BOOK CLUB: Rape: A South African Nightmare

Pumla Dineo Gqola’s Rape: A South African Nightmare is a harrowingly incisive analysis of one of South Africa’s greatest scourges, writes TARAH CHILDES.Rape

Consider, for a moment, our country’s label as the rape capital of the world and then reflect on your reaction to it. No doubt you will feel outraged, frustrated by your sense of hopelessness and perceived inability to help turn the tide against this “endemic” issue. And you would not be alone. As a society, we are overwhelmed by rape: we express our collective horror and shock at each new incident that makes headlines, but to what effect?

It is this repetitive discourse around the taboo, often mysterious and always complex subject that writer, feminist and professor, Pumla Dineo Gqola examines and challenges in Rape: A South African Nightmare – a worthy winner of the Sunday Times 2016 Alan Paton Award for Non-fiction.

In a series of succinct, analytical chapters, Gqola explores the culture of rape and its normalisation into our country’s social makeup, systematically interrogating our assumptions and attitudes from multiple angles and making sense of rape’s complex relationship to our past as well as its conflation with gender, sex and race.

Beginning by dismantling the idea that rape is a post 1994 problem, Gqola traces it back to its violent colonial roots and use as a tool of subjugation in our past slavocratic society —supported by a system that classified black women as legally “unrapable”, while simultaneously casting black men as sexually ravenous and dangerous. This dynamic continued to be institutionalised under apartheid — a time in which “no white men were hanged for rape and the only black men who were hanged for rape were convicted of raping white women”. This formed a patriarchal structure that supported “violent masculinity” as a means of control, rendering women compliant and silent.

The initial chapter creates a useful structure from which to tackle the rest of the book — in which Gqola explores high-profile cases that include the trials of Jacob Zuma, Bob Hewitt, Makhaya Nthini and the rapes of Baby Tshepang, Anene Booysen and Eudy Simelane.

She uses each prominent example not only to debunk prevalent myths about rape, but also to draw attention to our collective and individual reactions to each case, with alarming and unsettling questions about who we deem “rapable” and how and where we apportion blame. Most striking, she points out, is the way in which we demand rape victims to behave and to look — using our prejudice to discredit victims when they do not meet our expectations in what she terms a “violent system that forces victims to ‘prove’ their lived trauma”.

Gqola raises the issue of child molestation and rape to make two important points. The first, that rape is about sex, or that rape victims somehow invite or deserve to be rape because of what they wear or how they behave. The rape of Baby Tshepang, amongst others, defies this logic. The second idea Gqola tackles is our perception that it is somehow more depraved to rape a child rather than a woman. This, she states, diminishes the experience of so many victims and excuses the behaviour of certain perpetrators. “It’s a problem when we show that some rapes are more gruesome than others,” she writes. “What I want to show is that it’s the same thing. I want to show that all rapes are gruesome.”

Most illuminating was the fourth chapter entitled “The Female Fear Factory” – where Gqola details how our society is constructed in such a way that women and those who don’t confirm to gendered stereotypes are taught to fear rape and violence, and are thus controlled as well as devalued. She writes:

The manufacture of female fear works to silence women by reminding us of our rapability, and therefore blackmails us to keep ourselves in check… It is a public fear that is repeatedly manufactured through various means in many private and public settings.

She makes use of the responses to the rape and murder of Bredasdorp resident, Anene Booysen, to emphasise this point, adding that while we sympathised and mourned her tragic rape and death, we were quick to add that she shouldn’t have been out drinking at night, that she shouldn’t have walked the streets – “all behaviour that patriarchy says is inappropriate for good girls”. Rather than appointing blame on the perpetrators who brutally attacked and tortured her, we criticised the circle around Anene for not protecting her from harm — thus further entrenching the idea that it is women who should fear rape, instead of those who rape being made afraid or deterred from doing so.

The crux of Gqola’s book is the chapter on President Zuma’s rape trial — a time she describes as “a watershed moment for what it highlighted about societal attitudes that had previously been slightly out of view”. The rape charge was laid by the woman we know as Khwezi, a well-known HIV-positive activist and a daughter of a friend of Zuma’s. By examining excerpts from media coverage at the time, Gqola notes the way in which both Khwezi and the president were framed, and the worrying way in which we repeatedly diminished the importance of the rape incident, instead expressing views that shamed Khwezi and protected the president. Most troubling is the justice system that allowed Khwezi’s previous sexual history to be admitted as evidence in a bid to categorise her as “unrapable” while relabelling her self-identified status as a gay woman as “bisexual”.

