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.


Posted on 7 May 2007, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Buwa, LoudRastress, buwa!! It seems inconceivable that its been a year since that deadly blow was struck against South African women’s freedom. That trial, and the deep vein of misogyny it exposed, spoke to the realities African feminists had hoped we were addressing based on our ‘feminist’ constitution. Alas. A dark day indeed and yes, it looks like we’re gonna have to roll up our sleeves and get stuck back into the struggle. Or at least those of us who REALLY love women, life and liberty, will have to gear ourselves up for the next phase of the struggle: against the misogynist patriarchs and their handmaidens. Aluta!

  2. Hi my sister Pumla – glad you have finally started Loudrastrass and chosen to write about violence against women in general but specifically dedicating this post to Khwezi. I too hope she is well an that one day she can return from exile and leave in a welcoming community. It is sad that 13 years after the end of Apartheid, a woman has had to go into exile because she brought a case of sexual violence into the public sphere by taking Jacob Zuma to court for rape. I am sure that in 1994 no one dreamt that a single South African would ever need to go into exile again.

  3. Dearest Loudrastress,
    Just wanted to raise my voice in solidarity. You’re doing such important work, clearing little bits of hard-earned feminist space for the rest of us within which to breathe, speak and continue our work. I feel privileged and heartened to be part of this debate, even though I am confronted daily by the enormity of the work that lies ahead. Thank you for thinking of Khwezi and reminding us to stay focused.

  4. I feel that as women we need to support each other and be there for each other. I am very glad that there are people out there who still think and feel the pain of Kwezi, we feel like our voice are noit heard and they are heard is just that people do not want to accept the facty that women are still being abused and i will say what happened to Kwei is still happening to many and they are still shy to tell their stories.

    I am so proud to see that you are still strong and brave.

    May God help women like yourselves to continue fighting.


    Please do not push this e-mail

  5. thank you for being a voice to so many south african women. i think we also need to tacke the abuse of women by the business sector. e.g i am 29 yrs old and still pay more for car insurace becuase i’m a singel female. examples goes on and on on the abuse of women both married and single by the business sector. please lets stand up and adress these issues staring with the change of surname by marrying cause i believe its the core of patriachy.hope to get a response from you. thanks

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