His­toric ar­rest in Eswa­tini

The Citizen (KZN) - - Opinion -

Eswa­tini is ramp­ing up rights for mar­ried women, en­forc­ing the charge of rape against of­fend­ing hus­bands – a taboo in con­ser­va­tive Swati so­ci­ety.

This week, 34-year-old Nhlanhla Dlamini be­came the first man to be ar­rested and charged with rape for hav­ing sex­ual in­ter­course with his wife with­out her con­sent.

Re­ly­ing on the 2018 Sex­ual Of­fences and Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence (SODV) Act, which crim­i­nalises non-con­sen­sual sex be­tween a hus­band and wife, po­lice nabbed Dlamini and charged him with rape.

He was this week granted R50 000 bail by the high court in the cap­i­tal Mba­bane and is set to ap­pear again in court over the next few weeks.

“It’s the first case to be recorded and be heard in open court,” Swazi­land Ac­tion Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) spokesper­son Slin­delo Nkosi said.

First-time of­fend­ers are likely to be sen­tenced to up to 20 years in jail, while re­peat rapists can get up to 30 years.

The his­toric ar­rest sent shock waves across Africa’s last ab­so­lute monar­chy, for­merly known as Swazi­land, which has a deep-seated pa­tri­ar­chal cul­ture.

The coun­try’s ruler King Mswati III has mar­ried 14 women since he was crowned in 1986 aged 18.

He also has more than 25 chil­dren and a rep­u­ta­tion for lav­ish spend­ing while 63% of his 1.3 mil­lion sub­jects live in poverty.

“This law is against the in­dige­nous val­ues of our cul­ture as Swazis,” mar­ried busi­ness­man Sa­belo Mahlangu said.

“You can’t tell me that a wife I mar­ried and paid dowry for, fol­low­ing our cus­toms and tra­di­tions, can say to her hus­band he has raped her.”

“What non­sense is that?” he asked.

“Even the Bi­ble warns cou­ples not to deny each other con­ju­gal rights.”

Mahlangu’s views are widely echoed across the coun­try.

One Face­book user, Ndosi Shenge, urged men to have mul­ti­ple part­ners “so that when one does not want sex, one would pro­ceed to the next part­ner”.

But for di­vorcee and mother of two Siza­kele Langa, the SODV Act is an im­por­tant piece of leg­is­la­tion pro­tect­ing mar­ried women as “men over the years had a field day abus­ing women with­out pun­ish­ment”.

Langa said she left her 12-year mar­riage af­ter suf­fer­ing count­less acts of mar­i­tal rape.

“He had a ten­dency to grab me for sex af­ter in­tense and un­re­solved ar­gu­ments. When I re­fused him he would force­fully grab me,” she said, adding that he would over­power her and she would not scream for fear of wak­ing her chil­dren.

“No one in the fam­ily would have en­ter­tained my story that my own hus­band has raped me, nei­ther would the po­lice have be­lieved me.” Gen­der-based vi­o­lence is com­mon in the land­locked kingdom wedged be­tween Mozam­bique and South Africa, but per­pe­tra­tors are rarely held ac­count­able.

Ac­cord­ing to May 2019 po­lice data, Eswa­tini recorded 2 900 cases re­lated to the SODV Act over seven months.

The di­rec­tor of re­search group Women and Law in South­ern Africa, Colane Hlatshwayo, said it was con­cern­ing that so­ci­ety had nor­malised the rape of women just be­cause they were mar­ried.

The chal­lenge is “where one spouse dom­i­nates and does not be­lieve that they need the con­sent of their spouse for sex­ual in­ter­course,” Hlatshwayo said. – AFP

He had a ten­dency to grab me for sex

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