GENDER POLITICS

The other half of the conversation: Osrin and daily violence

Dela Gwala
Dela Gwala

By Dela Gwala

Last year, Tim Osrin made the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town infamous by attacking Cynthia Joni because he thought she was a sex worker. Five UCT students cemented this new found infamy by assaulting Delia Adonis on the pavements of Claremont. “ Racially-motivated” attacks is what the headlines cried. But in both these cases that was only part of the conversation. Adonis’s attackers were reported to have called her a “coloured cunt” and Osrin seemed to have drawn his conclusion about Joni simply because she was black, female and standing on a street corner in Kenilworth. The gender politics of both these stories just about got a cursory mention.

If walking is how you make your way around the streets of Cape Town, then open air incidents of gender-based violence are often a part of your daily commute.  During the weeks that accusations of racism dominated discourse about Cape Town, I walked into three incidents of physical and verbal violence taking place on the pristine pavements of the Southern Suburbs.  In Newlands, I watched a man grab a woman around her throat and scream threats at her as she walked away. Back in Claremont, I saw a man drag a woman down the street by her braids. Further along main road, I witnessed a gaatjie (taxi door operator and fare collector) pull a knife on a woman for talking back to him.

There is no headline here – no newsroom would ever report on these incidents. We live in a country where rape is calculated per minute and femicide per hour, but gender has still not quite made the national agenda. The furore around the racist attacks last year collided with 16 days of activism against violence against women. Parliament was in the spotlight as the country’s new source of entertainment but not even that brought eyeballs and eardrums to the 2 hour joint sitting when gender-based issues were debated.

To give a quick recap:  ANC MPs complained about opposition MPs taking photos in parliament. Then MP Mandla Mandela complained about a DA member chewing chappies then later on mockingly referred to another DA MP as “ Miss South Africa”. After that Opposition MPs accused the Chairperson (Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli) of not being consistent because MPs took pictures of EFF members last time. Later on, DA Chief Whip complained that Minister of Women in the Presidency Susan Shabangu had called him “mad”. A he said, she said ensued. Then the DA Chief Whip said that another ANC MP had called him a liar. Between eruptions of laughter, calls to retract statements and heckling, the chairperson called this grown up playground a “disgrace”.

Where are we now? Tim Osrin is expected to skip off into the sunset thanks to a plea bargain – it’s likely that he will take part in a community programme instead of serving jail time. On a national scale, there is still no comprehensive plan of action to tackle gender-based violence. There is basically no national policy or programme to fund even though it’s costing the country R 28.4 billion  to R 42.2 bilion to ignore this issue.  In Johannesburg, a restaurant manager has been accused of being racist for shouting at two black female patrons and telling them they need a “good shagging” or a “ fuck”. Barely anyone noticed or acknowledged that these statements were also deeply sexist.

Gender issues have been treated like an unwanted add-on to the national conversation since the TRC days.  Statement takers who were on the frontlines of uncovering truths about apartheid era abuses often didn’t think that incidents of sexual violence or any other form of gender-based violations were even worth recording. These issues were not considered politically significant or worthy of a spot in the national dialogue. Two decades later, It’s why no one flinches when the department of women in the presidency suggests prayer and candle vigils as the plan of action to combat a pandemic that ruthlessly claims the lives of women. It’s why police vans can simply drive past while women are being assaulted on the streets of the Southern Suburbs. It’s why South Africans hardly notice sexism and misogyny even when it’s the not-so well hidden subtext screaming at them from national headlines.

 

Dela Gwala is a full-time feminist and post-grad student at UCT. She has an honours degree in International Relations but has jumped ship from the politics department to take on an MA in Creative Writing. She spends a ridiculous amount of time on social media moderating a Facebook page called Guerrilla Feminism South Africa. Find her on Twitter @indie1activist and read more of her writing on her blog https://genderspecs.wordpress.com/.

 

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GENDER POLITICS, SEX AND SEXUALITY

Black bodies not for your abuse Osrin

Jen Thorpe, feminism, women, South Africa
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

Cape Town swimming coach Tim Osrin was arrested last week when he allegedly beat up a middle-aged domestic worker, Cynthia Joni, in the middle of the day without the two ever having said anything to one another. Osrin was driving his car along a road, saw Joni, and stopped his car to beat her up. She sustained multiple injuries. His explanation for this – he thought she was a prostitute. He is quoted as saying “I just snapped. It is a result of the years of stress of having these people in our area.”

To add fuel to fire, when charges were laid against him, Osrin said that Joni had ‘trumped up the charges’ because he was white, and was probably thinking “here comes my Christmas box.” A petition to Virgin Active to remove Osrin from their team of swimming coaches, and make true their commitments to a non-racist society, was successful. His case has been postponed to 27 November at the Wynberg Magistrates Court.

I think it’s important that we unpack this crime for the very many layers of ‘isms’ and wrong doings based on Osrin’s statements.He reveals particular prejudice about sex workers, black women,

1. “I just snapped. It is a result of the years of stress of having these people in our area.”

