Here, at the bottom of the birthplace of humanity, lie the world’s most majestic wonders of creation - yet still, we are one of the most unequal and perversely violent societies.
For women in particular, every living experience is interwoven with, and cloaked in, shameless inequalities.
This norm is sustained by an historical acceptability of the dominant position of men and the subordination of women, guaranteed through configuration of material and symbolic forms of violent gender practices. These practices are legitimated by formal laws, established customs, opinion-formation platforms and practices, media, ideology and social influence.
Examples include the nature of legal sanctions handed to perpetrators of gender-based violence, the patriarchal character of some customary practices, social opinions about men and women, dominant media narratives about men and women, and the male-centric nature of political and social ideologies.
So perverse are these distinctions that while women are subjected to “the private space”, men are guaranteed the privilege of domination over both private and public spaces.
The 35-year sentence handed down by the North Gauteng High Court to the man identified as the “Springs Monster” on Wednesday is a reflection of this phenomenon. It is also no different from the case of the alleged Dros rapist.
It takes a mind confident of its hegemony in society to contemplate and execute a plan to “hunt” a 7-year-old girl child in a space as public as a restaurant, to follow her to a public bathroom, to brazenly take off his clothes and those of his young victim, to violently molest her, to whip the child’s mother with a belt upon discovery, to deny the crime while trying to flush the evidence, and to curse at those who came and saw hi.
Such a mind could not have contemplated its violent act for the first time on this fateful day. This incident represents the culmination of years of accepted material and symbolic forms of violent gender practices witnessed by the alleged rapist.
Likewise, the penalty of 35 years to a man who perpetrated a decade-worth of psychological and physical violence on his children and their mother is a validation of the confidence of men’s violent gender practices. Ten years of everyday, normalised acts of perversion are a lifestyle, not a crime.
A crime is an individual, or multiple acts that can be isolated, and which the correctional services can attempt to rehabilitate.
Therefore the sentence of 35 years - to a 40-year-old man who a clinical psychologist found to lack insight into the severity of his actions - lacks compassion for his victims. It undermines their accumulated fear over this man, their father, and his own psychological disposition of control.
It is the victims who must bear the burden of resocialisation into a life of non-violence. It’s they who must relate with the fear of the outcomes of their father’s pending appeal, or the possibility of his return through parole.
It is clear that the most urgent and fundamental reaction to the cases against the rape accused and the “Springs Monster”, beyond the processes of the justice system, must be the wellbeing of the victims and survivors who, without the necessary yet painful psychoanalytical help, might grow up to either resume the actions of their perpetrators, or to be vulnerable to similar forms of violence.
These two cases compel society to question the role of racism and classism in the legitimation of violent gender practices through laws, established customs, opinion-formation platforms and practices.
These practices, in turn, draw boundaries between men and women in everyday life and institutional practices. “Men” as a social category are created and recreated as acceptably violent - be it physically or non-physically, once off and/or lifelong, planned and/or spontaneous.
It is for this reason that our focus as the Department of Women is less on the everyday practices as they occur in society, but rather, and considering our limited resources, on changing the power relations that sustain patriarchal cultures.
We are closer now than we have ever been as a society to meaningful gender transformation. Our struggle will be strengthened if society gathers together to rebel against oppressive structures. The media should be at the heart of this rebellion. No man or woman can remain indifferent to or disengaged from the historical challenges we face as a country.
We call on all businesses, NGOs, faith-based institutions, the men’s sector, the judiciary, leaders of institutions of basic and higher learning, political formations, community-based organisations and individuals to join the struggle of ending violence. None of us are safe until all of us fight together!
* Dlamini, MP, is the Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Women.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.