Guest Column

Rhodes Park: We have not yet outlived our brutal past

2017-05-11 10:04
Rhodes Park in Kensington, Johannesburg. (Netwerk24)

Rhodes Park in Kensington, Johannesburg. (Netwerk24)

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Mbuyiselo Botha

 “…they will never recover…their symptoms (of post-traumatic stress disorder) are severe. It is unfortunate that (their) memories will stay with them for the rest of their lives. They look fine from outside, but their souls are damaged."

These are the chilling words of trauma specialist Malose Langa describing the tragic and traumatic experience of two young women – Siphokazi Tyeke and Jabu Mbatha – who had to watch as their husbands were stripped naked, hands tied behind their backs, and then thrown into a dam where they drowned in what became known as Rhodes Park murders.

After being made to watch their partners drown, the gang turned onto the women and raped them in what is probably one of those brutal murders and gang rapes that shocked South Africa and triggered calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty. Especially because it happened in a park that is used by many people including families with children.
 
The question on everyone minds was, have we reached a situation where we have marauding gangs of criminals who are capable of doing anything and everything to other human beings, without fear of being caught and sent to prison? Who are these men? Where are they from? Why are they doing this? It sounds like there is a war going on out there where men are being killed and women raped? Every South African was afraid and we held a collective breath that the police must go out and find these criminals.

Three were caught, charged and went to trial. We read that some of them were Zimbabweans who simply vanished across the border.

The court heard evidence that after the gang of 12 brutes had ambushed the two couples going for a stroll in the park, they entertained themselves by laughing and tormenting the women at the sight of their drowning husbands – Sizwe Tyeka and Zukisa Khela.

Only then did they turn on the frightened and extremely traumatised women and gang-raped them. Not only that, after they had finished, they wanted the women drowned as well, but one of the criminals talked them out of it and saved their lives.

Three of the murderers were found, charged and sentenced three Fridays ago to four life sentences each for the rapes and murders plus 15 years for robbery. Yes, justice did take its cause but finding the other 9 and giving them the same fate would give the women and families of the men some closure.

These men deserve to stay in prison and never allowed out for what they did to those innocent men and women.

This is one of the heinous crimes that when it does occur in our troubled land, we get reminded just how the sins of our racist, violent and patriarchal past often come back to revisit us and remind us that we haven’t really dealt with the deeper and structural damages created by the brutality of apartheid and repression.

Apartheid was a very immoral system that sought to dehumanise and infringe on Ubuntu bethu, our self-love, pride and our dignity as a human race. The fact that we were called sub-human and verses from the Bible used to justify the evils of discrimination, and not only that, but the system designed to ensure that we are treated and reminded of this anomaly everywhere we turned, destroying many of our people’s sense of humanity.

We talk about pass laws that ensured that as a black man you could not move freely after migrating from the homelands where you were robbed of your land and cattle, and forced into the single sex hostels. Indeed men were stripped naked in front of each other, whether young or old, married or single when they went to apply for the dompass.

Black men were humiliated in front of their wives, parents and their children because they were perceived as boys by the white man. If they didn’t tow the line they were beaten up, killed or locked in jail. We can even go back to the story of Kgosi Mampuru II whom the Pretoria Central Prison is named after.

Mampuru was imprisoned by the Boere after his gallant efforts to resist capture and imprisonment for refusing to pay taxes. When he was captured and set to hang, it became a spectacle where white women and children were invited to watch.

They put on their Sunday best and came out in numbers to watch Kgosi Mampuru hanged. But in his case the rope snapped and Kgosi Mampuru didn’t die. However, that didn’t stop the racist white state machinery from hanging him for the second time. Such brutality was preserved only for African people because they were perceived as people without a soul.

All the decades of brutality manifests itself in the violence that black people are subjecting one another today. The violence in the Rhodes Park incident shows that violence has dehumanised us as African people. Again, this sense of entitlement of men over women’s bodies is not about sex but about power.

Examples of this manifestation of violence against women are many and not confined to those 12 men in Rhodes Park. Take the case of a 70-year-old man who beats his 60-year-old woman to death because she did not cook and dish out for him. A young soldier kills his partner using a bomb because he couldn’t accept that she doesn’t love him anymore.

Our upbringing and socialisation has never taught us men that there are alternative ways of resolving any disagreements without resorting to violence, especially of powerless women. Some of our upbringing exposed us to acts of violence which made us normalise brutality and cruelty.

What should we do as a race to help stem this tide of brutality against ourselves, against our women and children? We can mobilise and use the same energy that we have been exerting on our government in the past few weeks, to force our communities and our country to deal with the scourge of the violence in our society.

We can get together as groups and insist that we open up and start support groups to educate our men and to try and deal with their latent anger and hatred.

We can only do so if we are open and honest about our pain and the wounds that were inflicted by an oppressive regime. Nobody must talk us out of it by saying “but apartheid is dead and buried” when the wounds and scares are still very fresh in the psyche of the black man.

There are many churches in our communities and we need to mobilise those to run workshops to confront and deal with the rage that is in our black men and now boy child because of the absent father. If we don’t do this, the scourge of a fatherless society will continue to haunt us for many decades to come because the only good black men would be either those in jail, or those who died prematurely because of crime.

- Mbuyiselo Botha is a commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality. He writes in his personal capacity.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    rape  |  rhodes park
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