Rape is not an easy book to read. This, of course, is not because it is not exceptionally well written—the academic language is refreshingly accessible and engaging — but because of the odious subject Gqola so methodically interrogates. I reflected on my own reluctance to read the book, identifying with the tendency to divert our gaze and thus enable “violent masculinities” to flourish under what Gqola terms the “cult of femininity”.

Gqola wisely offers no immediate solutions to our country’s complex and entrenched rape crisis. But, by interrupting the insidious and unspoken language of rape and rape culture, she helps us to envision a future in which rape does not exist — and that, as Gqola so emphatically concludes, is one we deserve, and one we must all fight to create.

Rape is published by Jacana.

GIVEAWAY: Win one of three copies of Rape. To enter, email competition(at), with the book’s title in the subject line. In the body of the email please include your full name, contact number and physical address (including the postal code). Only readers resident in South Africa are eligible. Entries close on 15 November 2016. By entering, you agree to join AERODROME’s monthly newsletter mailing list.

THE READER: Cateringa & Kompanen

Alexander Geijzendorffer and Odrada Burghoorn are members of Cateringa & Kompanen – a Dutch artist collective of makers with a specific interest in mixing food, art and the interaction between people. They find food and its context to be an artistic material like copper, clay or pain. Yet it offers so much more in terms of how its perceived. What is “good”? What is “normal”? What is “health”? What beholds the future? They challenge and investigate these concepts in various forms, from performance and installations to interactive buffets and experimental film nights.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: Ai. You caught us at just after a massive book binge. I’m trying to read nine books at the same time to prepare our research for next year. Ahem… Let’s say the main two today are Ingredients by Dwight Eschliman and Steve Ettlinger and Chemistry for Dummies by John T. Moore. The first is “a visual exploration of 75 food additives & 25 food products”. It’s my breakfast and coffee book. Page after page of glossy photos with whitish powders or translucent liquids. The second helps me to bring back the fundamentals on food chemistry that I realise I lack for fully understanding the other seven books.

How do you decide what to read next?

A: Often friends and fellow artists/chefs will advise me books on a topic we are discussing. Occasionally I realise that internet offers mostly superficial snippets and I need something thorough and real.

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

A: Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. I realised all adults have gone through a phase of existentialism and somehow decided it was worth living anyway. This blew my mind.

O: Still love John Seymour’s The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency. It covers everything from building a compost toilet to how to see if a chicken egg is fertilised to harvesting and storing your crop. when our modern world collapses you can use this book to stay alive 🙂 

Do you read on tablet, Kindle, paper or all three?

O: Tablet and paper. Tablet while travelling because paper tends to be heavy to bring, but i prefer paper at home. When I love something i want to own it on paper.

A: Almost only paper. I loathe all the screen work I have to do and prefer to jump around and do stuff. Paper books are kind of between.

What were your favourite books as a child?

A: Oh! The Witches’ Handbook by Malcolm Bird. An illustrated guide to be a witch, including recipes for worm soup, how to spoil your neighbours’ harvest and useful career suggestions.

O: Meester van de zwarte molen by Otfried Preußler (which in English mean “the satanic mill”) has a fairy-tale quality, magic and a romantic plot and it plays in a mill (yay, bread!).

What’s the last book you gave as a gift?

A: Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter. A typical engineer who decided cooking would mix well with graphs and screwdrivers. I’m about to give it as a gift to a friend of mine who never liked cooking till it became difficult. I believe in borrowing books.

O: for my sister one of Ottolenghi’s beautiful books for her birthday.

What’s the last thing you read that made you laugh?

A: Many things. Yesterday I read a comparison of how electrons around the core of an atom try to keep as much distance from each other as they can are very similar to you and another person in the same cocktail dress on a fancy gala. I don’t know which one took more imagination.

O: I stumbled upon the columns by Renske de Greef last week and found them hilarious.

Which book have you never been able to finish reading?

Ulysses by James Joyce. My interest in novels has diminished over the years to make space for more informative books. This mindboggling stream of words was the first victim to fall.

O: I am OCD about reading books, I have to absorb every word, read a page again when I find myself drifting away, and it is impossible to not finish a book that I have read halfway. And I actually read Ulysses, Alex. 😉

What book do you turn to for advice?

