Winding road ahead 

Winding road ahead

Former South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma has been acquitted of the charges that he raped a family friend in his home last year. In Zimbabwe, the acquittal got favourable coverage by the state press, and was spun in solidarity with Zuma and his liberation credentials.

Judge Willem van der Merwer, who heard the case and delivered his six hour judgment yesterday, is known and respected for his fairness and integrity. But, as the Mail and Guardian pointed out on Friday (A judge who cannot win), no matter how he ruled, van der Merwer was likely to be criticised.

Spending some time in South Africa last month, it was interesting to speak with people there about how they saw the case. Among both the men and women I spoke with—vendors, taxi drivers, cleaners, shopkeepers—their thinking about the trial went far beyond the specific merits or challenging of the case.

They spoke instead about the tribal issue. Many seem quick to dismiss the complainant’s credibility and instead blame tribal jealousies that see Xhosas preventing Zulus such as Zuma from achieving leadership positions in South Africa. They cite the leadership of the ANC, and the challenges faced by SACP leaders who seek to gain a higher profile in the ANC.

Others were dismissive of the trial based on the complainant’s history and her perceived lack of credibility. One taxi driver I spoke with at length said that he feared it would make it more difficult for other women to report rape in the future. In my cynicism, I fear he might be right. Not that the complainant’s case was necessarily unfounded. But in a culture that doesn’t treat domestic violence or women’s rights with much seriousness, it’s hard not to trust that the slightest loophole won’t be exploited.

This doesn’t mean that the case should not have been reported, or taken to trial, or defended. In part, sexual violence persists because of the stigma of reporting it and the shame society places on women who admit to having been survivors of rape or assault. But it is a reminder that the road to a society without sexism or gender violence is long, winding, and full of potholes ahead.

Return to Main Page


Add Comment

Search This Site

Syndicate this blog site

Powered by BlogEasy

Free Blog Hosting