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In a country plagued by violence and murder, we never get used to these senseless acts. The number of headlines we see daily have not yet managed to rob us of the ability to empathise with strangers who have had things done to them that not even an animal would do. This is how we know we are not yet dead inside. We know we are still human amid the inhumanity we see in the media.
Last week we were reading and talking about rape. We were revolted by it. We marched against it. We even wore black in protest. We were all consumed by it. Despite this, we read and heard of new rapes, as if the rapists were set on challenging the defiant mood of the nation. Last week I mentioned in this publication that we would soon get over it and obsesses over something else. Like clockwork, we have. “Our outrage works in momentary bursts, spurred on by the media which will jump on to something else as soon as something else comes up,” I wrote. Yet there is nothing that different we are talking about this week, if the allegations against Oscar Pistorius are proved to be true by a court of law. The subject remains the same: violence against women.
It was on a day of love, Valentine’s Day, that the murder of Reeva Steenkamp allegedly took place. Reports say it all happened inside the home of the man she loved – a man who overcame mind-blowing obstacles to become a global superstar. Respected abroad and feared at home. It’s something which sounds all too familiar for many women. Their men are respected members of their communities who simultaneously strike terror at home. It is incredible then that some women fear the men they know best the most and probably feel safer around strangers. Most rapes and assaults are by men known to the women.
Not all men are violent. Not all men beat up women. Nor do all men act as though women are possessions they are entitled to. There are many men who love women and treat them as equals worthy of respect.
The contradiction that our women live in is that where they should feel safest is where you feel most unsafe. He who should protect you, makes you live in fear. He who should love and be gentle with you, supposedly loves yet violates you, at times all in the space of a day. The irony is not lost that Reeva died on Valentine’s Day at the hand of her lover, if the reports are accurate.
In his book, In Cold Blood, Truman Capote wrote about the subject of his book, a murderer: “You are strong, but there is a flaw in your strength, and unless you learn to control it the flaw will prove stronger than your strength and defeat you. The flaw? Explosive emotional reaction out of all proportion to the occasion.”
He could have been writing about the terror some men unleash on women. The infliction of violence is completely disproportionate – and violence is often out of proportion.
The strong become weak when they cannot control themselves. The weakness becomes even more apparent when one shows himself to be be an angel to the outside world, yet is a demon at home. Having physical strength alone does not make one strong. This is the greatest mistake some men make.
The women we claim to love are not safe from the men who declare their love for them. If women are sceptical and suspicious around men, I understand. We have given them too much reason to be fearful. It’s not all men, but I would rather my sisters approach every relationship with caution.