In a matter of days Zwelinzima Vavi was accused of rape and had the charges against him dropped. I’m not surprised by this spectacle. What makes me concerned is the question of a rape accusation being simply attributed as a ploy in politics. The woman who dropped the charges demanded R2 million from Vavi in order to keep quiet but after a two hour meeting she dropped the charges and Vavi is said to be charging her for extortion. Yet another leader in South Africa has a sex scandal hanging over his head. And in his defence, he says the accusation (and other accusations against him) are merely a smear campaign because he didn’t support President Zuma at Mangaung.
This is nothing new in South Africa. But the dismissal of rape that continues in our public discourse is worrying. How can we take rape seriously in this country if women’s bodies are constantly being used as bait in a political game? This pervasive dismissal of rape where men in power should be held responsible—charged and jailed—but get away with it, makes it difficult for us to collectively concede as a country that women’s bodies are under siege.
The most obvious rape case which I will not belabour nor elaborate upon is that of our very own President. This incident reminds me of Makhaya Ntini’s case in 1999 when he was accused of rape and throughout the entire case the woman who accused him was the enemy of the state and part of a conspiracy of ruining Ntini’s career. Why is it that powerful men continue to be at the centre of rape cases and seem to be getting away with it?
This problem highlights a couple of issues. Firstly, it’s okay to use women’s bodies as a ploy in the game of politics. Secondly, politics are a dangerous space for women and the masculine nature of politics highlights that in order to establish power women can be discredited. We also learn that women are being silenced more and more when the public discourse suggests that when a woman reports rape it can be dismissed and more importantly she will be the one who is punished. Furthermore, men get the message that they can get away with rape, they only need some political power and they can dismiss a woman’s charges easily. I may not know the extent of the story and whether or not the woman was in fact raped. And this is the very problem with rape. A woman’s body is the evidence and the site of the crime as well as the person who has to report the crime. What we keep seeing in South Africa is that women’s bodies and their stories can be nullified when a powerful man wants to save his political career.
The issue of rape recently came up in my Grade nine class discussion. The context was not related to the Vavi case but we were talking about the justice system in relation to the song by Bob Dylan, The Hurricane. I asked the class to find recent examples of the justice system failing on the grounds of unfair discrimination. One of the girls mentioned that where race can be a factor, gender is also a factor where rape cases are concerned. One of the boys was vehemently opposed to this saying rape cases are often a result of a girl or woman lying about the fact that she was raped. A fifteen a old boy has learned that it is okay to dismiss rape cases in this country. And after hearing about the Zwelinzima Vavi case he will tell me that he is justified in having this opinion. This idea that women often lie about rape highlights the problematic discourse about rape in this country and undermines the thousands of women who are silenced and never report rape or sexual violence.
Zwelinzima Vavi is vindicated and is the victor in this case and once again, a woman has been placed on the proverbial altar to be slaughtered and questioned. We shouldn’t wonder why women do not feel safe in this country. Our leaders are telling us that we are mere objects that are fickle and can change our stories over night, in fact, in a matter of two hours.