Sex pest rocks varsity.
The front page story in the Sunday times last week :[3/3/2013) is not just an innocent and brave exposition of a violent sex-pest. What it is is a dangerous attempt at absolving the institutions (with their chosen guardians) that allow for, encourage and sanction sexual violence by being in line with the white-supremacist patriarchy on which our entire society is based. This is done by choosing the easiest and most natural target to shoulder the sins of many (even if he too may be a sinner, which I believe him to be) to seem like this issue is taken very seriously, and after justice is served on this ONE we can all sleep a little easy.
Institutions of higher learning, much like all other institutions, are spaces where the structural oppression of the black majority is rife. This is from the ideological premises on which teaching material is structured, the nature of how fees are paid and the incompetence of student loans, through to the jokes in our lecture rooms, marking methods all the way to low reporting and lower convictions in cases of sexual violence.
I must say from the onset that in cases of sexual violence, I always believe the women .This is because I know the country that I live in, I know how the justice system works, and I know that in a white-supremacist patriarchal order, sexual coercion is one of the ways to keep women in their place. We have had it happen to us, and if not we fear it will – which it most probably will. Our only question is whether we will live to tell the tale. When it does happen, we wonder to ourselves how many more times we can expect these interpersonal acts of violence (that remind us of the structures that keep it/us in place) to happen to us.
I am on the side of the women who spoke against this man, yet I do believe that the “exclusive” expose is an injustice to them and to the many others who have been violated in that institution.
I say so because:
This story comes at a time when the public psyche is inundated with the reports and condemnations against sexual violence. The reporting of the rape mutilation and murder of Anene Booysens, together with the murder of Reeva Steenkamp have people including the President of the country (yes I’ll wait for you to ponder the irony) condemning such acts with the greatest gusto. For the better, people are talking and it seems like we are mostly in agreement that women are people too.
For worse, these two cases become important as a result of the nature of the violence in Anene’s case, and the heroism, skin colour and public profile of the perpetrator in the Steenkamp case. They are not important just because the murder of people is wrong.
These are not “ordinary” acts of gender based violence, for if they were they would not be making front page news. Even though most cases of gender-based violence happen between two or more people who are known to each other, over a significant period of time and result in life-long trauma, the story of the black heterosexual cisgendered wife who is consistently beaten and eventually killed is not as exciting and contains none of the details that will make a society of which such violence is the order of the day exclaim OH MY GOD!
This story follows this tradition: an exclusive front page report, complete with the shocking and salacious headline that would make even the ardent online news reader buy a hard copy.
It comes following a long and established history of the black man as the natural offender of such crimes. This beast is expected to not be able to control his sexual prowess, making it much easier for editors to sanction the printing of a name photograph and stories that just show that even the smart ones do it too. “White folk don’t do that stuff, just the Negros.”
When reading that article I noticed that there is another academic who has been accused of similar crimes, the students are not named and that after a call for students to report these matters three complaints come in relating to the one sex-pest. I immediately want to know at least three things
1) “Last year the Wits student newspaper, Vuvuzela, ran an article about an unnamed lecturer in the politics department who sent sexually suggestive SMSes to students.”
Who is this other academic and why if Wa Mamatu can be named can he not be? There are details and confirmations in the article of disciplinary actions against Wa Mamatu. What happened in this other case? Surely his anonymity cannot be because of a presumption of innocence since we are not told of any convictions even for the singular sex-pest
2) “The Sunday Times tracked down a number of former students over the course of several weeks. Although reluctant to talk at first, some of them came forward to tell their stories – and four made sworn statements detailing the alleged abuse.”
Since weeks were spent investigating this horror and people who spoke up were guaranteed anonymity, did no other students speak out against other academics/or some of the same students pointing to different cases with different academics? Could this investigator not have tried to find other pests? Or were the Sunday times only looking to take this one down
3) “This led to Wits asking students who had experienced sexual abuse to come forward. By 2pm on Friday, the institution had received three formal complaints against Wa Mamatu.”
Were the three complaints the only complaints or were there others? Surely if the university could verify that these three on that day were against the one pest they could have given the names of the others.
Is it possible though that I am asking too much from our esteemed purveyors of truth – the media, when I ask that we step away from the search of the one sexual predator. With the many women violated every day and everywhere surely this one guy is very tired.
With this many of us having had experienced and continue to experience this violence can we maybe start to realise that violence against women is structural? And the only way to even try to make a dent is to change the structural realities of our society?
The truth of the matter is, dear Sunday paper, this man was targeted and easy for you because he is a black. I’m not saying he did not do it, all I’m saying is he was the natural sacrificial lamb who was acting within an established institutional culture of violence. It seems a little suspect that only now (with allegations and rumours spanning six years) that the pest is exposed. It seems as if, the Institutional culture in its protection of this and other (unnamed) sexual predators accepts violence, but perhaps are willing to use this violence as a way to punish those who transgress the system in other ways. I do not think we, survivors of everyday violence can be ok with being used in this way.