Pumla Gqola’s Book Says ‘Rape Is Violence That Must Be Dismantled’ By Cheryl Roberts

12 Sep
Pumla Dineo Gqola

Pumla Dineo Gqola

When you feel that something must be written about, despite its inflicting pain to the writer herself, then you begin the narrative that must be contested, challenged and engaged.

Writing about the horrendous violence that is rape is not easy, but black woman feminist and scholar, Pumla Dineo Gqola just knew and felt that it was something that just had to be written, especially within South African society where rape statistics reveal the brutal truth about gender violence.

‘I can’t say that it’s happy reading but I hope we continue to talk because ending rape is going to require that we interrupt al the narratives of rape culture’, explains Pumla.

As the scholar and writer that she is, Pumla didn’t set out to prove if rape exists or not in our South African society; from society’s recorded information she tells you that rape exists in massive form and that rape is rape with no rape behaviour being different or wrong or small in brutality from other rapes. ‘It’s a problem when we show that some rapes are more gruesome than others. What I want to show is that it’s the same thing. I want to show that all rapes are gruesome.’

Although she embarked on the writing of the book about a year ago, Pumla’s personal account of and association with rape, starts years before.  The subsequent impact of rape after the brutal violence has taken place goes back to when the young woman academic lived in Cape Town and worked closely with the NGO that is Rape Crisis where she offered counseling to the many who had been victims of this brutal violence.

‘It’s by no ways an easy or trendy narrative to write about especially if you the writer is pained and hurt by all what you know about rape in your country,’ explains Pumla, over lunch at the District Six Museum precinct in Cape Town, just before she’s due to have a public conversation and launch of her book .

‘But the determination to write about rape, to open it up to further conversation and to hopefully charter meaningful and forthright impact by exploding the discussion into the public arena so that rape survivors feel they are not neglected or forgotten about and remain the most important as survivors in this horrific narrative,’ is what helped Pumla on the journey of writing the book.

Pivotal to the exploration of all that constitutes the rape narrative, Pumla is searching through the rape debris demanding to know ‘how do we stop talking about rape as the passive and how do we respond differently to rape’.

The writer says that in South African society the rape landscape is ‘ambigious visibility because it is known, witnessed and denied’.

She also knows that rape is part of every woman’s life. ‘I could narrate many more stories. But we all know stories of rape and fear. Many of us live them directly and indirectly. Rape is the threat that the manufacture of female fear promises if we do not keep each other, and ourselves in check. At the same time, the enactment of rape reinforces this fear. When we see other women experience it, and when they are further victimized for having survived it, fear is reinforced’, writes Pumla.

No one association with rape is spared in the book ‘Rape: A South African Nightmare’; not even Jacob Zuma’s trial (President of the Republic of South Africa) or Bob Hewitt as a one time global tennis doubles champion or the shocking rape of working class teenage girl from Bredasdorp, Anene Booysen or South African woman footballer, Eudy Simelane.

Pumla admits that it was the Jacob Zuma rape trial which triggered her intention to put the rape narrative out there, in a book. Not as an academic publication. It was to be written for the non-academic, for rape survivors to claim it as their power of their stories of lives brutalised by violent behaviour patterns.

The book doesn’t have anything to do with celebrating South Africa pride; if anything, the fact that the rape narrative is being exploded into the public spotlight in this book is what is being celebrated. Here the words of acclaimed writer James Baldwin that ‘not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced’ resonates with the imperative for Pumla to undaintily open the ‘rape nightmare’ not only within South African society, but to society.

‘Rape engulfs our society. Rape must be spoken about if we are to create the tools to begin to eliminate this horrific brutality,’ stresses Pumla.

In presenting herself as a writer about rape in our country, Pumla is no ordinary academic giving the low down via statistics and empirical research. This black woman feminist scholar and academic has been much too linked to the conversation about rape in South Africa society to just present another academic book for academic purposes.

As we talk and listen to each other, I hear Pumla saying ‘black woman identified’ is the ‘center of my universe’. This identification shows up authentically as she probes why working class, disadvantaged, rural and lowly educated black women seemingly always never get the justice they deserve.

‘Why are rich and powerful men protected when they commit rape? Why are national treasures like sportsmen, always assured they won’t get the years they deserve when they are guilty of rape’.

These are hard questions; they are questions asked over and over by anti-abuse proponents, activists and advocates of no gender violence in society.

‘Some don’t go for crisis counselling. We don’t trust the criminal justice system enough to report rape. Its disturbing that only 1 in 9 rapes are reported,’ writes Pumla.

As the femnist, activist, writer, Pumla does have an idea of the road ahead; its a demand for action aaginst the nightmare that is rape. ‘In the meantime, I think we need to rebuild a mass-based feminist movement, a clearer sense of who our allies really are, to return to women’s spaces as we develop new strategies and ways to speak again in our own name, to push back against the backlash that threatens to swallow us all whole. I also think we need to defend the terrain we are losing, because it seems to me that the backlash is working to keep more and more of us if not complaint, then afraid. Yet, a future free of rape and violence is one we desrve, and one we must create’, are the book’s last words.

After having spoken to Pumla about the book, listened to her in conversation with Zethu Matebeni at the Open book Festival, browsed through the book, I know that rape is not just a South African nightmare but every South African woman’s nightmare.

(this is not a review of ‘Rape: A South African Nightmare’. At the time of writing this blog, I have puchased the book(it retails at R220) and have browsed some pages but not read the book.

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