are numerous, with some dating to the 2008 global economic crisis, which limited the availability of international donor support. In other instances, international donors have pulled out of South Africa altogether, arguing that low income countries are in greater need of donor aid than a middle income country like ours. At the same time pay outs from the National Lottery are considerably delayed, as well as reduced. The DSD also disburses its funding late and, in the case of Limpopo, problems with payment were further aggravated by the province being placed under administration.

The corporate sector is not generous in its support to rape and domestic violence services either. In 2012 for example, 15% of the R3 billion made available through CSI went to social services (R300 million), with 5% of that figure – R15 million – being distributed to victim services. That was marginally more than was distributed to animal charities and services to prisoners and homeless people.

What next?

While the women’s sector has been hit by funding cuts, so too has the broader social services sector. In mid-2010 three NGOs – the National Association of Welfare Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations (NAWONGO), NG Social Services Free State and Free State care in Action – took both national and Free State DSD to court over the irregularities in the implementation of the provincial DSD’s funding policy to NGOs. The Free State High Court found against the DSD which was ordered to revise its funding policy (amongst other things) which eventually led the DSD to commission the costing of these various services by the audit firm KPMG.

The difficulties faced by NGOs have not gone unnoticed and in 2012 and 2013 the Minister of Finance announced a range of additions to the equitable share, some of which would have benefited NGOs. In 2012 additions were made to DSD’s victim empowerment programme (the programme which traditionally funds NGOs addressing rape and domestic violence) and in 2013, additions to enable support or funding to NGOs. Unfortunately, as a review of the 2013 provincial budget books shows, all of this money did not reach organisations, some provincial DSD offices having interpreted ‘support’ to mean monitoring of NGOs. The funds were thus allocated to internal government expenses, rather than organisations.  

We therefore recommend: 

  • That the DSD’s policy on funding to NGOs be reviewed as a matter of priority;
  • That the KPMG costing model be used to inform DSD’s budget allocation to NGOs. This model may need to be adjusted in relation to rape and domestic violence services however, the original exercise having focused most closely on the costs of old age and children’s homes, as well as facilities for people with disabilities;
  • That the private sector better contribute to women’s well-being by increasing their support to services for survivors of rape and domestic violence;
  • Government budgets are finite and DSD expenditure on programmes needs to be closely monitored to ensure that legislated or policy-based social welfare services are taking clear and obvious precedence over programmes which are not mandated by law or policy. Funds to services must also be ring-fenced to prevent their being diverted elsewhere.

Because the social services sector, like the caring professions generally, is dominated by women, it must be asked whether or not this under-funding illustrates the devaluing of women’s work. Government departments, after all, never ask those who deliver text books, or build stadiums, hospitals and roads, to work for only 75% of their fee and without profit. Yet this is demanded of those who provide social services.   

Follow the debate @Shukumisa on #Womensbudget

Dowload the details of retrenchments and funding cuts to services addressing rape and domestic violence 2010 – 2013 here -> Retrenchments and funding cuts to services addressing rape and domestic violence 2010 

The Shukumisa Campaign includes: Adapt, AIDS Legal Network, Childline SA, CINDI Network, Community Law Centre Parliamentary Participation Unit, Gender Health and Justice Research Unit (GHJRU), Greater Rape Intervention Project (GRIP), Ikhwezi Women’s Centre, Justice and Women (JAW), Legal Resources Centre, Lethabong Legal Advice Centre,  Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre, Mosaic, Nisaa Women’s Support Centre, Peddie Women’s Support Centre, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), Project Empower, RAPCAN, Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, Sexual Assault Clinic, Sonke Gender Justice Network, Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), Teddy Bear Clinic, Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme, Thusanang Advice Centre, Tipfuxeni Community Counselling Centre, Triangle Project, Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, Western Cape Network on Violence Against Women, Women on Farms Project, Women’s Legal Centre.

