Women’s free­dom cur­tailed by fear

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

THERE was a time in colonial and apartheid South Africa when a va­ri­ety of big­oted mea­sures like the Group Ar­eas Act and the Na­tive Ad­min­is­tra­tion Act were used to con­trol the move­ment of Africans and all as­pects of their be­ing.

African men, in par­tic­u­lar, would be de­meaned by be­ing stripped naked so that white men could in­spect their gen­i­talia to check for vene­real dis­eases. “Re­cep­tion” places like KwaMuhle in Dur­ban were no­to­ri­ous for this emas­cu­la­tion of African men who mi­grated into the cities in search of liveli­hoods.

They would present them­selves KwaMuhle for spe­cial per­mits and health clear­ance to live and work in the city.

It was well un­der­stood that places like KwaMuhle rep­re­sented in­va­sion of pri­vacy, ha­rass­ment and dis­mem­ber­ment from the hu­man race. Men left these places without dig­nity, even if with per­mits and pass­books on hand.

Un­for­tu­nately, in free South Africa to­day, there are men who have as­sumed the role of those KwaMuhle ap­pa­ratchiks – men who are turn­ing our streets into no-go ar­eas.

The hu­mil­i­a­tion which vis­ited our grand­fa­thers un­der colo­nial­ism and apartheid is now be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced by their grand­daugh­ters to­day, who are hu­mil­i­ated through rape, sex­ual ha­rass­ment, of­ten in the course of grue­some or­deals that end in mur­der.

As the po­lice spe­cial branch did to our grand­fa­thers (wan­tonly killing them), there are men in an as­sumedly free so­ci­ety who do the same to women, hu­mil­i­at­ing and dis­mem­ber­ing them.

Our streets have be­come KwaMuhle for many women who fear men who feel en­ti­tled to their be­ing as worth­less pos­ses­sions; men who be­lieve they own women’s bod­ies.

Maybe one is stretch­ing this.

Maybe the men who turn our streets into no-go ar­eas for women are too young to have been hu­mil­i­ated by the white boys fondling their gen­i­talia at KwaMuhle. Maybe the par­al­lels aren’t too ob­vi­ous to them.

Thus, as the apartheid sys­tem did, they in turn dis­mem­ber women through sex­ual vi­o­lence, as­sault and mur­der. KwaMuhle is back, in dif­fer­ent man­i­fes­ta­tions. The sym­bol­ism is the same: Strip women of their dig­nity and re­duce their be­ing in male-oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries pa­trolled by mod­ern-day Oqonda (apartheid era street level en­forcers of or­der and “cor­rect be­hav­iour”) who com­mit gen­der-based vi­o­lence with im­punity.

Yes, at KwaMuhle men would line up, naked, wait­ing for white pseudo-doc­tors to test their gen­i­talia for signs of sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions.

To­day, there are men who dis­sect women, us­ing their pri­vate parts as ex­per­i­men­tal dolls, non-hu­mans, the in­signif­i­cant other.

As stated above, places like KwaMuhle and at­ten­dant in­flux con­trol and Bantu ad­min­is­tra­tion laws were tools of emas­cu­la­tion, of hu­mil­i­a­tion. They con­sol­i­dated the idea of Africans as be­long­ing to the zone of non-be­ing.

The laws we have to­day sym­bol­ise the na­tion’s as­pi­ra­tion to full hu­man free­doms, equal­ity and eq­uity. Yet, in re­al­ity, women are hu­mil­i­ated sex­u­ally, phys­i­cally, eco­nom­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally by those whose his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence ought to con­struct a metta-con­scious­ness of fel­low­ship and pro­tec­tion of those who suf­fered the triple op­pres­sion.

In the same way men couldn’t walk the streets of SA without per­mits, so women to­day have their free­dom of move­ment cur­tailed for fear of their lives.

My both­ers, per­haps next time you visit Dur­ban, make sure to visit KwaMuhle, now a mu­seum a block away from the Chief Al­bert Luthuli Con­ven­tion Cen­tre.

You will ex­pe­ri­ence what women go through in their house­holds and the streets of South Africa to­day. It will make you re­think your in­dif­fer­ence and ap­a­thetic at­ti­tude to­wards gen­der-based vi­o­lence.

Just maybe.

Re­think your at­ti­tude to­wards gen­der-based vi­o­lence

Ngcaweni’s books are avail­able @Ama­zon.com

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