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Hello rape culture, hello ignorance…

I recall a discussion I had with a friend about why she didn’t want to write yet another article on race and racism. Her view was that it had all been written. She said the problem was that the people who continue to argue that race doesn’t matter and that we should just “move on” from race have chosen not to read any of what has been written on the topic in the last, say, two centuries. She ended by rattling off a list of books and other resources that people need to have read before she’d engage in any kind of conversation on the topic with them. Anything else would be shouting into the indefatigable void of ignorance, she said.

Another friend pretty much said the same thing about public discussions of sexism and misogyny, albeit more directly. “It is so boring how in South Africa we have to have the same argument about rape culture every fucking week! READ A BOOK,” she said.

I share her frustration.

This week I got into an animated discussion with someone I follow on Twitter. I saw him tweet that the claims of the woman who accused Zwelinzima Vavi of sexual harassment and rape didn’t have much credibility because she waited six months to file a grievance on the sexual-harassment allegation with Cosatu, the employer of the accuser and accused, and that she’d allegedly tried to blackmail him.

I replied that the only explanation for his tweet was wilful ignorance.

See, a few months ago, I’d read an article this guy had written about rape where he quoted statistics and reports about rape. I took it that he was aware that only an estimated one in nine instances of rape are ever reported. I also took it that he knows of cases where the victims of rape had accepted money and gifts from their rapists. I took it too that he realised he was engaged in the repugnant but all too common act of victim blaming, as he’d not pronounced on the credibility of the accused’s claim that didn’t rape her. If he had taken a moment to interrogate the accused’s story, he should have realised that in the absence of further information, there is no basis to pronounce either way.

In the narrow sense of legalistic arguments for the defence, which elide the normal, understandable human responses to traumatic experience like rape, attorneys could and do attack the credibility of rape victims’ claims based on various things, including what they were wearing, if they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, how long they took to report it and, yes, whether they took or asked for money from their rapists. Prosecutors too can and do build arguments for why an accused rapist’s story is not credible based on the accused’s words and actions.

However, as the rest of us are not bound by court procedure and the adversarial, blinkered arguments of prosecutor and defence, we are not compelled to defend an alleged rapist by attacking the credibility of the accuser, nor are we compelled to make pronouncements on the credibility of the accused’s denials. But what happens more often than not is that in rape cases, especially public ones involving politicians, sportsmen and other figures who enjoy a huge following, the accuser is put on trial in the court of public opinion and pronouncements are made on the credibility of her or his claims and the accused is held up as one who could do no wrong.

I expected that this guy I follow on Twitter, the one who’d written an article that showed he’d read at least something on the topic to write about it, would know and understand these things, which is why I accused him of being wilfully ignorant.

The series of tweets ended in him suggesting that we agree to disagree. To this I was going to amend my original response to say that his ignorance wasn’t wilful, it was oblivious. He’d read and experienced enough to feel assured in his knowledge, but either didn’t comprehend enough of what he’d read or hadn’t read enough to really understand and see the blind spots in his argument. I didn’t say this because it would have again set off a tirade of tweets that ended in another offer to agree to disagree, which I would have rejected and so on and so forth we scream until we’re blue-faced and staring into the gaping maw of the indefatigable void of ignorance.

Obliviousness is a social menace. It is the pampered feet in the comfortable boots that march roughshod over the lived experiences of others, the whole time believing it is engaged in some form of “doing good”; that it isn’t sexist, racist, homophobic, or bigoted in any way. Obliviousness bangs on about its right to rape metaphor and freedom to offend.

Obliviousness, sadly, is an antidote to its own antidote: reading widely and with a high level of comprehension. Obliviousness is convinced it does not need to do this, because it thinks it knows enough.

Hello? Obliviousness? Am I getting through? Will you go out into the yonder to read more widely and with comprehension, or are you hunkering down for another fight about why you are really right?

Follow and contribute to Not in My Name, South Africa, a blog of South Africans speaking out against sexism, misogyny, rape myths and rape apology.


  • TO Molefe is a Cape Town-based freelance writer and editor. He is the author of Black Anger and White Obliviousness, a Mampoer short on how race matters in public dialogue in post-apartheid South Africa when black anger, white obliviousness and politics are at play. He is currently writing a narrative non-fiction book themed around race and reconciliation in South Africa. It should be out towards the end of 2014. Follow him on Twitter: @tomolefe


  1. Tofolux Tofolux 1 August 2013

    @To, you correctly raise 3 issues: Despite the merits or demerits of the Vavi case, one fundamentally feels that we have sort of “lost” something here. I would moot that on both sides there are huge issues about morality and values noting that both are married. It is these values or morals that seems to get lost somewhere in the discussion. No amount of claims of ”character assassination” takes away the fact that Vavi took part in his own demise. I mean what was he thinking? But it makes for a very bad precedent when (g forbid) a bona fide rape takes place in the workplace. These types of accusations bodes ill for society at large noting that women in every sphere of society is vulnerable to all societal ills and for our issues to be used, abused and misused is diabolical. The responsiblity once again falls on the ordinary, the poor, the law abiding good citizen who must uphold and fight for our values and morality in order to enhance our society to have accepted norms. It cannot be that we feel that we are ”tired” when it has taken a 100yr history to show us a particular consistency in fight, in self belief against that which is wrong. Look at Cuba, Venezuela or China, who have fought a similiar fight and today it continues this because the material conditions change. So Aluta Continua means exactly that, how can we give up on our own future? We must fight for the society we want to live in and we cannot outsource our own responsibility in this fight,

  2. chris chris 1 August 2013

    “However, as the rest of us are not bound by court procedure and the adversarial, blinkered arguments of prosecutor and defence, we are not compelled to defend an alleged rapist by attacking the credibility of the accuser, nor are we compelled to make pronouncements on the credibility of the accused’s denials.”

