Guest Column

The war on women

2017-05-21 00:00

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Josina Z Machel, Gabriel Seeber, Dudu Mathebula, Simphiwe Thobela, Charl Blignaut 

In death, Karabo Mokoena has captured the attention of South Africans and again brought to the national debate the horrendous issue of gender-based violence and particularly violence against women.

We should not fear our partners

Karabo’s sad story highlights what many young women are experiencing in their relationships, and it reveals the reality that statistics conceal. It sounds far-fetched when we hear that one out of every six women is regularly assaulted by a partner. It is only when we see the faces of those murdered and the faces of their loved ones mourning that reality sinks in, and it becomes impossible to ignore the devastation that gender-based violence brings in our midst.

Karabo has catalysed a process where we humanise the numbers of the victims and the survivors. My hope is that the work that Karabo had begun in creating awareness of her experience of domestic violence is elevated to a national crisis level and that mechanisms are put in place to ensure that cases of abuse are dealt with more quickly than we are currently experiencing.

Her family has been robbed of a daughter, and her future cut short, and not because we don’t have the right policies in place to protect women. We need on-the-ground, prompt responses to domestic violence cases.

The focus on Karabo’s death forces everyone to realise that enough is enough, we cannot tolerate this any more. Getting a protection order against a respondent should not take over 24 hours, because a lot can happened in 24 hours. The protection order seems like a long process to assist those who fear for their lives. The current process requires that a woman fills in an affidavit at the police station, the police then take the application to the clerk at the nearest court, and the court conducts the investigation to verify evidence that the respondent is committing an act of domestic violence. Only after the court is satisfied that there is enough evidence against the respondent (that he committed an act of violence), the court can approve for a sheriff to issue an interim protection order. Thereafter, a date is set for a hearing, during which the respondent is offered the opportunity to dispute the protection order. In addition, the respondent must acknowledge the interim protection order for it to take effect.

The current process is long and needs to be improved, because women’s lives are at stake. We have seen this in Karabo’s case, who is said to have reported her allegedly violent boyfriend to the authorities.

This state of affairs is an anomaly, women must not live in fear of their partners or of men in general. We must live in a community where we feel safe to trust the people who supposedly love us, to break up with a man and not fear for our lives. Karabo’s case, mine and that of other women who have experienced and continue to experience domestic violence should not be happening, should not be normalised. We cannot live in fear that a partner will one day turn into a monster.

Perhaps this is the time to look at effecting harsher sentences in cases of violence against women in order to set the tone that this is unacceptable. Perhaps it’s time to mobilise, to come together as a nation and establish what we must do at family, community, provincial and national level to support women in abusive relationships and eradicate gender-based violence.

Perhaps frank conversations must result in action that will bring a stop to these atrocities. Perhaps this is a time to show the young boys and girls that we are raising that this is not a way of life, and show them the consequences for perpetrators in terms of severe sentences, and restitution and rehabilitation requirements.

We should get to a point where no woman is killed by her partner. Our partners are not supposed to be the people we fear the most. The killing of Karabo Mokoena has highlighted the brutality of how women are killed by those who are supposed to love them. Social media was abuzz with #MenAreTrash.

They are supposed to be the ones who care for, and protect and love us. Should the relationship go sour, our partners must surely – out of love – let us go. Our communities and our nation must establish a sense of safety and justice, through consistent and effective actions.

Machel is a survivor of domestic violence and founder of the Kuhluka Movement

We men are worse than trash

The brutal murder of Karabo Mokoena has brought to light yet again the horrendous violence women suffer at the hands of their male partners. The subsequent outpouring of experiences of abuse suffered by women on the hashtag #MenAreTrash has illicited not the support of men, or the condemnation of the abuse, but has rather revealed what a pathetic, brittle, fragile construct the masculine ego is.

That men reacted with frustration and anger at #MenAreTrash is a sad indictment of the inability to rise beyond this fragile ego and to honestly confront the reality we create. Shame on us.

We deflect, divert and resort to any defence mechanism we can find. “I am not trash. I am a good man. I do not do these terrible things to women. I love my woman. I love women. I have a daughter. I would never do these things. But women stay in abusive relationships. They come back. She provoked me. Why don’t they leave? Women flirt and tease us. They wear revealing clothes. She wanted it. She was drunk...”

Being incapable and unwilling to see beyond the these cheap and empty rationalisations reveals a dark reality deeply hidden beneath the layers of dominant patriarchy, misguided cultural expression and undisguised misogyny. This is the frightening, terrifying truth we as men must confront. This is the blunt truth we perpetuate. We should feel utterly ashamed.

