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Violence against women is our problem and we must fix it

A demonstrator stands on Oxford Street before the march that demanded justice for Akhona Geveza, the South African naval trainee who was killed at sea. Her death is an example of the way most of the world turns a blind eye to violence against women.

By Shamin Chibba

It was cold inside Lindiwe’s* zinc shack. The chilly September winds were unrelenting. The 54-year-old single woman had been living in Ndlovini, an informal settlement in Peddie, for more than a decade. The shack was dark inside and it smelt of urine. Beside me was Thabisa Bobo, Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre’s public educator. She asked me to accompany her and write about Lindiwe’s harrowing rape ordeal at the hands of a teenage boy. She wanted me to publish it on Masimanyane’s website.

Lindiwe braced herself before she spoke.

“Two years ago, in 2010, this boy knocked at the door,” she said. “I asked, ‘who are you? I’m not going to open.’ He said, ‘If you don’t open, I’ll kick the door down,’ which he did. I could see he was young. Maybe he was seventeen or eighteen. I tried to escape but it was all in vain. He threw me on the bed and raped me from behind while I still had my panty on. He was singing while raping me. He threatened to kill me with an ‘isabile’, a dagger so I just let him do what he wanted. He raped me until the sun came up. After he was done, he made me wipe myself with a damp cloth. Then he left. I didn’t even know the boy. I was so scared.

“A few months later, in the morning, the boy came and raped me until I was bleeding down there. After he was finished, he said he had to leave for work and that he would return. It was only then he told me his name was Mpumi*. He returned at nine o’clock at night. He was drunk. He knew I was bleeding and hurting but raped me again. He refused to use a condom.

“After he left, I did not see him for more than a year. I was told that he was arrested for raping another woman and was put in jail. But in June 2012, I saw him walk through my door. He said that he knew people believed he was in jail. But they were only rumours. He had been away for work, he said. He raped me from behind. He raped me two more times before I went to report him to the police. A policewoman tended to me. She was a constable and she had a gold tooth.”
Lindiwe pointed to the front of her upper row of teeth.

“The constable took me to a separate room in the police station and said to me that no case could be opened because I did not have proof. She said that I would have to go back home and wait for the boy to rape me again. Once he did, I should return to the police with semen samples as proof of the rape. I won’t forget what she told me. She said I must not fight the boy. I must not scream either. I must lie still and take it. That way he would not enjoy it. I felt helpless. If the police were not willing to help me, who would? I went to a doctor and social worker and even they agreed with the constable.

“I feel helpless. I don’t have anyone to turn to. I can’t even walk properly because it pains too much down there.”

Systematic violation of women’s human rights by the state

Lindiwe’s case is not the first of its kind in South Africa. Countless women in in the country have suffered the same fate. And still, the government chooses to do nothing about it.

This is what gender activists call systematic violation of women’s human rights by state agents. Bobo said Lindiwe’s situation was not only a violation but an offence against the country’s Constitution.

According to the Bill of Rights, the state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of all its citizens; none of which the government is upholding, Bobo believes.

“These systematic violations undermine all efforts towards achieving gender equality,” she said.

Bobo became emotional while listening to Lindiwe’s story. “I started thinking about my child, me, and even my parents, and I asked, ‘What would we do if we were in their situation?’”

Violation of women a political dilemma

According to the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) crime statistics 68, 332 sexual related offences were reported in 2010. Yet, it is estimated that approximately 500,000 incidents go unreported. Foster said when figures are this high, it is indicative of a political problem. “When it affects a large section of society it means the state is failing to protect its people.”

She said impunity is a major cause of violence against women. “State actors do not follow due diligence and the letter of the law. Impunity extends from the state to the individual.”

Foster added that the lack of a comprehensive national prevention strategy allows state agents to continue to be negligent.

She implied the state’s systematic violation of human rights is deliberate because of the political economy that exists within the country. She said men benefit from this economy, which is directly attached to violence against women. Having women live in constant fear places men in a position of power. This starts at our top leadership, which colludes with the political economy. “[The leaders] do not have an interest in seeing women free of violence and discrimination,” said Foster. “There is no political will to change the situation.”

In October 2012, Foster addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York to urge states to respond to the global increase in violence against women. In her speech, Foster said that it had reached epidemic levels in most nations and that states and civil society were doing very little to reduce it. "Violence against women appears to be everywhere and on every agenda but on careful consideration and analysis, it is really nowhere."

She stated that it was time for governments to take responsibility to curb the situation. One solution she offered was that states should repoliticise violence against women.
"States and civil society have taken the politics out of violence against women and treat it only as a social phenomenon, which it clearly is not."

Bobo’s reason for the existence of systematic violation is the government’s inability to be proactive. She said this was confirmed by the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) after it reviewed the country’s shadow report last year.

Cedaw said that the state is reactive when it comes to discrimination. It added: “The committee is concerned that such violence appears to be socially normalised, legitimised and accompanied by a culture of silence and impunity”.

Foster’s solution

Foster published a blistering op-ed in the April 25th edition of The Star. In it she said that though government agents are at fault, they are not the only ones to blame. She argued that society should hold itself responsible for the high numbers of rape. Through our apathy, we have allowed criminals to have free reign over our women. In the report, Foster states:

“Today, the horrific forms of discrimination that strip women and girls of their dignity in the daily slaughter of bodily integrity, mental torture, physical pain and humiliation that comes with rape…merely result in sporadic acts of collective outrage from the population. We are mostly desensitised to gender-based violence in our society…This stirs up the emotions, has government agencies scurrying to condemn it, then peters out and is forgotten before the next report. Gender-based violence takes place because all of us let it happen.”