    We should however be compelled to accept that someone is proven “innocent until proven guilty”, respect the legal process and not pre-judge such cases based on our personal prejudices, perspectives and emotions, or on the thousands of books we’ve read, or the statistics someone has published.

    But in SA we are habitually in contempt of our (any) legal system, so we have already convicted (or pardoned) the likes of Messrs Vavi, Pretorious and Dewani.

    To the extent that you are judging the merits of this case (by inference), your ramblings on this topic (in the absence of a point) are not helpful.

  3. Sipho Sipho 1 August 2013

    I find it interesting that our outspoken church leaders are yet to find their voices on the Vavi debacle – even more startling is the silence from the so called feminists. I supposed the fight against gender violence is selective – just check first who’s being accused before commenting.

  4. bernpm bernpm 1 August 2013

    The Vavi romp has gone through an internal investigation and charges were withdrawn by the so-called victim. Related parties have “forgiven” their respective partners….so? No case left other than a private affair between two consenting parties, not different from daily happenings all over the globe.

    Call me “willfully ignorant” if you like. My response: “c’est la vie”.
    Next case please.

  5. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 1 August 2013

    Stories on racism and rape tend to be confrontational and deal in huge generalisations. You don’t get your message across if the reader goes into defensive mode or if they don’t associate with the message. The recent Trayvon case has also made us a little bit suspicious of the information we are given

    Maybe if males were not as stigmatised by their own rape ordeals, the fear of being raped would be as real to men. It happens but we so seldom hear about it. That makes some men feel like it isn’t a threat so they don’t even think about it. How many men would EVER be happy to report being raped by another man? It takes a special kind of courage to stand up and be re-raped by the system

  6. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 1 August 2013


    From what I have read about this case, it does seem like it was a bunch of cheaters and the husband finding out made a story of it. That is my personal opinion. The fact remains that it is not just a “c’est la vie”.

    The woman was made to sit before a disciplinary committee with no support whilst the ‘boss’ had his hired henchmen to bombard her. His swift acceptance that they had ‘consensual’ sex, effectively cut any evidence out so it is a ‘he said, she said’. He is the powerful one and she is the unknown. It is obvious who is believed.

    If this was your sister and she was genuinely raped, would you be happy with this system?

  7. bernpm bernpm 2 August 2013

    @Momma Cyndi: “………..would you be happy with this system?”

    No, certainly not….but

    a: She is not my sister
    b.The general opinion is that the lady has gone home with a little sweetener
    c. I am -in general-not happy with many cover up systems.
    d. However, I have come to realize that -even with spittle around my mouth- there is little I can do against the practice of cover ups cause they are generally out of clear sight and “covered up”. Hence the name “cover up”. The rest is speculation.

  8. Sipho Sipho 2 August 2013

    bernpm # writes “No case left other than a private affair between two consenting parties, not different from daily happenings all over the globe.”

    So is corruption, so what is your point?

  9. bernpm bernpm 3 August 2013

    “So is corruption, so what is your point?”

    I could suspect that this so-called “rape” case has been resolved with some “corruption”. Just suspicion as most do not know the real details.

    “Corruption” is like weed in any society. One kills, remove when its visible and in the way. Other weeds one leaves for sheep or goats or forever.

    Same for corruption: can you and I begin to work on the famous “arms corruption”?? or any other current corruption scam ?? No other way than not participating in corruption. And I did loose important orders on that score when still in business. It is called being principled.

  10. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 4 August 2013

    bernpm #
    “a: She is not my sister”

    Therein lies the very foundation of the problem.
    Nobody cares a damn if it isn’t their own flesh and blood.
    As a woman, all women are my sisters

  11. bernpm bernpm 4 August 2013

    @momma Cyndi: “As a woman, all women are my sisters”

    Very brave stand, but you might take on a little more than you can handle.

    Attending a conference on child and woman abuse, a presenter referred to cases of women physically abusing their husbands. Loud laughter by the attendants (mainly women).
    Over lunch in a conversation with 3 men who had undergone physical abuse from their partners. Two left them, the third reported to the police. Advice from the police: “why did you not moer her back” under consenting laughter form the other police staff.

    Not all women are angels. Are they all worth being your sisters??? Up to you!

  12. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 5 August 2013


    I presume you come from a small family.
    You don’t have to like someone to care about them.

  13. bernpm bernpm 6 August 2013

    @Momma: “I presume you come from a small family.” Totally wrong assumption and (IMHO) little to do with the argument.

    “You don’t have to like someone to care about them.” Did I say otherwise??

    Keep doing well for your sisters, but do not forget your brothers

  14. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 8 August 2013


    The larger families always have people within them who don’t like each other as people but love each other as family. Hence my assumption that you had not experienced this.

    My brothers are just as dear to me as my sisters are. That is part of being part of the human family. Just like the example of large families, you don’t throw half of them under the bus just because they are a bit different.

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