I feel an uncontrollable, inconsolable anger at this. The time to act is now. Wake the f*ck up! Our dismal statistics bear this truth out. The country’s horrifying rapes and the violent, evil crimes committed by men should shake the foundation of this country’s embedded patriarchy with a blunt force.

We men rape our daughters, nieces, aunts, grandmothers. We beat our women to death. We abuse, physically and emotionally, the women we claim to love. We are less than trash.

What gives a man the right to assert himself over the body of a woman, to assert his right over anything, to claim any superiority at all? And you dare say women should take more care in how they behave?

We are warning our women, our lovers, our partners, to be careful of us. Of men. We should be ashamed!

I do not know one man who has not leered at a woman, made lurid comments about a woman, objectified a woman or knows someone who has beaten a woman. Where are the men protesting at the trials of rapists? Where are the men actively opposing the perpetual oppression of our women?

Wake up and stop feeling like some pathetic schoolground kid who dropped his lollipop in the sand. Rise up and fight for our women. Once we as men remove the lexicon of objectification and oppressive patriarchy from our everyday behaviour, perhaps then we will not be trash.

Seeber is production editor at City Press

I nearly bought a gun this week

Until this week, I had never imagined that I would ever consider buying a firearm. But I walked into a gun shop this week. I actually felt the necessity to own one and know how to use it. A number of black women in the store discouraged me and I opted for a can of pepper spray and a MeMeZa siren.

With a heavy heart, I returned to work and thought to myself, the week isn’t even over yet and the obscene slaughter of our women rampages on. From my work station at the pictures desk, it just goes on and on, the squirming, the silent cries, the outrageous war between men and women on social media and in office meetings. There have been days when I cried behind my computer screen as I saw the horrid pictures of women sprawled, half-naked, mutilated and dumped in fields like trash.

Since Karabo Mokoena’s death, it feels like the body count has just been mounting daily. Call it a spike, but let’s be frank, our justice system enables femicide because the mighty hand of the law isn’t so mighty, especially where women and girls are concerned. Perpetrators target women with the notion that they are weak and cannot fight back, they get away with the crime because women are still imagining a society of men who aren’t there to harm them. With our sickeningly high rate of violent rape and murder, the probability of a woman returning home safely every evening and not being counted among the 51.2 people murdered daily, is a horrible gamble.

We as women have been taught to rely on the protection of men. Our fathers and brothers were our armour in our upbringing. Today, they revolt against us and we have to learn to fear them and mistrust them around ourselves and our children.

Women’s rights organisations were, this week, gearing up anew to equip their members and support groups with self-defence classes. This may be viewed as a knee-jerk reaction, but who else is preaching the gospel of self-reliance, the power that women possess and their ability to stand up and fight against injustice? While a class in self-defence or pepper spray in a handbag cannot guarantee survival, some women are prepared to die having at least tried to fight.

We absolutely cannot roll over and continue to play musical chairs on grieving mattresses to console families that have lost their daughters and sisters and mothers and just return to the perceived safety of our own homes. We have to view the current scourge for what it truly is. It is a war that is being waged against women.

The men have failed us, the police and the justice system have failed us. We are on our own. We need to rise up and fight. Just like Umoja, the women-only village in Kenya, where women have actively woven themselves together to protect their existence in their communities. We have to actively become the source of security in our communities. In response to this patriarchal society, a matriarchal society has to be formed. We can no longer turn a deaf ear when we hear screams from next door, when our fathers beat up our mothers, when women are dragged into cars by their boyfriends at social gatherings.

It’s time to rise up and fight back.

Mathebula is pictures editor at City Press

If he slaps you, he will kill you

I have always said to women that I have been privileged to talk to about women abuse: if he ever slaps you, it’s a sign that he will kill you.

It starts slowly. It’s an angry growl that leads to his grabbing you by your clothes. He then apologises and takes you out or buys you beautiful things that you love. He pleads temporary insanity that’s driven by love. But, as you look into his eyes, you will still see fury. You soon forget and life goes on.

The next time, he slaps you and quickly apologises and claims it was a mistake – he got overwhelmed by anger. He then pleads with you not to get him angry. In fact, he blames you for getting him angry.

He moves a notch up. He punches you on your body. He is the first to cry and apologise and, once again, he blames you and his love for you. You fall for it again. By this time he has become used to doing it – it’s a habit.

You start to be worried, but you still hope it will all pass. He appeals to you not to take it to the police – it’s a minor domestic issue. You agree.

He starts to humiliate you in public. He shouts at you, terrifies you and you still hope it may change some day.

You say you love him. What kind of love do you have? You love someone who has no love for you? Isn’t love supposed to be a two-way thing?

