A year since the Zuma rape case judgement
A feminist lawyer friend who works in the gender based violence NGO sector has just reminded me that tomorrow will mark a year since the delivery of the judgement on the Jacob Zuma rape case. She said she was reflecting on how much has changed, or not changed in the context of GBV in South Africa. I don’t know that a whole lot has changed, or that we have fewer questions now than we did a year ago. It seems as though we have much more to think about than we did before the case.
I do know that the rape case of the former national vice president turned the volume up on gender based violence, not just in relation to the case itself, but also generally why we live in the siege we do as women. I have been called melodramatic when I’ve used “siege” to describe the state in which women live within the borders of the South African nation state. I stand by my words. Anybody with a cursory appreciation of how likely each woman is to be subjected to different forms of gender based violence (sexual harrassment, physical abuse, psychological battery, financial abuse, forced subjection to the witness of degradation and violence metted out to others, etc) knows that I am being far from melodramatic.
The case brought us face to face to the widespread nature of South African hypocrisy on the subject of gender anything. On the one hand, it is about as hard to find someone who supports violence against women in SA as it is to find a white person who voted for apartheid. Yet, we did not imagine apartheid and we are not imagining the rampant abuse of women today. Just as systems of institutionalised violence like apartheid need complicit Blacks to assist with the deepening of with white supremacist work, patriarchy needs violent women. And we saw many of them outside the court a year ago: burning pictures of the complainant and acting out similar intimidation of her supporters. Many more were apologists for a whole range of other linked forms of misogyny.
What has changed is only that beyong the GBV NGOs and researchers, as a society, we have a clearer picture of who supports gender based violence in South Africa: not just the men who (threaten) rape and other violence, but also the women who say “if you raped me, I would not wash for a week”, the ones who say don’t tell anybody else, the men and women who speak with forked tongue — arguing for breaking silences in public, but who give abusers sanctuary in private.
There were no surprises on the level of the courts and the legal justice system. Even a week in feminism 101 will tell you that the police and courts are a huge part of the problem.
A few weeks ago, as I sat at the very well-attended launch of bestselling feminist writer, Matshilo Motsei’s book
- The Kanga and the Kangaroo: Reflections of the Jacob Zuma Rape Trial
, I was pleased to see that the first in a series of books that offer feminist analysis of the trial was out. Motsei’s speech at the launch was raw and hard hitting as she can be. It was necessary and courageous, and made me want to delve into the book immediately.
One of the positive things about the public response to the trial was the manner in which as feminists we took to public space in the face of great onslaught and serious harrassment. Many of us used the media we had at our disposal: newspapers, television, radio, www to voice our anger. As we look back, I hope the books we produce will offer us lessons we need in order to turn the tide once and for all.
In the midst of it all, I am deeply saddened still that a woman who spoke her violation and her pain has been exiled from her country. I was sad, as I commented publicly a year ago, and I am still sad that the woman we know publicly as Khwezi is still exiled for such a necessary act of courage. I imagine she does not feel very courageous forced to be in a foreign country because she spoke up in a country where legally she can, but somehow that is far enough.
So, it is Khwezi, wherever she is, who is in my thoughts today and tomorrow. I hope she is well, and, like Matshilo, I look forward to a country that she can return to and feel safe in, a country where we no longer need to live in siege. We need to continue to be part of imagining and making that future and country a reality. Soon.