As I reflect, I can still hear the heart-breaking voice of a female student at Rhodes University on Tuesday. It’s a painful cry yearning for a new beginning for South African women.
It comes as an ultimatum for unqualified respect of their bodily integrity and the upholding of their inherent dignity. And as if the student is performing a funeral dirge, she laments: “Kwanele! It is Enough! No more!” And she asks, “How many more must die? Who is going to help us?” And she reminds us that, “those that we trust violate us. We are breathing, but dead inside.”
She is the living voice of Khensani Maseko challenging her nation to care enough to touch the wounds of the South African women that are abused daily, shamed, judged, and sexually violated not just by strangers, but by men they know and trust.
Her heart-wrenching cry for help lingers on against the backdrop of a dark, cloudy and gloomy day engulfing not only Rhodes University, but the broken soul of our nation. The university flag is flying at half-mast and management and their stakeholders look subdued yet determined to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
And from all corners of our land, South African women are reminding us that rape is pervasive, unjustifiable, and destroys its victims even when they mask their psychological wounds and emotional scars. And like the Rhodes students, they are saying we have reached a point of no return: “Kwanele! It is Enough! No More!”
And who is going to help?
Everybody has a role to play to curb the despicable scourge of rape and other forms of gender-based violence.
Parents must find safe and innovative ways to discuss sex and rape with their children. Such efforts can help reduce the risk of children and women being harmed by would-be molesters, which in many instances is perpetrated by relatives and family acquaintances. And the sad part is that many rapes committed by known individuals remain underreported.
Parents, schools, tertiary institutions, and NGOs have an even bigger role to socialise boys and young men to grow up respecting women without any inclinations that they are better than women or entitled to women’s bodies. There is literature that shows that men who rape normally have a low self-esteem, suffer from self-hate and carry unresolved childhood and teenage feelings of rejection. Since rape is ultimately about power, torture, domination, and humiliation of the victim, it is plausible to deduce that those who rape young children, their girlfriends, their mothers and their grandmothers and women in the streets can only be unsociable men who hate themselves.
The entire curriculum at schools and tertiary institutions must be geared to reflect more on the contribution of women to human civilisation to build a new generation of South African men and women. And when government implements affirmative action policies including Black Economic Empowerment to create a new society where women in their large numbers are skilled and control the levers of the economy, future generations will grow up to find it ordinary and normal that indeed men are not superior but equal to women.
Gender-based violence is a huge problem world-wide. It tells us that across the globe, women still suffer social exclusion because of patriarchy, income inequality, and economic marginalisation.
Research shows that women who are poor, unemployed, unskilled, and live in unsafe informal settlements face greater risks of gender-based violence.
And it is a real national tragedy to see that institutions of higher learning are finding themselves entangled in the violent culture that perpetuates the domination of women.
The shame is on us as a nation that some of our schools and universities are becoming associated with the repression, violence and sexual trauma of women instead of these spaces becoming the cradle for the full emancipation of women.
We need more preventive educational awareness campaigns to help stop rape or support victims or survivors of rape. Everybody must be involved.
And we must do this in the languages that resonate with those who are directly affected. One of these popular languages is the language and mode of community theatre because of its power and accessibility.
We also need mass media campaigns to create awareness and discourage all forms of gender-based violence.
Film students and their lecturers at our tertiary institutions can contribute by creating more public service awareness products on rape and provide information where survivors can get help.
But we also need the public broadcaster, our print media, commercial media, and community media to invest in creative marketing campaigns that will create a new society free from the blemish of rape.
Ukhozi FM should consider expanding on its successful and effective campaign, “Indoda Emadodeni” that is using culture to redefine manhood and masculinity.
And these programmes must not leave behind the violence that is meted out against the LGBTIQ+ community and disabled persons. As our South African media continues to correctly demand that our developmental state must be prudent on how it spends its limited resources from our taxpayers, we also urge it to be activist and help us root out this heinous crime through marketing campaigns.
We need to be more proactive than reactive. An investment in saving the lives of women like Khensani and many others is an investment in our collective future and the restoration of our humanity.
A high premium was paid for our freedom. And during women’s month, we remember the struggles of the South African women in the multi-racial congress movement that was united in its fight against the tyranny of racial oppression. We remember the volunteers of freedom like Lilian Ngoyi, Albertina Sisulu, Rahima Moosa, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Sophe De Bruin-Williams.
And today, South Africa is at a precipice. It’s a moment calling for new volunteers who will free South African women from patriarchy, sexism, racism, economic bondage, and violence. We need men and women from all backgrounds who will be united in their fight against the evil of gender oppression and abuse.
A young EFF life and leader in the Rhodes Must Fall movement has ceased to breathe.
From here, we must take her spear and honour her legacy by creating a world where her friends and the grandchildren and children of Albertina Sisulu can proclaim that indeed they are truly free at last.
Lend a hand!
Kwanele! It is Enough! No more!
Rest in eternal peace Khensani Maseko.