You hope it will pass, but it continues. You start to be afraid every time you have to be alone with him in a private space. At this stage, you’ve completely lost yourself. You live a lie, but you hope it will pass.

But hey, it escalates.

You get to a stage where you ask yourself how you can do things better so that you don’t annoy him. You are convinced that the problem lies with you. You go to great lengths to be the person you think he wants. But guess what? It gets worse. Yet, you still hope it will pass.

By this time, it’s become a way of life. One day you are fed up. You go to the police, but he cries like a newborn baby, pleading with you to reconsider because he loves you. You believe him. You withdraw the case and tell the family to take it easy, he is a new person.

But guess what? It continues.

At this stage, you wear make-up – not for beauty, but to mask both the physical and emotional pain. You still harbour some distant hope that it will pass.

But guess what? It escalates.

You have become his punching bag, it is an expectation. You’re living in fear and paranoia. Truthfully, you have no life. You are even scared to walk away. He has trapped you like a spider that uses its web to trap a fly. The spider traps a fly and continually pokes it to check if it’s still alive. It keeps it there until it has lost its being, it’s dry and lifeless.

Sister, walk away the first day he grabs you by your clothes and threatens to beat you up. If you open a case against him, don’t pull back, see it through. Your life is more important than your “love” for him or his for you.

Stop bashing all men. You have a father, brother, a son, a friend. They are also men.

But walk away, my sister, daughter, mother, walk away.

I have a wife, a daughter and a mother. They deserve to be safe and happy.


Thobela is a board member of the Eastern Cape Development Corporation and runs a small business that focuses on training in local government

Bra, it’s about all of us

Hundreds of South African women have – once again – come out about their experiences of rape, assault and abuse at the hands of men, this time under the hashtag #MenAreTrash, compelled by the sickening murder of Karabo Mokoena.

It’s very clear. Women have had enough. They are tired. They are not raping and murdering themselves. It’s us who are doing that, men. So how have we responded?

Yes, some of us have expressed unconditional support, understood that we are being challenged to interrogate our masculinity and the many ways – consciously or subconsciously – we regard women as sexual objects or as subjects who should follow our rules about how to live their lives.

But just as many of us have taken it personally, put our egos ahead of an epidemic and belligerently responded with #NotAllMen. Bra, it’s not about you. It’s about all of us, about our gender. Grow up and see the bigger crisis.

And then there are those of us who, with concern creasing our brows, have mansplained about women’s safety, warned them to be vigilant, schooled them in how to spot the warning signs. Baba, let’s be clear, women live this reality, they know this information, it is patronising. I hope these men are also talking to other men about ending this tyranny of abuse; about genuinely putting themselves in the shoes of women who are not safe to take a taxi to work or go for a run on their own in the morning?

And then there are those of us who have, privately and publicly, insulted or belittled the women coming out, questioned their motives, accused them of seeking attention or lying.

During #RUReferenceList the patriarchy huffed and puffed that naming and shaming rapists and abusers is wrong and dangerous because what if a man is falsely accused? Will we negate a million women to protect a few men?

All of this is a complex web of victim-blaming that perpetuates a poisonous and apathetic patriarchy instead of interrogating it.

The women who are telling their stories of rape and abuse must be heard and believed, not dismissed just because #NotAllMen are guilty of rape. I can’t speak for women, but I know that coming out publicly is a fresh hell that no one would put themselves through lightly.

I know this because a few weeks ago on Facebook, in response to Zapiro’s latest rape cartoon, I came out. I had, many years ago, been held down and raped in a Pretoria prison when I was arrested for possession of drugs. I wrote about how triggering the cartoon was, even for a privileged white man with money for therapy and a strong support system, both at home and at work.

I was never really prepared for what would happen next. My heart was basically pounding for a week. I thought everyone was looking at me and somehow mocking me or that all they saw in me was a victim.

It wasn’t just the vicious posts from men telling me I was a junkie, what did I expect? Or that “those guys in Pretoria f*cked you and you realised you were gay and now you can’t deal with it”.

No, the bad part was that I was caught in a loop of reliving the rape, that the trauma returned and I had to start again with the healing – even though, for me, coming out was part of that healing.

The women coming out are experiencing a double trauma – and must on top of it try to school us men, who seem to have no grasp of the empathy and urgent activism required by us.

Bra, listen up. We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start talking about how we are going to turn this around in our communities. We all live with abusers in our families, our schools, our workplaces.

We need to look them in the eye and say it was wrong and start a dialogue about how we’re going to action change.

Blignaut is arts editor at City Press


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Read more on:    karabo mokoena  |  #menaretrash


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