by Apr 17, 2013Magazine

Black Noise is a new column that features young black writers dedicated to critiquing and undermining racism, sexism and economic exploitation in South Africa and beyond.

protestbyjeannehefezI can’t even imagine the terror Anene must have felt on that construction site. The details of her rape and stabbing were so horrifying that newspapers thought twice about publishing them. Her murder, and others like it, terrifies me because they say, ‘In our society, we act as if it is normal to kill, rape, torture, and disfigure anyone who angers, frightens, frustrates, or ignores us’.

In the wake of her murder, our national dialogue has been characterised by a consensus that rape is endemic in South Africa. To label a social practice ‘endemic’ means we’re admitting that it is common. It means we agree that it is common for our brothers, fathers and sons to hurt women, and sometimes other men. It does not surprise us anymore when women are raped and murdered. It surprises us only when they are disembowelled in the process. The monstrous has become mundane and only spectacular cruelty now moves us to act. Anene’s murder was spectacularly cruel.

Consider the recent headlines that did not cause the same kind of outrage as Anene’s murder. We read these reports, coffee in hand, and merely turned the page. We did not process these acts as cruelty that worthy of collective outrage. No mass protests for these women and children:

‘Granny’s rapist falls asleep in her bed’: On 8 February 2012 a newspaper reported that a 20-year-old man raped his 69-year-old neighbour, who is ‘half blind’ and ‘hearing impaired’. The woman was sleeping in the same rondawel as her 12-year-old grandson when the rape occurred. After being assaulted, she ran out of the rondawel. The next morning she was found sleeping outside and the rapist was found sleeping in her bed. The report does not mention whether the child was found in the rondawel with the rapist.

‘Man beheads wife for muti’ A 13 February report describes how a 15-year-old boy saw his father cutting off his mother’s head. The boy ran out of the house to ask for help. His father claimed that he wanted to use his mother’s head to ‘create muti to make him rich’. Other children were present in the home when the murder happened.

‘Uncle held for girl’s abduction, rape’: On 14 February it was reported that a 12-year old girl was kidnapped by her uncle on her way to school and had been missing for four days. During this time she was held captive by her uncle and ‘repeatedly’ raped.

How can we accept that we live like this? How can we expect our children to be kind and loving when they regularly witness the people they love and admire violating each other?

Every day children see men catcalling or groping women against their will, or commenting on their appearance. They hear men telling women who disagree with them to shut up, or that they are crazy. Children see women who, because they fear being beaten, avoid confronting these abusive men who treat them like objects to be controlled and enjoyed. They see policemen laughing at, ignoring, blaming, or chastising women who seek their help after they have been physically, financially or emotionally abused by men. In their homes and neighbourhoods, children see that men with money and influence more easily enjoy the affections and bodies of women with less money and influence than them. Sometimes children don’t only see these behaviours; they experience them.

Sometimes children even act this way themselves because this, we teach them, is what being a grown up means: Take what you want by force. If you want her to do what you say, buy her – give her money or threaten to take it away. Shame her in public – that way she will learn to do as you say without talking back.

This violence isn’t just limited to bad behaviour by misogynistic men. If, through dumb luck, South African children are not assaulted, it is almost certain that most of them will become adults who are controlled by bosses who desire the right to unilaterally decide when workers should wake up to travel to work, how late they should go home, when they should rest, how much they should be paid, or when they should lose their job. Recent strikes in the agricultural and mining sectors have illustrated that so-called ‘born frees’ still see their parents’ dignity undermined by employers who curse at them; who hire men that shoot at and beat their parents; who pay their parents wages that leave them struggling to pay for healthy food, electricity, water, clothes, toiletries, or school fees.

In South Africa, this abusive behaviour is tolerated because work is scarce, social assistance is minimal, and because our government is increasingly using violence to silence the rage and frustration with which unemployed and working people express their demands for a better life. It is a society in which powerful people and institutions use money and violence to control people who will not submit to their will – and often do so with the de facto support of a state that is supposed to protect the dignity of those who are the most vulnerable. It has become more and more common for the government to treat people as ‘things’ that can be beaten into submission when they question its assumptions about what they are ‘entitled’ to – especially when they voice these questions loudly and insistently.

I don’t think we should cheapen Anene’s death by reducing it to a story that is only used to sell newspapers, decorate t-shirts or, for those of us lucky enough to be employed, to create an extended lunch hour where we march against violence. To be a society of equals means that we do not simply speak about how bad the violence is and move on. It means that we must, together and alone, act to question the legitimacy of the ideas (like sexism and racism), institutions (like patriarchy and violence), and social relations (like exploitative labour relations) that dehumanise us.

Lauren Paremoer is a member of the Rita Edwards Branch of the New Women’s Movement and teaches in the Political Studies Department at the University of Cape Town. Email for submissions. 

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