Does Rape Matter?

If the words of magistrates and judges are anything to go by, we would be able to grade rape crimes into categories- from not so bad to worst.

As if the act of rape itself was not traumatic enough, survivors still have to listen to remarks made during trial, that is, if their case makes it to court.

But who monitors what judges and magistrates say in their courtrooms? No one, really.

While it isn’t possible to monitor every single rape judgment handed down (and I wish I personally could), we can, instead, choose the people who are appointed to the bench, very carefully.

Next month, the Judicial Service Commission will conduct interviews on potential candidates, who may be deemed as fit for the bench.

Candidates are often asked about their experience, past judgments, how long they served as an acting judge for, and what their experience is with civil cases.

Based on previous JSC sittings, rape judgments delivered by these candidates often slip through the cracks.

This year, the case study for “what not to do when presiding over a rape case” is acting Judge Meerchand Maharaj.

Maharaj started off as a prosecutor and then moved up the ranks to become a magistrate. In his impressive CV, he lists being trained in sexual offences.

In his own words, in a rape appeal matter, the acting judge writes: “Rape is undeniably a despicable crime. It is humiliating and degrading and constitutes a brutal invasion of the privacy and dignity of the person…”

But when dealing with an appeal against sentence in a case where a nine-year-old child was raped, Maharaj decides that this is not the most serious rape he has presided over.

He writes, “the learned magistrate overemphasised the seriousness of the crime…”

In considering the substantial and compelling circumstances, he notes, “There is no evidence of serious injury to the complainant or her emotional state.”

Maharaj’s remarks are echoed in many other judgments.

During the 2015 JSC interviews, another shortlisted candidate, Judge Francis Legodi, made similar remarks in a judgment.

In a case where a ten-year-old was raped, Judge Legodi said that compared to other victims, the child was “less affected and traumatised” and that her performance at school was “not seriously affected”. The man’s sentence was changed from life imprisonment to ten years each for two rapes.

Legodi in another rape judgment said: “In coming to the sentence I don’t think this rape was one of the worst. Minimum force was used, ten years imprisonment in my view is a bit severe.”

In 2016, shortlisted candidate Judge Christiaan van der Merwe also expressed similar sentiments of lack of injury in his judgment. “There was no serious or lasting mental injury to the complainant,” he wrote. He concluded that life imprisonment was “disproportionate and unjust” for the rapist due to these circumstances.

These are just a few examples of remarks made by judges about the nature of the rape, “not being the worst”, nor the injuries “too severe”. This may be a result of presiding officers who have become desensitised to the issue of rape because they often preside over many of these cases.

But that’s no excuse. Judges owe it to the survivors and to the justice system to ensure that they are sensitive and strive for impartiality.

The courts are said to be a microcosm of society. Is this really what we think of rape crimes? That some are more serious than others? The act of rape is horrific enough. Full stop. No further explanation is needed.

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The Justice Lady is a writer who wants to give a voice to the voiceless. She is an advocate for the rights of rape survivors. She keeps a close eye on the courts, the media and the role they play in shaping the manner in which society sees rape.
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A Letter to the President

President Cyril Ramaphosa
The Presidency of South Africa

Dear Sir,

RE: RESPONSE TO THE APPOINTMENT OF MINISTER BATHABILE DLAMINI AS MINISTER FOR WOMEN IN THE PRESIDENCY

Firstly, we congratulate you on your appointment as the President of the ANC and President of the Republic of South Africa. We have noted with much interest the presentation of your State of the Nation Address and welcome the commitment you made to address corruption, in particular, for taking seriously the former Public Protector’s State Capture report, including considering engaging civil society through coordinated seminars and meetings.

The Shukumisa Coalition, the Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA), the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign (RSJC) and the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (TLAC) are institutions that work hard to ensure that social justice and human rights are a reality for all people in South Africa. In particular, we work to ensure that women’s right to live free from violence, particularly sexual violence, is enjoyed by all people living in South Africa.

We hereby express our disappointment and concern at your appointment of Mrs Bathabile Dlamini as the Minster for Women in the Presidency.

