Gift Makau was laid to rest today

I have struggled to sit down and write about the rape, torture and murder of Gift Makau in Ventersdorp last Friday for days now. The mix of ugly and disturbing emotions that battle within me for expression is something to be avoided. I hate the grief, pain and anger I feel and how they permeate my days. How to say what needs to be said? How to find words, the right words?

Even after almost twenty years of working in the field of sexual violence and violence against women I still have little or no idea why men rape. So often people ask this question both in formal and in informal conversations. Why? I sidestep the answer, I dance around it, I avoid the standard rhetoric and the psychological theories. None of them do it for me. None of them give an explanation that would lead to a solution, a cure, a correction. Rehabilitation of sex offenders is a contentious issue with many believing that it is seldom successful. Certainly our rape rates in South Africa indicate that nothing is slowing this problem down.

To make it a problem of men or to cast women continuously in the passive light of victim is not an answer that I like. Sex is something that happens between men and women. Rape is something that happens between men and women. What is that “between” space? What happens there? The same thing happens between two women or between two men having sex. It is not the province of one gender or one kind of sexual act. It is a like a continuous ongoing conversation of enormous complexity. We bring ourselves, or parts of ourselves, to that conversation and it continues to compel us all. We have to begin to talk about what happens between us. To find the words, the right words.

In the end I decided to address my words to the man that raped and killed Gift Makau. At Rape Crisis we never comment about the motives of the perpetrator of rape. We never claim to know what he is thinking or feeling or what drives him. When journalists or researchers ask us we always refer them to an expert from an organisation that works with offenders. For once I want to break that rule.

To the man that killed Gift Makau: “How lost are you to your own humanity? What made you like that, what shaped you? What choices, if any, did you make that lead you down this path? Could you even answer these questions? What makes you think that you can change something that is not a personal choice? As if you could change your race? Or the fact that your mother gave birth to you? Or the placement of your internal organs in your body? These are facts of your identity. Just as being a lesbian was a fact of her identity. You can never change that fact.

“Just as you can never change the fact that she has sisters and brothers. All across South Africa and all around the world she has sisters and brothers that rage, and sorrow and mourn for her. We will fight this fight to make you know, just as you know your own name, that she is who she was and always will be. There are many, many more like her who will live lives of strength and courage and integrity and never stop asserting their right to do so even in the face of acts such as yours.”

 

((This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, under different title, can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

 

 

(Photo Credit: Inkanyiso.org)

Hiding behind Women’s Day. Again.

I remember as a child going with my mother to register our domestic worker for a pass book. Two women and a child going to a place far from home to wait in a queue to deal with men behind counters who told us what to do and who represented a violent system. This would have been in the early 1970s, almost 15 years after women protested the pass laws in their march to the Union Buildings in 1956. Now we have a day to celebrate those women and everyone seems to have forgotten that protesting against structural violence was what their march was all about. This is what we should never forget: that we were a country that deliberately oppressed people, restricting their movements and keeping them from their own power.

Today the oppression of women and of poor women in particular continues. We may not be able to say that it is entrenched in our laws the way the apartheid system was but I worry that Women’s Day actually becomes a way to forget, to hide from and to obscure the very real issues that we face today. In an atmosphere of celebration it seems wrong to stand up like the evil fairy at the princess’s birthday party and say, “We are not free.” To invade the corporate pamper day and say, “Our rape statistics are some of the highest in the world. This needs to change.” To stand on the platform at the ceremony to honour women’s achievements and say, “What have we not achieved?”

One of the effects of this watering down of the real issues is that the public forget about the individuals, organisations and communities that do deal with the reality of rape and violence against women every day. Everyone wishes the ugly problem would simply go away. Let’s not taint the celebration with doom and gloom. Also of course, let’s not leave men out. I’ve heard so many people say, “Why don’t we have a Men’s Day?” as though this were the commercial opportunity of Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. And then there is the lure of the dream, “Let’s find the solution to this scourge and move forward.” I would like to find that solution. I fear it may just be a dream.

