My Country, Our Pain | A Reflection on Recent Events

Reeva and Anene came from different worlds. They were polar opposites, chalk and cheese.

White and coloured.

Rich and poor.

An adult and a child, famous and anonymous.

One came from a white picket fence, parents who were still married, a blooming career. The other, a teenage girl with a grade 7 education from a foster home in an area rife with poverty.

All they have in common is that they were both women, South Africans.

And they both died at the hands of men they loved.

Meanwhile, the rape of a 100 year old woman in the Eastern Cape has gone by almost unnoticed by the public. (IOL 15 February 2013)

We have the highest sexual assault rates in the world. 144 cases are reported daily to the police but most go unreported and experts estimate that 3600 women are raped daily. (IOL, 8 February 2013)

And that’s only the women. Just a few days ago a man was reportedly gang raped by six men he had accepted a lift with. (City Press, 16 February 2013)

We also have the highest rates of death by domestic violence in the world. A woman is killed by her partner every six hours. (Gender Across Borders, 12 January 2012)

Reeva and Anene are not alone.

They are two faces, two names, that have stood out in South African media amongst the thousands of new victims daily. They are a reminder that this can happen to anyone. This happens in poor communities where drugs, alcohol abuse and violence are known issues. This happens in exclusive gated communities.

This happens in your neighbourhood. In your friends’ homes, in your colleagues’ homes. Perhaps even in your home.

This is everyone’s issue.

We are proud of our constitution. We are proud of the way women are represented in leadership positions, in business. Our liberal, forward thinking constitution is admired and celebrated by world leaders and commentators.

Our respect for each other on paper is not translating to respecting each other in our streets and in our own homes.

We are not alone in this. We know about the brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in India.

More recently newspapers in Mexico were reporting the rape of a 12 year old girl by a police officer, in the back of his patrol car. This story got less attention here, it was drowned out by the unfolding story of Reeva’s death by the gun of her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius.

We are not alone but that doesn’t solve or justify anything. That doesn’t make the assault of any woman (or man for that matter), anywhere in the world, any less disgusting.

It is an unpleasant, scary time to be a South African and to be a woman. We are six weeks into a new year and it has been a bombardment of bad news with no pause, no relief and no end in site.

I didn’t partake in Black Friday. Quite frankly, what is the point? People tell me it was about creating awareness.

I don’t think we’re lacking awareness.

I think we’re lacking action.

We are lacking think tanks, forums, policy debates and strategy discussions.

We’re lacking answers. We don’t know what happened yet that caused Oscar Pistorius to turn his gun on Reeva and I am certainly not arrogant enough to form an opinion based on so few facts.

But what happened to Johannes Kana, one of the two accused in Anene Booysen’s horrific rape and murder? His uncle describes him as a religious young man and a talented sportsman, who had played cricket in England.

Ironically, a description of Oscar Pistorius would contain similar details.

What has happened to our nation’s psyche that rape and domestic violence have become so ingrained in our culture?

Where did it all go wrong?

I love my country, with a deep passion. I love the people here. This is not who we are. This is not what we fought for and this is not what we stand for.

This cannot be who we are.

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