Saturday, June 10, 2006

Mobilise Against Abuse and Rape!

The following is an excerpt from the May edition of Vukani! (Arise!) - Workers Organisation for Socialist Action (WOSA)

National - The Zuma rape trial has, after months of degrading, intimate detailing of a woman’s sexual and abusive past, finally ended with an expected outcome: Jacob Zuma was found not guilty of rape. The trial has opened up and laid bare many contradictions and tensions found in post-Apartheid South Africa, ranging from tribalism to internal power struggles in the ANC. But, most importantly, the trial has all too vividly exposed the sexism and misogyny – hatred of women – that permeates all sections of society: the judicial system, the media, political parties, and parts of the general population.

This trial was actually not extraordinary. The media attention it received and the political debates it opened up were, but as a rape trial, it followed a pattern numerous women laying charges of rape have experienced: little sympathy and unsatisfactory help from the police in terms of getting counselling and advice; no protection from the most intimate questions during cross examination in court; and a ‘not guilty’ judgement based in part on the woman’s dress code, displayed affection towards the man, and an interrogation of her sexual/abusive background. As in so many other rape trials, it was the accuser who was put on trial, not the accused.

In South Africa, a rape survivor’s sexual past may be admitted as evidence in court if the presiding judge allows it, as did judge van der Merwe in the Zuma case. “The fact that the judges who apply the law often still assume such a history to be relevant, means that a shameful double standards about men and women’s sexuality is still prevalent in our largely patriarchal society. It is based on the primitive assumption that women who have any sexual history at all are somehow less worthy of respect and concern than men and more prone to fabricating allegations of sexual assault”, wrote the AIDS Legal Network in a press statement. The reason a woman’s clothing and her sexual history is brought up in rape trials is to discredit her according to misogynist standards, which claim the right to decide what is appropriate sexual behaviour for women and to punish any woman breaking the defined boundaries.

The treatment of Zuma’s accuser outside the courtroom, where hundreds of people mocked, threatened and harassed her, showed in a reprehensible way how a woman daring to challenge patriarchy – in this case by taking a man to court for violating her – can expect to be treated. WOSA is appalled by the involvement of mainly the youth organisations of the ANC and SACP in these demonstrations, which were more acts of persecuting a woman than to give support to a man, and by their misogynist statements during and after the trial. We are likewise appalled by Zuma’s display of patriarchal arrogance as he led his supporters in song on the very steps to the court at the beginning of the trial, and by his refusal to call on them to respect the complainant.

The support for this man by COSATU, SACP, the Alliance youth organisations and parts of the ANC indicates their willingness to sacrifice a principled stand on women’s equality for the sake of male-dominated personality-driven power politics. This has nothing to do with the real class struggle for workers’ empowerment and control, and serves as a sad remainder of the state of the class consciousness within South Africa. We challenge the organisations and parties that support Jacob Zuma to show us how he has championed the cause of the working class in post-Apartheid South Africa. To our knowledge, there is no public evidence of Zuma criticising the neo-liberal policies of Thabo Mbeki, embodied most clearly within the GEAR policy. How can he be presented as the left alternative by any left group with political integrity?

Organisations such as the People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) and the AIDS Legal Network demand a change in rape laws, to protect rape survivors from secondary stigmatisation in courts and the “sexist and patriarchal attitudes of lawyers and judges”. WOSA fully supports the call for a change in rape laws. Only one in nine rapes is reported to the police, and of these cases, only 7 per cent are successfully prosecuted. In a country with among the world’s highest rape statistics, where 50 per cent of all women in South Africa are at risk of being raped once in their lifetime and where gang rapes is the most common form of rape, it should be declared a breach of human rights not to provide gender-sensitive and adequate support as well as legal protection for people surviving rape and abuse.

WOSA calls on the revolutionary left, most of which is still male-dominated, to seriously take up the struggle against women abuse and rape – this includes picketing with women’s groups and participating in their activities. A socialist programme must also include looking at the attitudes towards women within our own organisations, and actively recruiting women to our movements. The left needs to realise that without the involvement of women, any social revolution will only be representative of half the working class population – and as such, it will fail.


The Workers’ Organisation for Socialist Action (WOSA) is a socialist organisation. We believe that the problems of housing, unemployment, poverty, HIV/AIDS, gender inequalities, expensive basic services and environmental destruction cannot be solved under capitalism, which is the system we have in South Africa. Under capitalism, bosses and capitalists make profits by keeping wages low, by retrenching workers and by not spending money on making workplaces safe. The capitalist competition between countries and arms companies fuels war, death and destruction.

If anyone is interested in the May newsletter please email me as there is no link. It's sent to supporters via email.