Gen­der vi­o­lence un­der­mines democ­racy

Sunday Times - - Opinion - BUSANI NGCAWENI

It was great to drive down KE Masinga Road, in Dur­ban, this De­cem­ber. First I passed the old Al­ice Street Inanda taxi rank, where I used to be us­cabha (a taxi con­duc­tor). Then I passed a McDon­ald’s, where I first tasted Amer­i­can burg­ers when the food out­let came to SA in 1995. Pass­ing St John Am­bu­lance and the Scout shop was even bet­ter, for I had learnt the ba­sics of first aid at St John and spent all my years at pri­mary school and some years at high school as a Boy Scout — un­til Inkatha hi­jacked and killed the move­ment.

I nearly for­got the bud­get ho­tel be­tween McDon­ald’s and the Scout shop that re­minds me of Simi, the most beau­ti­ful daugh­ter of a rich Mr Pil­lay, who liked check­ing us in there un­til a mini racial in­ci­dent re­sulted in our breakup.

But the joy sud­denly ended when I passed KwaMuhle Mu­seum and I was re­minded that there was a time in seg­re­gated SA when 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, for ex­am­ple, would be de­meaned by be­ing stripped naked so that white men could in­spect their gen­i­talia to check for vene­real dis­eases. “Re­cep­tion” places like KwaMuhle were no­to­ri­ous for this emas­cu­la­tion of African men who mi­grated to the cities in search of liveli­hoods.

They would present them­selves at KwaMuhle for per­mits and health clear­ance to live and work in the city. They left these places with­out dig­nity, even if with pass­books in hand.

Un­for­tu­nately, in free SA to­day, there are men who have as­sumed the role of those KwaMuhle ap­pa­ratchiks.

These are men who are turn­ing our streets into no-go ar­eas. The hu­mil­i­a­tion vis­ited on our grand­fa­thers un­der colo­nial­ism and apartheid is be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced by their grand­daugh­ters, who are hu­mil­i­ated through rape and sex­ual ha­rass­ment, of­ten in the course of grue­some or­deals that end in mur­der.

As the po­lice spe­cial branch bru­talised peo­ple, there are men in a free so­ci­ety who do the same to women — 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 ob­vi­ous to them.

But the sym­bol­ism is the same: strip women of their dig­nity and re­duce their be­ings into male-oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries pa­trolled by modern-day oqonda (apartheid-era street-level en­forcers of or­der and “cor­rect be­hav­iour”).

The laws we have to­day sym­bol­ise the na­tion’s as­pi­ra­tion for 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 meta-con­scious­ness of fel­low­ship and pro­tec­tion of those who suf­fered the triple op­pres­sion.

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

Herein lies the chal­lenge for the rul­ing party, to mo­bilise so­ci­ety and dou­ble the ef­fort to end gen­der-based vi­o­lence. The great strides we have made to send over 90% of girls to school, pro­vide grants that par­tic­u­larly mit­i­gate poverty among young and el­derly women, pro­mote em­ploy­ment eq­uity and pro­vide hous­ing are well doc­u­mented. But the scourge of gen­der-based vi­o­lence un­der­mines all that.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Du­misani Hlophe was right when he said it re­quires a mo­bil­i­sa­tion sim­i­lar to the fight against apartheid and more re­cently against the Aids epi­demic. It re­quires firm lead­er­ship, as we have seen with Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa di­rectly get­ting in­volved. It also re­quires mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion and sol­i­dar­ity across so­ci­ety.

And so, as the ANC launches its man­i­festo this week­end, those con­cerned about gen­der-based vi­o­lence will be watch­ing the ex­tent to which the is­sue finds a place there — and what mea­sures will be ap­plied to ac­cel­er­ate the fight against it.

As the po­lice bru­talised peo­ple, there are men in a free so­ci­ety who do this to women

Ngcaweni is head of pol­icy and re­search ser­vices in the pres­i­dency. He writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity

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