Opinionista Jay Naidoo 8 February 2013

An open letter to my fellow South Africans: I am ready. Are you?

'Every 4 minutes a person is raped in SA,' scream the headlines. 'One third of SA men admit to having raped,' says our Medical Research Council. The consequence: the body of 17-year-old Anene Booysen lies lifeless. Her mutilated and brutalised body has given up hope on us as South Africans. It’s a mournful reminder of our national shame – the violation and abuse of our Mothers, Sisters and Daughters, the destruction of our humanity.

Jay Naidoo

Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, former minister in the Nelson Mandela government and former chair of Gain, a global foundation fighting malnutrition in the world.

Tomorrow it could be Your Mother, Your Wife, Your Sister or Your Daughter. Sexual violence knows no race, religion, status or class. It affects us All.

The question we all ask, “When are we going to confront the horror of sexual violence that leaves a bloody stain on our social fabric?”

As men we need to stand up and take a stand. We need to stop abusing, raping and hurting our women.

The solution lies in us, men

Have we forgotten that it is from the womb of our Mothers that we experienced life for the first time? It was her blood that brought us the love and the food that made us grow. It was from her swollen belly that we emerged to take those first gasps of air and bleat our first cries. It was on her breasts that we suckled the milk that comforted and fed our infant lives.

How could we violently tear those precious memories and brutalise the foundation of our hopes, our aspirations and our futures. Have we forgotten our Mothers who put food on our table? How often they would be content with a cup of tea and buttered bread because there was not enough to go around. Have we forgotten that first day, and every day after, that she   prepared you for school, ensured you had done your homework and were safe in this troubled world.

Now is the time to pay back that debt

I hear the calls for more stringent penalties. I heard the impassioned and angry calls for the return of the death penalty. Yes, we need a criminal justice system that works efficiently. We need more specialised policing that sees the woman who is raped as the victim, who needs society’s protection and comfort. Yes, we need that more urgently than ever.

But we need to look at the root causes. Men are not born as rapists. Something happens that make these men violent and vengeful against women. Our role as parents is the biggest influence on what our children will become. That cannot be outsourced to government. The home is the place where we learn love, compassion, tolerance and integrity. The home is where we are taught respect for each other, the ability to listen with humility and to learn from our mistakes. 

Gender equality needs to start in the home. Respect for the rights of girls and women begin in the home. And men have to learn that a real man’s place starts off  with changing napkins, preparing the family meals and playing a role in raising their children.

What happens in our homes happens in our society. Abuse has to be stopped in our homes, even if it means denouncing your husband, son, brother, uncle or grandfather.

We often say to our boys, “Stop crying? Be a man.” How often do we do we teach them that, “You are different from your sister.” And then we buy them realistic “guns” because a man has to show his power.  And our girls we package into “Barbie dolls” and prepare them for lives to be served as commodities for the whims of the fashion market and the pleasure of men.

Dress that up in patriarchy and tradition, implant a brutal impact of migrant labour that has broken the family fabric for generations, immerse that in the growing poverty and inequality that bedevils us and we have a toxic Molotov Cocktail that explodes around us.

We need to go back to the drawing board. One in every two South African women will be raped or abused in her lifetime. That is Your Mother, Sister or Daughter, Aunt, Grand-daughter or Cousin.

We cannot have a policeman or woman in every street. We need to watch over each other. We need to take our streets back from the criminal minority. That means a painstaking approach to building grassroots organisations that work with the community policing forums.

I undertake to attend the next meeting of the community policing forum in my area and to work with the local police to ensure our streets are safe.

I undertake that I will offer my help and support to media houses, NGO’s and social movements that want to work on a roadmap to build a tsunami of action that involves our people in resisting the heresy of violence against our girls and women. Can we have our faith- based and business leaders take a lead?

I undertake to work with organisations such as Section 27, the TAC and Equal Education, which are at the forefront of fighting the epidemic of sexual abuse and horror that thousands of our girls faced daily in our schools. And that means tackling the disease of “bullying” that dominates the playgrounds of so many of our schools.

We live in a new digital world today. Almost everyone has a cellphone. It is the most pervasive platform in the world. Applications can be designed for every possible option. Can we bring together social movements, NGOs, developers, funders, business, government, the SAPS and media to design the applications that allow us to target the geographic hotspots, the individuals involved and the results of actions taken by the criminal justice system?

Why is there not a blacklist of offenders which weeds out sexual offenders in our schools? How many times I have heard from hardworking teachers who have forced out sexual offenders parading as teachers in their schools. But they lurk within the system and we as parents are blissfully unaware that the people in whose trust we leave our innocent girls, are continuing to violate them.
What we need is a massive campaign. Now. The number of victims mounts daily. The psychological and physical toll and economic costs are incalculable. We need our political leadership today. Words are not enough. Lead by your actions. You will find us citizens of South Africa willing to follow bold action to secure the human rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Women  have to be equal partners in building the democracy we fought for.

We owe it to Anene Booysen. We owe it Corlia Olivier, who said on SABC, “My child almost looked purple. She was in such a bad state. All her fingers were broken, her legs were broken. Her stomach had been cut up, you could see her intestines. Her throat was also slit open.”

We owe it to the 360 women who will suffer the same fate until this days is over, another 360 tomorrow and every day after. And the tragedy is that this is only a tip of the iceberg.

The time has come to act. Will a million real men stand up and be counted tomorrow? That will be our real test of our democracy.

I am ready. Are you? DM



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