Violence, rape and abuse remain pervasive every day throughout South Africa, hidden behind walls and under the surface, festering and sometimes erupting into the open, forcing abused men, women and children to endure pain-filled, humiliating and wretched days. Our response? We seem satisfied with ourselves with our sanctimonious and vigorous participation in 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, making heartfelt speeches and empty promises, and then, for the rest of the year, forgetting to do anything that resembles a real response.
One would be forgiven for asking whether 16 Days really is for the abused, or whether society is content to hi-jack its good intent to pour balm on its own tortured soul. Abuse and violence of this nature are a deeply personal trauma – and changing laws can only do so much.
There are real people who suffer from abuse. They have names. We will continue to fail those who have been forced to endure this type of abuse for as long as we continue isolating abuse, reducing their plight to statistics, or by pretending that it is somehow confined to a particular set of circumstances, such as poverty.
We have to accept that abuse destroys lives, and those destroyed lives cause ripples across and throughout our communities. And we have to acknowledge that real people are perpetrators who sometimes go on to positions of power, reducing their agency and willingness to act against what they are themselves doing. Remembering people like Khwezi, mourning their suffering and pain, the perpetrators who caused their plight, and their isolation, is a way of distancing ourselves from the gentrification of abuse.
We must not forget that in our country, where crime rates in general are high, black women face a particular risk and often suffer the most violent crimes, like Noluvo did or Phumeza Nkolonzi or Motshidisi Pascalina or Thapelo Makutle or Noxolo Nogwaza or the countless other women who have been killed. Black lesbians must often contend with a violence and hatred that goes unchallenged in our society or is prevented by the system that is required to protect them.
Noluvo Swelindawo was taken from her home on Saturday and found dead this past Sunday in Cape Town. Noluvo was just 22 years old.
Noluvo was a black woman who was killed in a free and democratic South Africa. It has been reported that Noluvo was killed because of the hatred that goes unchallenged in our country. That hatred and violence has been allowed to fester like an open wound in our society. Noluvo died on the outskirts in Driftsands near Khayelitsha in Cape Town. Our outrage will not be enough to bring back Noluvo. Pledges will not bring Noluvo back to us.
Noluvo was not just a young person lost without reason. Rather, she was taken from us violently by a gunshot that was fuelled by hatred and our indifference. Noluvo was an activist, working hard to hold awareness campaigns, marches and workshops to confront issues around gender-based issues, homosexuality and transgenderism. Noluvo took her work to schools and to communities in the belief that her activism would play a role in shifting and challenging the violence that so many must endure.
We have failed Noluvo as we have failed the countless other black women and men who are taken from us so violently. We fail black lesbians every single day with our indifference and inability to cleanse this festering wound. We fail our very humanity by allowing people like Noluvo to be taken from us at such a tender age.
Our silence and indifference should not be allowed to fester in our society. Noluvo was not someone who was afraid of her own voice and so everyone in the community knew what mattered to her. She was taken violently perhaps because of her very brave commitment to the work she was doing and because of who she was. Noluvo in her conduct each day demonstrated more courage and conviction than many South Africans are able to muster when confronting the hate and crime that the LGBTI community must counter alone.
How do we defeat this insidiousness when the system dehumanises the victim and then leaves them alone to suffer while perpetrators march on, regardless, with their lives? How do we defeat the viciousness when the victim is left uncared-for, shamed, and stigmatised, whether in public or private? Through platitudes during a few days of “activism”. We cannot accept this type of activism if we are ever going to stop the abuse and killing.
Our approach to hate crimes has failed far too many people. The black body has long been commercialised and commodified in our country – reduced to something that has no substance or value. It is not surprising that black women and black lesbians are targeted so violently in our country. We have embraced inaction and silence instead of directing that outrage and disbelief into something good that addresses the change that is needed in our society.
We will be plagued by this festering wound for as long as we pretend that sexual orientation is a choice. Sexual orientation cannot be reduced into a choice – it is natural. What is certain is that we are choosing how to enforce our laws, which were designed to protect the idea that we have built a society “in which all South Africans will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts… a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world”. We have to acknowledge that we have failed to build that society and the costs have been dire.
It appears everyone in Driftsands, except the police, knows who killed Noluvo Swelindawo. The violence committed unto Noluvo was not only the gunshot wound but it continues after her death in the indifference and refusal to investigate the crime that has taken her. Noluvo may have been “born free” but she was killed by hatred and our indifference. This is not the end deserving of Noluvo. DM