This is a tweet that many of us guiltily laughed at. Although not simple, it is simpler to boycott the music of a sex offender. You just don’t buy it. But what happens when it plays in the club and you’re having a good time? Do you stop dancing all the time? Do you storm out of the club? Do you complain to the DJ? I recall a night out with my friends who all, like me, strive to subscribe to the ideals of intersectional feminism. So a song by Chris Brown plays while we sit outside the club. There is a moment of awkwardness before one of us starts singing along and soon, all four of us are singing along. Later, a Migos song plays and two of our friends stop dancing in protest of the homophobic bigotry that the Migos have spewed. I continue awkwardly dancing because I know I’ll be a fraud if I stop just because my friends have stopped. But I felt guilty the whole evening. And a little confused because people had been singing along to the music of a notoriously abusive artist earlier so what had changed?
This piece is not about pointing fingers because you danced to Gqi and then I danced to Chris Brown’s song the other time. This kind of defence is lazy and it is truly telling of a people who have no desire to improve unless we have been forced to do so- which really makes our protests and attempts at accountability a mere performance. Our conscience is eased because someone else has sinned in a different way and so we’re clearly all “problematic”. I think the issue of issues that need collective rectification is a little tricky. I must admit, I am a little nervous about writing this because I wish to make it as honest as possible. This piece is a reflection on my own sins and our sins as a society. It is also about committing to a productive way forward on the question of the continued support of artists who contribute to gender based violence.
Gender based violence in South Africa is a phenomenon so common that we can barely even identify it sometimes. Because of the fact that men in the public eye are men who have been socialised into manhood under patriarchy as well, they are often found to have committed gender-based crimes. However, as a result of their power which can be sourced from money or a strong fan base, not much is done by the general public to hold these men to account. Although, I would have to believe naively that men who are not as powerful are severely punished in order to say this wholeheartedly (we all know that even men who are not in the limelight get away with gender based violence).
In “Rape: A South African Nightmare”, Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola writes that back when South Africa had the death penalty; no white man was ever executed for rape and no black man was ever executed for raping a black woman. This tells us three things:
- Black men are targets of racism: Incarceration (and execution, in this instance) has been unfairly used in a way where it is only them who get punishment for sins that white men commit as well.
- Black women are invisible in the system: Whatever happens to our bodies at whomever’s hands is inconsequential for we absolutely do not matter.
- In summation, black men are victims of a certain kind of violence AND they are perpetrators of another kind of violence.
I find this important to highlight before I get into anything because there seems to be this dichotomy between dismantling white supremacy and dismantling patriarchy in public discourse. It is often said that black people who fall outside of what patriarchy defines as fully human (male, heterosexual man) are critical of black (male, heterosexual) men in a way that aids white supremacy. This rhetoric is often silencing to us because of the fact that as black people, we would like to see an end to white supremacy. However, as black women and LGBTQI+ people, we would also really like to see a world where we’re not victims of rape, domestic violence and all kinds of violence that are based on the bodies we live in. One does not get to escape accountability in the name of blackness when they exert violence onto other black bodies. I firmly believe that black people are capable of being united without being united by silence about the violence that women and LGBTQI+ people suffer at the hands of heterosexual, male black men.
In 2006, a woman named Fezeka Khuzwayo, known at the time as Khwezi, took President Jacob Zuma to court; claiming that he had raped her. President Zuma was a close friend of her father’s and he had been like an uncle to her. I was in Grade 5. Around the age where grown men would stop me on the street to propose that I be their girlfriend because I seemed “mature”. I was 10 years old; in case there’s any confusion. The whole case, at the time, was just a lot of noise- I did not understand what rape was. It was only 10 years later that I really decided to go back to understand this rape case. Four women of the EFF had disrupted a Women’s Day event where President Zuma was speaking. They were carrying placards that said “ten years later,” “remember Khwezi” , “I am 1 in 3” and “Khanga”. So I went to the internet to read up on the details of this case. The reaction to Khwezi’s claims is what struck me as most alarming; the ANC Women’s League publicly denounced her. There was a strange belief that Khwezi was a political agent who had intentions of discrediting President Zuma so that he would not win the elections. EFF leader Julius Malema publicly shamed Khwezi- stating that she had enjoyed her sexual assault because “when a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money”. Like I said, this was just noise to me at the time. I did not understand the magnitude of President Zuma becoming a President Zuma even in the face of such allegations. I did not understand the “fuck you” that was being given to black survivors of rape everywhere in South Africa. I did not understand that a man winning a rape trial did not really mean anything in a world where nothing a woman said could ever be good enough anyway. And in a world where the law could be so wrong.
