What’s the likelihood of a journalist in 2016 writing a story that’s mirrors Moipone Malefane’s Sunday Times article in March 2006?
Statistics say 1 in 3 women in South Africa will experience sexual violence in their life.
In March 2006 I was a 10 year child. Unaware of the realities of this world. Naïve. Political unaware. Social issues were of little interest to my young mind. Also in March 2006 Moipane Malefane, a journalist, wrote an article on the silencing of women in ANC exile camps amidst the Jacob Zuma’s rape trial.
Throughout the year of 2015 student movements ripped throughout South African universities. Stories in the media were sadly not only about the transformative successes and failures that the students had achieved. There were multiple stories about how sexual assault occurred within the students during protests.
I juxtaposition these two scenarios: the sexual assault women in ANC camps experienced during the liberation movement and the sexual assault women experienced during student protest to highlight the nature of rape culture and patriarchy in our societies. There is a great sense of the normalization of male sexual violence towards female bodies. Furthermore, this culture evokes victim blaming. During the ANC exile camps, as stated in Malefane’s article, women felt that they had to remain silent. The women remained silent to protect the perpetrators and many of the women felt that the silence protected the struggle for liberation. The women felt that the struggle for liberation was bigger than the assault they may have suffered.
It hurts me to know that these women felt that the fight against sexual violence could not be a part of the fight for liberation of black people in South Africa. I applaud the women in the various universities that have taken leadership position in student protest. Most importantly, their refused to be silenced or sidelined. The mandate was very clear: rape culture will not be tolerated and that cases of rape, sexual harassment and assault need to be taken seriously and perpetrators need to be dealt with accordingly. Hence, they have acknowledged that this struggle is part of transforming the tertiary education system in South Africa.
I have a grievance with Malefane’s article – her diction. Referring to instances of sex assault as sex is very problematic. Sex is sexual intercourse between two contesting individuals. Rape is non consensual oral, anal, or vaginal penetration. Rape is NOT sex ! Diction is very important. The words we chose as journalist, storytellers and/or writers is very important.Different words convey different stories and misusing a word can construe the message and result in a misguided reader.
My understanding of what I assumed rape was in 2006 and now has been demystified. To pose the question of whether or not people even understand what rape is a valued question. The uninformed assumption, even I once held, that rape happens in a scenario where a stranger creeps on you out of nowhere and attacks the victim in a dark place needs to be demystified. Rape and any other sexual assault can happen even when perpetrator and victim know each other or are even married to each other. It is also very insidious to ever assume that rape is the victim’s fault or that “they were asking for it.” This ignorant mind state perpetuates how evident rape culture, victim-blaming or ‘legitimized rape’ has been normalized in our societies.
South Africa is burdened with a devastating rape statistic. For the most part people are very uninformed of what active consent is. Through unlearning problematic norms statistics can change; rape culture and victim-blaming can also cease to exist. I’m very proud to be surrounded by a progressive group of students who understand that an end to sexual violence against women and men forms part of their transformative mandate in decolonizing tertiary institutions.