Why has South Africa been labelled the ‘world’s rape capital’? What don’t we as South Africans understand about rape? In Rape: A South African Nightmare, Pumla Dineo Gqola unpacks the complex relationship South Africa has with rape by paying attention to the patterns and trends of rape, asking what we can learn from famous cases and why South Africa is losing the battle against rape. This highly readable book leaps off the dusty book shelves of academia by asking penetrating questions and examining the shock belief syndrome that characterises public responses to rape, the female fear factory, boy rape, the rape of Black lesbians and violent masculinities. The book interrogates the high profile rape trials of Jacob Zuma, Bob Hewitt, Makhaya Ntini and Baby Tshepang as well as the feminist responses to the Anene Booysen case.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would happily recommend it to anyone. It is obvious not a light or easy read and so even the review will have to be organised the different themes that I picked up on. Please get the book and share it with your friends and loved one and most importantly, men.
What is Rape?
- Rape is not a moment but a language (p. 22)
- Rape is violence and not sex (29)
- … the believability of a rape survivor depends on how closely her rape resembles her society’s idea of what a rape looks like, who rapes, who can be raped, when and how. (29)
- The story told by a woman needs a body of evidence. It is not an interest in the pain of the rape, but a burden of proof placed on the survivor or victim of rape. (29)
The Black Woman as a sexual and rapeable object
- At the same time that the rape of slave women was routine within slavery, slavocratic society created the stereotype of African hyper sexuality which sought to both justify and authorise the institutionalised rape of slaves. The stereotypes held that slave women could not be raped since like all Africans they were excessively sexual and impossible to satiate.(43)
- At the same time that slave women were being routinely raped as a means to multiply their masters slaves, slave men, especially when they were African slaves were cast as dangerously sexual, with a ravenous sexual appetite better suited to slave women but with a particular danger to white women. (43)
- While the rape of slave women was profitable, it also threatened ideas of racial hierarchy and produced anxieties about race-mixing … of the unspeakable sexual intercourse between white women and slave men … about the loss of control over the bodies of white women, as much as it was about the idea of white women becoming impure. (45)
- Until the abolishment of the death penalty, no white man has been hanged for rape, whereas the only Black men who were hung for rape had been convicted of raping white women; no white man or Black man had been convicted and sentenced to death for raping a Black woman. (52)
- The image of poor, young Black men as the figure of the rapist is not the reality SA women live under. (11)
- We need to confront violent masculinities. We need to confront and reject violent men and the patriarchal men and women who enable them. (67)
- “Your silence will not protect you.” Audre Lorde (67)
- “All our silence is … complicity.” bell hooks (67)
- If we accept that it is time to render all forms of gendered violence genuinely illegitimate in all spaces we occupy, then it follows that to do so we need to stop making excuses, that we take up the challenge to constantly debunk rape myths wherever we encounter them because all gender-based violence is brutality, a form of gender war against survivors’ bodies and psyches. (143)
- Rape has survived as long as it has because it works to keep patriarchy intact. It communicates clearly who matters and who is disposable. Those who matter are not afraid of being raped because they have not been taught to fear sexual assault. (21)
- Patriarchy trains us all to be receptive to the conditions that produce- and reproduce- female fear, especially when it is not our own bodies on the assembly line. (80)
- All men, no matter what race, class or religion have patriarchal power and can choose to brutalise and get away with it. (151)
- Tired, hungry, distracted women are easier to control. (40)
- The republic of SA has the contradictory situation where women are legislatively empowered, and yet we do not feel safe in our streets or homes. (65)
- The manufacture of female fear uses the threat of rape and other bodily wounding but sometimes mythologises this violence as benefit. (79)
- The threat of rape is an effective way to remind women that they are not safe and their bodies are not entirely theirs. It is an exercise in power that communicates that the man creating fear has power over the woman who is the target of his attention: it also teaches women who witness it their vulnerability either through reminding them of their own previous fears or showing them that it could happen to them next. (79)
- The manufacture of female fear requires several aspects to work:
- the safety of the aggressor,
- the vulnerability of the target,
- the successful communication by the aggressor that he has the power to wound, rape and/or kill the target with no consequences to himself. (80)
- Women are socialised to look away from the female fear factory – to pretend it is not happening and to flee when ignoring it becomes impossible. (80)
- Excuses make violence against women possible – they are part of the complicated network that says women are not human so our pain is generalised, unimportant, so we give violent men permission to keep all those they deem vulnerable such as women, men, and gender non-conforming people or children. (151)
- South Africa has a greater problem with the existence of the […] rape survivor and victim that trouble by pointing to her/his/their own pain in South African public culture. The rapist is welcome to live and boast and be celebrated or lambasted for his hypermasculinity, even as he continues to flourish financially. (165)
This book helped me to understand the sexual objectification of African women and how we are often viewed as desirable and rapeable things by White and African men at large. Specifically for the White men, that attraction that often precedes that revulsion for deigning to be attracted to this lesser thing. Also, I could see how the morality laws are mainly to tame African men’s (sexual) appetites from being unleashed fully on (tired, hungry and distracted: read as helpless) White women. So on the one hand, it is perfectly fine to protect White women while on the other, prey on African women and continue to rape them and then blame them for it afterwards.
