In the last chapter of The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court, author Mmatshilo Motsei starts her concluding remarks by quoting Sello wa Loate:
[w]e need to re-evaluate our value system as a society. The highly competitive environment we have created and the resultant conflict and pressure on different sections of our society make post-apartheid black society seem like a car travelling at high speed, changing gears without any transmission oil. We need to stop for a moment and check the oil before the car breaks down completely.
These words came back to me on Saturday night as I witnessed the silent protest during President Jacob Zuma’s address at the IEC results centre. The protest revealed a lot about the kind of society that South Africa is today. Not only did the protest, led by four brave women, remind us about Khwezi, it also reminded us of Pumla Dineo Gqola’s Rape: A South African Nightmare and what she calls “violent masculinities” of those in power, and how this violence on female bodies has become “not just acceptable and justified, but also natural and desirable”. The consequent responses to the protest by some politicians reminded me about how little these individuals care about women, and that they are more concerned about the president’s public image, rather than critically engaging with what the protest signified.
What happened on that Saturday night?
Just as the president was about to start his speech, four black women walked in with placards that read: ‘I am 1 in 3’, ‘#’, ‘10 years later’ , ‘Khanga’ and ‘Remember Khwezi’ . A few seconds later, these women were removed by security. This encounter with security seemed violent, as though these women had committed a crime. This incident was then followed by a ‘Thank you’ from the president, who went on with his speech as though nothing happened. A few minutes later, we were exposed to various responses. An unsurprising response was from African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) President Bathabile Dlamini who called this protest a “publicity stunt” and requested the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to “accept defeat” (arguing that this was staged by the EFF to “embarrass the president”).
This response reminded me how patriarchal our society is. Sentiments shared on social media portrayed these women as lacking agency, as though these four women are mere puppets of patriarchy. Such commentary attempted to make the protest a mere political act. What the ANCWL president and others failed to see was that this protest was bigger than party politics. The protest reminded and educated our citizens about Khwezi and how our society views rape and how we deal with it. It reminded us how quick we are to sweep matters under the carpet as though the trial did not happen in 2006. Although the president was found not guilty, we cannot wipe away the fact that the trial did happen.
We would be misguided in accepting the view that these women are without agency and it’s certainly sad that one has to go to such lengths to prove that these four women are not puppets of patriarchy. For instance, one of the protesters, Simamkele Dlakavu, later had to defend how she was not sent by any man from the EFF. She posted an image of her master’s dissertation on her twitter timeline, as a means to not only show her ability to think for herself, but she is also a critical and self-aware woman. Instead of focusing on their EFF membership, we should acknowledge the brave act that they had carried through. This was not the first time Dlakavu was involved in a protest of this nature – she has also been previously involved in the Wits silent protest that was carried out in solidarity with the #RUReferenceList earlier in the year.
What took me back to that particular page of Motsei’s book and some of the thoughts shared by Gqola is the manner in which the security removed the women. It was a reminder that we need to re-evaluate our value systems both as women in South Africa where rape is a lived reality and as a larger community. It was a reminder to our politicians that not everything is about them; perhaps the protest was sincerely about Khwezi and highlighting the existing rape culture that permeates in our country. I take it this protest will push us to take a moment and think hard about rape in our country and how we deal with it. What these women did was move the conversation of rape back into the public sphere. Yet, one could ask why they waited until Saturday? Could the protest not have happened on Women’s Day when the president gave an address? I fully sympathise with the sincerity of the protest, yet I think that we ought to ask some of these hard questions.
I am now stuck with many questions, conflicts and thoughts. I am deeply upset about how the protest shifted from what it was meant to highlight. I am upset that as women we still have to consistently legitimate ourselves and that we are nullified to being mere bodies who want to damage men, as though men are innocent beings whom we accuse unjustly.
In concluding, I am also stuck with a question that Motsei’s shares: “what lessons, if any, have we learnt from Jacob Zuma’s rape trial other than the fact that the abuse of sexual power does not seem to have any serious consequences in South Africa?”
Zinhle Manzini is currently registered for her master’s degree in philosophy at Wits as a 2016 Mandela Rhodes Scholar. She is a proud coconut from the townships of Kagiso and is always trying to navigate between the spaces of being an academic and a girl from kasi. A feminist, a reader, and a writer who’s sitting on an unpublished manuscript. She is also a director of Ward66 (a concept store in Kagiso) who loves baking and making smoothies.
Instagram @conflictedblackwoman or Tweet @ZinhleManzini