An address delivered By Tembani Makata at the University of the Western Cape on the 10 the of August 2017.
The country celebrated women’s day on the 09th of August as a way of recognizing and appreciating the role played by women in the struggle for human dignity, liberty and total liberation. This is a particularly appropriate time to be studying the role of women 23 years after the new democratic breakthrough so that we can be able to respond positively to the promotion of gender diversity. The year 2017 is a landmark year in which we celebrate the massive Women’s March to the Union Buildings in Pretoria 61 years ago. Women throughout the country had put their names to petitions and thus indicated anger and frustration at having their freedom of movement restricted by the hated official passes. The bravery of these women (who risked official reprisals including arrest, detention and even bannings) is applauded here. So too are their organizational skills and their community-consciousness – they were tired of staying at home, powerless to make significant changes to a way of life that discriminated against them primarily because of their race, but also because of their class and their gender. It is this heroic march on the 09th of August 1956 to union buildings that later on was declared as a public holiday that we were celebrating yesterday.It is mischievous though to suggest that the goals of achieving a nonsexist society can be achieved in a single day as many want us to believe. I am disturbed and appalled by public comments that some amongst our comrades make that they are, “not happy with the victimization and harassment of females that happen on women’s day” as if men are allowed and authorized to abuse women on days that are not recognized as public holidays. In our own context in institutions of higher learning gender violence happen in different forms for example rape culture is a reality with which we must continue with the struggle to defeat it even beyond the 9th of August. Emilie Buchwald (1994) argued that, when society normalizes sexualized violence, it accepts and creates rape culture. It must be established either if universities created this phenomenon or it was inherited from societies. She (Buchwald) defined Rape culture as a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and endorses violence against women, where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from harassment, sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm and this has been the case in most of our institutions of higher learning over the years. The students at University of Cape Town (UCT) started a campaign last year against sexual violence and rape culture after incidents of rape
Emilie Buchwald (1994) argued that, when society normalizes sexualized violence, it accepts and creates rape culture. It must be established either if universities created this phenomenon or it was inherited from societies. She (Buchwald) defined Rape culture as a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and endorses violence against women, where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from harassment, sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm and this has been the case in most of our institutions of higher learning over the years. The students at University of Cape Town (UCT) started a campaign last year against sexual violence and rape culture after incidents of rape were reported both inside and outside near campus. In a rape culture, both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable which to me is not the case because nothing cannot be changed.
It is important to take a closer look at what characterises a patriarchal society so that we locate the struggle against rape culture taking place in universities and TVET colleges and in society at large. Gerda Lerner (1986) defined patriarchy as “the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in the society in general.” Patriarchy assumes that men hold power in all the important institutions of society including the church and universities and those women are deprived of access to such power. Patriarchy describes the society in which we live today, characterised by current and historic unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed to an extent of even raped like what is happening in institutions of higher learning. This takes place across almost every sphere of life but is particularly noticeable in women’s under-representation in key state institutions, in decision-making positions and in employment and industry. Male violence against women is also a key feature of patriarchy which this article is addressing and proposes solutions thereof.
The assault of two women by the deputy minister of higher education Mr. Mdu Manana is one such a disgusting incident that shows inhuman behaviour on the part of a cabinet representative. That assault case is not the only isolated case but the following comprises some of the incidents that show the extent to which rape culture is trending in our institutions of higher learning and something needs to be done about it.On the 29th of January 2015, Stellenbosch University experienced incidents of rape where female students became a victim and the university instituted a task team to investigate gender violence. In March 2015, a female student was gang raped at the University of Zululand. Other cases of rape were reported in 2012 at Mangosuthu University. The University of Fort Hare hosted the minister of social justice in May 2016 at which many female students spoke openly about how they experience sexual violence on campus. University of Cape Town students are voicing out against rape culture in their campus. Many other cases of students who get raped during social events by intruders who get access to their residences, most of these students do not report these cases because of fear of being blamed and patriarchal attitude that victims experience in such situations. In April 2016 Rhodes University students exposed a reference list of 11 people being culprits of rape in the campus. These are some of the reported incidents but they are many other sexual violence cases that remain unreported and again one would have to ask why many students do not report cases when they are raped. In 2017 cases of abduction of female students surfaced within the vicinity of our institutions. All these cases above challenge us to realize that the struggle against gender oppression is not nearing an end and we must soldier on.
South African Society is designed in such a way that people blame victims of sexual assault and normalized male sexual violence. It is amongst reasons why people do not report some of the incidents because it is becoming a culture. The medical research council report of 2008 showed that 1 in every 9 women who experience rape in South Africa report to police with a conviction rate of 6.2%.This means that few people who are accused of rape do not end up being found guilty. The rape adjudication and prosecution study in South Africa reported recently that people do not report cases of sexual violence. The Institute of Security studies reported that between 2014 and 2015 cases of rape dropped by 7%.This is an indication that women do not report to authorities when raped. This is because of some of the patriarchal thinking that males are meant to dominate and justify the abuse of females which in itself is a problem.Sexual assault, therefore, cannot be understood outside of an analysis of patriarchy’s ideology and defeating patriarchy is defeating the rape culture.
