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Cows, Makarovs and the dangers of charming men


In Namibia the sentence for stealing a cow is higher than that for raping a woman. For the first offence both rape and theft of a cow carries a 10 year sentence but for second offenders rape carries a 15 years sentence while a person who steals a cow will go to jail for 30 years.

In 2004 the Ministry of Health and Social Services in Namibia interviewed 1 500 women and found that one in three women had experienced abuse or rape in relationships with men and one in five was still experiencing violence. In South Africa a woman is murdered by her intimate partner every six hours.

In 2005, Namibia’s then prime minister Nahas Angula said violence against women and children had reached a “crisis point” and spoke of an incident in Swakopmund in which a woman, Monika Florin, was murdered by her husband who then cooked her remains.
Two years ago I was asked to speak at a Namibian conference dedicated to the memory of a Namibian student Nanzala Siyambango who was shot dead by her boyfriend Steven Luhibesi a few days after she broke up with him.

A Makarov, like the one that killed Nanzala, is a semi-automatic weapon that is banned in some countries. An explanation of how it works notes that to fire, the action of squeezing the trigger for the first shot cocks the hammer, an action requiring a long, strong squeeze of the trigger. This re-cocks the hammer for subsequent shooting; fired single action with a short, light trigger squeeze.

The Makarov holds anything from eight to 12 rounds. The bullets are powerful enough to pierce armour. The ammunition is cheap. The weapon is designed in such a way that it cannot be accidentally triggered.

Nanzala was shot twice in one arm and once in the shoulder, the impact of such powerful bullets almost tore her arm off. It tells us that she was probably reaching for the gun when Steven fired. She tried to stop him.

He would have had to press the trigger hard for that first shot. The makers of Makarov tell us it would have required “a long, strong squeeze of the trigger” He then shot himself in the chest and head. And with just five shots, less than half of what those firearms hold in their magazines, two 24-year-old people were dead.

When Nanzala died she was studying for her Masters in Law. She was a part time tutor in the faculty of law who was invited to Washington and London to participate in international events. And she still found the time to excel in basketball, netball, discus, shotput and canoeing.

So how could someone so clever, love someone so dangerous?

Because the most dangerous people we allow into our lives never look it. Banks will tell you that the person who defrauds them of millions is the star worker, the person everyone likes, the man or woman who works late and rarely takes a holiday; he or she can’t they are too busy stealing and covering their tracks.

Those who rape children are most often fathers or grandfathers or the kind priest, the caring teacher … it is not dirty strangers we must fear, it is the smiling person we think we know.

A classic wife-beater is charming and often quiet-spoken. In public he is loving and attentive. He needs to create a myth of being a good man, so when she tells people that he who broke her nose, or kicked in the door no one believes her.

Some years ago I met Kathleen Jones, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego University. She was traumatised by the death of one of her students, 27-year-old Andrea O Donnell whose decomposing body was found in her boyfriend’s flat. She — like Nanzala — left him shortly beforehand. He persuaded her to come and talk to him then strangled her.

Research tells us that the most dangerous time for a beaten woman is when she leaves the abuser, it is then that he is most likely to find and kill her. And that is why a woman who leaves a man who beats her needs huge amounts of support and protection.

Kathleen told me, Andrea was not a “victim, she was self-assured, strong-willed, a feminist”. In other words; someone too clever for this to happen to her. But none of us are too clever to be raped, beaten or murdered, indeed in my experience, those of us who think we are the most clever are the most at risk, we take more chances because we simply don’t believe it will happen to us. And then it does.

In a later book called Living Between Danger and Love Kathleen wrote: “We become fascinated with the victim, curious about how she could let something bad happen to her … we want to know what went wrong with her life, so that we can create a safe distance between ourselves and the victim who made bad choices. We say, well, maybe she or he would do that, but I would be different, I would know how to make the right choice, the good choice.”

But our ego betrays us. A woman who says, “my man loves me so much he doesn’t want me to go out at night” or “he fetches me from events so that I am safe” — makes me nervous. Often that is a controlling man. It starts with little things until slowly you realise you no longer see your friends or family because he doesn’t like them. She starts battling with confidence because he criticises, gently but repetitively, he might say, “don’t wear that dress babe, it’s too tight” or he might criticise the way you talk, your ideas or the way you look.