[1] Kaminer, D, Grimsrud, A, Myer, L, Stein, DJ. and Williams, DR. (2008). ‘Risk for post-traumatic stress disorder associated with different forms of interpersonal violence in South Africa.’ Social Science and Medicine 67: 1589 – 1595.


NGOs urge Minister Gordhan to address the chronic under-funding of rape and domestic violence services and the under-valuing of NGOs’ work.

shukumisa logo


25 February 2014                             

NGOs urge Minister Gordhan to address the chronic under-funding of rape and domestic violence services and the under-valuing of NGOs’ work.

Ahead of the National Budget speech on Wednesday, 26 February the Shukumisa Campaign is urging Minister Pravin Gordhan to recognise demands for better services for survivors of rape and domestic violence. This is in the wake of a report released today by the Campaign which found that funding cuts to just 17 organisations serving this group of victims led to the loss of 100 jobs between 2010 and 2013. At least 10 services provided by these 17 organisations were also closed.

“Good social services to survivors of rape and domestic violence are not a luxury,” the Campaign noted. “They’re a necessity. Domestic violence causes the greatest number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in women, while rape results in the most serious and long-lasting forms of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is deeply concerning that the outrage and condemnation voiced by politicians around violence against women is not being matched by funding to the services helping women cope with this violence.”  

The 2011 decision by the Department of Social Development (DSD) to fund only 75% of salaries has also exacerbated organisations’ financial difficulties. Because such low salaries make it difficult to attract and retain experienced employees, high levels of staff turnover constantly disrupt programmes and services. “We cannot imagine government departments asking those who deliver text books, or build stadiums, hospitals and roads, to work for only 75% of their fee and without profit. Why are social services being treated as less valued forms of work?” the Campaign’s members asked. 

In 2012 and 2013 the Minister of Finance announced a range of additions to the equitable share which were intended to address the crisis faced by the non-profit sector. We hope that his Budget for 2014 will recognise that this crisis has not been resolved. We also urge National Treasury to closely monitor how DSD allocates funds earmarked for organisations. A review of the 2013 provincial budget books showed that all the additional money set aside by the Minister of Finance for the non-profit sector did not reach organisations because some provincial DSD offices interpreted ‘support’ to mean monitoring of NGOs. The funds were thus allocated to internal government expenses, rather than organisations.  

The short bulletin released today is the first in a number of briefs and research reports around good services to rape and domestic violence survivors which the Shukumisa Campaign will release over the coming months.

For further information on the effect of funding cuts please contact:

Linda Brukwe, Ikhwezi Women’s Support Centre – 0722703547

Shireen Motara, Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre – 011 403-4267

Barbara Kenyon, Greater Rape Intervention Project – 0795287326


For information on the funding bulletin please contact Lisa Vetten, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research – 0828226725


The Shukumisa Campaign consists of 30 partner organisations that work to support rape survivors and end sexual violence in South Africa. Members include Childline, People Opposing Women Abuse, Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and the Women’s Legal Centre among others.

Follow the debate @Shukumisa on #Womensbudget

Dying for Love: Sex, Blood and Valentine’s Day

Joy Watson
Joy Watson

By Joy Watson

14 February marks the anniversary of the death of Reeva Steenkamp at the hand of her sporting hero boyfriend, Oscar Pretorius. It is also Valentine’s Day, the day where across the globe, a billion dollar industry is fed in celebrating normative, and predominantly heterosexual, constructions of romantic love.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of reported rapes in the world. High levels of sexual and domestic violence have become an integral part of our social norms with almost a million contact crimes against women reported to the police over the course of the past few years. Recently, a 9 year old girl was raped and left for dead in Delft.  Her attacker had the gall to laugh as he set her alight, boasting that she would not be able to identify him after. Given the low conviction rate for rape (6.97% of the total crimes reported), the message is very clear: rapists mostly do not get convicted and if you do, you can count yourself a very unlucky exception to the norm.

