One in three

This week it’s Women’s Day and all I feel about it is anger and disillusionment. Helen Moffett’s ‘Fuck Women’s Day. FUCK IT’ is playing over and over in my head like a persistent earworm. People are planning public-holiday picnics in the park, and corporates are trading retweets and shares on social media for chocolate and spa vouchers, as if that’s what South Africa’s women need.

But then this weekend, four women stood up in front of Jacob Zuma and asked the nation to remember the woman involved in his rape trial ten years ago. Whether you agree with their method of protest or not, there is no denying that these women were brave, bold, brilliant. The silent, peaceful protesters were then pushed and shoved out of the room by Zuma’s security – the MANhandling simply underlining the unnecessary violence that South Africa’s women experience every day.

Seeing this demonstration, I felt, simultaneously, pride, solidarity, anger, rage, heartbreak – a swell of emotion for these women, for all women, for myself.

The thing is, while this protest was against Zuma specifically, it was also about asking South Africa to remember, to acknowledge all women who’ve experienced violence by a man, and especially those whose violators have got away with it. And there are a lot of us. As one of the protesters’ signs read: I am one in three.

In 2005, I was sexually assaulted. I don’t really talk about it but it does still affect me, 11 years later.

I’ll say it again: what happened to me still affects me, more than a decade after it happened.

That’s why we need to #RememberKhwezi, 10 years later. South Africa needs to understand not only that it has a rape crisis, but how pervasive its rape culture is, and how little South African society acknowledges its effects.

And it really is everywhere and happening all the time. Not just in the townships or rural areas. Not just under the cloak of night-time. Oh no, middle-class South Africa. It’s right next to you. Right now.

I was sexually assaulted one June afternoon on a Wits University staircase.

Two years later, one of the armed robbers who broke into my house asked me how old I was. I told him I was 12 (I was 22) and he replied nonchalantly, ‘Oh, that’s too young for me to rape,’ like that’s all this came down to – the whims of some man and a random number protecting me from a violent, life-changing act.

Then there was the time that a drunken friend tried again and again to grope me, forcefully, while I told him again and again to fuck right off. He couldn’t remember the incident the next day and when told about it, laughed it off in an oopsy-I-was-so-drunk-hahaha kind of way. He’s no longer my friend and I don’t even think he understands why.

Not only do we live in a society in which these acts happen, but we live in a society in which women are made to feel like they should just get over it.

‘It happens all the time.’

‘You’re lucky it wasn’t worse.’

Except you’re not lucky at all. And sexual assault should not be measured against itself, like some incidents are just-another-Saturday-in-South-Africa sexual assaults and others, the more shock-worthy, are ‘bad enough’ to warrant attention. No.

It’s all sexual assault. It’s all violence.

‘It happens every day’ should not be a statement of apathy and acceptance. It should be inciting anger and action.

One in three. Wherever you land in the fraction, ‘one in three’ still means all of us. #Iam1in3. This is happening to all of us. It’s happened, happening to our daughters, sisters, grandmothers, mothers, friends. They may not talk about it; it may have happened a while ago; but it happened and it still affects them. #RememberKhwezi, those brave women asked us. Let’s.

This Women’s Day, I am following Helen Moffett’s lead: in a gesture of ‘grief, rage, and general gatvol-ness’, I am donating to Rape Crisis. Please pause your picnic-planning and join me: