The Wife exposes marital rape reality in SA. ‘Consent is progressive. You have to get it each time’

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Wiseman Mncube plays Mqhele and Mbalenhle Mavimbela plays Hlomu on The Wife
Wiseman Mncube plays Mqhele and Mbalenhle Mavimbela plays Hlomu on The Wife

It was not the first time that the country watched in shock as a rape scene played out on their screen.

Mqhele was once again violating his wife, Hlomu on Showmax’s The Wife.

Mbalenhle Mavimbela’s character, Hlomu was trying to cheer her husband up, but Mqhele, played by Wiseman Mncube, had other plans.

He pulled her by the hair and proceeded to rape her.

While some South Africans thought it was distasteful, others thought it was good for awareness.

Marital rape exists and is taboo to talk about in our society.

Rhodes University’s Mandisa Ndabula is a counselling psychologist, and she defines marital rape as any “sexual intercourse with your spouse without consent”.

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“A man can rape his wife because consent is progressive. You have to obtain it every time. Wives also have a right to say no to sex at any point in marriage,” she says.

Mandisa says while some traditional people may say once a man pays lobola he is entitled to sex at any time, she says that is illegal.

“It is an assumed thing, but not necessarily a true fact. Lobola is not a sale, but a building of a relationship between two families. Because in the African context, a marriage is a union of two families rather than two individuals.”

Dr Joshua Ndlela, a student counsellor at Unisa and a counselling psychologist in private practice, says marital rape can be characterized with sexual abuse and domestic violence.

“Sexual abuse inflicted by one spouse to the other is not limited to gender or heterosexual relationships only. The physical injuries the victim may get will heal, what takes time are the emotional scars. It also degrades the victim’s self-esteem.”

Dr Ndlela says because we live in a patriarchal society, the needs of men are always placed ahead of those of women.

“Lobola has nothing to do with marital rape. Paying lobola does not mean you are buying the person or that you can do as you please and they have no agency or autonomy over their bodies. Rape is an act of violence, regardless or marital status.

“Rape is oppressive and sometimes because of the patriarchal society we were raised in, even iziyalo (advice or instructions) given to young brides when they get married are done in favour of the men. That is why some elders will even go as far as saying a makoti cannot be angry from the waist down following an argument with her husband. It’s wrong.”

Read more | Victim blaming, patriarchy and defining rape: All you need to know about rape culture

Last year, an Eastern Cape lawyer was found guilty of raping his wife twice over a period of seven years.

Judge Judith Roberson rejected the defence made by the husband that he lacked criminal capacity, caused by a combination of alcohol abuse and a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He cannot be named to protect his wife’s identity.

At the time, practicing attorney Ayanda Gwabeni says legally married women can report rape cases against their husbands when they did not consent to sex.

“Women are the only ones who get to decide when they want to have sex, they cannot be forced simply because they had entered into a marriage contract. There is no eternal consent that they give when they get married.

“Married men should ask for consent each and every time they want to have sex with their wives. It is not like when one buys themselves a sex toy that they can use whenever they want to without asking for its permission. Married women can say no to sex with their husbands.”

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