Anene Booysen was a 17-year old girl from Bredasdorp in the South Western Cape. On Saturday the 2nd of February she went to a bar and drank there until the early hours of the morning. She was then lured out of the bar by some men, who raped her and mutilated her body. Several hours later she was found at a construction site by a security guard and taken to hospital where she later died from all her injuries. Before she died, she named at least one of her attackers (her former boyfriend, Jonathan Davids).
Since then there has been a huge media outcry and somewhere in all the outrage and public statements and marches, the person of Anene Booysen has been, if not ignored, then overlooked. For stories on this, read Kate Stegeman in the M&G and Ranjeni Munusamy at the Daily Maverick. I’ve read several stories on this and heard radio interviews and commentary and all I know about Anene Booysen, other than her shocking murder, is that she was fostered by another couple after her mother died. On the night Anene was killed, her foster mother warned her not to stay out too late.
There is talk that this will finally highlight the appalling violence against women in South Africa in the way that the terrible gang rape in India of the woman known as “India’s daughter” highlighted gender inequalities and violence there.
Generally people have reacted to this story with a combination of shock, numbness, disbelief, sadness, anger and outrage. There have been calls for improved justice, calls for a sustained focus on gender activism, as well as calls for increased funding of NGOs such as Rape Crisis. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights called for a comprehensive approach to tackle the “pandemic of sexual violence in South Africa”. Other commentators have said that after the initial outrage, we as South African society will forget … until the next time.
Apart from making a quick donation to Rape Crisis, I spoke to one of my colleagues about what he thought should be done. He was all for stopping school for a morning and protesting outside Parliament. Since my colleague is a lot older than me (and a respected figure) I couldn’t forcefully disagree with him. But I was frustrated by this response. It’s all very well to protest at what government is doing, but what are we doing? Government would say that they have substantial social development budgets. The President condemned the incident and called for a end to violence against women (perhaps ironic given that he was himself charged with rape a few years back, a charge that was later dismissed).
As for what we as schools or community organisations can do, schools have the power to raise money for worthy causes. Schools as organizations raise money and awareness with all kinds of drives and initiatives. Of course we are all busy. But isn’t it time that civil society engaged around this issue? How do we as a country address these vitally important issues?
We often hear the statement that South Africa is the “rape capital of the world”. Just today I saw that about 65,000 cases of sexual violence are reported in South Africa every year. A small percentage of those result in convictions.
Munusamy quotes Saths Cooper, one of South Africa’s most prominent psychologists, who highlighted the complex nature of sexual violence in South Africa.
He said there were several root causes of sexual violence against women including power relations, socialisation and economic and social conditions.
“In most societies where there is economic stability and social security, incidence of rape is fairly low. But when social and economic conditions are unstable, and there is a high level of uncertainty and anxiety, there are concomitant levels of rape and other aberrations,” Cooper said.
“We don’t know to what extent the frustration of young and old males, at their wits end in a society that has discarded them, where they have no jobs and women tend to get things quicker exacerbates the situation. That is not a cause, but could be an underlying issue behind incidence of sexual violence.”
I hope this story runs and runs. We need to move past numbness and hand-wringing and finger-pointing and outrage and highlight the areas of this problem that need fixing. Then we can support the various organizations that are already working to address the various facets of the problem. Justice needs to be the first priority. Empowering women and young people is crucial. Rehabilitating men is also important. It’s time for the politicians and civil society leaders (and all of us) to come up with plans to address this massive problem.