Take heed of the real bodies being violated

2012-05-26 10:31

Social media offers a fascinating opportunity to follow multiple stories all at once.

So when a Grahamstown activist started tweeting snippets from the magistrates’ court there about a child rape case, a fellow journalist tweeted: “Nzimande: painting ‘one of the most serious violations of black human body in recent times’. For starters, has he heard about SA rape stats?”

Journalist Carmel Rickard was referring to a comment the higher education minister had made about Brett Murray’s new piece of South African history, The Spear.

Activist Michelle Solomon, herself a journalist, was referring to the story of a school caretaker who is accused of systematically and repeatedly raping a six-year-old boy and seven-year-old girl – siblings – over a period of several months.

The most recent rape happened after the little boy had been removed from his primary school (which was the scene of all
the attacks).

This week, he was dropped off outside his old school by a woman tasked with handling transport for children in the area. He and several other children were supposed to wait there for her for a few hours.

In that time he was snatched, allegedly by the same man he accused of raping him previously, and violated again.

When the caretaker appeared in court this week, members of the South Africa Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) flocked to the court to support him.

I have no problem with this: it irks me that they closed down the school to do so, but Sadtu is not notorious for putting children’s needs first. It does irk me, though, that some of the union’s members tried to keep activists out of the court.

It irks me even more that Sadtu members sniped and jeered at activists, called them “racist” and physically tried to block them from being present in court.

These are the actions of bullies and thugs, grandstanding and preening in the face of two deeply damaged, traumatised little children.

I do not know what it is to be black. I will never know.

No level of empathy, no mealy mouthed liberalism will ever get me there. I am white, I will always experience the world as a white person.

So I cannot know what it is to violate a black body.

Forgive me, though, minister, if I say I suspect I know what it means to violate a body, full stop. A man, an adult man, is accused of repeatedly raping two children.

Little children. A boy and a girl, both at school to learn and to grow.

This man, or perhaps another man – I only hope the trial will proceed as it ought to and we’ll get all the answers – held them down and raped them. He did so several times.

He did so with impunity.

But that’s not violation, is it? That’s just an average day in South Africa, most especially for black women and children.

Their bodies, the government reminds us daily by its inaction, matter little. Certainly not like the president’s body matters.

Minister, perhaps when you’re finished contemplating a bonfire of newspapers, artworks and books, you could do something about the real violation that thousands of your citizens must face every day at the hands of brutal men.

Perhaps you, or one of your Cabinet colleagues, could travel to Grahamstown and sit down with the parents of two devastated, hurt, frightened children and explain to them why an artwork depicting the president with his penis in full view deserves your attention more than their tragedy ever could.

» Joseph is City Press news editor

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