Listening recently to the heart-wrenching stories of women and children who had suffered the worst abuses at the hands of men, made me realise that as a male figure, I too am implicated in these crimes.
These women told me and others of how their uncles, brothers, boyfriends, cousins, husbands and men known to the families force themselves on toddlers, the LGBTIQA+ community and pensioners. The scary testimonies of these brave women left me stone-cold in my seat at the recent 16 Days of Activism Symposium. The event had brought together under one roof the role players dealing with cases of rape, sexual assault, abused women and children, in order to find solutions to tackle head-on the slew of abuse we face.
Despite the numerous campaigns aiming to raise awareness about these gruesome occurrences, and aiming to educate men, there remain those men who continue to perpetrate unthinkable and heinous crimes against women. In doing so they have brought shame to the dignity and standing of all men.
I cannot escape feeling guilty and experiencing a sense of shame because of the crimes committed by my fellow country-men, which have caused untold suffering for defenceless infants and elderly women.
Edmund Burke, an Irish-born political theorist, author, philosopher and a former Member of British Parliament, once made a powerful statement in which he said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” A good man who witnesses and says nothing as his neighbour beats his wife to a pulp day in and day out, is an accessory to the very same crime. A good father who does not scold his son who swears at young girls in a playground is nurturing a future women-beater. A congregation that stifles the truth when a priest repeatedly molests young girls is a partaker in these horrible acts. It is on our conscience as good men to act when we witness the abuse. Keeping quiet makes us equally guilty.
The good men cannot afford to keep silent and do nothing in the face of large scale femicide in our country. The monster of apartheid wouldn’t have been overthrown if good men did not take a stand and do something.
It is unquestionable that the continuous sexual violations, killings and general abuse of women in this country, and most certainly in Johannesburg, have reached a crisis point.
A crisis of unimaginable and atrocious proportions has instilled fear and doubt in many of us, both men and women, about the future prospects for this country. No country can promise a better future for its citizens as long as the scourge of violence against women and children remains the order of the day.
The recent spate of sexual violence, abuse and killings of women speaks volumes about the challenge that lies before us. The cases I speak of have grabbed the media headlines and the public has watched these horror stories unfold in our courtrooms. Sometimes, we glimpse the face of a perpetrator; many times, these faces show a disturbing absence of guilt or remorse. Some of these high profile cases include: Valencia Farmer, who was 14 years old when she was brutally gang raped and murdered. She was stabbed 53 times. That was in 1999 and her killer was only sentenced for the crime 17 years later.
Sihle Sikoji was 19 years old and some men didn’t like the fact that she was a lesbian. So they stabbed her to death with a spear.
In May 2017, Karabo Mokoena became the latest face of South Africa’s gender-based violence epidemic. She was killed and her body burned beyond recognition, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend.
And of course, we cannot forget the brutal murder of Constable Frances Rasuge who was brutally murdered and buried in a shallow grave for years.
These women’s stories incite a flare-up of societal outrage, protest and collective introspection. These societal reactions create some sense that this time,something might change. But nothing does, in a country marked by unusually high levels of rape and femicide.
Beyond the marches and the hashtags such as #NotInMyName which were organised by some men earlier this year, we need to confront the crisis in every space. The silence of sexual violence, which often happens behind closed doors, has allowed this despicable crime to grow in size and defiance. We cannot afford to slack in our efforts – we need to confront it with all the might we have. Men must accept responsibility for the role they have played in creating an environment in which such abuse can occur, and worse, in which such abuse is normalised.
The battle against violence on women is a battle for the soul of this country, this City, and its people. It is a battle we must continue to wage on all fronts. We cannot despair. We must continue striving to find innovative means which will set us up for a new dawn in the struggle against gender-based violence.
Africa’s own son, the world icon and the defender of human rights, Nelson Mandela, once remarked “A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones.” This is one of the most famous quotes by the former statesman that should still resonate with us today. It is the statement that calls every good man to action in defence of the vulnerable members of our societies, including women, children, elderly women, sex-workers and the members of the LGBTIQA+ community. It is a call which we must heed.
Councillor Vasco da Gama is the Speaker of Council at the City of Johannesburg