By Miranda Pyne
Anene Booysen’s gruesome murder last week caused many of us to speculate about revenge. Yet again we sombrely witnessed another violation. Another woman’s life wasted. People online, and on the radio, called for castration, the death sentence, sentencing the murderers to life in the worst prison possible, in some overcrowded hellish place where mob justice will take its own brutal course. I too wished to turn back the clock so that in some macabre fantasy someone brave and fearless would have rescued Anene or stopped the attackers dead in their tracks. In this widening narrative, someone would have intervened to help the courageous woman Fezisa Mdibi whose story of being raped twice before her 16th birthday and contracting HIV as a result would move a mountain. And what about all those women and children, all 64 000 of them if statistics are correct, and not including the boys and men who are also raped and abused? They too would have been saved by somebody in their midst. Real men are supposed to fight villains. Where are they?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating mob justice. Heroic actions belong foremost in film and theatre, where our imaginations have a chance for proper and healing catharsis. But I admit that ever since I heard of an unnamed American father, who last year found a man called Jesus Mora Flores molesting his five-year-old daughter and accidently beat him to death right then and there, I’ve been hoping for some form of heroics. When I read about that, something inside me loosened. At long last someone had stood up and upended the endless narrative of unnamed faceless men raping and abusing women and children who get away with minimal sentences. This 23-year-old father sent a swift and clear (albeit) fatal message that violating a vulnerable person is, for the average moral man, intolerable, repugnant and a dangerous provocation. Enough is enough was the message. In a sign of changing times, the prosecutors and the grand jury concluded that the father’s use of deadly force to protect his daughter was “appropriate”.
Certainly in the US, while brutal rape happens, the tolerance level is now zero. One of the 10 most dangerous men on the FBI’s most wanted list replacing Osama bin Laden is Eric Justin Toth, a man who likes to rape and assault children. Since the mid-1990s, sex offenses have been in dramatic decline. And this must because prosecution has improved. Public health prevention campaigns are better funded and taken seriously at the top of the health agenda. And somewhere upon high, there must be unequivocal support for women’s inalienable rights. Are our justices up for the challenge? Time has run out for partisan political or personal opinion. The people want a lasting justice put in place that protects the victims, that gives the guilty a fair trial, that provides rehabilitation for all involved. The rest is up to us.
It’s taken a few days to cool down. Short-term vindication is contextual and suited best to individual cases. Moreover, unless a real transformation takes place on a societal level, the action of that lone father is consigned to folklore. But across the continent whether we are working towards democracy or wracked by civil war, whether working towards economic self-sufficiency or just barely making it, we have to respond to the provocation, to fight for our humanity to thrive. I’ve been looking for some heroics in this instance. The protests, the many voices in these past days, Jay Naidoo’s manifesto are the beginnings of a brave and challenging journey, which South Africans must take.
Let rape no longer happen in Africa. It’s utopian I know, but after all we have gone through, in light of all we still need to do, we need to begin to grieve and prevent the loss of even one more person on this beautiful continent because (we will never know) it may be, that this was the very person we needed. Let us banish it from the DRC, the Sudan or Timbuktu. Something needs to give because I am very damn tired of reading sensationalist lurid stories of molestation, sexual assault, clergy sex abuse, even pornographic abuse of babies. Let’s plough our hard-earned money back where it belongs. The ground of this story. The people.
Anene’s death must be remembered in some real way lest we forget what we’ve set out to do and why. The president should convene a rape control task force to discuss exactly what happens next. We know what’s wrong with our policies from housing to education ad infinitum. The links between poverty, lack of education and repressive societal attitudes towards women needs to be broken down so everyone understands. We’ve got black, white and Indian patriarchy as well as right-wing religious orthodoxy running through our veins. In our hearts we know that there is a crisis of masculinity in this country — the dehumanisation we’ve endured under apartheid must have done incalculable damage to the male psyche and has caused generational pain. But rape is universal and there are many ways of ending it. If we can host the World Cup and the Afcon, surely we can do this. If we could lead a liberation struggle and overcome HIV/Aids, we can do it. Not just for South Africa but to lead the way forward in Africa, and maybe even the world.
Miranda Pyne is a freelance writer.