Talia Meer
Talia Meer

Let’s face it, we’re a nation of hypocrites

When we wear the right colour T-shirt and then forget to wear our activist hat when the girl on the street gets harassed. When we’ve been following the news with bated breath because we care about violence against women, but we really want to see if pretty boy goes to lock-up or goes home, or goes to Italy for that matter. Or even when we only blame our, certainly flawed, government for the ways that we all contribute to violence against women in this country.

This week many South Africans expressed outrage at how insensitive, cheap, and sleazy the SABC was for airing the TropiKa Island of Treasure episode featuring Reeva Steenkamp’s eerie and heartbreaking goodbye. Everyone was concerned about her family and the effect of seeing her, bright and bubbly, post-humus, on television. I too was furious. Just a few days earlier, the cover of the Daily Voice bore in full colour and up-close the brutally beaten, raped and murdered body of Jo-Anne van Schalkwyk. My director had brought the paper in to work and we had all stared agog at the image. But it was only once the SABC came under fire that I was truly incensed. I don’t care about the SABC’s decision to air the footage. I care about the views of other South Africans.

The Voice has a daily readership of more than 500 000 in the Western Cape. And like my director, even those who do not read the paper have passed this front page on the newsstand. How many people did not even register the gruesome image because this is how we digest violence in this country, through the bodies of black women.

While the nation was brimming with compassion for Reeva Steenkamp and her kin, not a peep was made about the violence of that front page, and what her loved ones must feel when seeing that brutal image. How many people felt the same anger, the same compassion for the Van Schalkwyk family as they did for the Steenkamps? How many people even considered what this meant to Jo-Anne’s friends and family, and to the psyche of other young, poor black women? This image was a fresh violation, another act of violence.

Was this perhaps overlooked because, as the journalist is at pains to tell us, the victim had a drug addiction, was from a family with a history of addiction, was poor, was a sex worker? Does this explain the decision to capture her bloodied and beaten body for public consumption? Does it make her less worthy of a dignified death than Steenkamp? Or her loved ones any less devastated?

In their current frenzied state, many South African’s have asked: What do we do to curb violence against women? I will tell you.

We need to remind each other that every woman — no matter her skin colour, where she comes from, who her family is, how much money she has, and what she chooses to wear, or do for a living — should be treated with dignity and respect, even after death. We need to recognise that in our daily interactions, in our language, we are allowing ourselves, our peers, our children, and people we don’t even know, to believe that this is not true. That women are worthy only if they conform to our cookie-cutter form of what a good woman is, what a virtuous woman is, and sometimes not even then.

We need to acknowledge the often abstract, but very real violence of racism, sexism and classism, and most importantly the acrid combination of all three, and understand how they contribute to violence against women. We need to confront these injustices wherever we encounter them: in our homes, in the streets and in the media. Unless we actively speak out, every day, no matter how difficult, who we upset or alienate, and how much we challenge ourselves, unless we vow to make good on our proclaimed desire for a society where women are free from all violence, we are also perpetrating violence.

So if we really want change, if we really mean all the angry words, the black (and white) T-shirts, the protests, the outrage, then it’s time to start holding each other accountable. Because the government didn’t publish that picture, or write that article, and the government doesn’t read the paper for us, have conversations for us, raise our sons and daughters for us, and the government won’t hold us accountable for how we do all those things.

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    • Judith

      Well said! We’ve have to make the changes we want

    • Berit

      Exactly. Thanks a lot for putting it into such clear words.

    • Loudly South African

      Had you written
      “We need to remind each other that every PERSON – no matter the skin colour, where she comes from, who her family is, how much money she has, and what she chooses to wear, or do for a living or GENDER or AGE – should be treated with dignity and respect, even after death.”

      I would have agreed with you

    • Momma Cyndi

      I have been completely disgusted with our media.

      What happened to the era where the dead were not insulted by the indignity of having a photo of their corpse on the front page and the family of the deceased were given the common decency of being allowed to grieve in private? They even gatecrash funerals!

      The dialogue on various media sites is something that has shocked me deeply. The excuses for the abuse and the attempt to make the victim into the guilty party is just horrifying.

    • Tofolux

      @Talia, I think you need to verify your facts. The decision to flight the programme was taken only after the parents and family of Steenkamp gave permission for them to do so. In fact, they made it quite clear why they made this decision and surely it is the family and only the family decision, who could make this “call” . Secondly, I think that you are diverting the debate. The Voice has been around for a long time. The nature of their reporting and the printing of pictures of dead bodies is not a new issue. Many activists raised critical questions around this especially because it also seeks to depict a certain community in a certain way. Ironically it was the media houses who jumped to the defence of Voice citing freedoms of speech etc, so please point the finger of hypocrisy at those who are at the centre of preventing our society from growing into a society which respects the rights of ALL who live in it. The critical debate that should be held TODAY is the hypocrisy that exists in the minds of those who write, tell and report. It seems that they are very conflicted in the reporting of the Steenkamp’s murder. The language, the visual messaging and the continued tone of a certain 24hr news channel is diabolical. It seems that they are at pains to admit that their ”hero” and ironically one of their analysts (of the 24hr news channel) wrote a totally inappropriate and insensitive article of his ”hero”, the accused whilst the victim was yet to be buried.

    • http://www.amazwi-voicesofwomen.com Coral Bijoux

      Talia, thanks for raising the awareness bar…we need to really consider who we are – i think what will really solve most problems is one very easy word- RESPECT. Respect encapsulates care for the environment on which we depend, care for our mothers on which we have and still depend, on each other as we share the same space on this planet, on what we use, waht we see, what we share…its not taught any more because we think its very importnat that maths and science features at the top of our agendas, ensuring our progressive status. Is not the measure of our progressive status not as much about the latest scientifc developments, but rather how we treat the lowest forms of life and each other. That in my opinion shows us how great we really are.

      I would like to discuss further. Coudl you send me your email address?

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/taliameer Talia Meer

      Loudly South African, of course you are completely right! I hope the fact that I was demonstrating a specific point about class and race with examples of two female GBV victims ameliorates the ommission.

    • http://www.speakoutfreely.co.za MIET Africa

      For more info on sexual harassment and abuse (which is school-based), visit http://www.speakoutfreely.co.za

    • Gillian.

      We consume and distill violence through black bodies in SA media. Remember the pictures of Marikana miners – not a jot of sensitivity was show for the families of the massacred. The treatment of the One in Nine protestors at the Gay Pride is another example of how little value is placed upon black body – black women’s bodies. It is a despicable revelation about our neocolonial society. Great article!

    • Touched

      Who was Jo-Anne van Schalkwyk? She wasn’t blond, a model or famous. So she has no rights? The press wouldn’t dare incur the wrath of the defence or prosecuting attorneys by publishing pictures of her dead body, would they? Exactly.

    • http://Bloghome Chris2

      If we could show more respect toward the living, respect toward the dead would be a lesser issue.