If you’re hearing loud sounds it’s because you’ve stepped on a minefield. Unpacking the layers of privilege in this statement could take all day but let’s go step by step.

A: These people:

In this statement Osrin was referring to his belief that Joni was a sex worker. Sex work is criminalised in South Africa. Whilst everyone is entitled to their own opinion about the decriminalisation/legalisation of sex work (if your opinion isn’t an informed one I suggest you engage with SWEAT) there are certain facts that are important. These are:

  • Sex workers are people and have human rights like everyone else including the right to be free from violence.
  • It is not acceptable to assault someone because you disagree with their career.
  • Someone being a sex worker doesn’t mean is not an explanation for someone else’s violence.

The point that Joni is not, in fact, a sex worker is discussed in B below. But even if she was, this doesn’t legitimate his violence.

B: These people in our area:

Osrin never explained why he thought Joni was a prostitute, and it seems the only marker that identified her as one of these people in his area was the fact that she was black. The assumption then is that Osrin had some misplaced belief that black people walking in Kenilworth don’t live there, or work there, and if they do work there it’s as a sex worker. This type of active stupidity is not exclusive to Osrin.

This is linked to the racist patriarchal hypersexualisation of black female bodies, to white male privilege that says women are not allowed to choose what they do with their bodies, and to racism that assumes that black people do not have legitimate space in ‘white’ areas like Tim’s (see D below). All of this, is quite frankly, bullshit and should no longer be tolerated as an explanation or excuse for violence.

Deliberate ignorance should not be seen as a mitigating factor in his case.

C: I just snapped: 

Assault is not a legitimate response to frustration. So the excuse that he snapped, unless he had some sort of mental break that reduced his criminal liability (which I doubt because he was able to drive off in his car, and to give subsequent statements to the media), then he was directly responsible for his choice to beat someone up who had not instigated any violence against him.

If Osrin has in fact ‘snapped’ then he should be admitted for psychiatric evaluation before he can stand trial.

Importantly, it must be made clear in this case that violence against sex workers is unacceptable. Particularly because this type of violence can be considered a hate crime – it is motivated by hatred for sex workers as a group and sends a message to other sex workers that it is not safe in that area.

D: Our area: 

Public spaces, including streets, are, well, public. Anyone is entitled to walk in any area that is not access controlled. So it’s not actually your area Tim, it’s Kenilworth, and Joni has every right to be there.

E: The prevalence of sex workers in Kenilworth as a cause for concern

Sex workers are workers. This means that they often work in places where there is a demand for their services. I’m not quite clear on why this is a problem, and don’t agree that having sex workers in an area automatically brings shame/disgrace to an area.

However, Osrin alleges that the sex workers expose themselves to children in the area, and this is certainly not acceptable and criminal behaviour. In the same way that sex workers are entitled to be in public spaces, children are entitled to live in spaces free from violence. This behaviour, if it is happening, cannot be condoned.

So if Mr Osrin seeks to address the issue, perhaps what would be more useful than assaulting individual women, would be a community dialogue with sex workers, sex worker organisations, community members, etc to discuss why sex work is thought to be a problem, and how the community feels about it, given that sex workers are clearly part of the community.

I think that type of dialogue is an imperative after such an incident of violence, and that it should happen as soon as possible.

2. Here comes my Christmas Box

Osrin’s counter allegation is that Joni is trumping up the extent of her injuries in order to exploit him in some way. This statement points to some racist and sexist assumptions:

  • Black people do not tell the truth – of course, Joni couldn’t just be detailing her injuries.
  • Black people are out to exploit white people and see white people only as a source of personal enrichment – through laying charges, Joni wasn’t trying to achieve justice or prevent Osrin from assaulting other unsuspecting women, but was trying to get money out of him through a court settlement.
  • Women don’t tell the truth – her injuries were probably not as bad as she said they were (if you see the earlier links, he only slapped her once, so ‘any injuries she sustained were a result of her fall’).

These assumptions seek to undermine Joni’s right to report violence against her, and will certainly cause secondary vicitimisation. Women who are abused face discrimination from police often, and their injuries or lack thereof are often commented on in court cases. What is important is that this was a physical assault, and secondly it was an assault to Joni’s dignity.

3. Shock is not enough, we need action

It’s clear that Osrin is a complex guy – he is angry, violent, mistrustful, racist and sexist. Part of ensuring that incidents like this don’t happen again is removing the conditions for their acceptability – addressing the intersectionality (the ways that his various prejudices converged upon a black female body and not a white female body, or a rich black body, or a white male body) that facilitated this abuse. It’s important that stereotypes and racist and sexist assumptions like those that Osrin made are addressed at a community level.

I think it is vital for the Kenilworth, Harfield, Claremont village associations and ward councillors to host a discussion inviting all members of the community to discuss the following:

  • racism
  • violence
  • socioeconomic inequality
  • sex work

And I’m sure a number of other areas. If you live in an area where you face similar issues, then I suggest you contact your councillor and ask for a dialogue.

If you would like to do more, and participate in an event outside the court where Osrin’s case will be held on 27 November you can find details of one here.