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[OPINION] Cheryl Zondi: #MeToo, one year later, we’re on to you

“Why didn’t you scream when you were sexually assaulted?” This is but one of the questions Cheryl Zondi had to face during a cross-examination by Timothy Omotoso’s defence lawyer.

Has Zondi faced fair questioning? Several articles are posing this interrogation as analysis on the ongoing trial. Let me answer this for you as simply as I can: No. There is nothing to analyse here. It is 2018 and this line of questioning begs adjectives of disgust that have yet to be invented.

Zondi is 22 years old. She was sexually abused for two years by a sexual predator posing as a pastor. The links between sexual abuse and religion need little introduction. But here we are. Once again.

Zondi’s tortured journey began when she 14 years old. This, she says, is when the incidents started. If you’re wondering why Zondi is testifying to the abuse eight years later, it’s because she probably didn’t want to answer disgusting questions like the one I mentioned above: Why didn’t you scream…

She is but one of the survivors. The televangelist is facing a string of allegations. He is accused of raping and molesting at least 30 young women attendees of his church. He also faces human trafficking charges (human, in this instance, stands for women, as in most cases).

The 58-year old pastor made the young women live with him, prevented them from leaving, threatened them with the punishment of death and referred to them as his wives to legitimise his sexual abuse.

And this, in a rotting nutshell, is where we are in the week of the #MeToo movement’s first anniversary. Is this how a hashtag lives beyond its trend?

Don’t get me wrong, the grassroots, intersectional movement has its place and its purpose still.

Since its conception, the survivors of sexual assault have found courage and meaning in their voices. Seeds, planted on Twitter, were fertilised by a revolution - a revolution that resulted in a widespread protest by women who came forward. In some cases, the outpouring of revelation and fair and meaningful accusations even led to justice, and in its wake, another movement saw growth: the #TimesUp movement.

But on its anniversary, to declare the trend complete or “full circle” would be an ignorant assumption.

Women don’t need this explained to them. We don’t need more examples of women who are thrust into the spotlight at the risk of scratching open old wounds, serving their blood up as evidence of a trauma, and often, the blood of old scars is not enough. To prove their experience, they are often required to scratch the surface of their trauma a little harder. We don’t have to look further than Zondi’s case to see proof of this.

In her case, the courtroom is an eyesore of interrogation that insists on extracting some degree of credibility from the victim.

Why are we still asking this question in 2018? What the hell does a victim look like, what is she supposed to look like? Are victims only the silent ones? Can victims only be the underprivileged? Are victims worn and “ugly” and do not conform to the norms of beauty – whatever those are in any case? Are they less “made up”, weathered and dare not look like a proud Zondi on trial who dares to look defence lawyers in the eye and powerfully state: I am not here to make things easy for you?

Why are men, courtrooms, people in positions of power, still asking this question?

Let me make this clear, you do not get to decide what the answer to that question is. Your line of interrogation is a backward one. There is no victim that looks a certain way. The truth is never in vain and it will not be moved. Credibility is never going to be the result of your patriarchal judgment. We have already won. If anything this one-year anniversary has proven, then it is that.

There is value in being seen and being heard, and your lack of confirmation or acknowledgement does not change that. We are the heroes of our own confirmation.

Here are a couple of things we know for sure: If #MeToo has proven anything outside of ourselves as women, it has exposed the extent to which men crave a toxic high of feeling wrongfully endangered. It is a drug you are excited to consume because its symptoms entitle you to further act in rage and perpetuate this sickening rhetoric of the “powerful” versus the “the weak”. Your rage is ultimately what we will face. What you want us to face.

But Cheryl Zondi is on to you. We all are.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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