Rape, the Beloved Country

Reeva Steenkamp

Reeva Steenkamp

Anene Booysen

Anene Booysen

“We’re not doing this right.” Servaas’ mood hasn’t lifted yet. Recent events depressed the old man to such an extent that Gertruida says he now sleeps in his black suit. “If the Valentine’s day murder hadn’t occurred, the media wouldn’t have forgotten about Anene Booysen so quickly. Her rape and murder was – if comparisons can even be contemplated – a much worse crime. She was repeatedly raped by men taking turns. Her stomach was slit open. Her bowels spilled out on the dusty ground. She was mercilessly beaten. She died. If the media wanted sensation, her case was perfect for it. If people wanted to protest, she was a reason. If parliamentarians and lawmakers wanted to highlight the crime, her funeral would have been a perfect platform. 

“But no. The president – whose own rape case resulted in no conviction, like 90% of such cases do in this country -made a lame statement; a few people expressed their disgust and the poor girl was laid to rest in the forgiving soil of her hometown. The contrast is just too obvious to ignore.”

For once, Gertruida agrees. “You’re right, Servaas. Look what happened in India. Jyoti Singh Pandey caused an international furore and mass protests. The plight of Indian women was brought into sharp focus, and the lawmakers are being forced to review the role of women in Indian society. It’s an ongoing process. The legacy of Miss Pandey will at least mean something for future generations. Her death – so terribly tragic and unnecessary – is having a lasting impact.

“But over here, Anene is just another rape victim, one of the many. In a country where a woman gets raped every four minutes, we’ve become insensitive to the anguish and heartache of rape. However, had the Valentine’s Day murder not happened, the media would have made something more of her case.”

“There is a difference.” Vetfaan sighs at the reality of an unbalanced world. “Equality is just another word. The Constitution makes a big spiel about equality. It says we all enjoy the same rights and privileges, and nobody is more important than anybody else. It’s a lot of hogwash, of course. Anene Booysen came from a poor family in a town most people can’t point to on a map. She didn’t finish school. She worked as a cleaner, at the age most kids should be studying to improve their futures. Her life was a one-way highway to misery.

“So the media chased down the story, ran with it for a few days, and got bored. This was not the case of a beauty queen whose future was snatched away. She never adorned the cover of glossy magazines or appeared in reality TV shows. She never modelled sexy clothes for lecherous men to ogle at. She was simply not that interesting…

“But then Valentines Day happened. I’m sure the media bosses let out a collective sigh of relief. Sensation! Drama! A beautiful woman and an international star! Two people who made South Africans feel proud, did something to shock the nation! Hooray! And the helicopters and taxis and TV vans raced out to the security-fenced complex to camp outside the gates in the hope of getting a vague photo of the accused. For what? To paste the picture of a tormented man on the front page to fascinate the nation?” Vetfaan shakes his head: the world is sick…

“Look, rape and murder is wrong. Abuse – in any form – is a sin. I suggest we urge everybody we meet, to pray for the Steenkamp and the Booysen family.  Grief is the great leveller. No matter who you are and where you live; irrespective of dreams and ambitions, wealth or poverty; the loss of a loved leaves an emptiness that knows no boundaries.” Boggel, too, seems sombre today. “And while they’re at it, lets not forget the daily tally of murders taking place in our society. We’ve become a violent, unthinking community with little regard for others.

“The abuse of women and children is as bad as the abuse of power. Anene is a symptom, guys, not a disease. Our society have learnt from it’s leaders: if you want it, you take it. The weaker gets exploited, the stronger man rules. Equality? There’s no equality. It’s the absence of equality that allows corruption and crime to thrive.”

“Yes, you can pray.” Oudoom sits down heavily. “And it’s right that you do. But sometimes God puts you in a place where you have to make decisions. Sometimes He’s telling us to stop asking Him to fix stuff. Society is the way we made it. We voted a government into power. We chose leaders who are corrupt. We turn a blind eye to the mayhem in the country. And we’ve created an unequal society where the rich and the famous will forever receive more attention than a poor girl in Bredasdorp. So, my friends, if we did it, why think He must make it right again?”

“What do you suggest, Oudoom?”

