/ 19 October 2017

Singer Jennifer Ferguson breaks 24-year silence on rape

Jennifer Ferguson.
Jennifer Ferguson.

Jennifer Ferguson, a singer and former ANC Member of Parliament (MP) has accused an acclaimed sport administrator, who is also an anti-apartheid struggle veteran and former politician, of rape.

On Facebook and blog posts, Ferguson, who is based in Sweden, detailed her ordeal which reportedly happened 24 years ago at a hotel in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. She had recently been nominated to Parliament as an MP and “was invited to sing at a dinner hosted by leading South African sports bodies and representative officials”.

Ferguson says that when she left after the performance, the alleged perpetrator “struck up a conversation” with her and she found him to be “pleasant and entertaining”.

“I accepted his invitation to join him for a drink at the bar, but said I needed to go up to my suite and change from my performance dress. He joined me in the lift and said he would wait for me. I felt a little uneasy as he entered my suite, but beckoned him into the lounge and asked him to wait there while I changed.”

In a disturbing account, Ferguson writes that: “I entered my bedroom, closed the door and began to change. A few minutes later the door opened and he entered and without a word grabbed me and forced me onto the bed from behind. He overpowered me and painfully raped me. It must have been over in about 20 seconds although it felt like a lifetime. He left immediately without saying a word.”

Afterwards, Ferguson said that she took time to process what happened.

Going to police was “intolerable”
Ferguson never opened a case against the rape accused because “the thought of going to the police felt intolerable”.

In an article on health journalism site Bhekisisa called Rape and (in)justice: 340 guilty verdicts from 3952 cases, statistics show that “a rape survivor in South Africa who summons up the courage to report the crime to the police has less than a one in 10 chance of seeing the perpetrator convicted”.

To be precise: “in only 8.6% of such cases will there be a guilty verdict.” It is this information and victim’s experiences of re-victimisation and shame that discourages them reporting assault to the police.

In Ferguson’s case, both her and her alleged rapist were MP’s and she would come to “see him at many political gatherings thereafter, in the corridors of the Parliament, in our caucus” where he “would never meet me in the eye” and would disappear as soon as possible, she said.

Ferguson wrote that the she now felt empowered to speak out on her alleged rape to encourage other rape victims to not feel shame or guilt.

“It has been hard to come out with the truth because somewhere there is a template of shame and wrongdoing, a thought that it was my ‘fault’. Survivors of abuse do not need to feel any shame, anymore.We are not to blame. We are not guilty of anything.”

It was the #MeToo social media campaign that inspired her to speak out, she said. #MeToo was started by actress Alyssa Milano in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual harassment emerging against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

The hashtag took on a life of its own when Milano tweeted: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” and women across the world started using it to reveal that they, too, had faced sexual violence and harassment.

Following an outpouring of support and messages of “I believe you” from friends and family on social media, Ferguson posted: “Thank you for the enormous expressions of support I have received. I think there are more women out there who have had a similar experience with this man. Please inbox me. This blog post will serve as a public statement.”

The M&G has tried to contact the alleged perpetrator who Ferguson publicly named but all attempts to reach him or the organisation he heads for comment have been unsuccessful.

The M&G is also aware that other publications have named the alleged perpetrator but this has not been done in this article because the Criminal Procedures Act forbids a person accused of rape from being publicly named until they have pleaded to a charge.