Noxolo Nogwaza – South Africa & Rape
Recently, Noxolo Nogwaza was brutally beaten, murdered and allegedly raped in Kwa-Thema township, in the context of an alarming rate of homophobic attacks and “corrective rapes.” As a campaigner for equal rights and member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organizing Committee (EPOC), the brutality of her death makes a mockery of our Constitutional claims to what we value as a society.
Noxolo Nogwaza had it coming to her. Being born a woman in South Africa is cause enough to expect to be physically assaulted and raped. Most of us have heard the statistics to the extent that it’s merely a numbing exercise to repeat them: South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world; a female child born in South Africa has a 1 in 2 chance of being raped, compared to a 1 in 3 chance of learning to read; someone is raped every 26 seconds. 62% of boys over 11 apparently think that forcing someone to have sex is not an act of violence, with a third believing girls enjoy rape. So Noxolo, by the mere incidence of being a born a South African woman, bore the probability of being raped with the attitude of her rapists believing they were doing her a favour. Women are expected to be raped. While many South Africans anticipated the World Cup last year by buying fan t-shirts and vuvuzela’s, many women were contemplating the use of the 30,000 “Rape-Axe” condoms that were distributed to avenge the organs of their World Cup rapists.
Living in a township strengthened her likelihood of abuse and more so when she would have been a child. Some experts indicate that conditions in many townships (with children often sharing rooms and beds with adults and the frequency of drug and alcohol abuse), strengthen the likelihood of children in particular being sexually abused. Nearly half the raped persons in Khayelitsha are under the age of 14. Young people’s attitudes are no less alarming. A survey of school children in Soweto indicated a quarter of young boys thought that “jackrolling” (gang rape) was “fun”.
So while Noxolo’s mere biological and geographic existence was a condemnation of her physical and psychological integrity, her sexual preference as a South African was the nail in the coffin. As proud as way may be of our progressive Constitution, persons who dare to express preferences outside of the accepted heterosexual norm are not safe in South Africa. Noxolo’s body was discovered just 4 weeks after the uncovering of Nokuthula Radebe’s body and marked a striking similarity to Eudy Simelane’s rape and murder in 2008 – Eudy was also a member of EPOC and a member of South Africa’s national soccer team “Banyana Banyana.”
The truth is that we don’t care enough in South Africa. Clearly whatever we are doing is inadequate – our rape statistics are not declining, they’re on the rise. The political buy-in to the condemnation of women in South Africa is affirmed by a President who publically claims men’s entitlement to women’s bodies and a criminally indifferent police and judicial service in which only 55% of reported rapes make it past the investigation stage, and only 6% of reported cases ending in convictions. The risk factors for Noxolo Nogwaza being denied her humanity were massive and reflect an attitude of a citizenry that says being a girl or a woman in South Africa promises rape and preferring to exercise sexual choice promises brutal death. This is the implicit mark on a the birth certificates of South African women that marks a far cry from what we promise in our Constitutional presumption of the equal dignity of human beings.
Image by Axel Bührmann