Gqola’s easy-to-read academic text is not a mind numbing study full of academic jargon but a brilliant contribution to the public discourse and our understanding of the rape culture in South Africa. We are nearing the ever so pointless and uninspiring 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Child Abuse where women will be asked through pompous messages and talks to “Break The Silence”. In her book, Gqola is defiant and states as a matter of fact that “There is no silence. We know we live in the midst of a rape crisis”. All of us. To her, these flashy and catchy slogans serve us no justice as a society because “[w]hat does it mean to invite survivors to break the silence, report and lay charges against rapists when successful prosecution rates are so low?’.
Divided into different eye opening chapters, the book is exquisitely structured in a way that will make readers appreciate the creative and succinct writing as Gqola traces the violence we have all come to know and accept as normal against women throughout different eras in South Africa; slavery, colonialism, apartheid and post 1994. She alludes to the embedded historic and institutionalized violence South Africa has seen over the decades. And so, gender-based violence – rape in particular – cannot be seen as an isolated form of violence but rather as a consequence of the historic chain of events colliding at the intersection. According to Gqola, without critically interrogating our collective traumatic and violent past, its link to the brazen ruling violence we’re seeing today, we will never be able to come up with sustainable solutions to rape so that women are free and feel safe to enjoy the rights enshrined in our constitution.
In one of the chapters in her book “Forked Tongue on Child Rape” Gqola documents our typical responses which always range from shock to disbelief and rage. Nobody seems to understand how grown men can rape babies and elderly women (as though there’s ever a rapable age group). We are shocked by how gruesome this type of rape is because perhaps, we don’t view rape as a despicable criminal activity but as some form of inappropriate sex. “Rape is not sex. Rape is violence”, Gqola is emphatic in driving this important message home.
In her review of Gqola’s book, Youlendree Appasamy is scathing and instructive “This book is easy to read and difficult to swallow. Gqola holds up the mirror and we must see for ourselves what the image shows. It shows the mother who will turn a blind eye when her child is being molested, it shows the generational violence and trauma from jackrolling, it shows a broken legal system, it shows unsupported victim-survivors, it shows weak state attempts at gender empowerment and importantly, it shows the brave people fighting to interrupt and dismantle systemic and systematic gender based violence in South Africa”.
In this book which every South African should read, Gqola is unapologetic in challenging our collective deliberate denial as she discharges responsibility from structures, systems and institutions to each and every one of us because we know a man who slaps his girlfriend around at a party, we know a taxi driver who tells misogynist jokes, we know a school teacher who impregnates a school girl, a leader who harasses women in his organization. And “when we say nothing, we are complicit with how they spread gender-based violence with our protection”.
Rape: A South African Nightmare is published by MFBooks, and imprint of Jacana.
By Siyamthanda Skota