Sexual attack is not African culture

Baleka Mbete

Women must condemn in the strongest terms the Noord Street taxi rank drivers who inappropriately touched, undressed and sexually assaulted women for wearing miniskirts.

The Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa is outraged by the barbaric and cowardly acts and view them as an encroachment on women's rights.

The attacks are appalling on many different levels, but I will focus on the African, criminal and cowardly aspects as well as the encroachment on the rights of women.

The sexual assault started when some taxi drivers encircled a woman and pulled off her clothes while insulting her and saying that is what she wants as they indecently assaulted her by putting their fingers in her vagina.

As a woman and a mother, I can only imagine how traumatised and scary those moments were for the young woman.

Men such as these taxi drivers display an extreme form of arrogance and cowardice. Attacking a defenceless girl cannot be regarded as anything else but bullying by common criminals. These acts are a sign of patriarchy gone terribly wrong.

Stop using African culture to commit deplorable acts. The foundation of African culture is respect for self and others. It is not our culture for men to sexually assault, attack or humiliate women. People should not misbehave in the name of culture or debase our culture.

If people are thought to be behaving in an unacceptable manner, they are spoken to and advised on how to behave in a socially acceptable way. They are spoken to in a manner that builds, and not destroys.

These attacks completely disrespect women and their rights. Men cannot, and should not, tell women how and where they can wear their clothes. A miniskirt is not an invitation to be groped and harassed.

Women fought long and hard for freedom, including the right to dress as we please and we should and will defend them. The behaviour of these men flies in the face of such gains.

South Africa recently hosted the Pan African Women's Organisation and brought together women from across the continent. We talked about preserving our rights and what can be done to stop violence against women and children. South African women were hailed for their leadership role on human and women's rights. We must reclaim our public space which is being taken over by common criminals in the name of culture.

We call on the taxi industry and all men to join us in condemning these acts and to protect our daughters against these lecherous acts. Victims must lay criminal charges against the culprits and the police must investigate and arrest the perpetrators.

l Baleka Mbete is the convener of the Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa and Speaker of Parliament.