Khadija Patel
Khadija Patel

Assange’s just another Zulu on the stoop

Julian Assange may well be a real life James Bond. His hair certainly fits the part, and his swagger is telling of a man with a penchant for the virtuously shaken and virulently stirred could ever dare. But it’s his decidedly Jacob Zuma air that is most striking.

Yes, you read right.

Take away the hair and the skin pigment and Julian Assange is to the rest of the world what Jacob Zuma was to South Africa five years ago.

Like our good president once was, Assange’s popularity is met with a forecast of doom, self-righteous posturing and a thinly disguised panic. He is a threat to the neatness of our world as we know it, a menace to the established order. Like Zuma, Assange is known to sponge off friends. Those suits obviously don’t come cheap. And while cash may be scarce, both Zuma and Assange certainly suffer no shortage of intimate companionship of the female persuasion. They also share particularly strong, albeit conflicting, feelings about secret information; Zuma flies to Mauritius to prevent papers from corroborating any allegations of corruption, piously defending his secrecy while Assange takes the moral high ground, simply pasting secret stuff all over the internet. Zuma sings a rousing “Umshini wami“, “Bring me my machine gun”, Assange writes in moral indignation, “Don’t shoot the messenger”. Like Zuma, Assange inspires deep-seated revulsion just as easily as he does avowed reverence. Most tellingly Zuma had an allegation of rape levelled against him and he defended himself by claiming the intercourse was consensual; that’s the line Assange’s taking too. M may once have accused Bond of being a misogynist pig, but Bond girls don’t cry rape.

Back when we were all up in arms about which dogs the country would go to should the unspeakable happen and Jacob Zuma actually become president, a family friend of the Zumas accused the ANC man of rape. He was subsequently acquitted of the charge and while he is yet to live off his shower head, the vigil Cosatu and the SACP held outside the Johannesburg High Court during the trial will go down in South African politics as one of the strongest displays of political allegiance in a time better known for the vagaries of the tri-partite alliance. Just as well-meaning analysts have been dexterously extending their pointy fingers to the CIA, Zuma’s rape trial was also seen by some as a desperate attempt by covert agents to besmirch him, severely subverting his designs on the presidency.

The “charges” against Assange (he’s yet to be criminally charged by Swedish authorities) which range from rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion have left even hard-lined feminists sceptical.

And yet rape remains a very real crime, a very real social ill.

The United Nations, that great bastion of staggering statistics, reports that one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or abused in their lifetime. And Interpol is plainly not sniffing out these offenders.

Most crimes of sexual violence go unreported, let alone see the light of the courtroom and yet Assange’s case has been fast forwarded through the motions before criminal charges are even laid. The zeal with which these allegations have been pursued makes a mockery of the very crime of rape and the level of interest it has aroused proves that the only time rape trials are at all fashionable, or inspire more than a flicker of interest, is when a political agenda is riding on it. There is no real concern for the welfare of the women at the centre of these allegations, no care for their bodily integrity or sexual autonomy, all that’s really at stake is the integrity of Julian Assange.

Rape is not a convenient penalty card on an aggrandised sports field that we get to waive about every time an opponent outstrips us. It must be understood as a serious crime.

Sweden, the land baying for Assange’s extradition from Britain, is home to one of the highest incidences of rape reports in the world. And while many of these cases are summarily dismissed (as Assange’s originally was) it must also be realised that part of Sweden’s high number of reported rapes can be explained behind a legal system in which women actually feel comfortable enough to dare to come forward and report rape or sexual assault.

Women who call rape are branded social misfits. We need just rewind to the Jules High School fiasco to understand that the pressure to recant is more severe than any level of protection offered. In Jacob Zuma’s trial the complainant was painted as a serial rape accuser, her “victims” were paraded across the witness stand, their stories splashed across the national papers, the complainant sinking deeper and deeper into a very public humiliation. Assange’s complainants have already been painted as an over-enthusiastic groupie on the one hand and a feminist who calls sexual harassment at the drop of every hat on the other. Zuma’s acquittal, like the Jules High School recanter have done little to advance the reality of rape as more than a convenient ploy in the minds of sick tacticians.

There is of course a good chance these allegations against Assange are more credible than an elaborate smear campaign. One Swedish law expert who describes himself as having the independence and integrity of Swedish judges and prosecutors in very high regard dismisses any chance of a conspiracy: “If the powers that be really wanted to set up Assange on trumped-up rape charges, they would make sure to find a victim with bruise marks, a bloodied nose, torn pantyhose and some ‘reliable witnesses’ “. There remains however strong disapproval of the manner in which the Swedish lawyers have gone about their business, the Swedish lawyer goes on to say, “Assange stayed in Sweden until the end of September. It is mind-boggling that he wasn’t called in for interrogation by either police or prosecutors, all the more since he is foreigner with no right of abode in Sweden and no known residence. He could have been interrogated without being arrested, as he repeatedly stated his willingness to be heard by Swedish police. To wait for him to be abroad, and to launch an arrest warrant that would inevitably imply arrest and detention pending the outcome of extradition proceedings — while perfectly legal, it should be said — does seem totally over the top.”

Assange’s version of events may well contradict the women’s stories, and Assange, like Zuma, may well emerge from this better endowed but it is time we call bullshit on political agendas that are furthered on the bodies of women, protecting men while allowing women to emerge only as dirty sluts.