“Nothing much. I suggest we urge our brothers and sisters in the country, to open their eyes. To stop tolerating and inciting violence. To bring religion back into our schools. To discipline their children with kindness. To open parliament with prayer. To be dignified in their interaction with all others. To realise that we’ll ruin the country if we go on like this.

“It’s not much to ask, is it?”

Suddenly, they all had the same vision. It’s a picture of a young girl whose life may have been such a blessing to those around her. She’s been beaten and raped and stabbed and cut open. Her bowels spill from the slit abdomen. Her blood is seeping away into the ground.

Her name is not Anene. Her name is not Joyti.

Her name is South Africa.

37 thoughts on “Rape, the Beloved Country

  1. newsferret

    All that I can say is maybe it is a blessing that our beautiful old anthem is no longer associated with a country that has become dysfunctional. Thanks for playing it.

  2. Mathilda Williams

    Amos, this may be the most profound article/blog of yours that I have read yet. It moved me deeply. I look at South Africa with different eyes now, since I no longer live in the country of my birth, the dear land. It doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t love the country anymore, or that I am not concerned for the welfare of my loved ones, and in fact, all those who live in SA. As an expat, I dare not raise the issues you so freely address in your blog, I am often told in no uncertain terms that I chose to leave, I should therefore stop reading the news from the old country, I have lost the right to have an opinion, or to comment…. Of course, one doesn’t have to live in a country or be a citizen of a country to comment on the state of affairs in a country. One only has to observe all the opinions SA’ans have of my adoptive country to know that this is true. Opinions are plentiful and expressed freely, often by people who have never even set foot in my new country.
    But you, you who still live there, you can write about the crime, the blatant disrespect for life, the degree to which South Africans have become blunt and immune to the violence that happens around them on a daily basis. Thank you for being brave enough to say it as it is. It should be shouted from the rooftops, it should be told as it is.
    It was just beautiful to listen to Die Stem van Suid Afrika again. It is a beautiful anthem indeed.

    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      Thank you Mathilda, for commenting and being brave – where you are. You have the right to an opinion. You have a right to observe and feel empathy for people who suffer abuse. Yes, it happens in other places too, but something in all South Africans (here and abroad) responds to the words of that anthem. We are people of Africa, whether we live there or not. We dream of a better South Africa. And we grieve the current dysfunction, as Newsey put it. Wherever you are, Mathilda, you still have roots. It’s wonderful that you cherish them. It’s even more wonderful that you still want to tell people about this great country at the southern tip of Africa. May the people you talk to, receive the grace to hear what you’re saying. (and don’t stop…)

  3. Ben Wolmarans

    Amos, met alles wat verkeerd was het ons met n waardesisteem gelewe. n Trots. Hierdie trots kom nog na vore wanneer jy op n volgepakte sportstadion sit en hierdie gedeelte van die volkslied word gesing. Dit het so stil-stil in die jinger geslag se lewens ingekruip – ook hulle staan op aandag en sing Die Stem uit volle bors. De La Rey is nog n voorbeeld. Ek dink dit is n smag na wat moes gewees het. Jy het die “guts” om dit by die naam te noem. Op n baie filosofiese manier. And, YES Mathilda Williams, yout roots are here and you MUST still love this country. And you MUST criticise what is blatantly wrong. God bless. Lekker naweek alaml.

    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      Ben, I’m answering in English for the benefit of those who struggle to understand the most beautiful language on earth. (ahem!) Yes, singing the bit of Die Stem at an international rugby game – here and abroad – tells you how deep those words have rooted in our souls. And yes, the whole song tells us what the country expects from us, and what dreams we may have for it. It is the most moving experience to listen to it – every time. Thanks for commenting Ben, much appreciated.

  4. colonialist

    These events have showcased the worst in human nature – not only here – in many ways.
    Now THAT is a National Anthem! Funny, I have always preferred the Afrikaans version. It just seems right, somehow.

  5. Stephi Hoines

    Amos I read this first thing this morning and it brought tears to my eyes. I have tried forever to explain South Africa to some of my friends and would like to share this on my FB page if it is ok. I have been in the USA the last 12 years but my love for SA is still very strong.

