The rape, abuse and murder of women is our national shame. It is estimated that there are more than 500,000 cases of rape in South Africa per year. It is only the most recently reported case of rape and murder which has sent Thato Kutumela to prison for 20 years, for murdering his 18-year-old pregnant model girlfriend Zanele Khumalo.
The high profile the Oscar Pistorius murder trial is receiving blanket media coverage, but under the penetrating searchlight of the international media there are regular stories of rape, abuse and murder of women in South Africa. To our shame our country is still known as the “rape capital of the world”. It gives little comfort that the Congo and India are now vying for this terrible title.
The question we have to ask is why? Why in a country that has a constitution known to be one of the most progressive in the world and one that emphasises gender equality is there such an onslaught on the sanctity and lives of women? Why in this particular country is power and the need for control in men so brutally evident?
An article published last year by the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust quotes police crime statistics, and suggests that a major contributing factor is South Africa’s culture of violence. “South Africa is a country where a substantial portion of the male population historically bonded in a violent and highly militarised context,” it said. It went on to say that the universal conscription of white men and absorption of many black men into the liberation struggle which saw violence as a legitimate means of resolving conflicts was a culture that promoted “tough, aggressive, brutal competitive masculinity”.
Their comments on the research also pointed to the “culture and its institutions having been profoundly affected by the institutionalised dehumanisation imposed by the Apartheid system” which it says “traumatised the entire nation”. But the men convicted of murder now are relatively young and could not have been directly affected in the way described.
The unimaginable gang-rape, disembowelling and murder of Anene Booysen last year led to the conviction and double life sentencing of Johannes Kana, whose age is not given, but judging by his photographs is a young man.
Last week a 17-year-old teenager was convicted in the Northern Cape High Court of killing his parents and then raping and killing his 14-year-old sister. It is reported that this disturbed young man showed no emotion after being found guilty.
Under-reporting of rape is a major problem. Recent Medical Research Council findings show that only one in twenty-five women report a rape in Gauteng. Gender rights activist and director of Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre Shireen Motara says that women don’t report rape because of the reaction they get. The burden is put on the woman who is asked how she was dressed and whether she behaved appropriately. Was she drunk or had she used drugs? The implication is that it was her behaviour that could have led to the rape. Victims sometimes say that the stigma of being raped prevents them from reporting it. Activists say that rape in Africa is driven by inequality and weak prosecution.
Social psychologists and others searching for answers to this de-humanising situation also consider the possibility of a biological explanation. In his book The Inevitability of Patriarchy Stephen Goldberg suggests that men are naturally more competitive than women because of their high level of testosterone. This makes them, according to him, “aggressive and power-hungry, so that they inevitably take the higher status positions in society, leaving women in subordinate roles.”
Steve Taylor from the department of Psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University says, “most human beings suffer from an underlying psychological disorder and the oppression of women is just one symptom of it.” He discounts the testosterone theory and refers to ancient societies where women were nurtured and venerated for their life-giving abilities despite there being high levels of testosterone.
Is it because there is a disturbance in the role-modelling example set for boys growing up in South Africa? There are so many who live during their early formative years without a father to set them on a course for healthy masculine behaviour. Fractured families make young men look for role models elsewhere. What must their example be in a country where some of the most senior political leaders are accused of rape and who show scant regard for the safety or protection of women?
If it is power and control that men want, what is the cause of this sense of impotence? Low self-esteem, extreme jealousy and difficulties in managing anger are known reasons of domestic violence. Men with traditional beliefs think that they have the right to control women and that a woman is not equal to a man. This need for domination leads to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
Although Oscar Pistorius has overcome his disability and has achieved world-wide fame, is there still an underlying sense of weakness that may have caused an episode of extreme behaviour? Does society expect too much of its men and have the standards of competition and behaviour of men left many with a sense of disappointment in themselves and in their performance?
Is Oscar Pistorius only one example of a much wider male problem of having to overcome a crippling sense of low self-esteem that has to assert itself in bullying and gender violence? DM
Johann Redelinghuys is a partner at Heidrick & Struggles the international leadership consulting business, which bought the firm Redelinghuys & Partners of which he was the founder. He has been deeply involved in career management and executive search all his life. He is the chairman of the South African company and now heads up its board practice working with chairmen and CEOs focussed on CEO succession, strategic leadership review and board evaluation.