What I learnt from my rapist brother

Ring the bell against rape: That is the message being sounded on International Women's Day this year. (David Harrison, M&G)

Ring the bell against rape: That is the message being sounded on International Women's Day this year. (David Harrison, M&G)

My brother negotiated with the police to evade imprisonment by paying for the broken sunglasses of the woman he had violated.

The police agreed to this sordid arrangement, something I grapple with to this day. Why would they do this? I had expected the police to break the cycle of entitlement and impunity that exists in regard to sexual violence against women but instead they endorsed and promoted it.

My brother approached me to pay for those sunglasses. I vehemently declined. Had I been part of buying the rape survivor’s silence, I would have been part of the culture of silence.

At that stage I had only one child – my son. I was revolted by my brother’s proposal because of the injustice of commodifying this woman whose dignity had been violated. Rape is never about sex. It is always about the domination of women by men - and that is precisely what my brother did 30 years ago.

Someone from my community paid for those sunglasses and the rape survivor, because of her socioeconomic status, agreed to the arrangement. She felt that involvement in such a criminal case would result in her losing her job – an untenable consequence for a single parent raising four children.

My brother called me a wimp, a lesser man, a useless brother, someone who does not respect the old adage that “blood is thicker than water” and that “brothers stick together”. He called me names because I did not show my support and endorse his perverted notion of what it means to be a man.

But to this day I am happy with the action I took. Little did I know then just how far that incident would go in defining the man I am today: a man who rejects violence and its attendant consequences.

This personal experience has continued to haunt me in the 20 years that I have been an activist against gender-based violence and for life-enhancing, positive masculinities. It would be unfair for me to assume that I understand the pain and the humiliation a rape survivor experiences following such a heinous act. Any crime is a violation of personal space and is traumatic, even more so when it is destructive. The rape of a woman, the violation and destruction of not only her personal space but her actual body, is repugnant. It is violation of her dignity.

My stance against buying a woman’s silence 30 years ago remains my stance today. That is why I will be joining the Ring the Bell campaign on March 8, International Women’s Day.

Survivors of sexual violence should be heard and this is what the campaign is about. It is a global initiative to stop violence against women. This campaign asks us - and men in particular - not to look the other way, not to fold our arms, not to say “it is not my business or my concern, other people will act for me”, when we see and hear violence occur.

Men need to take the lead in talking to other men about the toxic nature of the silence about violence against women and its debilitating effects on society at large. To “ring the bell” says that I, as an individual and as a man, will actively mobilise and galvanise other men to stand against the sexual violation of women.

I will ring the bell whenever and wherever I see the violation ?of women. I will make it my business to ring the bell, not only because I have a mother, sisters, a wife, sons and daughters, but because violence is wrong. I stand and will continue to stand against sexual violence because it happens in my community and because it is my concern.

On International Women’s Day, I implore men in our country to join others around the world to ring the bell, both literally and figuratively, in their place of worship, their workplace, their school or university, and on the streets.

Be part of the growing number of men who say “no more!”

Mbuyiselo Botha is the media and government relations manager at Sonke Gender Justice



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