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it in their pants: Politicians, men and sexual assault in South
March 17, 2005
was read at the Harold Wolpe Lecture, University of KwaZulu Natal
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In October 2004,
President Thabo Mbeki lambasted those who write about sexual assault.
He criticised UNAIDS deputy executive director, Kathleen Cravero,
for saying: "Most of the women and girls
in Asia (and)
in Africa, don't have the option to abstain (from sex) when they
want to. Women who are victims of violence are in no position to
negotiate anything, never mind faithfulness and condom use."
Mbeki wrote: "Clearly, the views (are)
that African (and
are violent sexual predators."
This was followed
by an angry exchange in parliament where he falsely accused me of
writing that black men are: "rampant sexual beasts, unable
to control our urges, unable to keep our legs crossed, unable to
keep it in our pants." In his Friday letter he admitted that
the real author was "African American Associate Professor at
the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Dr Edward Rhymes."
is not dissimilar to the late Steve Tshwete and Penuell Maduna telling
a CBS 60 Minutes TV crew a few years ago: "They say that there
is a rape every 26 seconds in SA, but we've been standing here for
more than 26 seconds and I haven't seen anyone raped, have you
When the most
powerful men in the nation show such a lack of concern for women
and when, as in the instance of Mbeki, they spring to the defence
of abusive men and rapists, then how are we ever going to get violent
crime, especially that directed against women, and HIV under control?
UNAIDS in 2003, two thirds more young women are HIV infected here
than their male peers. UNAIDS, WHO, Amnesty International and Unicef
point to the high rates of sexual assault in this country and the
difficulty women have in negotiating safe sex.
In his talk
at McCord hospital yesterday pioneering HIV clinician, Paul Farmer
spoke of how "gender inequality" bedevils the capacity
of "young girls to be faithful or abstain. We have to be respectful,"
he said, "of how poverty robs young people of choices."
Not just poverty;
violence robs women of choices.
I will speak
later of how poverty fuels violence and although politicians speak
from public platforms about two economies, they remain firmly rooted
in the first economy as they whisk past the poor in siren blaring
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