Minister Dlamini is currently fighting a constitutional court order that seeks to hold her personally liable for costs related to the failure of the South African Social Service Agency (SASSA) to deliver social grants using a corruption free payment process. Since women are the main recipients of social grants in order to care for their children, as a result of this failure the poorest and most vulnerable are at risk. Her refusal to accept advice or obey court orders against the Department of Social Development show a lack of accountability that we believe she would take with into her new appointment. For this reason we believe that her appointment shows that you do not place value on holding your cabinet ministers accountable for their poor performance and that you do not value the role of women in society.

The Department of Women has a very important role to play in the Integrated Programme of Action to Address Violence Against Women and it is evident from her track record at the Department of Social Development that Minister Dlamini’s performance was not sufficient to ensure that this Action Plan was in fact implemented within the proposed time frame. She also did not consult with civil society. We believe that Mrs Dlamini’s appointment as Minister for Women in the Presidency will undo all the efforts made to address gender stereotypes and gender based violence, and that our government will not take sexual offences seriously going forward. This is despite you, Mr President, stating that violence against women is an epidemic.

We believe that the person mandated with leading the Department of Women needs to be an exemplary and visionary leader, and a gender rights activist who is open to working collaboratively and hearing the voices of many different stakeholders. She must stand firm in being accountable to those she claims to represent. The Minister for Women must have a solid grounding in issues pertaining to violence against women and must conduct herself in a manner that does not rationalise or exacerbate violence against women. There is no room for error in this regard.

In light of the above serious concern that the Presidency is very aware of we request that you reappoint a capable and qualified Minister to take the responsibilities of this office seriously in the best interest of the women, children and vulnerable groups as you commit to rebuilding the country and restoring the human dignity of people, which we believe you are capable of doing.

We look forward to your favourable response. In addition, we will also avail ourselves should you require more clarity or further details concerning issues we raised in this letter.

Yours sincerely,

The Shukumisa Coalition
The Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign (RSJC)
The Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (TLAC)

To get in touch with us, please contact the Shukumisa Coordinator, Aniela Batschari:
Tel. 021-447 1467
Cell. 082-546 4261
Email. shukumisacampaign@gmail.com

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Women’s Month: A Sham

It’s an annual play and we have all seen it before….

Every year in South Africa, we celebrate Women’s Month to commemorate the thousands of women who fought so bravely for equality during apartheid.

But it has become a month of lip service. Government departments praise their programs to end the scourge of gender based violence and spew dialogue about the initiatives that exist which put the needs of South African women first.

But let’s look at a more accurate test. The importance placed on women’s rights can be measured when a political figure is involved in the act of violating women. Enter, former deputy Minister of Higher Education, Mduduzi Manana.

Mduduzi Manana

Former deputy Higher Education Minister, Mduduzi Manana. CC Image courtesy of Agência Brasil Fotografias on Flickr.

For most of this month, South Africans have been consumed with the story of Manana, after a video was released on social media, showing him beating a young woman as the men around him watched this. He later, in an audio clip, admits he slapped this woman. The media feasts on this story and it makes headlines everywhere.

And then came the grand moment when the ANC Women’s League had the stage to condemn this violence and represent the voice of all women in the country.

And all I can do is sigh as I write this…..

Questions are posed to the ANCWL President,  Bathabile Dlamini, on the Manana incident. An audio interview with the Sunday Times newspaper is published. This is what she says:

“Don’t start from him. If we want to say everyone who occupies a senior position in government we must know his track record because there are people who are worse than him….”

So this makes his actions okay then, because it’s just assault?

“As ANCWL it is our role to fight about issues of gender based violence. I don’t want to be part of those games of saying whether he should resign or not. In other parties there is sexual harassment and it is not treated the way it is treated in the ANC. I refuse that this issue be made a political tool. It is not a political tool….For now we have been saying Umuntu is innocent until proven guilty…”

Dlamini refuses to take a stand on the issue. She has disappointed thousands of South African women yet again. Many of us begin to have flash backs of the Jacob Zuma rape trial and the manner in which Khwezi was vilified.

On the one hand we have Dlamini saying she will not be dragged into this case which directly involves violence against women. On the other hand, you have her preaching that South Africa is ready for a female president as she announces that Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma will be one of the candidates running for the ANC presidency.

