Julius Malema's comments on President Jacob Zuma's rape accuser have contributed to the "culture of silence and shame" attached to being a victim of sexual violence - and are very likely to result in the under-reporting of rape cases. This is according to gender activist Lisa Vetten, a key witness in the upcoming Johannesburg Equality Court hearing on Malema's controversial suggestions that Zuma's rape accuser "enjoyed herself".
Following a complaint against Malema lodged by Mbuyiselo Botha, the head of advocacy for the Sonke Gender Justice NGO, the ANC Youth League leader will have to persuade the Equality Court that he should not be made to apologise for his remarks and should be prevented from making statements that "undermine women's dignity".
Malema is under fire for saying that a woman who did not enjoy sex would leave early in the morning. "Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money. In the morning, that lady requested breakfast and taxi money," he told a gathering of Cape Peninsula University of Technology students on January 22. The ANC Youth League president added: "You can't ask for money from somebody who raped you."
Vetten, who has worked with more than 200 victims of sexual violence, has used transcripts of the rape trial - in which Zuma was acquitted - to show that Malema misrepresented facts about Zuma's accuser, who "requested neither breakfast nor taxi money" from Zuma.In papers before the Equality Court, Vetten says: "Mr Malema's revision of the facts is calculated to suggest that some sort of normal, morning-after interaction took place between the victim and accused which, he suggests, means that no rape could have taken place.
"She criticised Malema for giving himself the power to decide "what does and does not constitute rape". "Mr Malema's comments demeaned and undermined the dignity of rape survivors; contributed to the culture of silence and shame attached to being a victim; and contributed to the normalisation of sexual violence. "In a country that records some of the highest figures for sexual violence in the world, it is particularly irresponsible for a political leader to be reinforcing both silence and excuses for sexual violence, and attitudes that tolerate and condone acts of sexual violence, as well as minimise rape's harm," Vetten said.
She added that the age group of the audience Malema was addressing "constitutes the majority of both victims and perpetrators, so there was an even greater need for him to be mindful of his utterances". "The statements are likely to exacerbate the culture of silence and provide a source of excuses for sexual violence and attitudes that tolerate and condone acts of sexual violence, which is likely to cause or exacerbate the under-reporting of rape." Malema's attorney, Tumi Mokwena, argued that his remarks were "fair comment".