Comment and Analysis

As long as we exist, we will be raped

Sisonke Msimang

Anene Booysen's rape will happen again. She was raped and mutilated because she was a girl, and they wanted to destroy her, writes Sisonke Msimang.

17-year-old Anene Booysen was gang raped, mutilated and left for dead. (Gallo)

I read an article on Thursday morning. It said: "The victim had been sliced open from her stomach to her genitals and dumped." The radio is full of this story. Full of politicians and posers, trying to outdo one another. Like funeral criers. But it will end, the show. And there will be marches and petitions. There will be statements and rage. But it will happen again. Until we are inured to shock. It will happen again. Until our bones are worn into dust and our teeth crushed into the sand. It will happen and happen. Until we invent a way to stop being women. Until we find a way for our blood to no longer bleed between our legs. As long as we exist, we will be raped.

So, no, I will not march. I don't believe my marching will stop this war. I will cry, as I have been already this morning. And maybe, I will begin to feel my way out of the lurching, heavy knowing after I have spoken with others. With the mothers and the sisters, the brothers and fathers – those like me, who have girls.

There is only this: a dead, hollow knowing that has always been knocking at my heart. From the minute she was born, it fell in step with the rhythm of my breath: to raise a girl in this world, to raise her strong and healthy and proud, to ensure that she survives and then to insist ferociously that she laugh and dance and think and dream, is to choose the most heartbreaking and joyous path. It is to tempt fate every single day, it is to fear that her breath will be strangled by a stranger. It is to live with the horrible possibility that this could be your child.

Anene was raped and mutilated because she was a girl. It was her vagina and her breasts that they wanted to destroy. It was her walk and her talk. It was her girl-ness. These parts of her were broken and sliced and pulled apart, not by monsters, but by friends. Each of her 10 fingers were broken.

Ten fingers and 10 toes. I kiss my baby girl goodnight. Ten fingers and 10 toes, I counted them when she was born just to be sure that she was real. I found love in the spaces between each. I cried at the weight of her. Tiny and strong.

Tonight, I will kiss her neck in the bath and she will wiggle away from me. 'Stop it Mama', and I will pinch her wet bum and she will sparkle. Tonight, she will be safe. But they will not stop killing girls.

And I will die defending her. Let them wear my bones into dust. Let them crush my teeth into the sand. Only this will stop the war. That we be prepared to die – our bodies barricades against the fingers that should not be there. The knives that slit. The guns that lodge. Let them lodge in me. In us.

Anene's mother said that if she hadn't seen her shoes, she wouldn't have known that it was her own child. Her intestines? Her intestines.

God help us. And if God will not, Let the women be the barricades. The men, surely will follow.

Sisonke Msimang writes and comments on gender, race and politics. She works with Sonke Gender Justice Network, and is a Yale World Fellow.

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