So little change.
Once you start listing brutality, it is hard to stop. If you laid all the abused women end to end, would they reach the moon? Mars? Venus? What about some names: Malala Yousufzai, the fifteen year old Pakistani girl who was shot for wanting girls to go to school; Jyoti Singh, the Indian woman who was gang raped on a bus and so brutally assaulted that 90% of her intestines were removed; Kozaphi Elizabeth Kubeka, 92 years old, raped and strangled by her 38 year old grandson…the list never ends. If you laid out the names end to end would they weave a rope long enough to bandage the wounds? To tie up the rapists? To shroud the dead?
After Anene Booysen was raped and disembowelled, our politicians fell over themselves to decry the offence. They called for the perpetrators to rot in jail, to feel the full might of the law. The same politicians whose corruption and greed perpetuates the cycles of poverty in which abuse festers, who shelter the teachers who impregnate students, and the councillors accused of sexual harassment. A few weeks after Anene’s murder, a 49 year old woman laid charges against a police officer who allegedly raped her in the “trauma-room” of the Herbertsdale Police Station, one of many accusations of police rape. No politician has bothered to comment on this. Ten years ago, Baby Tshepang was raped in Louisville, a crime born of poverty that rocked the nation. Her rapist was jailed, but nothing has changed in the town.
Of course I was sickened by what happened to Anene Booysen, and tempted to join the public lynch mob that wanted to hang her rapists high. But there is that uncomfortable truth, that nagging feeling that Anene was paying a price for a system that benefits me and all others born into privilege; that the rapists, along with Anene and millions like them, have been rotting in jail since they were born: the jail of poverty, alcoholism, and social deprivation; Anene was forced to leave school in Grade Seven; her rapists no doubt had similarly grim prospects. They all suffered the daily assault of a bleak, impoverished life with no chance of escaping it. Most children growing up in abusive situations see the world as divided into only the abusers or the abused – their only prospect of improving their situation is make sure they are the former.
Few would deny that people are brutalised by poverty and deprivation. What is seldom acknowledged, though, is how much we are brutalised by wealth and power. Society decries the rapists, but condones the brutality of governments and warmongers who conscript youth and turn them into raping and killing machines then send them to war for the sake of profit and power; The brutality of a pornographic industry that dehumanises both they watchers and the watched; the brutality of a world that throws half its food away every day while millions go to bed hungry; the brutality of an entertainment industry that fosters our thirst for violence with no regard for what this might do to the minds of children; the brutality of the oil and energy barons who will sacrifice the peace and security of the world to ensure that our dependency on oil is never diminished…
Lynching Anene’s rapists will do nothing to stop this . And it seems to me that the practice of isolating and condemning instances of barbarity often serves to obscure the barbarity that underpins the fabric of our society. It fosters the illusion that our social political, religious and economic systems are fundamentally decent. But until these systems are truly governed by the principles of kindness, morality, dignity, equality of opportunity and freedom of expression, we should not be surprised when the barbarians feast on the weak. It happens all the time, in opulent boardrooms where rainforests are condemned, in courts where justice is for sale, in Asian sweatshops where children sew sports shoes for American athletes, in dark alleys where young girls die in agony.
But the dark forces who prowl these precincts are not the only movers in the world. The One Billion Rising campaign is one of many impulses towards a more enlightened society. Every human right, every instance of social justice in this world has been won through struggle by the underdogs, or those who defend them. Not one has been handed out willingly by the oppressors. It is up to all of us to make sure that the underdogs never stop barking; to make sure that in pursuing the scapegoats we never forget who the real perpetrators of brutality are. The brutality meted out to Anene Booysen, Jyoti Singh and the millions of forgotten victims is a mirror of our ugly, cracked society. Let us never be afraid to look at its truth, and do what must be done to change it.
Below is a poem I wrote some time ago to express the despair I sometimes feel as a mother of daughters – my own and everyone else’s:
The women’s Lament
Oh we women
Who dwell among thorns
Our brains a tangled skein of fears
That we knit, unravel, and knit again
Our clicking needles strive in vain
To weave a coverlet for our children
To shield their tender limbs
From the chill winds of fate
How we lament
The porousness of our membranes
The permeability of our defences
The hollowness of our vessels
That are so easily stuffed with hate