ID picture of Anene Booysen

Celia Dawson

Once again we are horrified by the deplorable rape perpetrated on a defenceless young person. The torture that Anene Booysen underwent through the deliberate and shattering mutilation of her defenceless young body, defies understanding.

We know that the act of mutilation is one that shows anger beyond control, and gang rape is often an expression of “punishment”. How is it possible people can be so cruel and brutal?

This young girl was left for dead – but through her determination she stayed alive long enough to provide some evidence for police to apprehend the perpetrators, and crucially, to provide her mom with an opportunity to comfort her, and perhaps say goodbye.

Gang rape as a means of punishment is strongly linked to our patriarchal society where women are regarded as possessions. This is especially prevalent among young men, as an outward expression of their need to control and punish. If the young woman does not respond in the way the man demands, anger translates into extreme violence and brutality

This violation of a girl brings into stark relief a number of sociological issues that reflect a disturbing pattern in South African society.

The parenting and support to families living in poverty without health care, the stigma attached to mental health conditions especially in townships, the absolute lack of support for mental health conditions in poor communities, law enforcement responses to parents who call for assistance, the socialisation of male adolescents, the lack of any meaningful future for boys, the phenomenon of absent fathers, the list goes on. Many of these factors are present in this case.

Our social fabric is characterised by extreme social deprivation within which the problem of low esteem, hopelessness and helplessness, with nothing of value to live for, no aspiration and no inspiration, can fester. These elements ferment to form a lethal cocktail, which is an explosion waiting to happen.

What must society do to combat this? Firstly we must rebel against it, we must own the problem of rape, and that rapists come from within our society, our communities and our families.

They are not aliens and do not come from Mars. We must recognise that rape is deeply entrenched, and it will need concerted efforts by everyone, not only law enforcement, to combat it.

To date, despite many responses, there is no evidence of sufficient progress in reducing the volume or brutality of rape. Rape is an expression of gender hierarchy, and as such gender socialisation is society’s primary tool in changing this state of affairs.

This is not the first of such brutal acts, nor the last, and typically the media is leading a cacophony of bloodthirsty voices comprising outrage, revenge and a range of other knee-jerk reactions.

Have we had enough?

As cold-hearted as it may sound, actions such as castration and the death penalty that some in society are calling for will not prevent similar crime in the future. Neither does the wearing of skimpy clothes mean that women should be violated.

Are we sufficiently outraged that we can be mobilised into action to rise above crime and improve our society? No amount of narrowly focused government action, improvement of our justice system, effective law enforcement or longer jail time will in themselves eradicate the scourge of crime and rape in particular.

It requires action from everyone – we need to rid ourselves of complacency; we need to understand the difference that each of us can make to our collective quality of life.

South Africa is held up as a shining example of peaceful political transition. We did it then. Let’s harness the negative energy that this heinous deed has generated into a strong force for change. We challenge each member of society to rise above crime and join us in a sweeping countrywide positive Action for a Safer South Africa! Make Human Rights Day this year, March 21, a force for change. Demonstrate our absolute vilification of this scourge and a commitment to socialise our young men and our young women to entrench values of gender equality and respect.

l Celia Dawson is the deputy CEO of Nicro (National Institute for Crime prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders)