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.)

Trauma and violence have become the global school curriculum

Paballo Seane, 19, was buried recently: “Paballo Seane, 19, a Grade 12 pupil at Cefups Academy, which is on a farm 11km outside Nelspruit, died in hospital over a week ago after allegedly being sjambokked by a teacher. She was buried on Saturday in her home town, Bloemfontein, in the Free State.”

Since Paballo Seane died, or was killed, former students of the Cefups Academy have reported their memories of sjamboks as a fairly regular “pedagogical tool.” Parents are threatening to take their children out of the school, and Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza has said if corporal punishment was used, the academy will be closed.

Will it be closed?

This is not the first time Cefups Academy has run into precisely this trouble. In 1999, Simon Mkhatshwa, the school’s founder, was convicted for sjambokking a teacher.

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana, a graduate of Cefups Academy, describes Simon Mkhatshwa as a “typical traditional man who believed that what must happen at school was teaching and learning and nothing else”.

Is the sjambok teaching, learning, or nothing else?

The violence done to Paballo Seane in school by a staff member is no anomaly, neither in South Africa nor around the world.

Across the United States, schools use so-called seclusion rooms, which are solitary confinement cells. Teachers are not supposed to use the rooms for punishment, but they do regularly. More often than not, the children believe that their punishment was not apt and normal, because teachers are fair and just. And so they don’t tell their parents. Not surprisingly, the majority of children are living with disabilities.

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven? No longer.

And in India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights “has written to state government to make it mandatory for teachers to sign an undertaking against torture to students.” This is due to a spike over the last two years in complaints of torture of students by school staff.

Teachers need to sign a document that says they will not “undertake” the torture of students?

The gender dynamic of staff violence has yet to be studied conclusively. What is known is that the experience is traumatic, hurts deeply and lasts forever. Trauma and violence have become the global curriculum.

Last week, Kathleen Dey, of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, urged South Africans not to use Women’s Day, August 9, as an alibi for hiding from precisely violence against women. This week, on August 12, the world `celebrated’ International Youth Day. Think of that, and think of Paballo Seane dying under the lash of a sjambok. Think of the girls across South Africa, the United States, India and around the world who suffer violence in the one place that is meant to help precisely girls advance in this world and the next: school. Remember Paballo Seane and all the girls, and then do something.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, very different version 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.)

Sexual Offences Courts Matter, and Here’s Why

August is Women’s Month in South Africa, and so last week, to launch Women’s Month, and presumably `to honor’ women, two judges of the Pretoria High Court reduced to 20 years the life sentence of a man convicted of having repeatedly raped an 11-year-old girl, a girl he says he regarded as “a daughter.” The judges reduced the sentence because they determined that the 11-year-old girl “seemed to be a willing partner.”

What? What?!?

According to South African law, not to mention common sense, an eleven-year-old child is never a willing partner to anything. An eleven-year-old girl cannot give consent to sexual contact, and nobody gives consent to sexual violence. Period.

From start to finish, the decision is all wrong, and, yet again, one can only be outraged and, yet again, foment and rage and lament the betrayal. Or …

Or one can consider this abysmal case as the proof, if one were needed, that greater attention must be paid to serious investment in Sexual Offences Courts.

Alison Tilley began the week by asking, “Did you know we have only fifteen functioning sexual offences courts?” Last August, the Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offence Matters launched its Report on the Re-Establishment of Sexual Offences Courts. After a year of study, the task team issued a strong and clear report, with direct and clear recommendations: “In the final analysis, the report makes a clear finding that there is a need for the re-establishment of Sexual Offences Courts in South Africa … The Department must give priority to the immediate upgrading of the 57 regional courts that have been identified as being resourced closest to the Sexual Offences Court Model. This upgrading process must be done against available resources, and must commence in the 2013/2014 financial year.”

The original plan was to have 22 functioning courts by the end of 2013/2014 financial year. There are 15.

In South Africa, sexual offences courts began in 1993. By the end of 2005, there were 74 sexual offences courts. Little by little, the courts were closed because of “budget constraints.” The budgets weren’t `constrained.’ The legislators decided, with their wallets, that protection of the vulnerable just doesn’t matter all that much. It’s happened before, it’s happening again.

Last year, the discussion of Sexual Offences Courts was impelled by the torture of Anene Booysen. This year, perhaps, it will be moved by the judicial violence done to an eleven-year-old girl raped by a man who thought of her as “a daughter” and by a court, and court system, who didn’t think of her at all.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, slightly different version 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.)

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.)

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.)

Haunts: On outrage

I cannot write about Anene Booysen. Many others are, and are doing so eloquently. But I do wonder about outrage. The national response to the horrible violence against Anene Booysen has been described as outrage. When does outrage occur?

How many women and girls must suffer violence and abuse to cross the threshold of outrage? How many men must engage in violence and abuse before the horizon of outrage is breached?

