17 August 2017

South Africa: A Slow Burn - How Violence and Trauma Meet in a Single, Deadly Circle

Photo: Uganda Women's Network
The International Men's March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence.
opinion

Fikile Mbabalula, Bathabile Dlamini, Mduduzi Manana. Until today, they served in one cabinet in a country where two ends of a vicious circle meet.

We live in a bizarre country.

We have a police minister who fires off hourly tweets against gender-based violence, a former deputy minister of higher education who headed up a task team on gender-based violence but who had also been recorded on video slapping a woman at a nightclub, a social development minister who wants to sue a newspaper for releasing a recording in which she implies the former deputy minister's actions are not as bad as they appear, and a president who has been on trial for rape. Until Saturday, they were all in the same cabinet.

We have political stalwarts who freed our country, but some, as well as their children, are accused of violence against their partners.

Some of our schools and universities feature at the top of world ranking lists. But we have education institutions that are so unsafe and teachers who are so vulnerable that their partners are able to storm into their classes and shoot them dead in front of eight-year-old pupils.

We have four athletes who astonished the world by bringing back six medals from the recent World Athletic Championships, who are held up as an example of determination to us all. But, we also have a world-famous athlete serving a prison sentence for murdering his girlfriend and a former Grand Slam champion and tennis coach who has been found guilty of molesting and raping his trainees.

Fikile Mbalula. Mduduzi Manana. Bathabile Dlamini. Jacob Zuma. Shaka Sisulu. Tokyo Sexwale. Wayde van Niekerk. Kate Chiloane. Oscar Pistorius. Bob Hewitt.

We are actually not so extraordinary, after all.

With our history of political and other forms of violence, we live in one of the most traumatised countries in the world. Studies show that unprocessed trauma and violence have an intimate relationship: they go hand in hand.

Experts suggest that banning corporal punishment in the home could lead to a less violent society. Joan van Dyk explains.

In Diepsloot in northern Johannesburg, the social justice organisation Sonke Gender Justice and the public health department of the University of the Witwatersrand found that men who had been abused or neglected as children were five times more likely to beat or rape a woman. The study results, which were released in 2016, also showed that men who had experienced trauma as adults, such as witnessing a rape or murder, or being robbed at gunpoint or assaulted, were two-and-a-half times as likely to be violent to women.

And that's where the two ends of a vicious circle meet: of a sample of 2 600 men in the township, 56% admitted to having beaten or raped a woman; 85% also said they had been abused or neglected as children.

Almost none of the men had access to counselling, resulting in an intergenerational transmission of abuse.

Add to that the fact that most of the country's children grow up in households without fathers - two out of three, according to Statistics South Africa. It all adds up to a fertile breeding ground for violence.

In a South African Medical Research Council study, the results of which were released to Bhekisisa this week, child rape victims were much more likely to live with their mothers, and much less likely to live with both their parents, compared with children in the general population. The research analysed 3 972 rape cases reported to 170 police stations in 2012. Fourteen percent of perpetrators in the study were younger than 18 years.

Although research has shown that men who were abused as children are more likely to grow up to be violent men, the opposite has been found for women: abused girls have a much higher likelihood to become victimised as adults than their peers who were not abused.

Those children who saw their teacher, Kate Chiloane, being killed this week in front of them at Sediba-Sa-Thuto Primary School in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, are a case in point. They will be severely traumatised and need urgent help - extensive counselling, not just one group session and off they go.

But we live in a country with broken systems. There aren't nearly enough health resources to provide those who have been traumatised with the mental health services they need. We are failing to reduce the chances of such traumatised individuals turning to violence themselves.

Our criminal justice system is as dysfunctional. In the medical research council study, only 8.6% of rape cases resulted in a guilty verdict. The study found that convictions were 50% more common when police had visited the crime scene and twice as common when a perpetrator's DNA was matched. But, in 2012, police visited crime scenes only 53% of the time, and forensic samples that had been collected and could have led to guilty verdicts were not sent away for analysis in one out of five cases.

"This doesn't just result in one person's rapist walking free," says one of the study researchers, Merciline Machisa. "Because most rapists rape more than once, the same perpetrator could potentially have been linked to several other cases as well if his DNA had been collected and isolated."

Another study researcher, Rachel Jewkes, expressed a cynical but realistic view of the court system. She believes Manana, who has been charged with grievous bodily harm, will at best get a suspended sentence or a fine.

But it doesn't stop with men. Dlamini is not just the minister of social development, she also heads the ANC Women's League.

Stating that she's against women abuse this week, nogal at the launch of a gender-based violence app, she said: "Don't be misled when I say there are those who are worse [than Manana]. I am in no way suggesting that anyone should be given [a] free pass just because they have not killed their victim yet."

Only those who have not killed their victim yet?

When Zuma went on trial in 2005 after Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo , more commonly known as Khwezi, accused him of raping her in his house, members of the women's league stood alongside Zuma as he shook his body to the sounds of Umshini Wam.

The publication okayafrica quoted Mpumi Mathabela, co-ordinator of the 1-in-9 Campaign, an organisation opposing gender-based violence that was formed to support Kuzwayo, as saying women's league members had told Khwezi "she should feel lucky to have been raped by such a handsome man".

Kuzwayo grew up in Zambia with her mother. She was 10 when her father, an ANC exile, died.

After opening the rape case, Zuma's supporters hounded and castigated her. Her house was burnt down and she received many threats, including calls to "burn the bitch".

In 2006, Zuma was acquitted of the rape charge after saying the sex he had with Kuzwayo had been consensual.

Ten years later, in October last year, she died.

Ronnie Kasrils, former intelligence minister and the first person Kuzwayo called after her alleged rape, was quoted in the media as saying: "Her life was completely smashed in 2005 and 2006. [Kuzwayo] is a symbol for all of us who are abused in this violent, disgusting and patriarchal way. We must show solidarity with those who are vilified for speaking out."

Yes, Bathabile Dlamini, she did die. Piece by piece. #RememberKhwezi

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