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How society fuels gender-based violence by excusing the perpetrators

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
Precious Ramabulana.
Precious Ramabulana.
Image: Supplied

The brutal killing of Precious Ramabulana, a 21-year-old student at Capricorn TVET College in Limpopo, brings to the fore how the criminal justice system continues to fail women when coming to the fight against gender-based violence.

The rape and killing of Precious Ramabulana is also a painful reminder of how we as society - families, communities and the state - contribute to the scourge of violence against women.

The case of Aubrey Manaka, Ramabulana's murder and rape accused, does the painful work of showcasing how families perpetuate GBV by providing an escape for perpetrators by "sorting it out" among the family, outside of the criminal justice system.

In an address, President Cyril Ramaphosa alluded to the perpetrator having had prior brushes with the law on a rape charge. Sowetan journalist Peter Ramothwala writes about Manaka's sister, Lebogang Manaka, acknowledging the rape case the president referred to, saying it happened in 2007 when Manaka allegedly raped his 10-year-old cousin. He was 16 at the time.

Lebogang said the case was withdrawn after the two families reached an agreement.

"He was young at the time and we thought it was a mistake. Then the families met and discussed the matter and subsequently he was released."

I cannot help but wonder how differently both the lives of Precious Ramabulana and Aubrey Manaka could have turned out if his first alleged sexual assault was not swept under the carpet.

Secondly, I cannot help but wonder why we have a scenario whereby a case as grave as an alleged rape can simply be withdrawn because two families were able to reach an agreement. How does this happen within the criminal justice system? I feel the state dropped the ball somehow.

Even more important is the fact the victim was 10 at the time of the alleged incident, making her a minor. In the case of a minor, should the criminal justice system not have taken a paternalistic role and ensured the victim was fully protected and the perpetrator brought to book - regardless of the wishes of the two families involved?

Should the victim at least not have seen a day in court and have the court absolve the alleged perpetrator and not have the perpetrator absolved by a kangaroo family court?

The case of Aubrey Manaka going scot-free after the alleged rape when he was 16, thanks to protection from the family unit, is not an anomaly - that is how patriarchy functions.

The family unit cares more about covering the horrid act and the disdain it could bring to the family name and the young man's life, than what the violation means for the young girl; and how it will frame her life. This reality is not limited to the family unit; we find that rape is covered up in schools, in workplaces and in churches.

Ramabulana is not the first and unfortunately not the last case that is a stark reminder of the failure of the criminal justice system when coming to ensuring that victims of gender-based violence secure justice.

I'm reminded of the case of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, who was also dismally failed by the state. In her case, high-ranking officials within the criminal justice system worked hard to ensure her case was weakened. At times, the officials compromised Kuzwayo's safety by leaving her alone and vulnerable when she thought she was under the protection of police because of the volatility of her case.

It is no surprise to me to see Capricorn TVET College students baying for Manaka's blood. I am not a proponent of vigilantism. I however see this as a natural, frustrated response and somewhat rejection of the criminal justice system which has seen to not be able to prevent crimes from taking place.

And even when the crimes have taken place, the inadequacies of the criminal justice system do not always fully ensure that perpetrators are brought to book, in a way that is fitting for the crime committed.

As 16 Days of Activism come to an end and we get into the Christmas festivities, remember what Edmund Burke said: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

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