Columns 12.10.2018 09:35 am

#MeToo: Outrage is not enough, action is needed

#RememberKhwezi protesters. Picture: Twitter.

#RememberKhwezi protesters. Picture: Twitter.

Accusers will continue to be the sacrificial lambs in the fight against gender-based violence until society is as hard on these crimes as they are on those who report them.

As South Africans we have already had our Brett Kavanaugh moment. We have actually had several of these in our new democracy – and for me they suggest an uncomfortable truth that those who advocate against gender-based violence (we need a better term for this) as well as the so-called men’s rights activists leave out of every argument on high-profile accusations of sexual assault.

Accusers are and will continue to be the sacrificial lambs in the fight against gender-based violence until society is as hard on these crimes as they are on those who report them.

Yes, publicly shaming your perpetrator in a bid to raise awareness and serve the just cause of exposing rape culture makes sense in light of the sociopolitical ills that underpin such incidences. But the power of public outrage is not enough to change the things that really matter.

The audience watching the saga unfold is not obligated to believe you or even sympathise with you. It becomes a war between those who believe you and those who don’t.

Justice, as time has proven time and time again, is increasingly out of the hands of the public and entirely based on political will and a sound justice system.

The power of public awareness is only sufficient to address the cultural issues around what is an acceptable way for a man to treat a woman.

If Dr Christine Ford’s ultimate goal was to save the American public from being served by an alleged sexual predator in the highest court in the land, she has some things in common with the woman we came to know as Khwezi, who accused former president Jacob Zuma of raping her. An event which coincided with Zuma’s ascent to presidential candidacy.

In both cases, authorities investigated their allegations and the matter was put up to a public trial, amid a divided populace, consisting of those who either lauded or despised the accuser.

In both cases, a woman had to rely on a criminal justice system that was fraught with political influence and had to compete with fierce political opposition whose views were reflected in the general public.

What happens in the end, unfortunately, is that the consensus that some people expected out of the outrage is never reached and, as such, those people become victims of a political smear campaign at worst.

While it makes sense, from a moral point of view, to break the proverbial silence on the abhorrent behaviour of powerful men who prey on women’s bodies, expecting the ensuing outrage to result in justice in the practical sense is unrealistic.

In many instances, the resulting public disappointment that follows the exoneration of a public figure accused of sexual assault only serves to embolden those who fiercely defend the culture of berating and humiliating anyone who dares to say #MeToo.

This campaign, in my opinion, is at the very early stage of its life, where its effect will only be felt when public outrage becomes public participation, lobbying and hounding the courts and lawmakers until society is better able to deal with a case where the only evidence an accuser has is the voice she will surely be punished dearly for using.

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.

 

today in print