“South African women, you’re on your own!”

For years on end, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign has been commemorated, in an effort to stamp out the scourge of violence plaguing society. Government has latched on to the campaign, with endless promises to do their bit to stop violence against women and children. In an interview with the media on the first day of the campaign, Minister in the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu, said although the South African government is pulling out all the stops to deal with violence against women, society must also be proactive in also doing its bit, because the police and government cannot be in every bedroom or household monitoring behaviours. Fair enough, I think.

However, on the eve of the launch of the campaign against violence on women, the African National Congress made a move that made the national jaw drop. The party’s branch in Mpumalanga reinstated a senior member on trial for the rape of his 8-year-old twin daughters to the party structures. And their reason behind this was that it would be unfair to suspend him in light of the fact that a decision has not been taken by the party regarding the guidelines for stepping aside when facing criminal charges. The politician in question has also faced rape charges before, but the state withdrew charges for lack of evidence. There are red flags popping all around him, yet his party believed it was in the interest of justice to let him stay in a leadership position within the party.  For crying out loud, this man hasn’t been charged with stealing sweets at a spaza shop. He’s accused of the rape of minors, his own daughters, aged 8. He’s been accused of rape before. How unfortunate could he be to keep getting accused of rape? Reinstating him was like giving the campaign against gender-violence the middle finger, and as feminist and social activist Lebogang Ramafoko said on the issue, “South African women, you’re on your own.” The governing party showed its true colours on how seriously it takes violence against women and children by that decision to reinstate the former MEC to a top provincial position. It poured water on all the noise being made to raise awareness on gender-based violence. President Cyril Ramaphosa and Police Minister Bheki Cele have repeated spoken about how seriously government and the police are taking the “the second pandemic”. Yet here we are!

It’s not the first time that a senior member of the ANC has received massive support while facing rape charges. Former president Jacob Zuma’s alleged rape victim faced serious backlash for speaking out, shockingly from some members of the ANC Women’s league. Then we’re told to observe five days of mourning to remember victims of violence. They must die first for them to matter. While they still breathe, we stand with their abusers. You can’t preach what you don’t practice. It’s the little man on the street that should face harsh treatment, but cadres are, well, they are cadres and a different set of rules applies to them. Honestly, this is nauseating. It stings and stinks to high heaven. How are women and children supposed to feel when rapists (alleged) continue to be held on pedestals? It becomes scary to even dare report someone on the top echelons of power for rape or any other offence. Because you know it will be you against a whole political party.

Well, as if it matters now, the party has bowed to public outcry and rescinded the decision to reinstate the politician. But the damage is done. They just made a mockery of the campaign against gender-based violence. Whatever they plan to spew on the topic in future will ring hollow, because we now know them for who they are. We will not remember how they backtracked on their shameful or shameless and insensitive decision, but we will certainly remember that they felt he deserved to continue leading regardless of the seriousness of his charges, present and historical. Without the outcry, he would still be riding high, probably on the prowl for more victims. Only the outcry and fear of losing votes resulted in the reversal of the decision. Well, ANC, you might have made a u-turn on your revolting decision, but you certainly can’t undo spitting in the faces of all victims of rape like you did when you found nothing wrong with reinstating that man.

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