In 2012, Bonang Matheba opened a case of assault against DJ Euphonik. According to Sunday World , Matheba had written in her affidavit that DJ Euphonik had been verbally abusing her for months before that point where he physically assaulted her, repeatedly. DJ Euphonik’s response to these allegations was to publicly humiliate and gaslight Matheba, stating that she was a “psycho who [needed] help”. Those charges were eventually dropped and Matheba and DJ Euphonik reconciled (and later broke up). Life continued as normal for DJ Euphonik. As a matter of fact, in 2015, Euphonik appeared on Marie Claire’s shoot which was in support of Women’s Month. An uncouth issue that received a great deal of backlash from social media for its insensitivity. And in 2016, we witnessed Euphonik’s emotional abuse live on Twitter where he depicted Matheba as mentally unstable and further insinuated that all that Matheba had was because of her relationship with him and not a result of her hard work- in true “you need me” abuser fashion. We are all familiar with the rhetoric of the mentally unstable ex from men who refuse to take accountability for the things they’ve done to hurt women. Even varsity students have heard about the sociopathic ex who won’t let her innocent ex-boyfriend have peace. An age-old trick which, if Euphonik is anything to go by, does not get old with age and access to power. Euphonik’s abusive, misogynistic rant became a joke and Euphonik since then sold t-shirts with the #NONKE, alluding to the final tweet of his abusive rant that said “”msunu yenu NONKE”. Life has continued as normal for Euphonik and this incident is almost wiped away from our collective memory.
Last year, rapper Okmalumkoolkat pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault and was sentenced for half a year. Head Honcho had been hosting an event they call Waves and Okmalumkoolkat was due to perform. On the day of the event, feminists on Twitter decided to problematise the fact that this person was being allowed to perform in light of what had happened- pledging not to go if he did not get removed. Head Honcho pulled Okmalumkoolkat out of the lineup. I was sitting on the couch, playing a game on my phone when a hip-hop artist named Stilo Magolide stopped the music to proclaim his love for Okmalumkoolkat and talk about how he had already apologised for the incident. DJ Speedsta then proceeded to play Okmalumkoolkat’s music. Some looked uncomfortable. Many cheered and sang along. Just by the way, Stilo Magolide was accused of assaulting his girlfriend, Casey Purshouse, a month ago. In December 2016, Okmalumkoolkat released his album Mlazi Milano featuring his hit song, Gqi; a song that I have heard in almost every single party that I have attended this year.
The fact that companies such as Head Honcho respond more to backlash against hiring people who have committed gender-based crimes than the crime itself speaks to a larger societal problem; nonchalance. This nonchalance has reared its ugly head whenever we have been given a chance to move on from whatever violence has been committed by men in the limelight. We saw this when my friends and I sang along to Chris Brown even though we knew better. Perhaps we were not completely nonchalant, but we clearly did not care enough. Rapper AKA demonstrated this perfectly when he tweeted that the only person who Okmalumkoolat owed an explanation to was the victim of what he said was not rape. This was after there had been a headline stating that AKA was collaborating with a convicted sex offender.
See the screenshots of the tweet below:
Wrong. Gender-based violence is everyone’s problem. The idea that Okmalumkoolkat (or any prominent figure who has ever committed gender-based violence) does not owe anyone an explanation feeds into the abusive rhetoric that says that what is between two people is between two people. Rape is not between two people; it is between patriarchy and its victims. When people who matter to the public go to public platforms to say that a person who has committed gender based violence does not need to account to us; they enable many more men to abuse. There is a culture of gender-based violence in South Africa and to reduce this to an issue between two people is regressive. Furthermore, if you have ever seen the way in which men who harass people who present themselves as so-called feminine in the street, you will know that patriarchy survives when it has a cheer squad. This means that there is literally no other option but to isolate celebrities who have committed gender-based crimes. Rhetoric about how these men have families to feed informs men who have an interest in violence that they will be forgiven for their transgressions for they have families to feed.
