Voices

Our words build SA’s rape culture

2019-02-10 15:01

Bushiri: Did you bath today?

Follower: Yes, Papa.

Bushiri: I see you used water and soap.

Follower: Yes, Papa. Yes.

– @KingBrainy on Twitter

I guess it’s ubiquitous by now – the gleeful, malicious don’t-drop-the-soap and papa-wag-vir-jou (daddy’s waiting for you) memes that spread across the internet like a bushfire minutes after news broke that prosperity prophet Shepherd Bushiri had been arrested for fraud and money laundering last Friday.

Have we stopped to ask ourselves some questions before we hit the retweet button with a snigger?

How casually do we equate gay sex with criminality?

How easily do we use rape as a metaphor for justice?

Rape metaphors are freely traded in this country, even by liberal cartoonists like Zapiro; even by socialist-minded leaders; even by the “woke”.

The next day, EFF leader Julius Malema overtook the Bushiris as the nation’s top trend as he launched his party’s election manifesto at a packed stadium in Soshanguve outside Pretoria.

Things were going well as he voiced his support of queer and women’s rights, and then they took a turn that dropped like a thud in my stomach.

Denouncing the racist, criminal leaders of apartheid, Malema, rolling his r’s, drove home how they “raped our people ... raped our land ... raped our cattle”.

It’s not just the boys and so-called men with genital panic on Twitter who do it.

Rape metaphors are freely traded in this country, even by liberal cartoonists like Zapiro; even by socialist-minded leaders; even by the “woke”.

Take the organisers of the Afropunk festival in Johannesburg for example – they still haven’t apologised for referring to the rape of the environment in their advertising last year.

If, according to the latest crime stats, the police say they are dealing with 110 reported rapes a day, how many more go unreported?

How many people in that sea of red in Soshanguve have survived rape or counselled their family, friends or colleagues through sexual abuse that has shattered lives, festered as secrets and held us back from living a full life?

How many are triggered every time you use our trauma as a joke or a metaphor?

Like a TV scriptwriter who casually has a villain rape a woman to prove how evil they are – not to advance story and character but as a gimmick ... Do you really need to use these words to make your point?

Are you aware of the power they have? Words are integral to the building of a rape culture in South Africa.

What if we stopped and chose the metaphors we deployed more thoughtfully? What if we used our power of empathy to inflict less harm on a nation struggling for its humanity?

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February 17 2019