Editor's note: Words fail us

2013-02-10 10:00

I’m not usually at a loss for words or an opinion. These are, after all, the currency of a journalist’s trade. But Anene Booysen has me stumped.

I don’t know what to write or think, so we’ve shown the impotence of words by blacking out our editorial – because it’s time for ­action.

The teenager, raped, mutilated and murdered a week ago, has liquid black eyes and an earnestness about her in a pixelated passport photograph my photographer colleague blew up to help us decide how to write about her life and death.

It’s stripped from her ID document. Her foster mum held the ­document open for photographers to snap a picture.

The photograph looks like Anene was not a kid whose every life step was photographed. It looks like the only photograph ever taken of her. – unlike loved children who are ­constantly captured on camera for posterity by adoring parents.

That’s clue one.

Her life was hard. Orphaned, she quit school early to help out at the impoverished foster home she was taken into. That home looks threadbare, with its trust in Jesus as saviour the only marks of decoration: a cross, icons of Christ. I guess when life is so buggered up, you have to put your hope in the afterlife.

Would Anene’s destiny have been different with firm guiding hands of loving, doting, focused parents? Or would she only have been safe in a country where rape is not sport?

Of course she should not have been raped and killed, even without firmer family ties, but context is ­everything in this and every case of violent rape.

When I read stories of Anene, or of “Jackpot”, the mentally ill girl whose gang rape last year was recorded on a ­mobile phone, the images sent slithering through our networks like a rotten snake, I wonder how young people get by without committed parents? Families don’t remove the risk of rape, but they lessen it substantially. Jackpot’s circumstances were similar to Anene’s.

My parents taught me everything – values, manners, mannerisms, culture. They fed and clothed me, kept me safe.

As a teenager, they made sure I did not go wild; they set curfews and let me out of their sight very rarely, and only with encyclopaedic knowledge of every outing. I hated it then. This week I was deeply grateful and so, so sad that Anene did not have parents of her own – and that the young men who violated and killed her were also not cosseted and loved, to bring them to human wholeness and into a decent adulthood.

What turned them into animals?

Words fail us this week.

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