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.)