Today I’m changing the theme of my blog to discuss an important issue that’s always been plaguing South Africa and other parts of the world, but that’s received extra attention in the media lately after Anene Booyen was gang-raped, mutilated and murdered at the start of February 2013. Anene was from Bredasdorp, not that far from Calitzdorp in the Western Cape where I grew up.
When I worked as an intern at Grocott’s Mail, a community newspaper in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, there were more rape cases than we had space for. Sadly, not all rape cases get the same media coverage as Anene’s did. But that’s not the point of this. Bare with me, I’m getting there.
Rape in South Africa has been a crisis for a long time now. “It is estimated that a woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read,” according to the 2011 rape statistics update on http://www.rape.co.za. It is estimated that 500,000 rapes occur every year in South Africa, according to the same website. For a woman soon to be homeward bound to sunny South Africa this is, and has always been, a tight fist around my heart.
But these are just numbers, and the worse things get, the more desensitized we are able to become.
With great crisis come great initiatives to raise awareness. My alma mater, Rhodes University, hosts yearly campaigns to create awareness and support rape survivors. Siv Ngesi, a popular South African comedian, has become serious about this issue, and has embarked on a one man crusade to challenge the concept of manhood, to try to figure out how to stop rape. Check out his video at http://co-optv.com/co-op/SAmanUP/manhood, or follow him on twitter @iamSIVN and #SAmanUP.
You can also sign a petition to honour Anene’s memory on Avaaz.org.
And now I will finally get to my point, inspired by a quote on Avaaz.og, even though my journalism lecturers will have me hung for not leading with it.
“This war on our sisters, daughters, granddaughters — on ourselves — is South Africa’s shame.”
My question is this: What are we as a society doing for the children who may one day turn into rapists? This question has been on my mind since the editor of Grocott’s Mail asked us interns four years ago why no one attempts to write a story about why people rape other people. Note that I said people, because it’s not just men who rape women, but boys who rape girls, mothers who abuse their sons, fathers who abuse their daughters. But I digress.
What we need to remember and what I would like to believe, is that people aren’t born as rapists and abusers. We can go into the nature vs nurture debate at another time, but my point is that everyone is at one time a small child vulnerable to the world, and things happen to you that fuel your choices and shape who you are later in life.
What I would like to see, not instead of anti-rape campaigns, because those are important too, but what I would like to experience in South Africa in a nurturing environment for children, a place and a space where children can feel loved and cared for. It seems so simple, we almost overlook it, but the reality is that many children in our country are left to grow up on 50c Niknaks and Drink-O-Pop. I’ve seen enough child abuse in my short life to know that children have it tough in South Africa.
By no means am I saying children who get abused or neglected turn into rapists. I think that children who are engaged in community activities, children who have a role model, like a rugby coach or a favourite teacher, children who are made to feel welcome somewhere when they don’t feel that in their own homes, will be better adults. It’s about self-esteem.
How is this relevant to rape? It’s relevant, because rape is a crime of control. At some point the rapists have felt like they had no control in their lives. You must loathe yourself a hell of a lot to be able to hurt someone else in such a despicable manner. That’s what I believe. And I believe if we take care of our children, not just our own, but every child we meet, if we enable them to have a positive life, even in poverty, even in squalor, then the crimes that stem out of hopelessness and frustration will diminish.
I want to see people try to raise, not crush, the collective self-esteem of our children.
It doesn’t hurt to try.
You can read the latest on Anene’s story at http://allafrica.com/stories/201302130970.html.