Healing sexual abuse wounds of the past: new book reflects on Zuma tri

Date: January 1, 1970
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Johannesburg, 16 April 2007. It took a few minutes of Jacob Zuma’s irresponsible behaviour as a man, a political leader, father figure and elder to bring out in the open, the best kept secret of sexual wounds of the liberation struggle in South Africa.

The well-known events at a house in Forest Town on the night of 2nd November 2005 became the centre of public attention. By courageously speaking out, the young woman, known variously as ‘Khwezi’ and ‘the complainant,’ amplified the muffled screams of women raped by those who parade the corridors of parliament, government, corporations, and religious and traditional institutions today.
In their role as warriors for the liberation of their country, South African women served as combatants in revolutionary armies in exile. Many of them suffered abuse at the hands of their male comrades. However, many who suffered sexual abuse in the crossfire of the political war of the 80’s and early 90’s have kept their voices suppressed and their wounds well hidden.
Launching 19 April my book The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court: Reflections of the Jacob Zuma Trial, uses the trial of Jacob Zuma as a mirror, revealing the hidden yet public forms of violence against women in their homes, marriages, churches and political organisations. This book explores not just male power, but political power, religious and cultural power, imperial and military power, and aims to encourage people to reflect on, and demand better of, the kind of leaders and leadership they deserve.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission failed in its endeavour to create a safe space for women to speak about their sexual violations during the struggle. Invariably, opening such wounds would implicate many men who are now in positions of power.
Faced with the possibility of equating the brutal and atrocious acts of the racist regime with those of their male comrades, women who suffered sexual violence during the struggle chose to remain silent.
In other cases, there were reports that male leaders who are prominent in our society today persuaded, forced or intimidated those who dared to reveal accounts of gang rapes during the hearings to remain silent.
Furthermore, because of the stigma attached to rape, many of the women who raped during the liberation war were not seen as heroes worthy of celebration in the same way as male comrades who withstood physical torture from their captors. Due to different constructions of political torture between men and women, a man who stood his ground against physical abuse from his oppressors is upheld as a real man while a woman who survives sexual abuse is filled with shame and guilt often perceived as filthy and worthy of scorn and/or punishment.
Indeed, 12 years after democracy, 10 years after the new Constitution, and 50 years after the Women’s March to the Union Buildings, a dramatic rape trial gripped South Africa, a clear reminder that national liberation, despite a progressive Constitution and legislation, does not automatically translate into respect for women’s rights and dignity. Further, the trial was also a reminder that deep-seated sexual wounds will not stay buried forever.
Faced with the re-opening of old sexual wounds, many women wrote letters to agencies such as Khulumani Support Group as well as the Foundation for Human Rights. Six months after Judge van der Merwe’s Not Guilty verdict  in December 2006,  I was invited to facilitate a workshop titled ‘Healing sexual wounds of the past: the unfinished business of the liberation struggle’ organised by the two organisations mentioned above.
My heart was ripped apart into tiny pieces during the time of the workshop. Survivors told horrific accounts of rape by men of opposing political groups during the time of political violence in the East Rand, Kwa Zulu Natal and other parts of the country.
How do we respond to a story of a woman raped by a tall and hefty white security police at the back of a hippo while others are kicking her, demanding that she shake her body to ensure that the rapist reach climax quickly so that they too can have their turn?
What do we say to a story of a woman raped by a member of ANC or IFP and later have her body pumped with bullets, which remain lodged in her wheelchair bound body? How many South African women walk about living with the HI virus in their cells and bullets lodged in their bones as a result of the rampant sexual terrorism of the liberation war? How do we cleanse women’s bodies and wombs that carry deep-seated pain and chronic infections caused by those with whom they fought the war of liberation?
As it is, Freedom Park honours blood spilled by those who died for the country. However, this honour is limited to blood spilled at the sharp end of the spear or the barrel of a gun. There is no mention, no thought or consideration for blood spilled by the invasive penis.
In a rather twisted way, having the Deputy President of the ruling party sing Umshini Wam at a rape trial not only reveals the fusion of a penis and a gun in a warrior culture, it sent out a tacit message that further suppresses women’s reporting of sexual violence in pre and post-apartheid South Africa.
The healing agenda in South Africa must include a woman-led, woman honouring and woman-healing perspective.  Instead of healing women’s sexual wounds of the past, the national healing agenda is surging ahead in an erratic fast forward mode with most ceremonies led by men.
Such agendas must give consideration for healing the women’s pain not only as the mother, wife, or relative of a struggle hero, but as a person violated in her own right. Nowhere is such a focus critical as the post Jacob Zuma rape trial era.
It’s not over until the women have spoken.
Mmatshilo Motsei is a social entrepreneur, counselor, poet and author of the best selling book “Hearing Visions, Seeing Voices”, as well as the newly released “The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court: Reflections of the Jacob Zuma Trial.” This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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