Black women have the right to a safe space
This week marked the third anniversary of teenager Anene Booysen’s brutal rape and murder. I use the word ‘brutal’ after much consideration, because there are implications for the way we describe rape and sexual violence.
For example, it is disturbing that we do not refer to all forms of sexual violence as brutal (which, in fact, they all are), but only to those cases of gratuitous violence – as with Booysen, who was raped, disembowelled and left to die.
This differentiation has consequences for how we treat survivors of sexual violence when we believe the violence they endured is not brutal.
For even in cases less brutal than Booysen’s, we still see extreme noholds-barred acts of violence perpetrated – violence to which vulnerable groups are subjected to daily. As a result, South Africa remains an unsafe space to be a man, woman or child, as all are deemed easy victims by would-be perpetrators.
Our public discourse consistently fails to ask this nagging question: What is it about South Africa that makes the violation of Booysen and countless others possible and endemic?
How wrong we are still getting it was evident in the recent furore that erupted over the For Black Girls Only event, held in Johannesburg.
Those opposed to the event failed to ask why women – in particular black women – feel so strongly about creating a safe space for themselves.
The answer has to do with the kind of society where Booysen’s rape and murder is not only possible, but borders on “normal”, on “expected”.
It is only February, and already the number of cases of brutality against women is unacceptably high. Yet some people still demanded to know why For Black Girls Only was necessary, even going as far as to label the event discriminatory, which was laughable.
The occasion allowed Black women a space to gather, talk about whatever mattered to them, swop books, dance, take beautiful images, laugh and encourage one another.
Again, instead of asking why women need to create safe enclaves to do seemingly normal things, we became trapped in whether that space was appropriate in the same rainbow nation that violates them.
So society argues with women about spaces they have to create for themselves, even while it continues to coddle the violence we have to endure. Three years after Booysen’s murder, there appears to be no end in sight to the terror and the pressing question of what kind of society South Africa is content to be.
It is disturbing that we do not refer to all forms of sexual violence as brutal