Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Rape? Looks more like genocide

We have become accustomed to talking about violence. But, for many, it is real.

South Africa is layered with contradictions. On the one hand, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community forms part of the progressive movement and the "rainbow nation" that is South Africa today. On the other, the right to sexual and gender identity is often challenged. Those who transgress the boundaries often get punished in the most gruesome way. Among black South African lesbian women, you are considered lucky to escape rape – even murder – before your 30th birthday.

We live in a state of loss. A sense of losing youth, hope and the future. The feeling almost makes you numb to the experience of life. It blinds you to possibilities and opportunities. You walk, sleep, drive and mostly gamble with its imminence. It follows you. You calculate the chance of it approaching you violently. You respond by minimising the risks. Your movements change to dodge its strike. Then it hits you unexpectedly.

Most of the time, you are all alone. No one is there to hear you cry. When someone is there, they soon become a victim. They can't respond for fear of it happening to them.

Stoned to death

Such was the fate of Zoliswa Nkonyane. She was barely 20 when her peers stoned her to death in a township outside Cape Town. Her father watched from a distance, not knowing it was his daughter being murdered. No one cried "Stop!"

The lone pedestrian who tried to end the violence knew it would turn on him. The nine men arrested for Nkonyane's murder were from her township. They killed her because she was a tomboy and a lesbian. They said she "wanted to get raped".

Phumeza Nkolonzi's murderer followed her into her family home. In the bedroom, with her aged grandmother and five-year-old cousin watching, he shot her three times. The first shot he fired, her grandmother said, was to silence them. The second was aimed at Phumeza. She asked: "Ndikwenzeni? [What have I done to you]?"

The murderer responded with a third shot that sent her to the ground, splattering her blood on the walls, the bed, her grandmother and cousin. The neighbours heard her grandmother’s screams, but were too scared to leave their homes to help. They watched from their curtained windows as the murderer roamed around the street.

Phumeza was known to everyone in the community as a humble and respectful tomboy, whose best friends were all boys her age; she died two years after her 20th birthday.

The list keeps growing. Who would remember Zoliswa, Phumeza, and many like them? They were not famous. Their names do not ring bells worldwide. But some of us do remember them. We cannot forget them because we know that, like them, we could be next, for the choices we make, the life we want to live, and the love we want to express.

Language

The use of terms such as "corrective rape" to describe the violence wreaked on black women is highly problematic. When we name rape so, we do more harm than good to black lesbians.

By using such language, we become complicit in silencing the resistance black women have shown. Their lives as black women and black lesbians remain in the domain of inhumane experiences violence, torture and humiliation.

I beg us to return us to the question of what makes us human. The many forms of violence in our country highlight the fact that many in South Africa are not yet human. The conditions in which we live – racial, class, gender and sexual inequalities and injustice – need to be challenged every day.

We must refuse to have a generation wiped out before the age of 30, a generation that ends just as it begins to taste freedom and democracy. Rather, we must ensure that, when that generation passes, it has at least tasted what it means to be fully human.

Zethu Matebeni is a faculty member at the University of Cape Town’s Institute for Humanities in Africa. This is an edited version of her keynote address to the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies Transformation Conversation on ending gender-based violence.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

The South African Bone Marrow Registry celebrates 30 years of...

‘It’s not drilling into bones!’: Misconceptions keep donors away, says SABMR, but a match outside of a patient’s family is a needle in a haystack

R500-million Covid-19 Gauteng hospital contract was irregularly awarded — SIU

The bank accounts of Pro Service Consulting and Thenga Holdings have been frozen

More top stories

Almost 2 000 South Africans step up to report corruption

The most-reported crimes range from extortion and abuse of authority to Covid-19 related graft, according to a new report by Corruption Watch

Nersa approves Karpowership generation licences

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse has questioned why Nersa has not immediately provided its reasons for issuing the controversial generation licences

With its industrial base decimated, SA’s economy needs real change...

Speaking at a book launch on Tuesday, the finance minister said a focus on manufacturing is critical to stem the country’s deepening unemployment crisis

Defence team cagey about Zuma’s health after state advised he...

The former president was absent from court, but his counsel argued that health matters be left aside, so as to hear his case for the removal of Billy Downer
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×