File picture: Boxer Ngwenya
They stood in a queue, waiting for their turn to rape her. Eleven men, and not one of them had the conscience to say this has got to stop, writes Omphitlhetse Mooki.

There were men standing in a queue, waiting for their turn to rape her. Eleven men against one defenceless pregnant woman. Eleven men, and not a single one of them had the conscience to say this has got to stop.

Not one of them had the balls to stand up to his accomplices, berating them and reminding them the woman could be their mother, sister, or daughter being gang-raped.

One after the other they raped her. One after another, they violated her. One after another, they stripped her of her dignity. One after another, they defiled her.

They cared not about her unborn baby. They cared not about emotional scars she will have to carry for the rest of her life. They cared not about the fact that while other women look back at their pregnancies with fondness, she will have flashbacks of that awful early morning incident. The stench of whatever those men reeked of will stay with her for a long time to come. She may never trust men again.

Some will question why she was out in the streets at 4am. Yes, there are people out there who still believe it to be a woman’s fault that she gets raped, beaten up or killed. There are people out there who will say had she not been out on the streets of Johannesburg in the wee hours of the morning she wouldn’t have encountered her attackers.

This is a woman who was walking home from work. Yes, she has to earn a living to pay rent and put food on the table. She has to earn a living to ensure that when her baby arrives she can at least provide basics like milk, nappies and warm clothes.

But as she walked back home criminals pounced on her, stripping her of rights enshrined in chapter 2 of the constitution - her rights to bodily and psychological dignity, her right to have her dignity respected and protected, her right to freedom and security, her right to be free from all forms of violence.

These are the men who have been socialised to believe women’s bodies belong to them and that they can rape these bodies, that they can choke the life out of these bodies, that they can turn these bodies into punching bags, that they can burn these bodies and discard them like animal carcases in velds as was the case with Karabo Mokoena, Lerato Tambai Moloi, Popi Gumede and Bongeka Phungula.

Shocked as the country was at these senseless murders, news broke of an 8-year-old girl who was allegedly gang raped by Grade 7 boys - boys aged between 12 and 13. My heart broke and I shed tears.

I cried because at 12, these boys are already socialised into believing little girls are objects and that they can do anything they want with their bodies. This inculcated sense of entitlement in men took me back to when I was 15 and a boy slapped me across the face because for three years, he had tried unsuccessfully to win me over.

I cried because some grown men believe it’s a girl’s duty to ensure she doesn’t put herself in harm’s way when in reality school playgrounds and homes aren’t even safe.

Look at Karabo, she fell victim to a man who had probably promised to take bullets for her.

I cried because I had a gun pressed against my temple once. No, this was not a man I had chosen to be with. This was a stranger who felt entitled to my body, a man who wanted to force me to love him at gunpoint.

Yes, we grew up seeing men twisting women’s arms till they agreed to be their girlfriends.

Like those men, the young man who pressed a gun to my head was filled with a sense of entitlement. He just couldn’t take no for an answer.

I cried because as an adult a man who had told me he loved me countless times came into my home, pinned me to my bed, clasped his hands around my neck and choked me - no argument, nothing. He just came in and grabbed me.

I cried because I had decided to stay on in that relationship after he pushed me and pinned me against a wall because I had refused to argue with him - I had chosen to keep quiet.

My silence enraged him as much as speaking out.

I cried because, like Karabo, I had chosen to forgive after the first incident. I cried because there are women at this very moment who are being raped or killed by their lovers.

I cried because Statistics South Africa released a report this week indicating that one in every 21 women in relationships has experienced physical violence by their partners and that 8% of those women had experienced physical violence in the 12 months leading up to the South Africa Demographic and Health Survey 2016.

I cried because this survey, ironically released in a week that horrific stories of women made headlines, revealed that women like Karabo were more likely to report physical violence, with 10% of women in Karabo’s age group, those aged between 18 and 24, having experienced physical violence from their partners in the past 12 months.

I cried because some of these cases go unreported - unreported because many of these women have lost faith in the criminal justice system, because many of these women either feel the police would not take them seriously or because they feel they just do not want to relive their experiences in court, only for their abusers to get away with a slap on the wrist.

As I wiped my tears, my wish was for all those overly sensitive men who thought the #MenAreTrash hashtag was about them to go out and hold their friends, brothers and uncles accountable, that they would go beyond joining tomorrow’s march to the Union Buildings and have frank discussions with these abusers. There are too many Karabos around us.

* Omphitlhetse Mooki is an assistant editor at The Star.

The Star