Yet for the victim, while the physical suffering of rape and other forms of gender-based violence may eventually dissipate with time, the psychological and emotional trauma will, in all likelihood, remain with her for the rest of her life. Once a human being has been subjected to torture by another, one’s sense of being safe in the world will never again be intact. The fact that the infliction of cruelty is a choice and that someone intentionally set out to hurt you, will forever change your sense of being secure.

Rape and domestic violence are a central ways in which power operates in a society. Many perpetrators of gender-based violence locate such violence within a twisted version of a romantic framework. Views such as “She wanted it, she asked for it and how could she not want sex when she was wearing such a short skirt?” are commonplace in the perpetrator’s narrative of abdicating responsibility for violence. Attempts are often made to construe the victim’s response as approving behaviour, translating forcible rape into romantic seduction, an account which not only frames cruelty, but enables it.

The challenge then becomes how to move the debate on gender-based violence from being one about women as victims and keeping them safe, to one that deals with the constructions of masculinity that makes such violence possible. Studies conducted by the Medical Research Council show that 27.6% of men interviewed in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal and 37% of those interviewed in Gauteng, admitted to having raped. Yet many South Africans have become desensitized to the horror of rape and gender-based violence. It has become so much a part of the prevailing social norm that there seems to be a sense of sensory fatigue with the many stories that are told. This is a serious indictment on our society and it is time to reassess how we take a collective social stand to say “Hands Off Women’s Bodies!” Valentine’s Day, with its reinforcement of gendered roles within relationships, is an ideal time to begin to join such a social movement.

The One Billion Rising Against Sexual Violence or V-Day campaign which takes place on 14 February, is one opportunity for taking an activist stance.  The campaign began in 2013 as a worldwide call to end violence against women and children. Based on the statistic that one out of every three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, the campaign is an attempt to get a billion people across the globe to form part of an activist movement to end gender-based violence. It comprises a form of protest or “risings” which take the form of art, dance, marches, flash mobs and story circles.

Some of the Cape Town based events on 14 February will include silent protests outside the Mitchells Plain, Bellville and Bishop Lavis courts. Women from the Cederburg, George, Worcester and the Klapmuts regions will congregate at the Cape Town Civic Centre and march to the Cape Town high court. With the theme of “The State of Justice for Gender Based Violence,” the protest will focus on demanding justice for victims. Other aspects of the campaign include the hosting of an interfaith discussion by the Claremont Main Rd Mosque, opportunities for men to come together and frame their responses as men and story telling circles for victims of gender-based violence. The campaign is one example of the potential power of spreading a message that we all have a role to play in questioning, confronting and subverting the social order that makes violence against women thrive.

South Africa is in a state of crisis insofar as violence against women and girls is concerned. We live in an innately violent context, so much so that our views on what constitutes force and violence have been somewhat affected. The more horrific the act of violence, the more likely we are to sit up and take notice. Sadly, we have become less responsive to psychological aggression and subtle intimidation and the day to day power interplays in relationships that create the social context where more brutal displays of violence become possible. Many of our men hold inherently violent attitudes towards sexuality. We feed the gendered myths of what it means to be men and women in ways that are potentially dangerous. Most worrying, we tend to abdicate responsibility for gender based-violence as a social issue that requires a response at a community and social level. When planning the roses, the red hearts, the champagne and the romantic love this Valentine’s, let’s spare a thought for those who have died in the name of love.

We Don’t Want Your Moral Outrage

Thorne Godinho
Thorne Godinho

By Thorne Godinho

A recent viral video depicting crude bullying at Höerskool Overkruin in Pretoria certainly ought to have raised some eyebrows. The rof-en-onbeskof pupils’ hair-pulling, smacking, pushing and swearing has been shared by nearly 8000 people on Facebook, and I have been following the conversations streaming from the supposedly apocalyptic vision this video illustrates.