At the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust we are certainly not in the business of chasing dreams. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the people. We don’t have the money. What we do have are a group of extraordinarily committed women who work every day to make sure that change happens. The change that one woman makes when she comes out of a counselling session and says to herself, “It was not my fault. I did not deserve this.” She sees that she can heal. Or the change that a group of peer educators make when they stand in front of the assembled teachers and learners of their school and say, “Don’t be ashamed to report rape. You were not to blame even if you were wearing a short skirt on that day. A skirt is not an invitation to commit a crime.” They see that they can change the hearts and minds of others. Or the change that a government makes when it drafts a law that says it will empower the victims of crime with information, with counselling, with a proper tracking system for cases in the justice system and with joint planning between government departments to ensure well coordinated, cost effective services. It sees that it can provide a deterrent.

Women’s Day is a day to commemorate. To remember and to show respect. This need not be without celebration but that celebration should include an action that gives tribute and that ties the past to the present in service of the future. Otherwise it is just another holiday or an opportunity to commodify women. Join us as we march from St George’s Cathedral to the Artscape Theatre on Saturday 9 August 2014 at 9.30am but don’t let it stop there. Take your #mydoekselfie every Friday and share it with your friends on Facebook but don’t let it stop there. Make your own extraordinary commitment. It is not for me to say what that should be but let it be something that moves you, something that allows you to change. To change in a way that frees you and a woman that you know. Something that makes her feel safer, more respected, better supported and more free to make her own choices and decisions. Don’t hide. Speak out. Make just one change.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

(Photo Credit: Rape Crisis)

Be a leader in your community this Women’s Day

This week’s news of the rape of a four-month-old baby and a seven-year-old boy in the same household has left the community of Ceres reeling in shock. These rapes form part of a litany of abuse and violence against women and children in South Africa that just doesn’t seem to stop.

Victims, families and communities are reaching out for support in the immediate crisis and for healing over the longer term so that they can stitch their lives back together again. While services are available in some of the bigger cities and towns across the country, in towns like Ceres there is no specialised Rape Crisis organisation. Victim support will be limited to general welfare services and lay people who volunteer at the local police station.

How can this be the case 47 years after 20 000 women marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria in order to claim their rights to move freely in their society without harassment? Women activists and organisations have been working ever since to try and create safe spaces for women in our communities. At organisations like Rape Crisis we can truly say that survivors of rape leave our counselling programmes with a sense that they have recovered from their trauma with more confidence in themselves, with a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, feeling more in control, with closer relationships and more willingness to be open to new experiences.

The extent of rape in 2013 is enormous and incidents are becoming increasingly violent in nature. In this context why is there such a dearth of services to victims? Rape Crisis was threatened with closure a year ago and was in part pulled back from the brink by the incredible support and generosity of our community of supporters who gave generously of their time and money and in part by the amazing dedication of our staff who worked alongside volunteers with no pay. Yet we are still not meeting the need in the Western Cape. In part this is because provincial government has so seriously underestimated the problem of rape in their situational analysis and have therefore failed to allocate adequate resources.

Many people feel overwhelmed and helpless. Community members are calling out for NGOs “to be everywhere”. This Women’s Day Rape Crisis will celebrate by launching a rape information portal on MXit so that wherever you are in the country you have the information you need at your fingertips if someone has raped you or someone close to you. In this way Rape Crisis is finding creative an innovative ways to extend our services to women in poor and rural areas.

At the end of the day NGOs are simply groups of concerned people that have come together to find a way to support survivors in their communities and to try and talk about violence against women in order to try and bring the voice of the victim of rape to the leaders of our country so that they will again have to listen to the demands of women and respond in a meaningful way. In order for this to happen, people have to do what they did for Rape Crisis. Step forward. Talk about the problem. Donate time. Donate resources.

In past Women’s Days we looked for leaders to step up and respond with purpose and resolve. This Women’s Day we are calling on ordinary men and women to become the extraordinary leaders that the women of 1956 were in their day and ask them to do what they can, where they are, with what they have.

(This was originally posted at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Blog. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the workers at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. Do consider joining their 1000Hearts Campaign and donate now.)

(Photo Credit: Rape Crisis)