It takes a while before the hitting starts and when it does it will happen in a way that you can’t understand and so you keep thinking that if you just change, if you stop doing the things that annoy him — but the trouble is there are so many things that seem to annoy him that the woman becomes confused and frightened.

Many are also brought up in religious homes and are told that it is important to forgive — and so women forgive, over and over and put themselves in grave danger.

Kathleen asked if Andrea expressed her fears and a friend said: “She was a role model, she was afraid that if other women knew about her problems at home, they wouldn’t respect or look up to her anymore.”

And so we who are clever and successful, often make it hard for other clever and successful women to ask for help because they fear we will give black and white responses they are too frightened to implement. And so we leave them to die inside emotionally before we attend their funerals.

  • View more on our special report on 16 days of activism here.
  • Author

    • Charlene Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist, author and media consultant. She has had 14 books published, one of which was shortlisted for an Alan Paton award. Television documentaries for which she has worked have also won awards. She has worked as a broadcast journalist and radio-station manager. Smith's areas of expertise are politics, economics, women's and children's issues and HIV. She lives and works in Cambridge, USA.


    1. lebo lebo 28 November 2009

      I was wondering whilst on a trip to Namibia via
      Botswana that goats and cows roam freely.
      It was not the integrity of the locals but because
      of the laws.
      What I did experience was that ranting of different races especially asians was very prevalent in Namibia and Botswana.
      Seems like Africans need to be controlled by laws
      to change their “culture”.

    2. Beanie Beanie 28 November 2009

      Punishment does need to suit the crime but there is more to preventing crime than punishment. As a youngster my mother made us feel responsible for our actions when we trimmed the cats whiskers or other naughtyness, very seldom did we get punished. On the other hand our neighbors got 3 to 6 hidings a day. They appear to have had no concept of right or wrong, they would come and visit and do the most horrendous naughties and get another hiding, it was part of life.

    3. TomV TomV 28 November 2009

      Good article.However your “facts” on the Makarov are a complete howler i’m afraid!The makorov is nothing more than a cheap Russian 9mm pistol.Basically the same as any pistol carried by a cop on the beat.Pistol ammunition(in particular 9mm) is by nature rather weak….it cannot “pierce armour” or “tear a person’s arm off”….that would be a world first for a 9mm side-arm!

    4. MLH MLH 28 November 2009

      The logic? A raped woman may be damaged goods, but at least she’s still goods. A stolen cow has gone forever!
      You are doing a very good job of this, Charlene. I kinda thought: ’16 days of the same thing will ittitate me (although I support you opinions), but every day is different. Keep it up! And don’t stop at 16…a five-minute reading daily on all radio stations and TV channels at various times, would not go amiss. Why not suggest it?

    5. Owen Owen 28 November 2009

      While I agree with most that you have written, I think that there is something in the way we are brought up. Women argue their way through a disagreement, men fight their way through the same sort of situation. So when men and women have a disagreement, the women wins with her tongue and the male response is to lash out.

      Also when a guy sees ‘red’ his response is violent, irrational and largely uncontrollable. Having been there I know what it is like. Fortunately when one fights another male it is semi acceptable behaviour.

      Perhaps you should explore this aspect of male behaviour so that women can read the signs better and avoid pushing the confrontation to the ‘red’ zone.

      Also do some women find a violent nature attractive?

      Or am I way out in the above thoughts?

    6. David Le Page David Le Page 28 November 2009

      I’m visiting London at the moment, and here they’ve just announced plans to include training on gender equality and intimate violence in schools. And of course, the problem here is far smaller than that in South Africa. Do we have anything like this happening in South African schools?

    7. Toni Parsons Toni Parsons 28 November 2009

      I’m with MLH on this. Your work is relevant and resonates loudly. Rape happens every day. Why just 16 days where there is some focus on a problem so rife in our society?