I also have a response to the cry “Not all men … ” if, and indeed it is the case, all men do not rape why do other men not call out these known rapists? Why don’t societies evaluate their ideas of a man and get their sons to grow up in a way that does not require them to diminish or brutalise women in order to feel fulfilled and accomplished. Being a man does not involve violence, rape or other attacks on women.
When I read the chapter of the female fear factory, I finally had to confront my own habits to counter this fear of being raped: smile at a group of men when they greet me even if I do not want to greet them; do not enter a loo if it is in a deserted part of the mall and there is a man outside; wear clothes that do not show my form if I will be going to certain crowded places; don’t walk in certain places after dark and the list goes on …
In closing this poem fully captures some of what this book tries to address: if he raped you, why didn’t you change/ who can be raped and how do they need to act afterwards? Also, this little paragraph about why the image of an independent black woman is a relic of racism.
Posted in Heart matters
Tagged Being Black, books, Books reading, Feminism, feminists, Gqola, men, Pumla Dineo Gqola, rape, South Africa, women
It is a really interesting time to be in South Africa, what with all the #Fallist talks and the different dialogues happening around race, culture and identity. Last week, I attended the Open Book Festival in Cape Town and happened to attend two talks that had me very excited.
The first related to decolonising institutions. Although most African countries obtained political and some level of economic independence, in the main very few countries embarked on that extra step to decolonise their culture, their thinking, their language and their identity. My personal view is that this is vital and regardless of the length of time that has passed from independence, no country is fully emancipated until they do this and I suppose this is where South Africa is at the moment. Slightly controversially, I think that it is the colonised
Black people that must fully lead in this process and set the agenda. Also, less clear to me is the question of language. Can a revolution led in the “colonisers” language ever be taken seriously? Or have that full acceptance and recognition? While I am not fully convinced it can be, I am not sure what the counterfactual is.
This talk also touched on the question of privilege which led me to think of my own story and my privilege. As I am obviously Black and female this makes class my privilege because through class, I can transcend some of the discrimination I would otherwise face. For example, I am really grateful that I am privileged to be able to outsource some of the things I don’t enjoy doing around the house to someone else and pay her to do them on my behalf. Some of the expectations that I am graciously excused from as a new wife by my extended family. I am extremely grateful but also, with privilege does responsibility also increase. To give back, to ensure justice and reduced inequality for others that are less fortunate. To do something.
The second talk was on feminism. The panel has become my ultimate girl/writer crush/ perfect dinner guest list/ people I must meet before I leave the earth. The moderator was Mohale Mashigo and the panelists were: Yewande Omotoso, Nnedi Okorafor and Pumla Dineo Gqola. After the session was over, I just wanted to sit and bask in the warm fuzzies generated by that session. Nothing I love more than passionate and educated women with a strong opinion that they are happy to share and loudly at that. For the hour that they spoke, it was nice to talk about common and sometimes not so common experiences we share as women. When did you first know that you were a feminist? How do the books that you read portray female characters? Media? TV? Is feminism for all? Is this brand of feminism accessible to all or are there some class privilege undertones? When the struggle is so tough, how do you reignite the joy and keep the focus? I am obviously not even summarising the discussion well but it was a very interesting discussion.