I ask this because I don’t recall outrage being expressed when both the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children faced imminent closure last year. Yes, there were individuals and groups who jumped and organized, but there was no great surge of outrage at what would surely follow the simultaneous closure of the two most successful and most important resources in the Western Cape for those seeking help, support, community in the midst of suffering violence.

Remember, Rape Crisis is the oldest center of its kind in South Africa. In a recent two-year period, it served over 5000 rape survivors. And when it served the survivors, it served their loved and loving ones, their friends, their communities, and their neighborhoods. It served the whole of South Africa, one healing empowering person at a time.

Likewise, Saartjie Baartman has been working out of Manenberg to change the world by changing the area. The Centre, open for ten years, is a one-stop service shop: 24-hour shelter, short and medium residential care, childcare, counseling, legal advice, education and mentoring, and more.

Both Rape Crisis and Saartjie Baartman have played lead roles in research, advocacy, and mobilizing around women’s rights generally. They offer a place for women to hear their own voices, to have their voices heard, to have their voices joined and amplified, to have their voices translated into action.

Both Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children are indispensable, and not only for the women and children, and men, who come in looking for help. For the entire country and beyond. Who leapt to organize when the two, in one fell swoop, faced closure? The usual suspects. Not `the nation,’ not the State, nor was Twitter alight with outrage.

Along with protests and uprisings and expressions of outrage, all of which are terrifically important, let there be outrage for the condition of those people and organizations that have worked and are working now to change the world, to transform society, to create a place in which women and children and men can live in peace and joy. Support Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children. It’s never too late. Do it now.

Dan Moshenberg dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Violence against women is global, not regional

Friday, November 25, 2011, was International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the twelfth one since the United Nations 1999 resolution. November 25 is the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, a campaign which formally began November 25, 1991, twenty years ago.

Around the world, women and men are organizing events, workshops, vigils. Artists, such as Zanele Muholi, are articulating both the horror and the hope in their works and exhibitions. Activists and healers, like those of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, journey by bus to the homes and communities of their neighbors, near and distant, and engage in intensive discussions about sexual violence, about sexual freedom, about democracy.

Violence against women is global. It occurs everywhere and all the time. In households, in work places, in schools and hospitals, in police stations and prisons, in social movements, in political parties, in trade unions. Everywhere. All the time. The threat of violence against women is always already in the air. It’s an environmental hazard women face every day.

So, it is with some confusion that one notes the invitation by the Guardian, issued on November 25: “16 days of activism to stop global violence against women begins today. We want you to write for us about how change can be brought about in developing countries”.

Setting aside the division of the globe into “developing” and “developed”, the question remains, “Why?” Why “developing countries”? Do the Native women of the United States and Canada not count? Do the women of color, especially migrant and immigrant women, across Europe, Canada, the United States not count? Do all the women and girls across Europe, in the United States and Canada, who suffer, and organize to end and eliminate, domestic violence, do they not count?

The 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Violence emerged from a conversation among 23 women … from around the world. They spoke as a united group who recognized their differences and their shared experiences. They continue to do so. Violence against women is not a function of “under-development.” It doesn’t happen `over there’. It happens here … and here … and here … and here … and …

So, write to, and for, the Guardian, wherever you are. Share the news of the mixed things of organizing efforts, of the difficulties, successes, despondencies, joys. Make sure they find out that, when it comes to violence against women, the whole world is “developing.”

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Violence against women haunts independence

“After the revolution”. In Egypt and Tunisia, women who made the revolution, women who pushed Mubarak out, are now facing the struggle for more rights, autonomy, and physical safety. This should come as no surprise to the rest of the so-called independent world.

Yesterday, August 6, Jamaica celebrated 49 years of independence from the United Kingdom. There were celebrations. At the same time, sexual violence against girls is both increasing and intensifying.

Across the African continent, August is celebrated as Women’s Month. August was chosen to commemorate the August 9, 1956, women’s march in Pretoria, in protest of the infamous pass laws. The women chanted, shouted, screamed: “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!”. “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!”

That was 55 years ago. Today, the women are still being `touched’, and in the most violent ways. Across the nation, campaigns, such as the One in Nine Campaign, and organizations, such as the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, struggle to address and end violence agains women. Organizations such as Free Gender struggle to address and end violence against lesbian, and in particular Black lesbian, women. All of these women’s organizations, all of these women, all of these feminists, struggle to address and end the hatred that is rape.

In many places, such as in the United States, that hatred often takes the form of legislation. For example, in 2005 Wisconsin passed a law that barred access to hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery for prison inmates and others in state custody. Three transgender women prisoners, Andrea Fields, Jessica Davison, Vankemah Moaton, challenged the law, and this week, after six years, won their case in a federal appeals court.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, transgender women are hunted, attacked, often killed. For the crime of being transgender women. For the crime of being women.

What is independence? What is a revolution? Across the globe, women continue to struggle for the basics of independence, of autonomy. That begins with real recognition, that begins with the State as well as the citizenry and the population ensuring women’s safety. Women are not specters and are not promises to be met. Until women’s simple physical integrity is ensured, rather than promised, violence against women will continue to haunt independence.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com