    8. Mark Robertson Mark Robertson 29 November 2009

      I totally support your blogs, and I must salute you for continuing to highlight the scourge of violence against women. You are quite right that the law does not protect women enough. However as noted above a Makarov is a ‘double action’ normal 9mm pistol, not a semi-automatic weapon (such as the MAC-10 or BXP) – I know it’s a silly point of detail, but no harm in getting all the detail right – I would appreciate feedback myself if I had written something and got details wrong.

    9. Charlene Smith Charlene Smith Post author | 29 November 2009

      – TomV – I got my facts from the Makarov website and Wikipedia.
      – Toni -First of all writing on this for 16 days kills me. Some of it is traumatic for me & it is non-paying, it’s just my little bit in the hope that somehow, somewhere it might make a positive difference for just one person. That is my goal always, just one person & if it helps more or provokes some change then that is an added blessing. But why 16 days instead of 365 days? Because in the same way that we have birthdays when we should celebrate life every day, we humans need to be reminded to remember. If it was every day we’d ignore it, so these 16 days, created by men actually, are in some ways a sacred space & time to reflect: what am I (each of us) going to do to stop this. To create a peaceful, respectful, tolerant world?

    10. Rory Short Rory Short 29 November 2009

      Treating something, as unacceptable as rape is, as a crime is an insufficient societal response if we really want to make a dent in the problem.

      Criminalising rape has not made it go away. We need to invest in more research so that we can act before the event to stop it ever happening.

      I would guess rape has an awful lot to do with how male children are socialised especially with regard to their heterosexual relationships. My gut feeling is that a male child who has loving relationships with the adult females in his childhood environment is highly unlikely to become a rapist as an adult.

    11. MLH MLH 29 November 2009

      Owen, I’ve heard it said that some SA cultures believe that when a man reacts violently or jealously to a woman, it proves his love. Can’t say I think that’s rational logic, but I can believe that many insecure women might find a controlling nature in their partner/boyfriend appealing, up to a point. It’s the point that’s cloudy, because it seems that trust does not take over in many relationships and that might be because too many are playing games rather than being absolutely honest about their feelings. When so many marriages end in divorce, it seems fairly clear that vows made are often only kept as long as deemed suitable. Perhaps they should be changed to ‘Until the death of love does us part’.

    12. Peter Pumpkin Eater Peter Pumpkin Eater 30 November 2009

      Any debate about crime without looking at the social stresses that cause crime is vacuous.

      We need to understand the causes, debate the solutions and how to implement them.

    13. Shabash Shabash 1 December 2009

      Charlene, powerful piece! You outline 2 very important issues for me. Firstly, even in South Africa reporting a crime related to theft etc has a more noticeable procedure than reporting any level of gender based violence.

      The cow has more material value. Money, material wealth seems to get more privilege than the politics of sex, sexuality, and gender based violence.

      Secondly, your story about Andrea and other students is a very serious reality. There is a stigma that educated women fear being attached to. Esp those that have studied gender relations, politics etc. The stigma is that of being known as/ called a victim like so many other women. Its humiliating to tell a story that speaks of the verbal, emotional, physical and sexual violation… it’s humiliating even if one has spent years studying this stuff so as to not be a victim.

      Maybe we need to focus more on creating a space for people of violence to come forward with their stories. This space will be made up of people from difference social and economic spaces. Ofcourse it assumes that people who have been violated can actually come forward! With the suitable emotional & psychological support telling personal stories maybe a way of addressing seclusion. If we shared our stories more then the burden of being victimised is also shared. Maybe! Just Maybe!

    14. Charlene Smith Charlene Smith Post author | 1 December 2009

      Shabash – you are absolutely right, it is up to us who have experienced harm to speak out again and again and again – because if those who love us, who care about us, are good people then how can they do nothing? We need to recognise that our silence aids and abets those who harm.

    15. David David 2 December 2009

      One year in the late 1990’s my parents had nine friends and aquaintances killed in farm murders and another one permanently disabled. A few years later my Dad’s room mate from his college days was murdered in his bed on his farm by youths.

      We have to look into why some mom’s bash their babies, why some men rape, why some disadvantaged youths murder farmers, and why some kids join gangs and do drugs. Only once we understand the social stress that drives people to commit these crimes can we heal society. I am not talking about the born phsycopath or sociopath, they are difficult to cure. I talking about why some normal people go over the edge.

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