The author doesn’t mince her words,writes
SOMETIMES it is a song, a person, a place or an aroma that powerfully summons memory and calls for deliberate remembrance. This time it is book. On April 19, 2007, inside the haunting spaces of the apartheidera women’s prison, renamed Constitution Hill, Mmatshilo Motsei’s The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court: Reflections on the Rape Trial of Jacob Zuma was launched. At the time, the launch was described as an occasion “punctuated with emotional moments”.
Present among the crowd was Motsei’s mother, there to recite a praise poem in recognition of her daughter’s fine achievement.
Despite the initial outpouring of all manner of popular articles on the subject of the book, Pumla Gqola noted, as recently as 2015, that Motsei’s remains “the only book on the topic” to date.
As a gender consultant in the Mandela presidency from early in 1995, Motsei led a team that “focused its energies on establishing the national gender machinery and protective legislation such as the domestic violence act”.
Ten years later in 2005, when allegations of rape against the then deputy president of the country broke, Motsei’s idealistic dreams of gender justice were shattered. She personally experienced the “events in Forest Town on 2 November 2005” as “a form of victimisation and a moment of reawakening”.
Gqola rightfully describes the book of Motsei as “brave and incisive”. The title is unequivocal and hits everyone who encounters it smack between the eyes. But the true bravery of Motsei’s book lies in the very audacity of writing it, at that time, in that tone and to do this in pursuit of healing for self and all. In writing that book, Motsei dared to go against the grain; she was swimming upstream when most were swimming downstream.
To quote Ray Phiri, Motsei did not “whisper in the deep”. She did not speak in riddles, similes, idioms and metaphors. She spoke out and spoke straight.
At that time, she was “competing” with spectacular renditions of umshini wami amid the loud calls of “Lucifer!” and “burn the bitch!” deftly performed in front of the courts of the land. “Burn the bitch!” became an expression so emblematic of the times, and so horrifying for Motsei, it is emblazoned across the cover of the book.
In writing the book, Motsei was not taking a theoretical or an ideological position.
She was choosing to stand in solidarity with a “daughter of the soil …forced to return to exile”. Her book was “inspired by the courage and tenacity of a remarkable young woman” who “took a principled decision to fight a war knowing that she might not win”.
Motsei took courage from one who “refused to be silenced and amplified the muffled screams of many other women who have been raped by those who still parade their power (or lack of it)”.
The extraordinary thing about Motsei’s book is that despite its fiery title and the many horrific rape anecdotes told in its pages, the narrative of the book is neither dripping with anger nor marinated with the gal of bitterness and vengeance.
The author shows little interest in humiliating, shaming and stigmatising anyone.
In a sense, this is not a book about Jacob Zuma in the mould of Adriaan Basson’s Zuma Exposed or Gareth van Onselen’s Clever Blacks, Jesus and Nkandla. Motsei is at pains to point out that the rape trial did not establish that Zuma was “more of a womaniser than other men”. However, she reckoned that what happened to him “gave the nation an opportunity to look at its (own) image reflected in his mirror”.
Motsei focused on the Zuma rape trial because it “presented
here and everywhere. In this sense, this book foreshadows Pumla Gqola’s 2015 award-winning Rape: A South African Nightmare. Together, these two books provide some of the deepest attempts to comprehend the genealogy, archaeology, historiography and the illogic of the crime of rape.
A stunningly prophetic forerunner to the Zuma rape trial came in 2004 through the genre of non-fiction, in Mtutuzeli Nyoka’s I speak to the Silent. It is a book about silence that leads to exile that leads to sexual abuse by a struggle hero, in exile.
The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court is a book of lament in the deepest sense of the word; it is a song of sorrow and a quest for healing.
To illustrate the “banality of rape” in our country and our world, Motsei fetches disturbing examples from the Bible, China, India, Japan, Nigeria and the US. She also presents one of the most incisive probes into destructive notions and practices of masculinity.
This, in fact, is why she foregrounds the kanga –both in the title of the book and in the main arguments of the book.
What is a kanga if it is not a symbol of male abdication from responsibility, accountability and culpability? “She was wearing a kanga.” “She was wearing a miniskirt.” “She asked for it.” “She initiated it.” “She did not scream.” “She did not fight back.” And the list of tired male excuses goes on.
A poem, attributed to Khwezi, titled I am Kanga cuts through the mountain of excuses. In this poem, the kanga talks back, saying, “Please don’t use me as an excuse to rape. Don’t hide behind me when you choose to abuse.”
Motsei ends the book with a vision for a world in which women and children live without fear:
“Since I started working in the area of gender-based violence, I have carried a fear of being raped.
“When I lie awake at night after watching a news bulletin riddled with bullets and blood, rage and rape, I long for a place where women and children are cherished and loved by equally loved and selfloving men.”
Unfortunately, 10 years since her book was first published, Mmatshilo Motsei, together with 27 million fellow women in this country, must remain fearful, for herself, her daughter, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. Eish.