There is a war and rape is the weapon

After almost 4 years and 23 delays, the 7 men who gang raped Buyisiwe in October 2005 have finally been found guilty and sentenced to between 17 and 20 years. Four years is a long time to wait for justice to be served. So how is this 4 year wait for justice supposed to encourage women who have been raped to come forward? The emotional and mental anguish of Buyisiwe, her family and supporters must be huge and exhausting. The trial of Eudy Simelane’s murderers has been equally fraught with delay upon delay and even now the outcome remains unclear. The whole legal system from police to the judiciary stand as obstacles to women reporting rape and getting rape convictions. This quote from an IPS article “Law Failing Lesbians on “Corrective Rape” by Nathalie Rosa Bucher explains….

“Police are often remiss in their investigation and victims are often subjected to secondary victimisation from homophobic police officials, the justice system is slow, struggles to cope with cases of gang attacks and it is hard to convince prosecutors of the importance of hate as a motivation for crimes,” Emily Craven, Joint Working Group co-ordinator explains. …..Continue reading the whole article

One in 4 South African men have admitted to rape and half of those admitted to more than one rape – meaning their are millions of rapists walking and driving the streets. 36,190 rapes and attempted rapes were reported in 2007. A 2005 study from the Medical Research Council (MRC) on sexual violence report that only one out of every nine rape survivors report the attack to the police and even when cases do reach the courts, there is a less than 5% conviction rate – meaning there are 9 times 36,000 rapes and attempted rapes every year, nearly half million. A recent brief conversation with a young SA man is a wake call for mass education. He was convinced that many women were in fact seducing men and then accusing them of rape. And whilst there are many women speaking and writing against the hate and violence directed at women particular Black lesbians, I still do not hear the voices of men. Why are men particularly those in the progressive activist community not breaking the silence on violence against women? By not doing so they themselves become complicit in hate and rape.

The MRC report urged a much broader approach to rape prevention. “This must entail intervening on the key drivers of the problem which include ideas of masculinity, predicted on marked gender hierarchy and sexual entitlement of men,” it reads.

This question by the defense lawyer cross examining a women survivor of rape testifies to the lack of education, lack of will by the judicial system to address the endemic violence against women.

AN ADVOCATE who asked a rape victim in the Bhisho High Court if she had enjoyed her ordeal has sparked national outrage…….The court had heard that three teenagers broke into the woman’s home, assaulted and tied up her husband, covered her two children with blankets and then took turns raping her…….
Advocate Mzwakhe Miso put the question to the victim, a 43- year-old Dimbaza woman, last week during the trial of Khotso Matloporo, 18, Sivuyile July, 19, and Siyawandisa Mbovane, 18, who were subsequently convicted of raping her ………….

Would the “national” outrage have been the same if the woman was a young Black lesbian speaking of class, gender and sexuality in the suffocating homophobia.. The laws and those who make them contradict the realities on the ground. Speaking on the campaign to “raise awareness and demand justice”, Emily Craven, Joint Working Group co-ordinator explains…

“These cases [Simelane, Buyisiwe, Zolizwa Nkonyana, Masooa and Sigaza ] certainly have given momentum to our cause and they are very important to us not just in terms of getting justice for the victims involved – though this is of course a huge priority – but also in terms of setting some legal precedents around hate crime and hate motivation for crime and to send a strong message to the population that no matter how much you may hate gay people you will not get away with assaulting, raping, murdering LGBTI people,” Craven states.

While opinions and commentary are still being written about Caster Semenya, young lesbian sports players who are regularly harassed, beaten, raped and brutalised are never recognised. The South African leaders, who have reduced Semenya’s experience to racism conveniently ignoring gender, sexism and class, have not come out to condemn the murder of lesbian soccer player Eudy Simelane. People talk of bravery and heroines. Are not the young women who come out proudly as lesbians, creating their own language and culture heroines of our time too? Are these women, who survive rape and often as a result, contract HIV or become pregnant, have abortions, risk their lives, not worthy of being recognised, supported, provided with money for education and job training? President Zuma and Julius Malema [for whom this is much more of an opportunity to rant about whites and racism “do you see any whites here today ” than to respectfully honour Caster.] welcome Caster Semenya but do WE remember Khewzi who remains in exile?

Do WE remember the lesbian soccer teams, women with hopes and dreams who use their sport to speak out against homophobia and xenophobia? Do WE remember the women in the rural areas or women in the informal settlements – insecure and vulnerable to fire and all the elements? Do We not see that hierarchies of women are being formed before our very eyes by those who remain silent? This is not to in any way criticize Caster Semenya herself who has conducted herself with dignity throughout – even if she had not won the gold she would still be a heroine. It is questioning the response of the media, ANC feminists who are in positions of power, academics, activists who have voices, towards Semenya and then towards other women in South Africa. The Issues of women are complicated but the issues of lesbians are much deeper not least of all because you cannot even read about them. They exist in the margins of consciousness, in some invisible space known and seen only to themselves and the predator rapists of course. We cannot take one case and obliterate everyone else.

“There is no awareness around hate crimes and corrective rape,” activist Ndumie Funda insists. “We need a programme of action, we need intervention and research, a budget to find out the problems lesbian women encounter.”

With the numbers ranging from between 36,000 and 100,000 how many rape survivors do you expect to come across in 6 month let alone in a lifetime. And lets not forget that there are class borders in the war against women. Communities of women who are more vulnerable to rape and murder than others. Women in townships and informal settlements, women in rural areas, lesbian women and not forgetting that we all have mothers, families!

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