The lady’s not for burning

The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court is a battle of ideas and behaviour; a battle against, not of, violence Mail & Guardian reviewers examine meaning and myth in Mmatshilo Motsei’s The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court

wen Ansell About 55 000 rapes were reported in South Africa in 2005/06, along with close to 10 000 indecent assaults. Many of the latter may also have been rapes: of men, or with bottles, knives or guns — prevailing legal definitions did not permit the “rape” label for those. If you are part of the majority population (according to Statistics South Africa, 51% of us are female), South Africa is a dangerous place to live.

Just how dangerous, was highlighted by events inside and outside the court where one particularly well-publicised rape case was heard in March last year. Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, deputy president of the ANC and former deputy president of the country, was on trial for the rape of a young woman identified as “Khwezi”. The court acquitted him. But, throughout the trial, mobs of supporters, many of them bussed in from Zuma’s base in rural KwaZulu-Natal, menaced the complainant, her family, legal team and supporters. Their chant — reproduced on a particularly ill-judged Sowetan front page that the photo-burning mobs then brandished as a placard — was “Burn the bitch!”

Women and men picketing for a fair trial faced a barrage of abuse. It sometimes seemed as if every passing hand was making gestures of throat-slitting or pistol-firing in their direction. The verbal and ideological violence continued long after the verdict. (Rapes, of course, had never stopped.) Calls for South Africa’s next president to be a woman met such gender-specific vitriol that Thenjiwe Mtintso, South African ambassador to Cuba, coined the term vrou-gevaar (women peril), in parallel to the swart-gevaar (black peril) psychosis infecting the supporters of apartheid.

The Zuma trial let loose the stink of some odious aspects of life. But it also highlighted a still-unsecured front in our liberation war: the struggle for gender equality. And if “Burn the bitch” was the literary expression of the enemy, Mmatshilo Motsei’s book sounds the clarion call back to battle.

It’s a battle of ideas and behaviour; a battle against, not of, violence. In 200 meticulously researched and passionately (but also wittily) written pages, Motsei examines the gender images and self-images men and women create and hold, where these images come from, and how they are expressed in behaviour.

Though the Zuma trial is the anchor for her argument, she considers many broader issues, including patriarchy in religion and popular culture, and the impact of globalisation and militarisation. She debunks — tragic that it must be done so repeatedly — the myth that women “ask for it”. And she kills the canard that African cultures are inherently sexist, drawing on authorities to the contrary from gender studies academic Molara Ogundipe to traditional healer Credo Mutwa and veteran Alexandra community leader Drake Koka.

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  • It is very difficult to question the reporting of rape in the country without appearing as if one is condoning the sexual violation of dignity of women, indeed of family dignity and integrity. However, too much facile statistics that are not given proper balance by reporters find their way into mass consumption via the mass media.

    Indeed, sometimes I do think that there should be strigent conditions of reporting around rape. For it would be apparent that rape, unlike murder or robbery, there often is no immediate appearance of the crime. It takes an expert like doctors and lawyers and judges to establish the credible evidence of criminal act of rape having taken place. So for reporters unskilled in law, medicine and jurisprudence it seems presumptuous to circualte unvalidated allegations around rape. Even the police are on the same foot as reporters when it comes to rape, or indeed any criminal act – that is why it has to go to court to prove the culpability of lack of thereof.

    The stats on rape quoted by Gewn Ansell, the respected arts journalist, which are normally also cited by women lobby groups are raw, untested stats, that is, these are mere cases reported with the police at police stations i.e. it is not rape acts that have been proven in court. I haven’t personally seen stats on rape convictions from the justice ministry, perhaps it would be better if we compell the justice ministry to9 relase convictioin stats on all types of cases rather than relying on cases reported with the police that were still to go to court. However, one women lobby group member, who was speaking on rape cases around the same time that then ANC Deputy President Jacob Zuma was trial for alleged rape, was quoted on Independent Newspapers saying that there is 7% conviction rate on rape cases.

    Now this should give anyone with any reasonable modicum of scepticism and reasonableness pause for thought: 7% convinction rate! That means 93% of all reported rape cases are priven false and non-existent. It should give anyone some cause for scepticism whenever someone screams rape. The proper and sensible thing to do is to wait until the matter goes to court. 93% failure rate of conviction of rape cases is by any description showing that rape cry maybe another hue and cry. There is not even, according to this reported quote, some middle ground of conviction.

    So it would be proper when citing statistics shwoing that there is about 140 rapes per day reported with police (SAPS Crime Statistics 2007), something in the region of 50 000 last year (2007), then to qualify such reporting with conviction Justice rate of 7% or any that obtains that particular year. Otherwise, one is apt to think that this reporting around rape is not meant to inform so that society takes proper action but to cause alarm and serve certain agendas of women lobby groups, deliberate tarnishing of South African society and the country itself.

  • I read some of the posts and I think it is a great place! Are you encouraging my gigantic classroom Good joke 🙂 What goes black and white, black and white, black and white, boom? A nun falling down the stairs.