The ‘silent protest’ against rape

The ‘silent protest’ against rape

MASERU- WHEN Malefetsane Mafatle*, a 12-year-old boy, was walking home last weekend, he had the slightest idea of what was to befall him.
This was the same short route that he always took every day.
Then disaster struck. He was gang-raped by four men.

When he arrived home crying in pain and shame, his mother could not believe her eyes.
Amid tears and anger, she rushed her son to the nearest hospital.
The thought of seeing her son being abused and deprived of his dignity ripped her heart.

To worsen the heartbreak, she knew there was nothing she could do other than protect the little that was left of her son’s innocence and childhood.
“He is only 12 years old, four men felt no shame raping him interchangeably and continuously. What sick world are we living in?” Mafatle’s aunt, Malineo Sefala, * said.
She narrated this outrageously sad story of how her nephew was raped during the 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Children Abuse at the Silent Protest launch on Monday.
Sefala said she received a call at 1am from her traumatised sister telling her of the horror.

Tears flowed, and her voice projected deep anger. It was clear that she was trying to stay strong as she shared the story in the presence of several participants at The Silent Protest on Monday. The event was organised by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) under the Commission of Health and Social Development of the Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN).
“He is afraid to even walk outside, someone needs to be around him all the time,” Sefala said, with a shaky voice.
“Who does such things?”

Fortunately, unlike many reported cases of rape, Mafatle’s rapists were arrested and were still held in police custody at the time of going to press.
“And now, the very same boy who was ruthlessly assaulted and ripped of his innocence is called forth to go identify the men who raped him. Imagine the trauma he is going through at the moment, the trauma he is yet to experience when he sees the men who brutally raped him,” Sefala said.
“We are all traumatised. I couldn’t even bring myself to go see him. I cannot bear the sight… telling him all will be alright when all is not right.”
This is just one of many sad stories of abuse in the country.

Gender-based violence (GBV) in the country is still normalised.
According to the 2013 Gender Links Violence Against Women (VAW) baseline study in Lesotho, 86 percent of women in the country have experienced GBV in their lifetime.
The study says while Lesotho has committed itself to eliminating all forms of abuse and violence against women through legal measures, enforcement remains a problem.
Only 26 percent of GBV victims report their abuse to the police and even after reporting, only a few cases are treated as criminal.

“One way that HIV/AIDS is transmitted is through rape and abuse, this is why these two are interlinked and need to be illuminated conjointly,” ’Mapaballo ’Mile, the country programme manager at AHF, said.

She said many other untold stories are those of victims who died, “those whose souls were lost in the line of war”.
The Silent Protest is an organised effort where the participants stay silent to demonstrate disapproval.
Every year since 2006, hundreds of women in South Africa gather in solidarity from university campuses, workplaces and across the nation to silently protest gender-based violence against women.

Larisa Donalds, one of the founders of the protest and a Regional Policy and Advocacy manager of AHF Southern Africa, said the movement originated from the rape trial of former South African president Jacob Zuma.

“A group of friends gathered together around the complainant (Fezekile Kuzwayo) because we believed what she was saying, and we knew she was being badly harassed and threatened,” Dolands said. n“Her mother’s house was burnt down, she was threatened and violated. She had to go into hiding,” she said.
Kuzwayo was a young woman with the courage to accuse Jacob Zuma of rape in February of 2006. Under the assumed name of Khwezi, she was vilified and forced to flee South Africa to the Netherlands in fear of her life.

Kuzwayo died in 2016.
And so the group formed an organisation around Kuzwayo and other survivors encouraging them to stand strong and continue to fight.
It has grown into a formidable movement with a presence in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, Jamaica and Lesotho.
“This movement is not only focused on court support, but more broadly on social change. You cannot talk about HIV without talking about GBV and that is the case across the world, but particularly true in Southern Africa,” Donalds said.

“If you cannot negotiate safer sex because the sex that you are having is not consensual, HIV is transmitted,” she said.
The World Health Organisation says one in three women and one in five men will be abused or raped at least once in their lifetime,” Donalds said.
Donald said it is guaranteed to have rape survivors in one room at any single time, whether gay or straight, both man and women, old or young.
“And we need to talk about that, but before talking about the violence, you have to be able to see the silence around”.

“Many at times, there are stories of ten tips to avoid getting raped and no tips on how men can be less violent, how can we raise our boy child to know how to treat a woman? That is the real conversation. The truth is, trying to avoid becoming a victim of crime is like how many angels can dance on a head of a pin. It is impossible” Donald said.

Donald took a dig at comments such as “don’t wear a short skirt”, “don’t walk out at night”, “don’t drink”, saying they were mere excuses that will not help stop rape.
“Babies are getting raped, grandmothers are getting raped, women are getting raped by their husbands and partners, young boys are raped in school by their headmasters. Rapists are all around us and we cannot avoid them. We need to create a society where everyone is safe from rape,” she said.

The LCN Commissioner of Children and Women, an actress and former executive director for She Hive, ’Mantšalla Ramakhula, said the time to keep rape a secret is over.
“We encourage youth, women and men to not keep rape a secret. The time of shame and feeling stigmatised is over because all it brews is undesired silence that won’t bring a solution to the society,” Ramakhula said.

“Men and boys are in the forefront of rape cases and we need more men who can stand against violence. It is through you that we can put an end to violence,” she said.
Ramakhula said women need to stand their ground to ensure their voices and choices are heard.
“Jointly, we need to stand and remind men that they are our protectors, and such gatherings are not for women but for the society. It is the society in its holistic form that can defeat violence,” said Ramakhula.

One of the silent protestors, Matete Masupha, said men are mostly silent on issues that have hurt them, thereby hardening their hearts.
“We know there is a lot of hatred and anger in our hearts brewed up by social challenges and family problems that were never unresolved,” Masupha said.
“Men need to go for counselling too. This is the key to dealing with depression and violent retaliation,” he said.
Masupha said he too was a perpetrator of violence to his girlfriend.

“I didn’t realise that all of the violence that emanated in me was a result of childhood experiences of my mother and father who were fighting all the time,” he said.
“I never lost a street fight because I had so much anger within me. Hitting a woman was never a problem to me because it felt right but after I received counselling, I stopped and now would rather walk out of an argument, take a breather and come back rather than lay my hand on a woman.”
*Some names have been changed

Rose Moremoholo

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