By Zoleka Qodashe
A great part of me has resigned to defeat and is silenced by the shock that I have been overcome by following a few comments regarding rape in our universities and society at large. Comments alluding to the quite insane and vacuous ones spewed by Mrs Grace Mugabe in November last year in which she exclaimed that women are to blame for rape because of the clothes they wear. This prompted me to think of a time when I had been walking in town after meeting a few friends for a bite in Rosebank. I recall quite vividly wearing a maxi skirt that caressed my ankles and could have very well hid my toes. So there I was, trying to make my way back to Soweto in this squalid area when I felt a tight grip around my wrist. Confounded by my sudden and unwilling halt, I looked over my shoulder only to be confronted by a man whose face I could not recognize. Domineering he was, as he refused to let go of my wrist and after a few minutes of tortuously yelling that he relinquish my hand, a man (of which I would assume was of acquaintance) calmly told him to set me free, at which point he obliged.
In this moment, I realized two things:
1 –That a woman’s ‘no’ yields little meaning in a society so deeply saturated by patriarchy.
2 –That Mrs Grace Mugabe and all those who echo her unfounded sentiments, although they may not be aware, spouted some gobsmacking drivel. Because, in fact, it is not what I nor any other woman wears that suggests that we would like any man to forcefully thrust themselves upon us and do with our bodies as they please.
Women such as Zimbabwe’s First Lady perpetrate the very patriarchal structures that feminists everywhere attempt to dismantle. It is necessary, therefore, that women (not only in their capacity as mothers, sisters and daughters but as women) and men (not only in their capacity as fathers, brothers, sons but as men) condemn rape, as our greatest flaw as a society is to not recognize rape culture as one of our greatest vices.
In an opinion piece penned by Sisonke Msimang, she states, “…But it will end, the show. And there will be marches and petitions. There will be statements and rage. But it will happen again. Until our bones are worn into dust and our teeth crushed into the sand. It will happen and happen. Until we invent a way to stop being women. Until we find a way for our blood to no longer bleed between our legs. As long as we exist, we will be raped.” Msimang only offers a glimpse of what possibly awaits countless young girls and women. While innumerable breaths escape female bodies daily, as a result, one thing remains clear: we are already at risk simply by the virtue of being female.
The recent uproar over what has been dubbed “RUReference List’ has placed Rhodes University at the epicentre of public discourse. This list, carrying the names not of the rape victims at the University but the names of the rapists, not only seeks to curb the perpetual shaming of those who have had their dignity stolen from them, but also attempts to put an end to rape culture by pointing the finger at the predator and not the prey.
We stand in solidarity with all those at Rhodes University and all the women who have suffered this gross injustice.