Foster also implied that we as citizens have to fight the scourge of violence against women ourselves. We cannot rely on governments who are too tentative to deal with the matter. We are the ones who allow violence against women to happen and therefore we have to fix it. I believe the first steps to eradication starts at home and in the schools.

Lindiwe’s fate

One month after my visit to Lindiwe, I learnt that she had died from multiple wounds inflicted by Mpumi. Taking the policewoman’s advice, Lindiwe returned to her home and waited for the boy. When he entered through her door, he attacked her. This time, it was fatal.

She lied still and let him have his way with her. The officer’s words, “Do not be aggressive or defensive,” echoed through her mind during the ordeal.

She could have been saved had there been more than one ambulance servicing Peddie. The paramedics were transporting patients to Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane, which is 100 kilometres away Peddie, in her time of need.

*The name has been changed.

- Shamin Chibba is a freelance journalist and director of Seer Media. He has been content editor for a number of NGOs including Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Learn more »

A placard that was used at the Akhona Geveza march. The young trainee's death at sea sparked outrage amongst women's rights activists in South Africa. Geveza's death is an example of how violence against women is blatantly ignored.
Demonstrators marched down Oxford Street in East London, demanding justice for the killing of naval trainee, Akhona Geveza. Her death is an example of the way most of the world turns a blind eye to violence against women.

Comments

lydiagcallano's picture

I can't understand!

I cannot understand some things about this story and similar stories from Africa. Let me enumerate them:

1. How could Lindiwe been raped several times? Was she living alone? Did she not have any neighbors nearby who could have saved her from the rapist?

2. How could a female constable advise Lindiwe to keep quiet and let more rapes happen?

3. How could a medical professional (the doctor) agree to this constable's advice? Could she/he not understand the physical pain, mental torture, and consequences of rape? Is rape and its effects not taught in medical schools in Africa?

4. How about the social worker? Why did she (i surmise it was a female) also agree with the constable? Was her reaction to the situation a mere reflection of defeatism/resignation among government agencies just because rape, violence and related issues are already deep and widespread?

5. Why the 68,332 rape cases? What is in the mind of African males that make them desire sex frequently? Is it the physiologic make up of their brain? Or is it because SEX has settled and calcified in their psyche such that African males do it without much thinking?

Can somebody please offer possible explanations? Meanwhile, I will research on the sexuality and mental state of African males.

Ma. Lydia G. Callano
Iloilo, Philippines
+63 33 3158137 or 5138830

Shamin's picture

Thanks for you comment,

Thanks for you comment, Lydia.

I had a similar reaction to yours when I first heard of this story. After writing this particular piece for World Pulse, I decided to delve even further into the story. And what came out is startling. I have come across so much information I have decided to turn it into a book.

I don't think I'm able to answer all of your questions here, but this is what I have learnt after digging deeper.

Lindiwe lives in a settlement that is cluttered with shacks. So to me, I was amazed that none of her neighbours heard her cries for help. What I was told, though, was that Lindiwe was threatened with a dagger and told not to scream throughout her ordeal. So she remained silent throughout the rape. Apparently, the rapist threatened three other women into silence when he raped them. Two of them, senior citizens aged 75 and 81, died from attacks.

I spoke to a warrant officer about the constable's handling of the case. The officer believes that perhaps the constable judged the woman by way of her approach and decided not to take the case seriously. Reason for this is because the police receive many cases where women make up stories as a vendetta against cheating boyfriends and husbands.

As for the final question, I would ask that you be careful when using the term African males. The problem is with South African males specifically and not males from other parts of Africa. When I say South African male, it could mean a man from any of the four major racial groups, namely Black, White, Indian and Coloured (mulatto).
Again, I did some research into the psyche of the South African male so I could get to the root of the problem. What I found was that South Africa suffers from fatherlessness. It is widely known that many males, particularly Black males, grew up without fathers for various reasons. Some may have died while others were cowardly and abandoned their children. However, what is often neglected is the fact that a large number of Black fathers in the past, say between 1950-1990, left home to work as miners in the Transvaal. Therefore many families did not have a male figurehead. Boys, in particular, did not grow up with father figures. One must consider that the father in the dozen South African cultures that exist today play a vital role in rearing his son. For instance, father guide their sons during the initiation process into adulthood. Without the father around, or at least a father figure, the boy will be lost.

There is a lot more to this than I am able to explain here and at present, I'm still learning more about this phenomena. I hope you get an idea of what is happening here.

Best,

Shamin

gaurav.nakhare's picture

Dearest Shamin, Thank-you for

Dearest Shamin,

Thank-you for sharing this - it paints a vivid picture of how real and intense situations like these are. I wish you the very best in your attempts to raise awareness.

Best,

Gaurav Nakhare
WP Listener

Shamin's picture

Thanks

Hi Gaurav,

Thanks for your well wishes. I appreciate it. I'm writing a book on this particular story. And with the gang-rape incident in India, I have been spurred on even further to make this social sickness known. I want my story to be a mirror to society.

Best,

Shamin.

lydiagcallano's picture

Clarified

Thank you very much for providing answers to my questions. I deeply appreciate the information and am humbled by the lessons.

I realize now that I am empathizing with the boys esp. in South Africa because they are growing up without fathers. However, the fathers could not be blamed altogether. As you have explained, they have to work elsewhere. Still, interventions should have been done to prevent the long absence of fathers in the family. This a a humongous and deep seated issue but it could be reversed over time as long as all the stakeholders are willing to act and do their part.

Again, a million thanks for the clarifications. As you scour for more answers, you will discover more questions and then more answers. This process will enable you to complete the book you are writing. I wish you the best!

Ma. Lydia G. Callano
Iloilo, Philippines
+63 33 3158137 or 5138830

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