Some of the students who interacted with the South African students union recently reviewed that some of the incidents happen when people are drunk, some happen amongst those in a relationship or ex-girlfriends and whatever the scenario, whenever there is a forcible penetration without consent, such, is rape and it must be condemned.
I take courage and draw some inspiration from great women such as Ruth First, Lillian Ngoyi, Brigitte Mabandla, Mafikeng Elizabeth, Caesarina Kona Makhoere,Cecelia Makiwane, Nise Malange, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Adeline Mangcu, Anna Victoria Mangena and Miriam Makeba amongst others who took the front line role as our struggle heroines in fighting for freedom and fight against the abuse of women. This I do confidently because the suffering and the pain that females experience because of gender violence is unbearable. Victims of rape suffer psychological trauma and are at risk of being infected with HIV AIDS. In a patriarchal environment, the society blames the victim instead of the rapist hence sexual rape compromises the self-esteem of women and makes them lose a sense of belonging due to discrimination amongst their peers. Unwanted pregnancies can lead to unplanned abortions which in itself put the victims of rape at a risk of losing their lives. Some of the students who commit suicide are because of unwanted pregnancies but other even decide to take their lives because of the frustration of being raped. It becomes worse when a staff member or lecturers use their masculinity to rape a student and promising free marks so that these female students must remain quiet. How will that student look at that lecturer in class the following day? These are some of the far reaching negative effects of rape and sexual abuse which is a product of a patriarchal society.
The realities of gender inequality and abuse of women are well diagnosed but I am convinced that this problem is insurmountable and the following are some of the interventions that I am suggesting as a remedy. The first one amongst the proposed solution starts with changing government policies on sexual harassment to protect the victims. This will mean increasing the court sentences and strong punishment for the perpetrators of rape. Minister Mbalula must reinforce the presence of law enforcement agencies in all areas of human dwelling and gathering for easy arrest of rapists. Further to that, Universities and Colleges must tighten their internal security systems and campus controls so that when students are on campus they feel safe at home away from home. The second approach to these interventions is the liberation of the mind. The ideas in our heads affect the way we behave hence I would propose serious ideological debates and education for both men and women so that we create consciousness and change the mindset to know what is wrong and right. Man must be taught the possession of a penis is not a determinant of easy access to any women without agreed consent. Law enforcement agencies must take every case seriously and work with community policing forums to apprehend rapists. These rapists are so cruel, they destroy someone’s life in few minutes of soliciting underserved sexual favours and they deserve to rot in jail and such can only happen when police improve their efficiency in a prompt response.
Families are a moral fibre of any society and must also play a role to inculcate ethical and moral values of human dignity and respect for one another such that it becomes clear from the early-childhood that rape is cursed by every community and is therefore unacceptable. The government, private sector, church organizations and student activists must create platforms for dialogue with fellow students and the civil society. It is hard to imagine any meaningful efforts to reduce, and someday eliminate rape without talking openly and honestly about these matters hence all stakeholders, from student organisations, youth organizations, management, labour unions and the civil society join hands and collectively engage openly about these issues of rape culture and patriarchy.
Victims of rape mainly female students must also not keep quiet but report the cases so that they get help from the police and from the leadership. We draw inspiration from struggle heroines such as Mam Lillian Masediba Matabane Ngoyi “Mama Ngoyi”, (25 September 1911 – 13 March 1980), was a South African anti-apartheid activist. She was the first woman elected to the executive committee of the African National Congress, and helped launch the Women. Prior to becoming a machinist at a textile mill, where she was employed from 1945 to 1956 and became entered into trade union movement there, Ngoyi enrolled to become a nurse later on where she served her own community and the people of South Africa. Whilst we are inspired as a generation, we ought to take over the button from where the likes of Mam Ngoyi left and march forward with the revolution.
The question of gender is a question of transformation. It is the same as that of black economic empowerment. We cannot achieve it by having only good policies but we need practical man and women who have what it takes to appreciate that you have to favour the previously disadvantaged in order to realize a meaningful change of the status quo.Noreen Connell and Cassandra Wilson (1974) stated that “our ultimate goal is to eliminate sexual violence and that goal cannot be achieved without a revolutionary transformation of the entire society”. I agree with Noreen and Cassandra because all organs of society such as the church, community structures and professionals are equally important in addressing this matter. My contribution is totally against patriarchy and rape culture and people must never justify sexual violence by blaming victims because of how they dress up and so on. Either it is about power or sex but I am of the conviction that the culture of abusing women must be confronted from all the angles and rapists must be treated as counter-revolutionary culprits who are a disgrace in society. We must take bold steps in respecting the rights of gays and lesbians in society at the same time protecting the entire LGBTIQ society against discrimination. Revolutionary transformation of society requires many things including gender development to capacitate both genders. Females must take up leadership positions, participate in student activism and be involved in decision making about policies and rules that govern the relations between men and women. In conclusion, the subjudication, abuse and control of women by men are a reflection of patriarchy and up until we defeat patriarchal relations we will continue with the struggle to eliminate gender inequality even beyond the gazetted women’s day celebration.
Tembani Makata is the Secretary General of SASCO, the Deputy Secretary General of SAYC and an activist, she writes in her personal capacity.