Rape puts a damper on celebrations

Rhodes University student Khensani Maseko committed suicide at home in Johannesburg this weekend after being raped in May.
Rhodes University student Khensani Maseko committed suicide at home in Johannesburg this weekend after being raped in May.
Image: Instagram

Tomorrow we celebrate Women's Day, a public holiday meant to highlight the role women played in the attainment of democracy.

Sadly there'll be very little to celebrate about the circumstances of South African women today, more so black women. The suicide last week of Rhodes University law student Khensani Maseko, following her rape on campus, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Rape and other forms of gender-based violence remain the biggest inhibitors of women's freedom. And, though this fact cannot be denied, some would question why the unfortunate circumstance of one woman should put a damper on all intentions to have a glorious commemoration tomorrow.

The truth is that Maseko's case is not isolated. Her suicide does not even stand as a stark reminder about the problem of rape in SA.

Every day we live under the cold clutch of rape that we have found a way to wiggle ourselves a little bit from the grip, so that we can be able to breathe again and carry on living. On the day she ended her life, another female student was raped at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, allegedly by her boyfriend.

This incident highly accentuates the fact that Maseko's case is not isolated, and that, as a nation, we can't move on until we find the solution to this scourge.

There are so many habitual injustices that we have towards rape that we have become a fertile ground for this crime to thrive.

In the book Rape: A South African Nightmare, author and academic Pumla Dineo Gqola highlights most of these injustices which, in many cases, are perpetuated by laziness and societal apathy embedded in law enforcement and parliament.

In response to the news about Maseko's death, an official at Rhodes University tweeted that the institution's flag was flown at half mast. It baffles the mind how the condition of the flag could come anywhere close to providing understanding, consolation or a solution to what befell Maseko, which is something that still besieges other Rhodes women.

In 2016, Rhodes students protested against rape culture on campus and in the country. Two years later they are still in the same spot of despair, and 24 years on, SA women are grappling with a phenomenon denying them the freedom they fought hard for.

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