Rape is no joke, so don’t tweet it lightly

2012-02-04 09:36

Nonhle Thema had 106 000 followers on Twitter at the time of writing, with more sure to follow.

On any given day, the “perfumista, entrepreneur and reality TV star” praises, berates and mocks the fans she calls “smurfs”.

Recently, she declared that all followers should call her “Jesus”. She has refused to respond to people who defy the order.

It’s perhaps in this context of unfocused, aggressive, self-obsessed tweets that a recent rant against rapper/hip-hop producer Sean Pages should be viewed. However, in attacking the artist and declaring that he must be the product of rape, she’s badly overstepped the mark.

On Sunday evening, without any warning or explanation, Thema tweeted: “Im sure SEAN PAGEs mother was rapped when she made his UGLY DUMB Ass...nigga looks like a RAPED rapper.”

She followed this with a series of tweets about Pages and, in case we’d missed the initial diatribe, posted the following: “Do u know your dad since your mother was a HOE. And was also rapped ha ha ha.”

There was a tiny ripple of unease among her thousands of followers. A couple of people were brave enough to suggest that Thema wouldn’t like to hear somebody talk about her mother so derisively.

Some of Pages’s fellow artists leapt to his defence. I spotted Thema’s tweet because another journalist retweeted it. Several of the people on my timeline were outraged by Thema’s casual and callous reference to rape. But that was it.

As a nation, I would argue, we’re so inured to sexual violence, particularly against women, that rape “jokes” – even those made by a woman who insists she’s a role model for young South Africans – do little more than ruffle a few feathers.

The statistics are alarming. Violence against women is a national pastime in South Africa. The pity of it is that people like Nonhle Thema – for all her projected arrogance, and her brash and rather jarring presence on our celebrity landscape – could be playing an extremely positive role if she chose to stop making a joke of rape.

There are simply not enough people in positions of power and influence who are willing to stand up and say that sex and violence have no business together.

For 16 days each year, we declare war on sexual violence – as though a little over two weeks of empty rhetoric will end the epidemic. Even as the government launches its yearly 16 Days of Activism every year, newspapers continue to remind us nothing is changing.

A cursory trawl of Twitter reveals almost daily hashtags and trending topics that demean women.

Recently, #itsnotrapeif did the rounds, and men and women alike joined the “fun” to explain that here in South Africa, we women are always asking, or even gagging, for it. No wonder Thema’s tweets didn’t touch any nerves.

The reality is simple: men need to stop raping women. But as we battle towards that far-off day, we need both men and women to start taking sexual violence seriously, and to stop treating rape as a joke, a crude method of belittling others.

We need people like Nonhle Thema to wield their influence – particularly online, where there is space to talk to hundreds of thousands of young South Africans at once – and to start challenging our country’s attitudes towards sex, violence and women.

» Joseph is City Press news editor 

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