By Jaime Uranovsky
South Africa has a long history of gender-based and sexual violence.
The brutal rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, while particularly heinous, is not the first or second or thousandth time that a woman has been dehumanised and it will not be the last. Read the latest headlines: the alleged condemnation of the masses was not enough to stop the murders and the rapists from adding more women’s names to the victim pile on the very day that we swarmed the streets around parliament. The crux is that these crimes are not trends, though it is tempting for men in particular to view them that way.
I’m not prepared to blame Cyril Ramaphosa. Realistically, how is one man supposed to announce a solution for years of systemic violence against women? And the answer does not lie in the death penalty or in castration. The death penalty has been shown not to be a deterrent for such crime. Moreover, to regift the state with the power to extinguish a human life given this country’s history would be regressive to say the least, and castration would not strip any man of the ability to violate a woman.
It is not only the government’s problem to stop violence against women. (Granted, the fact that our previous president was a rapist did not help matters) Contrary to popular belief, it is not women’s problem either. Rape and femicide cannot be curbed by giving women free self-defence classes or free pepper-spray, or by policing how women dress or where they go or how they speak, or by inventing a nail polish that changes colour when your finger is dipped in your drink to check if your beverage has been spiked.
What I am about to say is not novel and it is not mine, but it is a fact: society places the onus on women to protect themselves and it has been happening for too long. Women in the passive voice. Women being preyed upon by some nefarious, amorphous entity. The sentence structure needs to be rearranged: we need to talk in the active voice with a subject and the subject is men. Men rape women and men murder women. There is no other way to look at it. And if a man takes offense at this, we (because, again, I am not the first to think this) suggest that this offense be redirected to the rape rates and the murder rates in this country. Take offense at those.
Many have felt powerless and helpless, not just over the past week but over decades, over lifespans. As women, we are taught to fear, to calculate our every move, to predict the unpredictable. So, when men scroll through endless social media posts about women’s pain and anger, they need to understand that they are able to scroll past the content and that will be the end of it.
We cannot keep scrolling past, what men read for a few seconds encompasses our continuous lived realities. In a few weeks when the newspapers start reporting on something else what is going to have changed? Women will continue to carry what we felt long before Nene’s tragic death and the deaths and violations of millions of other women and children before her. We are told that we are not safe in our homes, with our male friends, with our partners, outside, in clubs, alone, in cars, on the street, in post offices, in bathrooms, at school, at tertiary-education institutions, at work. Where are we safe?
Too often, men use a distancing effect. Women should fear the male intruder: we must lock down our campuses so that ‘strange men’ cannot come in; we must construct fortresses so that thieves and criminals and rapists do not gain entry. But it is not just the intruder. It is not just the potential predator in the post office or the van driving by filled with men ready to abduct.
Men who catcall, shut down, disrespect, mock, objectify, interrupt, grope, who inappropriately touch, molest, violate, rape and murder walk among us. They are not a sinister shadow in an alleyway. They are that as well, but overwhelmingly they are what we thought we could label as friend, partner, family member or colleague. They are you and your sons unless you teach them to respect women: not because they exist in relation to men as sisters, mothers, wives, girlfriends, nieces, granddaughters and aunts. But because women, like men, are people.
Gender-based violence is a men’s issue. Take offence, call out your friends and your family members. The solution is not through women talking to each other, although this unity is beautiful and healing. The solution lies with men: to take a stand and to hold each other accountable. It is a shift in the way many men conceptualise women.
And it is the only way that anything is ever going to change.
To download a PDF of the Chronicle for October, click here
To read the editor’s column this month, titled ‘Why we need more difficult females’ click here
To read the most read story online in September, click here