Black women have the right to a safe space

CityPress - - Voices - Gugulethu Mh­lungu voices@ city­press. co. za

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

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