Although the commentary on social media often doesn’t amount to substantive engagement with the topic at hand, it can be a good barometer of public perception overall. When two girls in perfect red uniforms decided to kick, push and bully another girl everyone on Facebook angrily spoke of how “unrespectable” these women were. South Africans spoke about corporal punishment, and the failure of the male pupils to protect the victim. This misplaced moral outrage dominated the social media discourse, pushing the real issues of abuse, violence and victimisation to the curb.

Moral outrage is an effective tool – it breeds further outrage, and allows for emotion to override reason. Moral outrage disturbs debate and engagement in such a manner that the issue is never really addressed – it is only spoken about in hyperbolic fires of upset and anxiety. I witnessed this kind of misplaced unreason two weeks ago as I watched students from the University of Pretoria who were running for SRC “twerk for change”. The outrage expressed on twitter over a small campaign managed to make me cringe, whilst also bruising my ego a bit (I confess: I had convinced the candidates to get students interested in the election by twerking in public). Twerking soon represented an affront to gender relations in the workplace, and the dignity of women everywhere.

Men who commented that women who twerk cannot be taken seriously and thus should not demand to be taken seriously in the workplace, received multiple endorsements from other slacktivists – male and female. The real issues (student politics) and the real debates surrounding the sometimes overtly sexist criticism expressed on social media platforms were ignored. Beyond shifting the goal posts, moral outrage can also serve as a vehicle for sexism and misogyny. In the wake of something disturbing (like bullying) or innocuous but controversial (like twerking), people often reveal their penchant for outdated views of women, femininity and masculinity through criticism and inane commentary.

The more subtle variant of this outrage can be found in the exaggerated suppositions made in support of a common cause such as preventing sexual violence. For example, most people wouldn’t be upset by a car sticker proclaiming that “real men don’t rape!”, but this kind of statement (which is more like an unproven hypothesis) doesn’t actually support the fight against sexual violence. Creating an other (the rapist, who is not a real man because of his crimes) in this instance actually presents an affront to any kind of meaningful debate and action on the issue of rape. When society pretends that the other is the only problem it fails to solve the underlying problems which perpetuate sexual violence, and thus fails to promote the equality and freedom of women.

The only group who benefits from this subtle moral outrage is the ‘real man’ who isn’t a rapist. In other words: men who are not guilty of sexual crimes are absolved of any responsibility for the actions of their peers – who are real men too. The men who are not guilty of rape can pretend that the overwhelming culture of inequality promoted in the home and church do not have any kind of bearing on the fact that real men do rape women. The men who are not guilty of rape can pretend that their cat-calling and displays of machismo and violence do not result in an environment which is hostile to women.

How convenient.

A keyboard and the unpredictable, fast-paced nature of internet content makes it easy for your friends, followers on twitter and the people who hide behind anonymity online to smother debate and engagement through unreasonable hyperbole. Closing off the space for these people to stoke the fires of internet-anger (and sometimes: the accompanying misogyny) is easy: call them out, take them on, and clear out the crowd who refuse to engage in a meaningful way. By pushing moral outrage to the edge we’d be doing a great service to real engagement and discourse, whilst also preventing the perpetuation of sexism and misogyny.

I can feel his tongue lick me. His slimy hands bruise my skin.

Dudumalingani Mqombothi
Dudumalingani Mqombothi

By Dudumalingani Mqombothi

News is horrified of dew. That is a Xhosa idiom– old as time­­– carved on rocks. It simply translates: if there is news, it will be heard. The idiom leans, owing to innocent inferred meaning, towards bad news and not good news. A month ago, I eavesdropped on a heated conversation meant for friends and those participating in that discussion, exposing their own wretched soles. I intended to abandon the conversation at the doors of the train and not retell it because that is theft. But every writer is a thief of conversations, gestures, personality and at times writers steal people in their entirety. People show up in fictional books, in their entirety or in parts. It cannot be me. The writer does not know me. We dismiss ourselves.

