Sombre silence in solidarity

Protestors marching from the amic deck to the great hall. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Protestors marching from the amic deck to the great hall. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Protesters united at Wits University today to show their solidarity for victims of sexual violence in South Africa.At 6am this morning protestors at Rhodes University in Grahamstown gathered in preparation for the Silent protest. The silent protest started at Rhodes 6 years ago where about 100 people joined. This year 1500 protesters marched from Alec Mullins at Rhodes and 1150 showed support at Wits University.

This is Wits’ first year joining in the silent protest and were joined by UKZN, UCT and Fort Hare. The protest kicked off at 8am outside the Matrix where purple t-shirts  were distributed and mouths were taped. People who were gagged were silenced and could not eat, drink or talk until they broke their silence at 3pm.

The march started at the bottom of Amic Deck, proceeded down to the Commerce, Law and Management building. The protesters then marched  up Yale road, turned left at the traffic circle, past the old mutual sports building, the matrix and Umthombo building. It then proceeded outside senate house towards Dulce and came to a stop in the senate house concourse.

During the silent procession, all that could be heard was footsteps of the marchers as they  held hands in symbolic support of each other. Saddened, red eyes could be spotted among the protestors. The thick, grey mist that loomed over campus throughout the day seemed to mirror protestors  feelings of pain and uneasiness, and an overriding sense of anxiety could be felt walking with these rape victims.

Protestors were addressed by three speakers. Lauren Gmeiner, intern psychologist at CCDU,  gave shocking statistics of sexual violence in South Africa. “more than 65 000 sexual crimes were reported in South Africa in 2012. One out of 25 women report sexual violence to the police, according SAPS”. “Rape limits human potential – it silences them,” said Gmeiner.

A rape survivor, Tumi, spoke out about her experience of working through the psychological repercussions of sexual violence. “A woman is raped every 17 seconds in South Africa,” Tumi said.

Actress and activist, Rosie Motene spoke about her experience of physical abuse. Motene took the crowd through the traumatic encounter when she was in university and her boyfriend beat her, leaving her with a cracked rib, a blue eye, bruises and cuts.

Motene said the words of her family and friends, that “It’s not your fault, we are with you,” got her through her struggle. Motene addressed the issue of sexual violence within the university and said, “These stories were swept under the carpet for too long,” and that is the problem. Motene empahsised that students had “a right to be protected.”

“Always make sure your candle is burning bright” said Motene.

Kelly Gillespie, lecturer at the Anthropology department, spoke about sex being pleasurable and not crossing the “bright, red, neon line” of consent. Gillespie said, “ 1 in 3 women will be raped in her lifetime”.

Amid the speakers, 48 rapes between December 27, 2012 and March 14, 2013 were read out to the protestors.

The die-in was then held where people lay down on the floor in silence to give an image of how many people are affected by rape, and how many lose their lives to sexual violence.

A sense of comfort and intimacy filled the room as victims cried, held each other and supported each other. It became a safe place to speak out about their experiences.

The protest ended with  Drama 4 Life students performing a realistc skit of the psychological state of victims post-rape, and the courage it takes to remove the tape and break your silence.

Victims then broke their silence by removing the tape from the mouths and went on to a debrief where they reflected on the events of the day.

The unevenness of the underworld

From the first minute of watching this video I was awe struck and completely taken by what was being played in front of me. Afterwards there was a sense of utter reality. The sense of oblivion had surfaced into my world and was consequently destroyed in the worst way possible. A sense of disgrace but yet sadness as I knew this was happening but until you see it for yourself, it is just a distant thought which rarely ever has a space for thought, in our day to day lives.

The issue of prostitution in South Africa

Prostitution is South Africa is not as subtle as one would think. Before I saw this video I was unaware of the booming business which loomed in the underworld. It was an American “thing” a “truck driver thing” a “PIMP” thing, but it was not a thing South Africans such as much self considered as a prominent problem.
The reality is that it is a prominent problem and has become a nation-wide debate, a microcosm of debates exists in my household.

Prostitution is an act, if you can call it that, which is looked down upon by many people of society. The words “whore”, “call-girl”, “escort”, “trash” come to mind when you think about these women. I think it is important to first and foremost realise that these women are human beings, they are female and they deserve respect like any other person in the world.

I will admit that I was one of those people who considered a prostitute as “something” rather than “someone”. After watching the video I realised that I was wrong. These women are people who have become victims of their circumstances. Whether it be-extreme poverty or violent crime, they are victims. It is clear that this would not be their first or second or even third choice as an occupation but it is, nonetheless. This to me is a direct representation of the social problems South Africa as a country, has to face. Centre to it all is that many woman in this situation do not want to be there.

Prostitution in South Africa is illegal. Now many people can argue that it should not be legalised because it is a criminal offense. So let me ask this question:

If a prostitute is raped and beaten, is it right or humanly fair that these prostitutes cannot lay a charge against their perpetrator due to the fact that they will be chased out of the police station as ‘left over trash’ and not be taken seriously because they are prostitutes or because they “asked for it?”
If a man rapes a prostitute, and he contracts HIV, is it justified that the prostitute can get charged for attempted murder?

Rape? A crime or not with regard to prostitutes?

You can decide for yourself, but consider the fact that rape is rape, in any circumstance. No one deserves to get raped. Prostitutes agree to give a man a service with a fee, they do not agree to rape. If that service includes using protection then the client needs to respect that. It should not be the case that the man is able to take advantage of the women and there is nothing in place to protect the women. If HIV is spread through rape then it should not all be blamed on the prostitute.

No one goes to a restaurant and orders a burger and when it arrives goes and snatches a steak from the kitchen, because you cannot do that. So why does the same not apply for prostitutes? If prostitution is legalised as a profession then the spread of HIV/AIDS would decrease, prostitutes would be protected and respected, the crime and poverty rates would decrease. The logic is that whether or not it is legalised, it still happens. I think we as people need to realise this and not shrug it off as irrelevant.

Other appearences of prostitutes on national media platforms

Carte Blanche ran a story on prostitution in South Africa 2 two weeks ago, where a prostitute who goes by her street name “Snowy” explained that this is how she makes a living and the extreme situations she puts herself through on a daily basis. Her “job” entails risking her life and if this is the only way she can make a living, then why should the law not protect her?

Legalised, prostitution would resolve the debate and social difficulties our country faces and more over grant protection for woman who live this life.

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