Melanie Verwoerd

Sexual violence: Time for outrage!

2017-10-18 08:20
Students at the University of the Witwatersrand painted their bodies with phrases in protest against rape culture and sexual assault. Picture: Ndileka Lujabe

Students at the University of the Witwatersrand painted their bodies with phrases in protest against rape culture and sexual assault. Picture: Ndileka Lujabe

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Over the last few days, as the country was feeling rather underwhelmed by the SCA’s judgment that our president should after all be prosecuted, news channels across the world covered the story of Harvey Weinstein and his alleged involvement in sexual molestations and rapes of numerous women.

There has been a massive outcry in Europe and America about these allegations and he has already been dismissed from many prestigious positions he held.

How wonderful it would be if we could muster up only half of that amount of anger and outrage about things happening in our country?

Last week I was listening to a report on the sentencing proceedings of kwaito star, Sipho 'Brickz' Ndlovu, who was found guilty earlier this year of the rape of his 17-year old niece.

His newly appointed lawyer Adv Pieter du Plessis argued passionately that his client’s sentence should be lenient, because amongst others “the complainant was not seriously injured” during the rape.

He went further to say: “Even on the complainant’s evidence the only injury she sustained was that the hymen was apparently broken and bleeding from there” and that she contracted a sexually transmitted disease.

Really, Advocate Du Plessis? So the fact that a trusted family member forced himself on her, broke her hymen and for good measure gave her a STD is no biggie, is it? I wonder if you have daughters or granddaughters? Would you truly argue the same and feel the same if this had happened to one of them?

Despite the media reporting these truly shameful comments by Du Plessis, there was no public outcry and no condemnation from any politician.

Not that SAPS and the NPA are always inefficient when it comes to rape cases. No, no!

Earlier this year, the cops promptly arrested a 55-year old mother from the rural Eastern Cape. She had received a call from another young woman who told her that a group of men were raping her daughter.

When she arrived at the address the three men who were raping her daughter tried to overpower her. To protect herself and her daughter she stabbed them with a knife and one of the rapists died as a result of the injuries he sustained.

So the police arrested the mother and charged her with murder. Only after an outcry from the community and the subsequent media attention did she get bail and was the case dropped.

The question has to be asked, what alternative did she have? First go to the police station, then try and convince them to listen to her, then fill in a complaint form, then convince them to find a van to go to the address to see what was going on? (Yes, I have had a few experiences with police stations in my life.) Or should she have allowed the men to rape her as well?

Any mother would have done exactly what she did – because she had no other choice. She knew, as most women in this country do, that the police and justice system not only fail to protect us, but when it happens they tell us it is not really a big deal or that we asked for it by the way we dressed or were in places where we should not have been.

In June this year a 17-year old girl was taken into custody in Limpopo after she stabbed a man who tried to rape her. He died of his injuries. Lieutenant Colonel Moatshe Ngoepe of SAPS told the media afterwards that she should not have been walking out at night.

He said: "It is totally unacceptable and it must be condemned in the strongest terms especially considering the prevalence of crimes against women and children in the province.” He then advised parents to set boundaries and encourage responsible behaviour.

Again no public outcry.

Something terrible has gone wrong with our moral compass in this country.

In a primary school in Soweto 87 little girls got molested – something that must have gone on for months and no one noticed or reported it. A 17-year old girl got raped at a school dance by a security guard, yet the school failed to report it and when the parents went to the police they were sent away.

Earlier this year the government reported that 190 learners in Grade 3‚ 4 and 5 fell pregnant between 2014 and 2016. That means that these girls were between 9 and 11 years of age! If learners from Grade 6 and 7 (therefore under the age of 12) who fell pregnant are added‚ the number jumps to nearly 1500! And let’s be clear that all these girls were raped according to the law. Yet, to my knowledge no one has been prosecuted.

Of course every single ANC presidential candidate is talking the big talk of protecting women from violence. Yet the ANC’s own history of dealing with these matters are extremely problematic as Redi Tlhabi so clearly illustrates in her book on Khwezi.

The threat of sexual violence permeates the life of every single woman and girl in South Africa on a daily basis. We all live with the constant threat of being attacked and raped, which takes away our most basic sense of freedom.

If this was a racial issue or god forbid something that was happening to men, we would have seen every single available state resource channeled into dealing with this issue.

But because it is happening to women, not only is very little done to combat these evil deeds, but we also treat the victims with disrespect and cruelty.

No matter what some advocates would like us to believe, rape and sexual attacks change women’s lives for ever. It is time for the politicians to stop protecting those amongst themselves who are part of perpetrating these evil deeds and respond to this scourge with measures that both in size and efficiency reflect the scale of the problem.

And whilst they are at it, is it not time for the legal profession to do something about the shameful behaviour of some of their colleagues? 

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

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