For the past three weeks we have been treated to a feeding frenzy around the deaths of two women due to violence in South Africa, by the media, by politicians and by commentators (myself included). But I am wondering if we are not losing sight of what is really at stake here.
As a commissioner for the Commission for Gender Equality I attended the memorial service for Anene Booysen and the court case on February 12. At the memorial service I was struck by how politicised the service became (at some points speakers referred to it as “a rally”). What struck me was the fact that most of the speakers were men, pledging allegiance to getting rid of “the scourge” of gender-based violence, exorcising the demons from the Bredasdorp community. Fists were shaken in the air and struggle songs sung. The media both local and foreign was there, voyeuristically sending messages of condolences, political speeches and platitudes into the world, to show just how debased the South African society is.
What also struck me was the attire some people elected to wear on this day. Some women supporters of the ANC wore green T-shirts sporting the slogan “100% Zumantashe”. How appropriate is it to wear this T-shirt at a memorial service for a rape victim, when another T-shirt with the slogan “100% Zulu boy was worn to discredit a rape victim? MK veterans wore military fatigues, acting as bodyguards for some of the politicians, turning the hall into a “militarised zone”. If men forge their masculinities through violence what inappropriate reminder is this of men’s violence against women? Let us not forget the rape is a weapon of war in war zones (and South Africa has more rape victims than some war zones).
One politician found it necessary to turn this event into a platform for his own political agenda and gain. Why did the ANC find it necessary to start a battle with the DA, accusing a DA politician of supporting gangs on the Cape Flats, at this particular moment? It prompted the DA representative to leave the hall, while the distraught family of Anene Booysen sat there, shocked by the political circus. Have we so little respect for the grieving that comes with every dead body of a woman raped and killed? An ANC spokesperson was suspended for calling this behaviour of a senior politician inappropriate.
The same feeding frenzy continued at the Bredasdorp court. Fast forward two days and Reeva Steenkamp’s body becomes yet another battleground. Newspapers choose to use banner headlines and black backgrounds. Oscar is turned into the victim but it begs the question why was he allowed to own so many guns? The Pistorius case highlights the high level of gun violence in South Africa, so often with women as victims. Pistorius is not the victim here. In this frenzy we lose sight of the fact that Booysen and Steenkamp lost their lives and so do many other women on a daily basis.
In his State of the Nation address President Jacob Zuma announces that the justice, crime prevention and security cluster needs to put measures in place on national, provincial and local level using allocated courts with prioritised court roles level to deal with violent protest, but he does not do this for gender-based violence, while the statistics for gender-based violence is so much higher than for violent protest.
He suggests we should rather use the existing legislation (the national policy framework for the Sexual Offences Act has yet to be implemented) that we know fails in its implementation.
Magistrate Desmond Nair’s scathing attack of the investigating officer in the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing, about his incompetence in getting the necessary evidence to deal with the bail application shows just why so few rape cases go to trail (about 14%). If the police does such sloppy work in a high-profile case, what happens in cases of women whose names never even reach the newspapers? No arrests have, for example, been made In the case of Sihle Sikoji, the lesbian who was killed in Nyanga in October 2012, despite the fact that there were witnesses.
The police, the political system and communities fail these women, yet the media become voyeurs in the gory detail of two cases at the cost of looking at the bigger picture of the endemic nature of gender-based violence in South Africa, and as such lose sight of why so many women die.