L-R Mashigo, Okorafor, Gqola, Omotoso
Posted in books, Heart matters
Tagged Being Black, Binti, Cape Town, Feminism, feminists, Gqola, identify, Mashigo, Okorafor, Omotoso, Open Book Festival, race, The Yearning, Woman Next Door
I read this a couple of weeks back and it made me feel something. Not sure what, but as a Black Women, I felt something and so I shared it.
Posted in home
Tagged apps, Being Black, blogging, economics, enviroment, food, home, Kenyan music, recipes, Sunday Reads, travel, women
Please watch this video by Lupita (Nyongo).
All I want to talk about is the bit where she didn’t know she was Black until she moved to the United States, similar to my experience when I moved to South Africa.
In this week following the announcement that Dr. Mamphela Ramphele would be running as the Democratic Alliance (DA) Presidential candidate, there have been a few frank racial conversations doing the rounds (and some not so objective). Due to this country’s history, it does tend to take on a racial slant and this morning my colleagues and I spent some time considering how we move past that history to a non-racial, inclusive society. Now while I don’t know the answer two things did hit me, POOF!!
- Due to its’ terrorised past, South Africa needs many safe spaces for people to talk about the past, their current situation and be empowered to face their future. Until then, you find many people crippled by their past, their current stereotypes and too fearful of the future to participate fully in the society. You also do hear of denialism and white guilt because some White folk do also need that space to, frankly deal with the emotions that they might not want to or have never acknowledged to themselves.
- Conversations need to begin moving from black/white, them/us to better understanding that the value of people comes from that core thing inside them that makes them human. When we look at it at the racial level, we stick to single identifiers only and don’t consider the whole of what makes individuals people. An individual is made of a sum of parts and race or gender or interests make up the constituent parts and not the whole. For some its spirituality or religion that helps helps them transcend this and that’s important for us to consider – how do I get there? For me, it’s an understanding of the Creation story in Genesis – God made us all, male and female, in His image and likeness.
A bit simplistic, perhaps but what do you think?
An instant orchestra – the best coin ever spent!
How DO Africans kiss? (Read)
Seth Rogan and Jim Franco’s spoof of Kim/Kanye’s (idiotic) video (Read)
And this here feel good story.
I recently read Americanah, Chimamanda’s most recent offering.
The back of the book states:
From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.
As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.
Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.
Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel yet.
- Race IS a big deal and we can’t be disingenuous and pretend otherwise.
- I also didn’t know I was black until I came to South Africa five and a bit years back. Even now, there is a separateness and difference, I am not like the local Blacks, I just don’t have the same kind of heritage issues.
- Loved how she highlighted the inter-racial differences talking about how a given Black character took the pains not to take an opinion because his family happened to be wealthier than the rest or how he was pro-Hilary and not pro-Obama. We are not a homogeneous nebulous cultural group, we are different.
- I loved how she spoke of the run up to Obama’s victory. I totally identified with that, the fear that he might be shot dead at any point/ they would discover something awful about him that would force him to get disqualified and then his Pastor spoke and I thought, no!
- Loved how she characterised the desperation that so many Africans have regarding moving abroad. Very palpable.
- About natural hair? I rock it, you don’t! Moving along swiftly.
- Saddened by the portrayal of Nigerian women and the fact that men appear to be firmly in control.
- It was nice to see her talk of modern day Nigeria and the fact that people do hustle and we appreciate this better when we contrast Obinze in London versus Obinze in Lagos/Abuja. Big boy about town!
- The apparent ending of the story further saddened me. Does Ifem take him back or not?
- While the story is pretty much about Ifem and Obinze, there were a few hollow characters. Curtis? Blake?
- Loved the names. So beautiful.
- Curiously, I do wonder what the problem was with the girl that Ifem first baby-sat. Was she molested, a psychopath,what?
- Dike, was another underdeveloped character, or maybe not, I am not sure. (Wondered how the name is pronounced as I read the book)
I loved this book but it made me immediately want to go back to Half of a Yellow Sun.
Posted in books
Tagged Americanah, Being Black, books, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, natural hair, Nigeria, Obama, race, relationships, South Africa, women