The Rose Should Have Thorns!
by Lerato Serojane
The Jacob Zuma trial took its final stroll on Monday, May 8, 2006, at the Johannesburg High Court. There were many across the country who breathed a sigh of relief as the man whom they honour and revere walked free. But, as I sat in front of my television set and listened to Justice Willem Van Merwe read his 174-page judgment, my blood boiled. As a young woman, my emotions were deeply stirred.
The detailed statements of both the complainant and the accused made me feel violated and victimized, as if I had been raped. Justice van der Merwe’s judgment focused disproportionately on the sexual history of the young woman who made the complaint. It was recorded that she had a history of pathologically lying about her past sexual experiences, and it was suggested that medical observation was required. I felt so disoriented during the reading and the hearing, my thoughts so muddled, as I thought about The Rose has Thorns campaign, commemorated for its third year just over a week earlier, on our Freedom Day, April 27th.
I thought about that fact that this year, we are celebrating 12 years of our country’s democracy. The Rose has Thorns is an anti-hate crime campaign by lesbian womyn designed to lobby for an anti-hate crimes act to be legislated. It is also a stepping stone to mainstream the issue of hate crimes against womyn and lesbians that have left many of us bitter, scarred, sick, or dead. I believe that as a young, self-empowered, black lesbian woman, the campaign is at the forefront of ensuring that I may one day enjoy and celebrate my freedom along with others.
More than a month ago now, the TV programme 3rd Degree aired a documentary that dealt with hate crimes and curative rape against lesbian women. I went weak listening to the stories of the womyn who had been victimized merely on the basis of their sexual orientations and their sexual preferences. In the cases heard, the law had not dealt with the perpetrators, and many of the rape survivors now live in fear of reliving their trauma.
I would personally like to take my hat off to Khwezi*, because she not only spoke out against the crime that was committed against her by one of the men who is said to have contributed to securing our freedom, but also spoke out under the most difficult and public of circumstances. Despite the outcome of the case which did not serve her, she spoke. And womyn were at the forefront of this case whether for or against the complainant. Womyn were moved and came in large numbers to practice their freedom of speech. Sadly, many others were not as fortunate as they are either silenced by fear or death. There are also Zuma’s two wives to consider, who sat in Nkandla witnessing the hearing. Oone can only imagine what they were thinking and feeling.
But all womyn were affected, young and old, here and across the world. I agree with Justice Van der Merwe, when he lashed the police for their negligence in gathering evidence. This gave me a slight feeling of hope that something will be done to ensure that service providers are careful and precise in the process of bringing perpetrators to justice.
Freedom for the people of South Africa has not been a bed of roses and gruesome crimes are committed while cries go unheard. It is high time that we take a stand against such ills. Let us rise and emancipate our thoughts with an eternal beat that never dies. We need to ensure that the rose has thorns, to prick those that have left so many with lifetime scars. It is our human right to speak out against, and live a life free of, gender-based violence.