While the Covid-19 pandemic has brought untold fear and suffering, another “sickness”, particularly in the form of domestic violence against women and children, has intensified in our motherland over the last couple of weeks. The disturbing state of affairs has left a nation gripped in an increasing crisis of violence, while fear is the order of the day.
There is a Ntokozake Shange poem that opens with the line that a rapist doesn’t have to be stranger to be legitimate. This line surely stings the hearts and minds of many Namibians after the horrors of the last few weeks. What we know for sure is that women in this country are not safe anywhere. They get raped and killed in their homes. They get raped and killed on the streets, in bars. At church. At school. At universities. In quarantine. By their fathers. By brothers. By cousins. By neighbours. Being women has become synonymous with being prey, everywhere and at any moment.
A rapist doesn’t have to be a stranger as Shange reflects on this. “These men friends of ours, who smile nicely, take you out to dinner, then lock the door behind you. Women relinquish all rights in the presence of a man who could apparently be considered a rapist especially if he has been considered a friend and is no less worthy of being beat within an inch of his life and being publicly ridiculed having two fists shoved up his ass than the stranger we always thought it would be who never showed up cause it turns out the nature of rape has changed. We can now meet them in circles we frequent for companionship, see them at the coffeehouse with someone else we know, we can even have them over for dinner and get raped in our own houses by invitation,” she writes.
This has been a last few weeks of hell. Each of the stories, each of the reports had us struggling to taste past the lumps in our throat. Without dismissing the pain and fear and hurt experienced by Namibians everywhere right now, it shouldn’t escape us that we know this place. These men who inflict these heinous and violent crimes on women and children are your boys, Namibia. They are ours. They were born and raised, right here. They aren’t some strange dolmens who came from nowhere. While rape is a horrible act of aggression, rape culture as a whole, is one we are complicit in creating by tolerating and excusing toxic masculinity. We ask ourselves how we got here. Well the answer is simply that too much have gone unchecked. What is playing out in public, has happened quietly in our homes for too long. Uncles raping little girls the family took in and everyone turning a blind eye. Pastors coming and praying for families and encouraging them not to press charges.
And then there is the charge office. Women and girls have spoken about their experiences in police stations when reporting rape cases. It is impersonal and cold, and they find themselves having to prove to police officers that they have really been raped.
Then there is the courtroom. The courtroom often reflects what is wrong in society. Victims of sexual assault and any reporter that has ever covered rape cases will tell you that the courtroom is often a powerful display of male privilege. You will be forgiven for thinking the victims are on trial. The questions are often about what she wore, what she may or may not have suggested. How much she drank. It becomes a debate about her sex history, whether she is promiscuous or not, did she ask for it.
How we respond to the escalating rape incidents over the last few weeks is a referendum on our humanity. It is a question of what we are willing to let happen and the toxic and violent masculinity of Namibia. The baby at Rehoboth, who was viciously penetrated by a rapist who also happens to be her father, is begging us loudly, and forcedly to remember. The little girl who was raped in the presence of her mother and sisters needs us to act. We have a lot to make sense of. We are all struggling with what is happening. But it can’t be business as usual.
We need to demand of ourselves and our communities to ensure that there is no hiding place for vicious criminals. We need to get out on the streets and shout. We need to stand at the entrances and exits of our streets and communities every night until rapists know we will offer no hiding place. We need to ensure that we are the teachers, friends, uncles and aunts whose children can trust to tell when their fathers and brothers touch them and abuse them. We could go on and on. But we don’t have all the answers. What we do know is that we are a nation in crisis!