From the storyteller, when she says ‘explain to me how does one become horny in such heat’, I extrapolate that the day had been one of those gloriously summer Cape Town days or perhaps a winter day when the sun violently bursts through the clouds. The train– as usual– was crowded with not much space to move. The passengers’ bodies face towards each other and away from each other. The crowding makes it impossible to stay clear of human contact. One’s hips brush against another person’s. The person behind you brushes against your bum and the nostrils breath in the breath of the other person.

According to the storyteller, the woman had been standing in the open space between the two electric doors. She wore a black skirt, black leggings and white blouse. She had stuffed her convenient belongings in the bag she hid underneath her arm. Bags have to be hid underneath arms because criminals gash them open with sharp blades and take out of them what they please. She was beautiful my friend. You could tell she was off to an interview or work. The storyteller says to her friends– to me. It is not clear which station she embarked the train. According to our storyteller, she had been there for some time. The woman was not talking to anyone, she did not know anyone, or wherever she was going lay heavily on her mind. I saw the white marks on her black skirt and I thought its nothing. The storyteller says. As the train commuters empty, people appear in complete full, from head to toe. The woman was still there. It was now three stations before the final destination, Cape Town. An older woman calls her and tells her that she has a white smear on her skirt. She twists her neck to have a look and so does everyone. It was semen. Unbelievable. Someone yells. Men are such horny dogs. Another woman yells. The storyteller continues her story because news is horrified of dew. Clearly the guy was not getting it at home. But did he get his thing out and rubbed it against her? She asks.

Another woman shares her story. She had been standing next to a man. The train is crowded. So it is not like I can move to another place. And then this bastard takes out his penis right inside the train and asks me if I want it. I will grab it and show it to everyone if you do not stop it. She threatens him and he stops. Men are dogs. She completes her story.

A friend of mine had told me that this happens in the train. I did not believe her. It is perverted to understand. Inhumane. I could not in my mind frame up a complete picture of a man who gets aroused by a woman in the train and having an orgasm.

On a separate day, I embark the train in the afternoon. A girl, who looks not older than 20, embarks the train. She wore a mini skirt and a grey top. It looked like a work uniform. She stands by the door and places her bag on her calves and takes out her phone and stares into it. She faces the wall of the train the entire journey. Only peering to look out the window– I assumed for her station. The men around her and farther down the carriage yell greetings and perverted compliments at her. She is in a catch-22 situation. She looks away but she hears them talk about her bum and her thighs. She looks at them and will see their horny eyes fucking her.

Men are always trying to get laid, aren’t they? I say to the woman next to me. She giggles and agrees. Shoo. She adds.

To make sense of this sickness I gather close female friends and asked them. My one friend tells me that she wants to slap men that stare and undress her. Another friend wants to cut their penises off. Another friend tells me, with disgust on her face, I feel naked. I can feel their nude bodies against mine.

Another friend tells me that she can feel their tongues slide up and down her back- soiling her- leaving her skin permanently scarred and their slimy hands violently brushing against her skin- bruising it. She feels her skin itch, as if something is crawling underneath.

After talking to them, I sit by the window and stare at concrete bricks placed such that they form a maze. This is an attempt to evade my friend’s feelings and the stories I heard on the train from those women. My attempt comes to naught. Sorrow consumes me. And it continues to do every time I see a man staring at a woman and every time I notice myself staring at a woman.

Four men to be locked up for Delhi rape case – and why it should concern us

Tammy Sutherns
Tammy Sutherns

By Tammy Sutherns

The news broke last Tuesday that four men were found guilty of the notorious rape case in Delhi in December that had India and the rest of the world sickened to the core.

Similar to global events that have changed the world forever – Princess Diana’s death, the 2004 tsunami off of the coast of Thailand, Haiti, 9/11 – the story of the 23-year-old woman who was violently raped and assaulted by a gang of men on a bus while they drove around Delhi shocked entire nations. The woman died two weeks after the attack due to her injuries.