  6. Leon

    Thank you for this post, I’ve read a few of these and I enjoy the humor and the commentary on current events, I can just imagine this setting in South Africa…
    This post has helped put together some of the thoughts I’ve felt about these recent events and that have weighed very heavy in my heart. I too have wondered what will happen to the Anene Booysen story when the Valentines day events and the circus which is our justice system happened these past days.
    If you don’t mind though I’d like to comment on some of your “concluding” statements regarding what’s wrong with our society… And I agree that the lack of moral upbringing is at the root of what is wrong with much of what we see today, however, I would be careful to suggest that religious education be re-introduced in our public schools and that parliament should be opened with a prayer each day. While the practice of religious freedom is constituted in South Africa, I believe it to be exactly that, religious freedom. If we were to dictate religion in our schools and our government we take the risk of reintroducing something that was inherently wrong with our previous regime. As much as one cannot legislate people into prosperity one can not legislate a society into being religious. If one were to talk about Christianity (as opposed to religion) in this sense too then it furthermore becomes important to separate Church and state.
    It would be unfair though if I just criticized without suggesting an alternative. And I could perhaps have put Oudoom’s closing remarks in the following way:
    “What do you suggest, Oudoom?”

    “Nothing much. I suggest we urge our brothers and sisters in the country, to open their eyes. To stop tolerating and inciting violence. For our Christian households to continue to serve our God and country with compassion and to raise our children as we promised to do when we dedicated them to service in Christ. To discipline their children with kindness. To be dignified in their interaction with all others. To realise that we’ll ruin the country if we go on like this. In doing so we might root out the evil which is corruption, inequality in all aspects of society, greed and hatred towards others… May God bless our country.”

    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      Thanks, Leon – a valuable contribution, one which I appreciate.
      I shied away from naming any specific religion, because all citizens aren’t Christians. I don’t know the answer…but somehow we all believe in God. So, while I completely agree with your closing statement from Oudoom, I also think that schools (for instance) can either alternate mornings between the different faiths, or they can create an opportunity to attend a short meeting of a specific denomination. The point is: if a child is brought up without a sense of morals, we are in trouble. Similarly, if parliament thinks it is the ultimate source of power, we are lost. So I accept your suggestion, but would like to spread the moral net a bit wider…

  7. Herman of bibledifferences.net

    Amos, you are spot on with this post on such a sad situation!
    Equality? Had there ever been equality anywhere in the world? Sin is sin, but ou Doom would loose not only his job, but also his status if he committed what a president did, South African or American!
    Yet in South Africa people are sometimes “rewarded” for fraud by given a higher paying post. And when most of the money allocated for land reform had gone to bonuses instead of paying the farmers who already were willing to sell, confiscation as a governmental way of stealing, is contemplated. And when strike strangled a mine to the point of closing, the guy whose property has to be sold to pay for his tax arrears thinks he can run it to make a profit – just confiscate it and give it to him! And the court can rule that singing “kill the boer” is forbidden but then our president leads it’s singing at an ANC rally! And the court can order the president to hand over certain documents concerning the arms scandal, and he simply refuses! And murdering elderly people on a farm in a most brutal way is just something in the passing! The list is endless! The sad thing is so many follow and believe in these guys!
    The other sad thing is that we can debate the situation, and sign petitions, and even toye-toye in the streets, but what will really help? What can I do to prevent these things to happen? Sometimes I think we as citizens should return the Old Testament law of an eye for an eye. Slit the rapist’s belly open, and then face our courts that are so light on these matters, and apply for “sick – parole” after 3 months in prison!
    Or is pigment and not grey matter of greater importance?
    Just asking?
    My heart goes out to the Booysens-, and the Steenkamp- and the Pistorius families, and all the other nameless victims every four minutes!
    And I can just pray: “Nkosi sikelel iAfrika!”

    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      Thanks, Herman – you bring into focus the dirty blotches on the rainbow nation. We must either ignore them and play ostrich, or we must face them. After almost two decades, it’s impossible to try to think they’re not there. The chickens are coming to roost. The new dawn is calling. Either we wake up…or perish.

  8. scrapydo

    This brought tears to my eyes. Listening to the anthem also took my memories back to when we did the Monday morning sermon in the school hall.( buite word vlag gehys, op aandag gestaan en eerbetoon en dan die Stem gesing. Dit het almal in eenheid saamgesnoer) Those who were not religious could stay outside in a classroom. The parents had the opportunity to keep their children away from christian religion. This was in the high schools.
    People here also want to know why things happen like this in SA. I can’t get myself to break down the wonderful country I grew up in. It still is a wonderful place and there are more good people that bad ones. Bad situations happen even here- only 1 at a time not one every 4 minutes.

