South Africa lost a sporting hero last week. Kelly Khumalo lost a boyfriend – and it would seem we all hate her for this. Khumalo has spoken of how she was set to marry football star Senzo Meyiwa. Meyiwa’s wife, Mandisa Mkhize, has gone on record to admit that he had chosen Khumalo over her.
There was clearly a love between Meyiwa and Khumalo that flowed two ways. But this has not been accepted by his family, and society in general still seems to be against her.
Following Meyiwa’s death, Khumalo’s role as “the mistress” turned her into the villain in a tragic story. The nation disallowed her any form of dignity during this time, with many instead attacking her for being, among other things, an “adulterous witch”.
Every platform on which people could voice an opinion erupted with a mixture of grief and anger. Many attacked the grieving Khumalo for being Meyiwa’s girlfriend and labelled her a “home-wrecker” in a number of colourful ways. One tweet actually blamed her for his death – because being shot by robbers is what happens when you “mess in someone’s marriage”!
Some have gone as far as to try to implicate her in the murder because the alleged killer lives near her and is “known to the Khumalo family”.
The most startling attack, though, came from the father of the football star. He stated that the mother of Meyiwa’s child was not welcome at his funeral. If she had attended, he was quoted as saying, the family would be “waiting for her”.
The focus has been on Khumalo and her role as a seductress who ruined the fairytale that was to be Meyiwa’s life.
Although we are inclined not to speak ill of the dead, we can’t take the view that it was Meyiwa’s death that coats his role in the Khumalo relationship in silence. Even in life, his role as Khumalo’s boyfriend was downplayed.
When infidelity occurs, one often sees two women at loggerheads while the man gets the odd drink or shoe thrown in his direction. Usually he plays the role of the innocent bystander who somehow ended up with his pants around his ankles.
The reaction to Khumalo in the wake of Meyiwa’s death shows the ways in which society places the burden of sexual activity on women. Despite all the signs pointing to Meyiwa and Khumalo having a mutually engaging relationship, society has chosen to tear apart a woman who is grieving the loss of a lover and the father of her daughter because, according to the socially conservative view, she “stole away someone’s husband”.
I once had a conversation in which a man argued that “women are the primary culprits in the act of cheating”. According to this wisdom, if women simply said no to men they would not cheat – and all the world’s sociosexual problems would be solved.
I do understand that, as women, we are not always the best gatekeepers of the House of Fidelity. This is compounded by the fact that many women suffer from the “not enough good partners to go around” syndrome.
Yet the problem cannot be placed only on the shoulders of women, because men are thinking, logical creatures with free will. Or so we are told. Men are seldom blamed for their extramural sexual exploits.
The idea that women’s sexuality wields this uncontrollable force that people are unable to escape leads to a dual brutalisation of the female body. Either a man simply takes what he wants sexually because “hey, I couldn’t help it” or he seeks to punish and control female sexuality. It becomes something that needs to be reined in – otherwise the world could fall into an adulterous mess of orgies and fetishes. It is a slippery slope into sexual savagery. Blaming women for sexual immorality is not a novel idea. It’s so old, it’s biblical.
Still, the savagery that comes with it needs to be highlighted. The attack on Khumalo – as well as every other woman who has been “the other woman” – shows that women are still fundamentally blamed for sexual misconduct.
This then excuses the ways in which men interact with women, whether negatively or positively. If a man hits on you, whistles at you or rapes you, it is not his fault because “men cannot control themselves and women should be better gatekeepers”. But not every woman has used her feminine wiles to steal a man or visited her local sangoma for a love potion. We have to see that women are not balls of sexual energy to be tamed or sexual hypnotists who should take the blame for men’s actions.
Kagure Mugo is the co-founder of HOLAAfrica! – holaafrica.org