Today, some may feel like justice has been served and indeed, in a legal way, it has. Four men will be sentenced on Wednesday and the case has sparked the introduction of stricter laws to punish sexual offences. A victory of sorts, some might say.

The problem, however, is what led these men to commit such a heinous act in the first place. What were they thinking? How could they live with themselves after abusing someone so violently, so intimately? How did their families feel, their mothers, that these men could do such horrible things?

More crucially, how do we live in a society where something like this even crosses a person’s mind?

In our journey to create a more balanced world, a feminist world, we seem to be celebrating and empowering women but failing the men of our society. There is clearly a very large gap, a huge flaw in the masculine identity and how certain men are finding ways to feel like more of ‘a real man’, often in violent enactments. Forget locking up men who commit these violent acts of rape and abuse, we need to start mending the problem at the source.

How do we do this? How do we change such deeply entrenched flaws?

EVENT!! Stopping Gender-based Violence – Whose job is it anyway?

Stopping Gender-based Violence – Whose job is it anyway?

Thursday 29 August 2013
IA Hall
Next to SA Jewish Museum, 88 Hatfield Street, Gardens

Although our Constitution and Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act enshrine the right to live free from violence and sexual assault, South Africa has one of the highest incidents of rape in the world. In 2011/12 alone, 9 193 sexual offences were reported in the Western Cape – an average of just under 27 cases per day. Set against a background of poverty, easy access to drugs and HIV infection, many victims do not report having been raped, as they have little faith in our criminal justice system. South Africa is reaching a tipping point on rape, and thus a nationwide conversation needs to take place between government, academia and civil society.

On 29 August, the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies, Sonke Gender Justice, Catholic Methodist Mission and Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust are facilitating a Transformation Conversation open to the public to discuss the shared roles government, civil society, faith-based leaders and private citizens should play in order to eliminate this shameful scourge in our society.


  • Melanie Judge, gender activist and event moderator
  • Kathleen Dey, Director, Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust
  • Desmond Lesejane, Deputy Director, Sonke Gender Justice
  • Reverend Alan Storey, Central Methodist Mission Cape Town
  • Dr. Zethu Matebeni, UCT Humanities Research Institute


The media is welcome to attend. To RSVP, please contact Dan Brotman, Head of Media & Public Affairs, Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies at 082 797 5445 or


Rape as a mere political smear campaign

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

By Athambile Masola

In a matter of days Zwelinzima Vavi was accused of rape and had the charges against him dropped. I’m not surprised by this spectacle. What makes me concerned is the question of a rape accusation being simply attributed as a ploy in politics. The woman who dropped the charges demanded R2 million from Vavi in order to keep quiet but after a two hour meeting she dropped the charges and Vavi is said to be charging her for extortion. Yet another leader in South Africa has a sex scandal hanging over his head. And in his defence, he says the accusation (and other accusations against him) are merely a smear campaign because he didn’t support President Zuma at Mangaung.

This is nothing new in South Africa. But the dismissal of rape that continues in our public discourse is worrying. How can we take rape seriously in this country if women’s bodies are constantly being used as bait in a political game? This pervasive dismissal of rape  where men in power should be held responsible—charged and jailed—but get away with it, makes it difficult for us to collectively concede as a country that women’s bodies are under siege.

The most obvious rape case which I will not belabour nor elaborate upon is that of our very own President. This incident reminds me of Makhaya Ntini’s case in 1999 when he was accused of rape and throughout the entire case the woman who accused him was the enemy of the state and part of a conspiracy of ruining Ntini’s career. Why is it that powerful men continue to be at the centre of rape cases and seem to be getting away with it?

