Rape: The violence of silence

To quote Indian writer Arundhati Roy in her book of essays, The Algebra of Infinite Justice: “To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty in its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.”

“To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgarity of life around you.” I am starting to think that we may be getting used to what we should never ever get used to. An article appeared in the Star on Wednesday suggested that a racist incident had stirred up more outrage on the net than the filmed rape of a teenager.

It was not the first time we had heard of a rape recorded on video. We have to start wondering if this has become some kind of a sport, that people believe they can share.

Over the past few weeks, whenever I have turned on the international news, I have been faced with a rape story from South Africa. This began soon after the aforementioned horror caught on film. If we talk about the problem — and solve it — our narrative on this issue won’t be dictated to by outsiders.

What does the violation of our women say about us, as South African men? It is true that it’s not the majority who are responsible for these acts, but we cannot remain silent simply because we say we are not responsible. We cannot condemn in silence. Our silence speaks, but it does not say what we want it to say, nor does it represent the emotions, rage and shame we might feel.

There is an African proverb which says: “Silence cannot be misquoted.” It might not be misquoted but it can be misinterpreted. In this case our silence may not be seen as support, but as indifference. Men need to speak out. And not just speak out: We must put ourselves in positions from which we may teach younger men what it truly means to be a man.

We all have mothers. Some have sisters, female cousins, lovers, wives and female friends too. Others have daughters. We need to see every woman as being just as close to us as they are; no woman should befall the kind of unspeakable violence that vile men visit upon them. There is no context within which this violence can be tolerated.

Yes, we have to start unpacking such abhorrent behaviour, to understand why it happens. But, at the same time, we must make sure that it stops.

All senior male public officials must address the issue. I can understand why there would be a great fear among public officials to do so: it would look like there is a rape epidemic in the country, which would make the country seem even an even worse to do business in. Anything bad that happens in an African country gets magnified many times over when others tell our stories.

But at the same time we have to own our problems. When we own them, we solve them. This is why when our leaders remain silent about it, they appear to be admitting that it is too big for us to handle. It is too intimidating and beyond our capacity.

No. To echo Roy, we must “never look away”. Every minister, ANC official and every single man in this country should speak out against it.

Perhaps we are raising damaged men? Damaged men damage women. And if we have damaged women, we have a damaged nation.

Then we must raise a nation of strong men, who know that acts of violence against women are not a sign of strength but weakness. We must infect the nation with a gentle strength.

We must raise men who are worthy of our daughters and sisters. We need to heal fast, and leadership must blaze the trail.

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