    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      Evil is, indeed, universal..it just seems so concentrated here. And yes, those vlaghysingseremonies – I remember them so well. I remember one incident on the border, when faced with an impossible and unstable situation, how my mind froze the words ‘Ons sal offer wat jy vra’ in the big screen in my mind. It calmed me down. I believed I was serving something worthwhile.
      South Africa is a wonderful country. The potential is great. If only our leaders would look for keys rather than locks.

      1. scrapydo

        Key is the important word! Listening and singing the Anthem made us stand fast that was for sure. S A is such a beautiful place.Remembering the frightened faces of the kiddies in my class after arriving at school will always stay in my mind(They were gr 1+2 children, coming to school in taxis between those big “Boys” who were always pushing them around don’t mention the way those taxis drive along also) They would come in and give me a hug just to show me that they were glad to be save at school. Even the things these young kids go through at home are horrible. They live in a nightmare every day

  9. adinparadise

    I am so very sad at what has happened to the beloved country. So much potential, so little vision. 😦 How lovely and nostalgic to listen to this beautiful version of our anthem.

  10. aj vosse

    Thank you Sir for posting this in such a sensitive an truthful manner. I am putting together another post about the whole sad affair. Would you mind if I used your closing paragraph somewhere at the beginning of that post?

    I’ll include the last paragraph from something I wrote in April 2010… after another high profile killing:

    Cry… for the Beloved Country… paradise gone wrong! Here’s to the hope that the same Western pressure that stopped apartheid can stop this violence! Let’s pray that the blood soaked earth will one day welcome the healing and reconciliation that is so long overdue… (the whole piece can be found on my Short Stuff page)

    Let’s hope if we speak out enough something positive will happen!

  11. Natasha

    I suppose one could call me naive, but I cannot help believing that somehow, in some way, a miracle will occur and this country will rise above what it has become.
    I believe there are enough people here that have had enough and that things can change.
    It just breaks my heart that it takes tragedies such as what happened to Anene and Reeva to get the nation to take a stand.
    It is sad that it has taken these two horrific events to get the world to REALLY take notice of what is going on here.
    It is horrific that even now, I still don’t know what to do as an individual to change it….

  12. museconfuse

    Good post as always..I can definitely feel the love as well as a sense of disappointment that you have for your country. Violence, is violence no matter the frequency, they should never be tolerated.

  13. themonumentaljackass

    Your country and mine have a lot of similarities. You mentioned how Ms Jyoti’s tragedy created a wave of rage and feeling for our women, and it did. But it was confined to the Internet and television mostly. There’s still so much to do, so much to change. It is appalling how a human can even think of inflicting such brutality on another.
    I myself am not a great believer of religion, or the Gods, per se, but religion does provide a very basic and foolproof method of distinguishing right from wrong. Perhaps that is what we need, not because of the concept, but for the effectiveness of it.

    On a lighter note, I love how you bring together all sides of the issue through a conversation at Boggel’s. It feels so natural, so effortless, it’s like I’m sitting right there with Gertruida, Servaas, and Vetfaan. For the sheer humanity of it, I thank you.

    I hope that your, mine and every other country suffering from this affliction is healed. For the world isn’t right this way.

    Cheers, Amos.

  14. Pingback: South Africa’s New National Sport? | Ouch!! My back hurts!!

  15. passey

    Frankly, I didn’t think there was any other country besides India where social injustice was stomping and crushing people at will. The conversation rattled me… this is one post that needs to be read by as people as possible as what you have written is something that anyone any where will relate to.
    Tell me which country is not being raped and maimed by vested interest?

    Arvind Passey

    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      Thank you, Arvind. Yes, inequality is a world-wide phenomenon, and somehow gets accepted by the majority of people. We shelter in our little domes of ignorance and shut our eyes. People, in the end, seem to refuse to consider the realities we have to deal with. But…the more we speak (or write) about it, the more awareness is created. That;s why I appreciate your reading and commenting on this piece. Like you know: writing is an attempt by the writer to reach others. May you – and your writing – be blessed with readers that hear your heart. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll be the writers that change the world….


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