A reflection of society

2008-02-01 00:00

Fans of Jacob Zuma will not be happy with Mmatshilo Motsei's provocatively titled book, The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court, which raises the spectre of the ANC deputy president's controversial rape trial. However, this is not a text that can be easily dismissed. Motsei, a gender activist for over 15 years, uses the trial as a springboard to offer a scholarly work on the phenomenon of rape. Not only does she critically examine the many stereotypes and myths about rape and HIV/Aids that were played out in the trial, she also uses the book to reflect on South African society.

Motsei was deeply disturbed by the behaviour of the crowds outside the court, hence the reference to a Kangaroo court. The cover of the book reflects a poster carried by supporters which read, “burn the bitch”. She shows that South Africa, despite having one of the finest Constitutions in the world and some of the best policies, still has a long way to go in creating awareness among its citizens around understanding the Constitution and living up to its ideals. She once said in an interview (The Star, April 19) that she read about and watched the trial day in and day out and saw how easy it would be for South Africa's democracy to go down the drain if there is no vigilance and no clarity of purpose.

A common refrain has been that Zuma was framed. Motsei deals with this in her first chapter saying that as a former head of intelligence in the ANC, he must have been trained to be highly suspicious of untoward sexual attention, especially at the time when he was allegedly facing a political conspiracy to oust him from the presidential succession race. “Despite all this, his training and experience in political intelligence, being an elder, husband, father and a leader purporting to uphold traditional values, Zuma chose to have unprotected sex with the complainant. Political conspiracy or not, his choice to engage in sex was in his hands alone.”

It is clear that Motsei was deeply moved by the plight of the complainant in the case, a woman who became known as Kwezi, to protect her identity. She has said that she was inspired by Kwezi's courage to stand up to a powerful man who was to her a father figure, a family friend and a comrade. Shocked by the open displays of hatred against the complainant, the author unpacks the deep-seated misogyny that underlies our society. As she says in the blurb of her book: “It is hoped that through reading the story of this trial, and seeing the particular ways that women are subjugated by power, South Africans will have the opportunity to reflect on, and demand better of, the kind of leaders and leadership they deserve.”

She also says that what Zuma did cannot be condemned in isolation. It is a reflection of the prevailing thoughts, attitudes and perceptions in broader society. This is really the heart of her book ... a timely reminder of the fragility of our democracy and the work that still needs to be done to become the kind of society reflected in our Constitution.

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