Kenny Kunene: SA's most offensive man?

'Sushi King' Kenny Kunene.(Gallo)

'Sushi King' Kenny Kunene.(Gallo)

"Sushi King" Kunene sparked an outrage on Twitter on Monday after he tweeted that he was a "victim of gang rape and loved it".

The comments are particularly unsettling given the frequency with which gang rape occurs in South Africa, and the lack of justice for many of its victims.

In February, 12 men were arrested for allegedly gang raping a woman near Carletonville, Gauteng.

And just last week a police officer in Khayelitsha, Cape Town was gang raped by three men in her home shortly after going off duty.

Only a few of these stories make the news and pass without much public notice, despite the national outcry and international media attention garnered by the gang rape and murder of teenager Anene Booysen in early February.

Jen Thorpe, editor of FeministsSA said that the problems with Kunene’s comments were two-fold.

“He’s seriously belittling the experiences of rape survivors, especially gang-rape survivors, by making it seem as if it’s something enjoyable and pleasurable, when in fact the whole definition of rape is that it's not voluntary,” she said.

“What he’s talking about is not rape. Rape is penetration without consent and it is clearly defined in the Sexual Offences Act.”

'Problematic views'
Thorpe said Kunene’s comments were extremely problematic and served to reinforce powerful myths about rape that exist in South Africa, like the idea that the way a woman dresses is an excuse for rape.

“Many people have a lot of problematic views about women’s bodies, sexuality, and what rape is. They need to be called out on it and people need to tell them why what they’re saying is wrong,” she said.

Kunene has had a busy few days in the press. Last week he appeared on SABC’s 3Talk with Noleen, along with five of his 15 girlfriends, to talk about their relationship.

On Saturday, he was a guest on a Metro FM radio show and told host Phat Joe that he had had sex with his students while working as a teacher and that some of the girls had been younger than 16.

If true, this would make him guilty of statutory rape according to the law. But he later retracted the comment, saying that some of the girls were older than him.

Good role models
On Monday Kunene lashed out at the Democratic Alliance’s caucus leader Mmusi Mmaimane after he published a column in the Sowetan decrying the lack of good role models for young South Africans.

In the column, Mmaimane said that while self-made individuals should be celebrated, they bore a responsibility to promote constructive values.

“If I were ever to meet Kenny, I would want him to realise the significance of his influence on young people,” he wrote.

“The level of exposure he receives comes with responsibility. It's tragic that he would use his high profile to promote such destructive behaviour.”

Kunene appears not to have gotten the message though. He responded to Mmaimane’s column with a tweet that was widely interpreted as being an incitement to rape Mmaimane’s wife.

An unfazed Mmaimane tweeted a short and measured response: “You've just proven my point, thank you.”

When people began to point out that Kunene’s comments appeared to be an incitement to rape, he backtracked, saying that he hadn’t threatened rape, only that “if you don’t satisfy [her] sexually we’ll do it for [you].”

Understanding masculinity
Thorpe said Kunene’s understanding of masculinity – as shown by the exchange as well as his recent media appearances – was also problematic.

“For Kunene, masculinity is about sexual prowess and taking from other men,” she said, adding that the understanding of masculinity as being characterised by violence and domination was a problem in South Africa across social and cultural groups.

Pumla Gqola, writing in the City Press at the weekend, also raised this issue, well before the controversial rape comments came to pass.

“Are these young women simply adornments, a 'collection' that allows him to signal to society, and to other men, that he is still here, wealthy, sexy and powerful?” she asked.

Mbuyiselo Botha, spokesperson for Sonke Gender Justice, said Kunene’s comments about gang rape were “toxic”.

“This statement reduces the seriousness of rape as a non-issue; it trivialises rape,” he said.

"South Africans should be outraged. These comments do not be represent the values this country seeks to uphold – to respect women, their bodies and their fundamental human rights.”

'Ask questions'
Botha asked: “Language is powerful, that’s why I wish people would raise their voices and ask questions. Where is the Council of Gender Equality, where is the Human Rights Commission when people like Kenny Kunene say things like this?”

Sonke Gender Justice famously dragged former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema to court over his comments at a 2009 pre-election campaign, during President Jacob Zuma's rape trial, where he said: “When a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money.”

He was ordered to apologise and pay a fine, which he finally did two years after the incident and 15 months after a judge ruled against him.

Despite the lengthy delay, Botha maintains that the court process was worth it because it brought the issue of the casual denigration of women to national attention.

Rape survivor and rights activist Michelle Solomon, however, was more skeptical on the subject of legal action.

“Laying a complaint against him would just bring him more notoriety. I don’t know if the Human Rights Commission or even the Equality Court could be able to do anything about something like this,” she said.

“I think it’s important that we condemn what he said but I think taking further action against him will just make him more notorious,” she said.

Solomon said Kunene had made his reputation from eating sushi off women’s bodies and that he thrived on notoriety. Instead of trying to convince Kunene to change his ways, she said, it might be more constructive to engage in dialogue with people who support his views.

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live. Read more from Faranaaz Parker


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