This problem highlights a couple of issues. Firstly, it’s okay to use women’s bodies as a ploy in the game of politics. Secondly, politics are a dangerous space for women and the masculine nature of politics highlights that in order to establish power women can be discredited. We also  learn that women are being silenced more and more when the public discourse suggests that when a woman reports rape it can be dismissed and more importantly she will be the one who is punished. Furthermore, men get the message that they can get away with rape, they only need some political power and they can dismiss a woman’s charges easily. I may not know the extent of the story and whether or not the woman was in fact raped. And this is the very problem with rape. A woman’s body is the evidence and the site of the crime as well as the person who has to report the crime. What we keep seeing in South Africa is that women’s bodies and their stories can be nullified when a powerful man wants to save his political career.

The issue of rape recently came up in my Grade nine class discussion. The context was not related to the Vavi case but we were talking about the justice system in relation to the song by Bob Dylan, The Hurricane. I asked the class to find recent examples of the justice system failing on the grounds of unfair discrimination. One of the girls mentioned that where race can be a factor, gender is also a factor where rape cases are concerned. One of the boys was vehemently opposed to this saying rape cases are often a result of a girl or woman lying about the fact that she was raped. A fifteen a old boy has learned that it is okay to dismiss rape cases in this country. And after hearing about the Zwelinzima Vavi case he will tell me that he is justified in having this opinion. This idea that women often lie about rape highlights the problematic discourse about rape in this country and undermines the thousands of women who are silenced and never report rape or sexual violence.

Zwelinzima Vavi is vindicated and is the victor in this case and once again, a woman has been placed on the proverbial altar to be slaughtered and questioned. We shouldn’t wonder why women do not feel safe in this country. Our leaders are telling us that we are mere objects that are fickle and can change our stories over night, in fact, in a matter of two hours.

How you can tell if someone is a real rape survivor

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

How should a woman behave to convince us that she was raped?

When she breaks down, is hysterical, is rabid, is broken, is ripped apart, is together, is calm, is cold, is hyper sexual, never wants to have sex again, is manic, is depressed, is this right?

Should she report and save others, report and wait for years, report and hope for the best in a criminal justice system that has a roughly 6% chance of convicting her rapist, report and be laughed at by police, report and have hurried rushed meetings with her prosecutor, report and wish that she didn’t have to wait in court all day thirsty and starving because she’s poor and can’t bring her own food in or afford food from government vending machines, report and possibly have no access to a working toilet whilst she waits hands clenched to see her rapist in a court room, report and have to see him say he did nothing, report and see him get off, report and have him lay a civil charge of slander against her, report and get supported by NGO representatives holding her hand and reminding her that she was right to do this – that she is strong, report and get justice, report and hear that his sentence has been reduced in a higher court, report and hear that he gets life, report and live in fear of retaliation? Which of these are right?

Should she not report and stay home fearful that it could happen again because he’s still out there or in her home, not report stay home and have others ask her why she didn’t, have others question whether this means she wasn’t sure or that he didn’t do it, not report and wonder whether she should have, not report and go to work everyday as if nothing happened until she feels on the precipice of death, not report and get better and go for counselling and heal, not report and spend time reading websites about others who did or didn’t report and feeling sympathy or empathy or nothing for them, not report and keep quiet about it, not report and scream from the rooftops, not report and become an activist, not report and never say anything about it again? Which of these are right?

Should she defend others decisions, encourage them to report, discourage them from reporting, bombard herself with stats that she has become a part of, join hands with others, form groups, be in solidarity, be in silence? Which of these are right?

Should she seek support from her colleagues and family members or keep quiet because rape is a personal matter and shouldn’t be brought up at work or at christmas? Which of these are right?

When she tells them should she feel shameful, or brave, or afraid, or disgusted, or dirty, or liberated, or free, or light, or tainted? Which of these are right?

What should she do? What do we expect of her? What ideas do we draw on? What myths do we support? What would we do? Do we know? Are we right in having any expectations at all?