In an address where she announced  Dlamini -Zuma as the candidate backed by ANCWL, she says, “We need to be very vigilant…If people respect us, they must stop doing clandestine things during our month. Every year in parliament, we discuss women’s issues during this month….South African is a patriarchal country even the storyline is meant to use us as weapons or objects.”

Now let’s get back to Manana, who resigns from government.

In his carefully crafted PR statement, he apologises for his actions. “There is no excuse in the world that can justify what I have done and as much as I am utterly and completely shameful of the act, it’s not even about me,” he says.

But Manana’s resignation brings no justice for the woman who was slapped or for South African women who are constantly fighting against violence. It is merely an act, which was as a result of mounting public pressure and because of the impact it would have on the ruling party. Ultimately it was about saving face in a country where politics always takes precedence.

For me it’s just another reminder of how little we value women and their rights in our country. There is no political accountability for the actions of elected officials, from Bathabile Dlamini to Mduduzi Manana and many others.

Something else that gives me sleepless nights is the tendency of political heads to show more concern in Women’s Month. Why is it that if something is committed in this month it is made out to be ten times worse? Beating a woman is a horrific and an unjustifiable crime, whether it happens in January or in August. It shouldn’t be happening. Nor should we leave issues of women to be discussed in this month only.

What was once a month of celebrating women, is now a month for opportunists to express outcry and outrage.

I am glad it’s almost over. Because the truth is that once the month is over people go about and continue to violate the rights of women.

 

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TheJusticeLady

TheJusticeLady is a writer who wants to give a voice to the voiceless. She is an advocate for the rights of rape survivors. She keeps a close eye on the courts, the media and the role they play in shaping the manner in which society sees rape.

Taking the time to breathe

 

We all have times where we feel overwhelmed. Whatever your struggle, passion or duties may be, there can be moments that simply feel impossible. At times like these, to suggest that you should prioritise taking care of yourself seems ridiculous. But the truth is that self-care can make you stronger, sharper and more able to cope with whatever life throws at you. It’s not indulgent to invest in yourself.

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For me, my go-to self-care strategy is yoga. Yoga acts like a ‘pause’ button on a life that often feels like it’s on fast-forward. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the honour of working with Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust staff who have been creating space in their schedules to practice yoga together. Strength, flexibility, balance: all the elements we work towards in yoga are also useful for a successful day in the office. And by letting go of tension before it builds up, we are more resilient to external stresses.

Stress comes from many sources. Every headline can be a cause for concern. Local, national and international news make us feel like everyone should be in a constant state of anxiety. Droughts and fires make is seem as though even the natural elements want us to be in a heightened state of nerves. Even positive events can see activists working overtime coordinating campaigns. And all this on top of daily concerns: caring duties, money worries, household responsibilities.

It’s not unusual for these burdens to be particularly heavy for women, who often bear the duty of care for others, as well as the weight of disproportionate impact from the negative political or economic changes that dominate the news. As such it can be especially hard for women to carve out the time needed to care for themselves. Yet self-care is important for building the mental, physical and emotional energy we all need to flourish.

Self-care can be anything that helps you feel more like yourself: chatting with friends, getting a massage, reading a detective novel. Your strategy could be something that makes you laugh, or relax, or feel energised. I like yoga because it reminds me to be entirely in the present, instead of worrying about what happened earlier or what’s going to happen later. I close my eyes, breathe into my belly, and unclench my jaw. In doing so I begin to unwind.

The staff at Rape Crisis work exceptionally hard, in challenging conditions. It would be understandable if they felt that their work is too important to take a break from, their cause too pressing to pause. But for an hour a week, they’re taking the time to reconnect with their breath and their bodies, and in doing so they’re practising more than just yoga. Their practising an approach to self-care that hopefully leaves them more resilient to stress and more able to focus.

Whether you’re fighting the patriarchy or fighting fatigue, take a moment to reflect on what you need to renew yourself to continue giving it your all. Nobody benefits if an activist burns out, and right now we need as much positive energy as we can muster. Self-care is a strategy to strengthen your cause as well as yourself.

 

Rose Longhurst0e0ed89

Rose has extensive experience working in international fundraising, advocacy and development. She currently lives in the UK and is passionate about human rights and social justice work. She is also a qualified yoga teacher.