South Africa: Should we forgive Chris Brown?

Date: December 6, 2012
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Johannesburg, 7 December: Last week, social media went abuzz with outrage from some South Africans regarding Chris Brown’s concerts to be held from 15 to 20 December in the country. Chris Brown is a confessed perpetrator of domestic violence against pop artist Rihanna. Rihanna has since forgiven Brown but some citizens are asking themselves whether they should also forgive him.

In 2009, Brown assaulted Rihanna the night before the Grammy Awards. After a legal process, the judge sentenced Brown to five years’ probation and six months community labour. He publicly apologised for the abuse and did community service (including picking up litter, cleaning a children’s centre, painting, washing police cars). Brown did not go to jail.

One can understand the outrage on social media. South Africa’s domestic and intimate partner violence levels are incredibly high. For instance, in Gauteng, one of the provinces where Brown is performing research undertaken by Gender Links titled The War at Home found out that over half the women of Gauteng have experienced some form of violence (emotional, economic, physical or sexual) in their lifetime and 76 % of men in the province admit to perpetrating some form of violence against women. Thirty three percent of women disclosed that they had experienced physical violence and 51% admitted to perpetrating this type of violence.

It is understandable that spending money on a perpetrator of domestic violence and allowing him to perform in three major cities immediately after the Sixteen Days of Activism has caused frustration among some South Africans.

However, those who emphathise with Brown have reminded the world that he apologised to Rihanna. Surely, critics should butt out of the situation and allow the two to move on. One person on twitter asked “why should he have to face a public jury?” If Rihanna forgave Brown, shouldn’t we also forgive and forget? It is a logical argument and reflects society’s inclination to stay out of the private lives of other citizens.

This sits uncomfortably with me. It reflects the outmoded view that the private should never be public. A man could “discipline” his wife or girlfriend, without society judging him for doing so.

Domestic violence has historical roots, and perhaps explains why we feel so comfortable letting the Brown-Rihanna case slide. Some citizens think it is a private affair and somewhere deep in our recesses we are asking – what did she do to deserve it? At the same time, we want to forgive Brown’s actions so that we can move on, and not have to think about what we’d do if it happened to our sisters, mother’s or friend’s. His apology allows us to forget.

The second thing that sits uncomfortably is that we’re all ignoring how often physical abuse is accompanied by psychological abuse that makes the victim believe they deserve it, or that nobody else will ever love them, and is followed by regular and frequent apologies by the perpetrator. Domestic violence perpetrators are manipulative. As a result, women go back into an abusive relationship, despite the despair of their friends and loved ones.

Victims of domestic violence also ask themselves that uncomfortable question – what did I do to deserve it? When you love someone, you want to try and forgive them. You want to excuse the abuse and believe that they are not trying to control you or break you down.

Unfortunately, most domestic violence is not a once off incident. That’s why South African legislation makes it possible for women to get protection orders to keep the perpetrator away. Our law recognises that when women report, it’s probably not the first time they’ve been beaten.

Even after the Rihanna assault, Brown has repeatedly taken to sexist, violent and abusive utterances on twitter. Last week, Brown posted a picture of himself saying “I look old as f***! I’m only 23…” When Jenny Johnson, a comedian who regularly antagonises Brown online replied, “I know! Being a worthless piece of s*** can really age a person.” Brown replied, “take them teeth out when sucking my dick hoe!”

Brown and Rihanna are public figures. Younger fans watch them closely.

Although Rihanna’s pathway to healing is hers, when one is a huge star, it seems irresponsible not to send a clear message to young women that they do not have to take this abuse.

Brown’s apology may have seemed like a positive step initially, but his continued sexism online and the very scary responses from his female and male fans indicate that he is also riding on the wave of his fans. He has not begun to live his apology, nor participated in public dialogue that is anti-domestic violence.

In the same way that South African President Jacob Zuma let us down by not eschewing violence during his rape trial, Brown has let us down by not taking the opportunity to discourage young men from being violent, even if they are from violent families like his own.

It seems clear that although Brown only apologised for his actions because he faced legal action and extreme public pressure. Brown as the perpetrator and Rihanna as the victim were both in a limelight that most victims and perpetrators are not in. Unfortunately their actions took on the level of allegory, and the message we’re left with is – you strike a woman, just say sorry, keep calm, and carry on.

I don’t buy his apology, and the recent twitter spat is only one example of why. But what about other perpetrators? Should we ever forgive them?

Jen Thorpe is a feminist writer based in Cape Town. She is the editor of and This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Violence.


One thought on “South Africa: Should we forgive Chris Brown?”

Naledi says:

Yess we should forgive Chris!!!
We all make mistakes

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