Sibongile Mafu

Anene: One year later

2014-01-31 10:00

Sibongile Mafu

Sunday, February 2 will mark a year since South Africa and the rest of the world woke up to the story of Bredasdorp teenager, Anene Booysen.

The 17-year-old was raped, mutilated and left for dead. Her story shook the country to its core and many into action.

What was it about Anene's story, her reality that gripped the country's consciousness the way it did? Was it the brutality of it (which in itself is worrying as all rapes are brutal)? Was it how she was found? Alone and left for dead. Was it the subsequent chilling stories that emerged from Bredasdorp of young people saying rape was normal here, but "why did they have to kill her"? We'd truly been shaken from the root of our desensitisation, and we couldn't look away.

So began the narrative around rape myths and how damaging they are, as a renewed and important sense of urgency around reports of other women and children who had been raped began emerging. The story telling seemed to step up a gear. And of course these stories only brushed the surface of what was happening, but they were ones that perhaps would have been ignored had the subsequent death and story of Anene not been told.

Fight for justice

Anene's face, that one photograph we have of her, was everywhere, reminding a lot of people of the learning that still needed to happen, and also how critical it was to not only fight for justice for Anene but justice for all those who have been raped. There were debates around putting Anene's face everywhere and whether that is how someone's life should be defined: how they left the world. But her face wasn't the face of rape. It became about not cloaking her in darkness.

So much focus on this became about the importance of the victim's story, which hardly ever happens. The importance of her family's story too. Too often victims and survivors remain nameless, faceless individuals which amplifies the idea that rape is happening to a really small group of people somewhere far away. People we don’t know, who we aren't close to.

Over the course of the months following Anene's death, Johannes Kana was charged with her rape and murder and handed a double life sentence late last year. People applauded all those who were involved in bringing Anene's story full circle. Justice, at least to some extent, had been served and what she had gone through had not been left to be just another forgotten story.

What do we do with awareness?

But the reality is not much justice happens for survivors and victims. And as much as that horrifies us, a lot more don't even report it. Numbers will be thrown around, and statistics will continue to shock us but what should remain at the forefront is the incredible amount of ground work being done by organisations and individuals who counsel survivors, organisations who continue trying to change how we talk about rape and those organisations who tirelessly try to turn the ship around and stop rape in this country. They need support.

The numbers will continue to grow. The stories will be told. The awareness will be there. But what do we do with awareness? How do we begin to properly examine how we treat women and children in this country on a day-to-day basis?

We talk about survivors of rape being silent, but what about those who choose to keep silent when they listen to the people around them talk about women? Those who turn a blind eye to the abuse they hear in the complex they live in and in the spaces they occupy?

We talk about silence like it is only survivors who aren't saying anything. What Anene's story taught us is that even though she could not speak for herself, those who were left behind rallied and made sure we no longer accepted the silence.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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