Rape as a weapon used to terminate the citizenship of women

2017-02-07 12:20

Rape is not sex. Rape is not sex gone wrong. Rape is not violent sex. Rape is violence. Rape is violence because it is force intended to hurt, damage, dehumanize, and kill someone. Rape is violence used to authorize and maintain power and control over another person. Rape is violence used to replicate an imbalance of power between the abuser and the abused. It does not happen in individual cases which require specific legal processes, campaigns, and organizations to condemn it. Instead, it keeps happening repeatedly, with a depiction of a familiar pattern of language, victims, and perpetrators. This means, therefore, there is something else that enables it to happen frequently. A social structure called patriarchy makes it happen constantly and it makes it acceptable for millions to get raped regularly.

Patriarchy is a violent social structure of control and domination that defines the roles, relations, behaviour and interactions of human beings at the disadvantage and subordination of women. It instructs society to treat women as though they are inferior, invincible, and relatively powerless. Rape is the violence of power in a patriarchal society targeted towards feminine people – females, children, old people, gay people etc. Rape enforces submission, punishes defiance, and reaffirms the powerlessness of feminine people. As a social structure in a patriarchal society, it subconsciously informs society that men are entitled to the appearance, bodies, opinions, attention, conversation, time, and decision-making of females.

Rape makes a man want the body of female whether it belongs to him not her. Masculinity assumes that when a female says no, she is playing hard to get. Thus, the male adopts a prerogative of repeatedly pushing her. Masculinity assumes that “women cannot say what they mean and they do not mean what they say”. In this context, because it is unpleasant to be forced to do anything, females develop a coping mechanism from fear to avoid being vulnerable to rape. Fear gets instilled on them. They become “alert” and always on the lookout to avoid attack. It becomes a matter of “keep yourself in check or else”. Professor Pumla Gqola, in her book “Rape: A South African Nightmare”, she terms this changing of behaviour from females to avoid rape occurrences as the ‘female fear factory’.


Rape occupied the center of colonialism and slavery. This is revealed in the form of the objectification of a Black female body as nothing more than a sexual body during apartheid colonialism. Sarah Bartmaan’s genitalia was auctioned in public as a form of entertainment in Europe during the colonial period. The white man saw a Black woman as something to exploit sexually. In the process of land invasions in South Africa, the frontier wars for land grabs included the raping of Black women by white colonisers.

History confirms that towards the end of apartheid, rape was prevalent towards Black women by both white men and Black men. However, due to the legal conditions of the time that did not favor females, no white man and no Black man was ever held accountable for raping a Black woman under apartheid colonialism. Professor Pumla Gqola asks “why would most white women raped by white men lay charges against them with police officers in a white supremacist patriarchal system that not only made white women minors themselves, but also constructed the cruel myth that white men could not rape? And what hope could Black women raped by white men have in an apartheid legal justice system?”.

Prof Gqola adds “given the constant active onslaught that apartheid was to Black life, police stations were not exactly a place we (as Black people) wanted to be anywhere near for any reason. In this context, many women felt that laying charges against Black men in such a system would render them complicit with the system. Here the choice was not a choice at all: handing over another Black person to a brutal racist state or placing your own vulnerability in the hands of a brutal racist state. This was not a state that invited confidence”.

In these contexts, society has been historically socialized to the idea that raping a Black woman has no consequences. Her body is most likely to be raped. It is safe to rape her. Violating her is inoffensive because she has no value. She has no citizenship rights to do anything about being raped. She is not a complete human being. This violent manufacturing of a rape contest towards her body has socialized the Black woman to accept the permanent presence of rape in her mist. It has developed the ‘female fear factory’ on her whereby she must always be attentive to evade rape. The ‘female fear factory’ makes her to act small, quiet, and invisible in society. It is a system of violence, a social force that excludes a Black female body from existence.

Mahmood Mamdani once argued that “the real import of (South Africa’s) transition to non-racial rule may turn out to be the fact that it will leave intact the structure of indirect rule”. I want to add that the sexual violation of a Black woman and stripping off her citizenship has filtered over to the democratic dispensation intact. In this context, Prof Gqola expresses that “in the immediate aftermath of April 1994, rape-charge statistics rose, not because rape increased in a new country, but because women felt more likely to be believed. We all believed that political power would make this possible, that freedom would mean that the police force and the criminal justice system would belong to us too”.

However, this proved not to be the case. The democratic judiciary, instead, is another patriarchal platform that exposes rape survivors to more danger instead of relief. In a court of law during a rape trial, the sex history of a female gets questioned to determine whether she has previous instances of “looking for sex”. This court process, particularly cross-examination, is patriarchal because its language is so flawed such that it can put sex and rape on the same category. Rape is not sex. Rape is not sex gone wrong. Rape is not violent sex. Rape is violence.

This judiciary process socializes rape victims to the idea that there is little hope in their violence meeting justice. This is another aspect that instigates the ‘female fear factory’ whereby females fear reporting rape cases because the judiciary will expose them to more humiliation than justice. Thus, they never exercise their right as citizens of having access to courts due to the structural restriction imposed by the ‘female fear factory’.


Patriarchy has deeply entrenched the handling of women in society as though they do not matter. It has subconsciously trained women to accept situations that yield their subjugation. Society has raised women to believe that the purpose of their bodies is to satisfy men sexually. They have been socialized to believe in the permanent presence of rape in their mist. In a patriarchal society, sexual violence becomes a lifestyle. It becomes a mutual way of doing things that is normalized. It becomes a culture. Hence, for women to survive in such a society, they must limit and navigate their movement in a psychological and physical manner.

This makes women unable to enjoy benefits of citizenship such as the freedom of movement; walking at midnight alone or walking through a taxi rank freely without experiencing fear, verbal insults, and belittling whistles. Masculinity is present in those spaces ready to discharge its patriarchal responsibilities of removing citizenship from a female body. Any act of resistance towards this normalized violent behaviour is regarded as “overreaction” and, therefore, “deviant”. In this context, females develop a fear of opposing the patriarchal society because they will be deemed “deviant”. As a coping mechanism, they fearfully navigate their movement, they psychologically and physically make themselves small, quiet, and invisible.

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