With friends like these

2009-06-11 00:00

RAISING girl children in South Africa is an often terrifying job. I have two young daughters and not a day passes when I do not worry for their safety. We do not allow them on play dates to homes we have not vetted and I cannot rest when they are not within a few metres of my orbit.

I think often of working-class mothers who cannot afford daycare or who do not have the flexibility to erect a cordon sanitaire around their girl children. Since there can be no doubt that we live in a country where male predators lurk not only in dark corners but out in the sunlight.

Now I know this sounds utterly paranoid, but unfortunately you cannot dismiss my fear and anxiety as the concerns of a mere neurotic. The statistics unfortunately support my dread, which of course makes things worse. If I were merely paranoid, I could seek therapy, but what do you do when you live in a place that is so hostile towards girls and women?

What makes it worse and makes me want to sling an AK47 across my chest as I escort them through the world, is that statistically girls are more likely to be hurt, abused or murdered by someone they know — an uncle, a father, their mother’s boyfriend, the school teacher, the shop owner, the preacher or Sunday school teacher or the mild-mannered boy at your very own lunch table.

I have no idea how Errol van Rensburg, father of the 20-year-old Stellenbosch student, Erin van Rensburg, or her mother, are dealing with their pain. Their beautiful daughter was kidnapped, throttled, raped, sodomised and buried alive, apparently by a young man who was a friend of Erin’s brother and who often visited the family. Last weekend police arrested the 24-year-old Jacobus Eksteen in connection with Erin’s utterly horrifying murder.

Erin’s father has pleaded for something to be done to change the attitudes of men in this country. I’d like to quote him in full because he makes such sense: “At schools, [pupils] must be taught that men and women must respect each other. That if a woman says no, it means no. That if she says no it does not mean that a man has to be spiteful towards her. Not all men are like this, but we sit with an attitude problem in this country. Stop this thing that the father is the head of the household and that his word is law. The average South African woman just follows orders that her husband gives her. People in relationships should rather say, ‘Come let us do it together, because relationships are not about me giving you orders and you simply doing what I say’.”

Which is why something like Angus Buchan’s Mighty Men conferences are problematic. To justify male domination using the Bible in a country like this is a potentially lethal exercise. There is too much rage and psychic toxicity around for him to simplify things this way. Buchan cannot possibly address the complexities many men in this country sit with and reinforcing their dominance in a context such as the one we are faced. This is irresponsible.

Daily we read about men who murder their children and their spouses, men who rape their girlfriend’s babies as an act of revenge, men who try to beat their women into submission. The horrors are endless and what makes it worse is that men seem to feel entitled to do so. Culture and religion and the attitudes towards women that are stubbornly embedded in these two constructions or understandings of the world are the biggest threat to women in this country.

I hate the fact that I cannot trust South African men. I recently watched an extraordinary documentary, Sisters In Law, by Kim Longinotto and co-directed by Florence Ayisi, about a little village in the Cameroon where two women prosecutors have changed the way men and women interact. What struck me about the men in the documentary was their lack of aggression, their compassion and the way they had learnt, through the application of the law, to respect women.

There is only one remedy that can hope to stop a society of men and boys from believing they can abuse women with impunity and that is to arrest, convict and severely punish them. When men do not fear the law they become the law.

— Women24.

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