Finally, AKA’s need to emphasise that Okmalumkoolkat did not rape anyone really undermines the problem of rape culture in South Africa. I suspect that it is convenient for men to understand rape only as penetrative sex (for was it not AKA who sang the words “I think mami got potential. I think this molly got me bursting out the friend zone. Drop in the champagne like a Mentos”?). It helps for men to view rape as forced penetration for as long as they do not go that far; it is not rape. For the most part, gender based violence is enabled by the silence that follows moments which have not reached that point of physical violence but are problematic and alarming nonetheless. For example, a student at UCT reported an SRC member named Masixole Mlandu for giving her the silent treatment after she decided that she was no longer comfortable with sleeping with him that evening. The general response to these allegations was “what would you have had him do? ” and “I don’t understand why this was wrong”. See PASMA’s statement below;
- Silent Treatment is abuse: This is better explained by those with a background in studying this kind of behaviour. In an article titled “Silent Treatment: Preferred Weapon of People With Narcissism“, an American psychotherapist named Andrea Scheinder explains that the silent treatment is “designed to (1) place the abuser in a position of control; (2) silence the target’s attempts at assertion; (3) avoid conflict resolution/personal responsibility/compromise; or (4) punish the target for a perceived ego slight”. The silent treatment gives control to the person who has decided to enforce it for the target has to await until the enforcer decides to resume communication. This can put anyone in a desperate position where they could try to “rectify” things by all means.
- Consent that has been manipulated out of one is not really consent: To this day, rape is imagined as someone- a man, systematically- forcing themselves onto their victim while their victim screams for help through a voice muffled by a violent hand. This understanding does not take into account the different ways in which men can coerce sex out of their victims. Had the student who reported Masixole Mlandu caved and initiated sex, would Masixole have rejected it with the understanding that it was coming from a dejected place that just wanted the awful silence to stop? Would the student really have wanted the sex? Was that silence not punishment for refusing to give sex to a man who felt entitled to it?
Men cannot really begin to understand the problem with rape when they cannot understand the problem with their entitlement to our bodies. I put this Masixole example up because I found it important to write about this to highlight the toxicity that is buried deep within our society and why it is so difficult to uproot the gender-based problems we face. There is no real understanding of male entitlement in our society. Any society that continually waits until things have gotten completely out of hand to react will continue to fail. I cannot stress how important it is to make a noise whenever a man commits gender based violence. It educates people more about consent and forces us to be accountable.
Kwaito star Brickz has recently been found guilty of raping his niece. The trial had been ongoing since 2013, when the then 17 year old survivor of the violence was assisted by Brickz’ wife, Nqobile Ndlovu, with laying charges against him. While the trial was still running, Brickz was trying to stage a comeback and even reuniting with DJ Cleo after some conflict that they had. There was some excitement in 2016 about Brickz’ return and fans were anticipating a new track that, if our past is anything to go by, was really going to wipe that rape incident out of our collective memory. If Brickz had been found “not guilty” by the courts, this would have made everyone breathe a sigh of relief because the courts said he was not guilty, nevermind the fact that a rape victim is hardly ever believed. If one thing is clear, it is that it is usually business as usual whenever an artist commits gender-based violence. It is first shock, then sensationalist articles that shape these serious crimes as juicy news, a series of tweets and then people continue with their lives. This, I have come to understand.
However, one strangely astonishing incident has been Arthur Mafokate’s assault allegations. Singer and Mafokate’s girlfriend Cici posted a picture of herself after having had pelvic surgery with the caption #BreakTheSilence. This post clearly implied that Cici had been abused by the man known as the king of kwaito and yet there was hardly any outrage on social media. I say this with no intentions of ignoring the work that some people did- just to say that there were a lot more people ignoring the incident than there were those who tried to disrupt the eerie peace. Mafokate merely locked his Twitter account and kept it moving. Perhaps we have failed in Mafokate’s case even before this moment. Lest we forget his relationship with his protege, Chomee, who was 18 years younger than him.
Perhaps if we cared more and had more honest discussions about gender based violence, we would not be put in a position where we even have to hear Gqi in the club. If DJs knew and took gender based violence seriously, they would feel uncomfortable with putting the music of people who commit gender based violence in their mixes. Celebrities live in the same world that we live in, this means that they have access to the same information that we have access to. We could be a lot less tolerant of their complicity in perpetuating patriarchy if we understood this. Look. We’re all adults here. I’m not going to tell you how to spend your money. I just wanted to let you know that when we continue to make excuses for artists who abuse women, we are complicit. Whenever we say “yes, rape is wrong but he apologised”, we let other men know that it’s fine, as long as they apologise. For as long as we say “but he is so talented” we express that we care more for dancing than we do for women who have suffered at the hands of patriarchy. And that’s that on that.
That said, I am changing my blog’s name and I would really appreciate some suggestions. I have been struggling. So far, I have The Appraisal and Urbanity as my options. The blog’s focus will also broaden from kwaito to general local content. What do you think? Please leave your suggestions in the comment box.