Facing up to SA’s rape statistics

2009-06-26 00:00

WHILE it would most certainly be easier to pretend it’s not true, we have to face the horror of the findings of a recent Medical Research Council study that one in four South African men have admitted to rape.

In his column in the Weekender, Jacob Dlamini writes about how difficult it is for him, as a South African man, to face up to and come to terms with these really outrageous statistics and what they say about us as a society.

“Is it possible that so many of us are such vile and evil bastards. How can it be that so many of us can be so bestial?” he asks in exasperation.

Dlamini suggests that South Africa is a country at war with itself and that women and children bear the brunt of this “brutal but undeclared war”.

Dlamini, along with the courageous and outspoken gender activist, Mbuyiselo Botha, represent some of the good men in this country who are not afraid to face up to the reality and who are trying to find new ways of dealing with it.

The point is that rape is so much a part of our lives — the monster in the room is so huge — that we seem almost paralysed and numbed by it.

Even President Jacob Zuma’s family has not escaped. In 1999 four young men attacked, assault­ed and gang raped our first lady, Sizakhele Khumalo, at the president’s homestead in Nkandla.

The men, Bernard Mabaso, Xolani Mkhize, Siphiwe Zulu and Piet Duma, were sentenced by an Mtunzini magistrate to bet­ween 30 years, life imprisonment and six years.

The point is, imagine the public reaction had the same thing happened to other politicians’ wives or first ladies of the world? How would the media have responded if this had happened to Michelle Obama, Grace Mugabe, Sarah Brown or Carla Bruni-Sarkozy?

There is something about the silence that surrounds MaKhumalo and the ordeal she has survived that speaks to the deep trauma women in this country are forced to live with.

While she might have opted to remain silent herself, the fact that the gang rape has hardly been debated or discussed in public points to a larger malaise.

The fact is we expect South African women to shut up and carry on. The underlying attitude is that rape cannot be that bad, that it is only unwanted sex. And because we don’t really view rape as a serious infringement of a woman’s human rights and dignity, we expect her to forget about it, move on and stop reminding us of something we’d rather not face. That’s if she doesn’t get murdered of course.

That MaKhumalo’s own husband has been accused and acquitt­ed of rape does not help to clarify matters either. We need very brave men like Botha and Reveren­d Bafana Khumalo to keep talking, keep asking and to keep being horrified.

We need men like these to expos­e where young boys and men in this country are learning or picking up that women can be used, abused and violently disrespected. It is not something that is in the water or the atmosp­here. There must be a source to these toxic attitudes.

What are young men told about women and their relationship to them during initiation rituals? For too long we have been told that this part of our culture is taboo and cannot be spoken about in public. Why? If it is the proud transition from boyhood to manhood why should it be a secret and hidden? Why should women, who are expected to live with men, be excluded from the process? We are the mothers of the sons who will emerge as men. We are the women who must live with them.

And as for the men who do not find manhood through these common rituals, we need them to question and speak out when attitudes or views that render women as “less than” are reinforced or encouraged — even when religion is used to do so.

Dlamini bravely exp­lores his initial feelings of “uneas­e” about what the survey reveals and then goes on to adm­it: “I suspect my uneasiness comes from its dire implications. The report, if true, implies that most of the men I know are rapists and that some of them have raped more than once. This is an uncomfortable thought to come to terms with. I find it difficult to accept the fact that I and the men I know could potentially be some of the faces and names behind the statistics.”

For now, in the absence of a collective outrage, we need good men to show us that they do not support or agree with the bad boys and men. - Women24

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.