The deaf­en­ing si­lence on rape in MK camps lingers

Mail & Guardian - - News - Ra’eesa Pather

For years, women free­dom fight­ers from camps op­er­ated by the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), have re­mained silent about the sex­ual abuse they suf­fered at the hands of men they called com­rades.

Some of th­ese atroc­i­ties came to light at the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion. In one con­fes­sion, for­mer MK com­man­der and de­fence min­is­ter Joe Modise said that sex­ual abuse in MK camps was a “very se­ri­ous prob­lem” — but main­tained that lead­ers had acted on such abuses.

“Some of the camp com­man­ders took ad­van­tage of their po­si­tions and started ask­ing or pres­sur­ing some of the young ladies to do them favours,” Modise said. “I think it is un­der­stood what type of favours I am talk­ing about. Some com­man­ders had been re­moved for this. So it was a prob­lem that was ad­dressed by the move­ment and its armed per­son­nel.”

Modise tried to ex­plain this by say­ing that men in the camps strug­gled to find women they could pur­sue.

“It is the kind of prob­lem that man­i­fests it­self in places such as camps, very far from home, iso­lated, in hos­tile ar­eas, and the dif­fi­culty of young men go­ing out into the towns to go and look for young ladies was rather lim­ited, be­cause there were am­bushes also on the way.”

A sim­i­lar re­mark was made by for­mer MK com­mis­sar An­drew Ma­sondo, who tes­ti­fied at the TRC about vi­o­la­tions against women in the Qu­a­tro MK camp in An­gola, where illd­is­ci­plined MK mem­bers were sent to be cor­rected. But Ma­sondo was crit­i­cised for his com­ments on sex­ual vi­o­lence dur­ing his tes­ti­mony.

“In An­gola there are at one time 22 women in a group of more than 1000 peo­ple. There was an al­le­ga­tion that com­man­ders were mis­us­ing women. The law of sup­ply and de­mand must have cre­ated some prob­lems,” he said.

When Thabo Mbeki, who was deputy pres­i­dent at the time, pre­sented the ANC’s re­port to the TRC he also said that those in MK ac­cused of “gen­der-spe­cific vi­o­lence” were pun­ished. He did not, how­ever, spec­ify what the of­fences were or what pun­ish­ment was meted out.

MK and ANC lead­ers, in­clud­ing Chris Hani, vis­ited MK camps af­ter al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault be­gan to emerge. In her own tes­ti­mony, Gertrude Shope, a for­mer ANC Women’s League leader, said that mem­bers of the league would visit the camps to as­sist women.

But Teddy Wil­liams, an MK com­man­der who was trained in the Soviet Union, told the TRC that he was pun­ished when he tried to speak out about sex­ual vi­o­lence in the Qu­a­tro camp. Wil­liams said that sec­tion com­man­ders used to call women and “do what they wished to them”. Those who ob­jected were se­cretly tar­geted.

De­spite th­ese ad­mis­sions, women were still re­luc­tant to tes­tify at the TRC. When cur­rent ANC deputy sec­re­tary gen­eral Jessie Duarte came before the TRC, she said that women were si­lenced by the lib­er­a­tion move­ment it­self dur­ing the anti-apartheid strug­gle and that other women ac­tivists were com­plicit.

“If women said that they were raped, they were re­garded as hav­ing sold out to the sys­tem in one way or an­other,” Duarte said.

But there were some brave women who spoke about their trauma for the first time at the TRC.

Lita Maz­ibuko, an MK mem­ber who or­gan­ised safe routes for com­rades over the South African bor­der into Swazi­land, re­counted three oc­ca­sions when she was raped.

Dur­ing one op­er­a­tion, a com­rade had died cross­ing the bor­der and the move­ment sus­pected she was a spy. Maz­ibuko was even­tu­ally cleared, but she suf­fered bru­tally. She spoke of a man named Mashego who raped her in Swazi­land and also told the TRC about an­other hor­rific rape.

“And there was an­other one by the name of Te­bogo, who was also very young. He raped me and he also cut my gen­i­tals. He cut through my gen­i­tals and they were cut open and he put me in a cer­tain room and he tied my hands, my legs, they were apart. He also tied my neck and he would also pour Det­tol over my gen­i­tals,” Maz­ibuko said. “The pain that I ex­pe­ri­enced, I have never spo­ken about this. I have never even told my chil­dren about this. It is the very first time that I speak about this.”

ANC mem­bers al­legedly at­tempted to si­lence her. She said that, two weeks before her tes­ti­mony, Mathews Phosa — who was Mpumalanga pre­mier at the time — told her he “has a right to pro­tect” the ANC.

Maz­ibuko’s har­row­ing tes­ti­mony could not de­feat the si­lence that hung over the TRC from women who could not speak about the vi­o­lence they faced. Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Hlengiwe Mkhize was a TRC com­mis­sioner. She lis­tened to the tes­ti­monies and com­mented that the “sub­mis­sions had fail[ed] women” be­cause the si­lence re­mained deaf­en­ing.

Dur­ing the TRC hear­ings, mem­bers of the Pan African­ist Con­gress’s armed wing, the Aza­nian Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (Apla), main­tained that rape was never con­doned. They said that, if any mem­ber was found to be guilty, then the TRC should not hes­i­tate to deny them amnesty.

“Rape is not ac­com­mo­dated and was never ac­com­mo­dated and I think we are among the few lib­er­a­tion move­ments in the world that never ex­pe­ri­enced that in our camps,” one Apla del­e­gate tes­ti­fied.

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