“I was blaming myself, thinking that if it hadn’t been for me, these girls wouldn’t be there. I felt responsible and I wanted to take all the pain so that they wouldn’t touch the girls.”
This is how the model agency owner responded as the horror of the Krugersdorp gang-rapes started. She offered herself to the assailants hoping that the gang would not rape the models under her care.
They ignored her pleas and continued the assault. Is there a more devastating and debilitating incident for a country?
As devastating as it is to be aware of the violence the victims experienced and the struggle of the survivor that follows, that this episode was possible represents a deeply disturbing scene of the struggle for the soul of our nation.
It is a scene that threatens to leave us hopeless and begs the question; will we ever be able to overcome the ghosts of our past and the agonies of our present?
It offers little solace to see more than 80 illegal immigrants arrested in relation to the incident, because the arrests are based firstly on them being suspected members of the illegal Zama Zama mining gangs.
While one must reasonably note that the Zama Zamas are a very real and persistent problem and illegal mining activities are closely related to illegal immigration, the arrests do not at first glance address this incident, nor speak to the deep trauma of rape that South Africa faces.
Yes, this incident is yet another display of the known evil of rape that torments our society. However, in her telling of the trauma, the owner of the model agency reveals a second and even more damning reality: namely that the scale of the problem of rape is such that it is left to the women, the victim, the survivor, to face her aggressor alone.
She is left to fend for herself, even to the extent that she must offer herself to the gang in the place of her sisters. I would argue that this is the measure of our commitment to heal a nation: our success in building a broad and well engaged citizens project to eradicate rape and gender-based violence.
A citizen project that shows she is not alone in her struggle, but that it is all of ours together. Does this mean the focus on illegal immigrants and quick action against Zama Zamas in response to the Krugersdorp rapes do not qualify as a measure of success?
No. Surely the arrests represent a clear commitment of the security forces to safeguard our people? But the emphasis that news reports regarding the incident place on illegal immigration by implication frames the problem of rape as one not of our own making.
It unwittingly puts the blame on those from elsewhere for the rape and for ghosts that haunt our soul.
This means that how the storyline of the Krugersdorp rapes develop, it reveals a triple violence of rape: the violent act itself; the continuing violence of the memory the victims must carry; and, the violence of her isolation.
And yet, whereas these layers of violence threaten our soul with hopelessness, the trauma also reveals an opposite.
When a brave woman in her own words tells of the courage to protest, hope rises again: hope because she gains a voice, and in that place of power tells a story not of despair, but of strength.
* Dr Rudi Buys is the executive dean of the non-profit higher education institution, Cornerstone Institute, and editor of the African Journal of Non-profit Higher Education.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.