A: Ehm. Heukels’ Flora van Nederland by R. van der Meijden. The biologists’ handbook for determining exactly which wild plant is about to kill you for trying to eat it. The SAS Survival Guide offers some basics on that too.

O: I have a copy of the I Tjing lying around somewhere that I used in a playful manner with my friends to advise us on the important questions in life. That was fun for a while.

The best food magazine?

A: Ai ai ai. I’m afraid I don’t read any magazines. I might follow up on interesting articles that pass by on my Facebook feed from various online magazines.

O: No magazines, but food blogs, I like the dessert recipes of Chocolate Covered Katie.

The recipe book you use the most?

A: Ottolenghi’s Plenty More. I live in a communal house with six other entrepreneurs that love cooking in their spare time. It’s actually a luxury with which I never have to buy recipe books myself. Ottelenghi has an interesting non-dogmatic view on cooking with vegetables (“this would be great with a piece of lamb”), that I much

appreciate. Every kitchen, from raw to vegan to African to molecular has interesting features, but I take open mindedness as the healthiest approach to life.

Favourite book about food?

A: Harold McGee’s book On Food and Cooking. Great and almost too-thorough bible of the scientific processes that happen in food cooking. A must-read. Maybe prep up on your chemistry basics though.

If you could cook dinner for a dead writer, who which writer would it be, where would you eat with them, and what would you make them?

A: Roald Dahl, whom I feel would appreciate anything cooked with enthusiasm. He would be more than welcome to join us at my house and dig into whatever has been created by whoever that day. Home cooking is as much about informal ambience as it is about the freedom to try new things.

Geijzendorffer and Burghoorn will be speaking in Joburg at the Spier Secret Festival on Sunday, 6 November 2016. Book your tickets here.

POEM: name


it seems i inadvertently
took his name
that day in the forest
when we got married

i found out a year later
early morning at the voting station
that i no longer existed
that for the past year
i had been using the name
of a woman long gone
that the woman who birthed my daughter
was not the me that i had thought i was

i went to have it changed back
filled in the forms –
had to motivate why
i wanted to be who i was before

but i am not sure you can be
completely the same
after obliteration.

“If only they had the chance”: an interview with Don Pinnock

GARETH LANGDON chats to Don Pinnock about his new book, Gang Town.Don Pinnock

Residents of Cape Town are well aware of its two faces. On one side, the picturesque coastline that runs around the peninsula, Table Mountain watching over lithe bodies sunbathing on white sandy beaches. But travel far enough beyond the green mountain slopes, and you arrive in the Cape Flats, an apartheid relic built to rehouse coloureds and blacks under the Group Areas Act.

Don Pinnock ventures deep into these neighbourhoods to provide a detailed analysis  of their gang violence, poverty, drugs and lack of policing. His City Press/Tafelberg Non-fiction Award-winning book Gang Town is an exploration of gangsterism in the Cape Flats, but is also a journalistic and criminological study, owing no doubt to Pinnock’s background in these areas. He lays his examination out in six parts, including a lengthy appendix which gives it the feel of a doctoral thesis rather than a book, but the structure provides direction for the reader and prevents the boredom that can occur with such lengthy non-fiction works.

What is most interesting about Gang Town is Pinnock’s focus on adolescence, mostly male adolescence, and the role it plays in forcing young boys to turn to gangsterism. This makes sense in light of Pinnock’s background in criminology, and in his work with the Usiko Trust, but the core of Gang Town actually came to him in a dream:

One night before starting work on this book I dreamed I’d been allocated a house in a rural village. It turned out to be a single wall with an old door and dirt floor, nothing else. I spent some time cleaning the floor and, as evening fell, there was a knock on the door. I opened and a horde of ragged, hungry-looking local children flooded in. I thought: ‘I have nothing for them.’

They were very sweet but rowdy, so after a while I asked them to leave, but they wouldn’t. Eventually I shoved a few through the door saying: ‘Go outside now.’ A boy looked at me then at the sky where the roof should be and the sides where walls should be and said: ‘There’s no inside.’

When I woke up the meaning of the dream was clear. For around 30 years, on and off, I’d been highlighting the plight of young people at risk in Cape Town in books and lectures. I had co-founded an organization, Usiko Trust, to take young men from distressed families to beautiful wilderness places and help them build resilience in the face of absent fathers, poverty, shame and the hyper-masculinity of gang life.

