“No one deserves to be raped”. These words will remain as one of the reminders of the violence against women’s bodies, their suffering, trauma and depression in the history of our country.
The words were the caption of Khensani Maseko’s last post on her social media page before she took her life. They are cries for help that remain a living voice of Khensani’s call to the country to unite in healing the wounds of the women that are raped, abused and shamed daily by men.
Moreover, they are words that challenge men to do better. The significance of her passing during women’s month is the journey that we have to take in attempts to do better as a country. It’s an appeal to reflect on what’s missing and how to fix it.
Despite the progressive laws, policies and campaigns by many sectors of society that are designed to address gender-based violence in all its forms in South Africa, they have not translated into action on the ground.
In frustration and plea, thousands of South African women marked the beginning of women’s month by taking part in the #TheTotalShutdown march against gender-based violence in the country. The 24 demands which were submitted to the President are a reiteration of the requests that have been made repeatedly to the formal authorities of the country by women with the hope that there would be change. The demands are that the government should do everything in its power to address gender-based violence.
Hopefully, the 2018 Women’s Charter Review Conference that engaged women across all sectors of society on August 20 is a start as ‘violence against women’ was on the agenda.
The news of Khensani’s passing came to light three days after #TheTotalShutdown. She was violated. She was raped. She was hopeless. As the country mourned the young life, the incident reminded its citizens from all corners that rape (and other forms of violence) is pervasive, unjustifiable and destroys its victims in unimaginable ways. However, questions such as, “how does your boyfriend rape you?”, “were they not together anymore?” and other comments that emerged in conversations with men and women both offline and online highlighted that the language of sexual assault and violence fails to resonate with many people.
We still have people that do not understand constitutes rape and others who think that beating up your wife behind closed doors is a family affair. Gender-based violence will only be reduced if both men and women unite to fight against it. Men that understand what we are crying so loudly about should not be defensive towards campaigns such as #MenAreTrash. They should contribute by engaging in dialogue on many platforms and speak out to the men that contribute to rape culture and gender-based violence. They must assist in changing the perceptions about women’s sexualities and bodies. They must call out their brothers and friends who believe in ‘disciplining’ women through beating them up or who refer to women as ‘whores’ and ‘sluts’. These are the painful discussions that we must have in order to move towards change.
Similarly, these are the conversations that we must have in our homes. Let there be equal treatment between boys and girls in the household first so that it translates to equity in our societies. Parents must find progressive ways to speak to their children about gender-based issues. These strides can help reduce patriarchal outlooks that perpetuate rape and violence against women.
There has been increasing mass action in many universities as they are some of the prime locations of rape culture. The RU Reference List which ‘outed’ alleged rapists and the subsequent protest in 2016 students at the University Currently Known as Rhodes (UCKAR) sparked debates about rape in higher education institutions nationally. Two years later, many students feel that the recommendations taken after the anti-rape protest have not been met adequately.
The death of Khensani, who stood out as a confident, active member of the student body (having served in the SRC and as a member of the EFF party student association) should be a push to tackle issues of rape and gender-based violence on a daily basis at universities. It is not enough to ‘dig’ up recommendations and task teams when there are protests or when someone dies as a result of rape.
Another one of Khensani’s last Instagram posts was a photo of a flatlining heart rate that read, “when this line gets straight, everyone will love you”. The best way to love her and honour her legacy is by fighting for a society where no woman is violated, abused and raped because no one deserves it.
Without drastic intervention measures, the names of Khensani Maseko, Karabo Mokoena, Reeva Steenkamp, Anene Booysen, Thembi Maphanga will be joined by an extended non-ending list of other females who will suffer brutal gender violence.