The au­thor doesn’t mince her words,writes

The Sunday Independent - - DISPATCHES -

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.