The message from the world of dreams was that this was just a start. So far all I had was a wall with a door through which children could enter. The structure was incomplete with no roof for protection from the elements. There was still a lot to do before the building was habitable. And children in need were not people against whom I could shut the door.

The obvious explanations for adolescent gangsterism remain – poverty, crime, a lack of adequate role models and education – these are all neat explanations for why someone would join a gang like the Americans or the 28s, but Pinnock notes a more interesting nuance. He notes how, young men, during their most vulnerable stages of development, crave adult attention and have a natural tendency towards aggressive and territorial behaviours.

“People see gangsters and I see kids with enormous potential if only they had the chance,” he says. “I treat them with the respect they deserve and they respond with warmth and trust. So many burn up and far too many die before 25.”Gang Town

In the past, traditions served to curb teen boys’ dangerous tendencies, but in a society where family has disintegrated and children are largely left to their own devices – their parents on drugs, in jail or even dead – these traditions fall away, and new rituals take their place. Here we find the gang symbolism, initiation rituals and strict rule books that govern these gangs. For Pinnock, gang ideology is simply a replacement for what is lost when society breaks down – albeit a dangerous and criminal replacement.

“The most frightening thing is the way far too many young people in high-risk areas are dealt with by mothers and especially fathers unconcerned or unaware of the impact of their poor parental care,” he says. “And also pretty scary is the failure of government – local and national, pre and post apartheid – to provide decent conditions for kids to grow up in. We are thereby really cooking trouble in the future.”

This danger is clearest when Pinnock enters the Flats to observe children as young as 5 and 6 playing in the streets. When asked to draw something, they draw a gang symbol. When asked to name a role model, they name a gang leader. When asked what they want to be when they grow up, they say gangster. Their games are about territory and shooting, stick fighting to emulate their panga-wielding older brothers and fathers. Rescuing these adolescents, catching them as young as possible, is the solution Pinnock proposes – one which goes beyond the vast societal problems which the individual is powerless to defeat, and focuses on what we can do to help the kid on the street, slowly preventing gangsterism one kid at a time.

The lack of an elderhood of men seems to be what, according to Pinnock, is most lacking in these poor areas. One of the most uplifting stories he can recall centres around a teenage boy finding the belonging and pride he so desperately craves from older male role models:

In Nguni culture, when a young man is a kwedien – uncircumcised – his opinions aren’t valued. When he speaks he’s tolerated but not regarded. He’s a child. The makweta ceremony is the time of manhood. In traditional areas, several weeks into the ceremony, there’s a time when the young man is invited to a beer drink.

I attended one while researching adolescent traditions in the Quamata area of Transkei. There were about 50 men sitting in a circle on stools and upturned tins passing a large can of beer. I watched the young man come down the mountain and approach the group. He was nervous. His eyes were downcast.

As he walked up to the circle the men made space for him and he sat down. They continued talking. He just sat there and nobody paid him any attention. But when the beer came round it was passed to him and he drank and handed it on.

After about 20 minutes – I guess he was plucking up courage – he said something. Nothing special, just a comment in the flow of conversation. But every man stopped and listened to him. Then they nodded, agreeing with him and the conversation flowed again.

I was watching him closely. His shoulders straightened, his eyes brightened and he looked the men in their faces. In that moment, in that instant, he became a man. His story had been heard. He’d been accepted.

Larger issues of this kind are often difficult to address in a society strangled by bureaucracy and poverty, but Pinnock notes that there is still progress being made in certain areas. The key is knowing where to start:

“Cape Town has started by looking at systemic solutions and, rather gratifyingly, it is using Gang Town as a reference text,” he says. “Working one-to-one has great value for both the healer and the healed, of course, but solutions can only come from the underlying systems and failures of those systems that underpin what I call life-course-persistent deviance. I would start by utterly changing the school curriculum (it’s neck-up and boringly impractical), decriminalise drugs (it would halve the prison and court population) and turn prisons into educational centres and not the hell-holes they presently are.”

While Pinnock’s prose is at times stiff and dense, the interspersal of interview extracts, the words of real residents of the Flats as well as police officers and jail wardens, helps to break the monotony and provides detailed context for the more academic passages. Pinnock has also included pictures he shot, as well as archived images, of District 6, the Flats and Cape Town youths which are a nice touch.

For a reader seeking a detailed exploration of gangs in Cape Town, one which goes deeper than the conventional media circus often associated with these myths, or indeed the total silencing of these desperate communities, then Gang Town is a good place to start.

Gang Town is published by Tafelberg.