BUSANI NGCAWENI: Rapists are fascists who deny women their humanity

It is always great to drive down KE Masinga Road in Durban. First, you pass the old Alice Street Inanda taxi rank where I used to be uscabha (taxi conductor). Then you pass a McDonald's where I first tasted American burgers when the fast-food outlet come to South Africa earlier this century. Passing the St John institute and the Scout shop is more memorable for me as I learnt the basics of first aid at St John and spent most of my years at primary school and some years at high school as a boy scout - until Inkatha Yenkululeko Yesizwe hijacked and killed the movement.

I nearly forgot, there is a budget hotel between McDonald's and the Scout shop that reminds me of Simi, the most beautiful daughter of a rich Mr Pillay from Reservoir Hills. Simi liked checking us in at that budget hotel until a mini racial incident which resulted in our breakup.

These memories are suddenly dashed once you pass KwaMuhle Museum. This place reminds us that there was a time in segregated South Africa when a variety of bigoted measures like the Group Areas Act and the Native Administration Act were used to control the movement of Africans and all aspects of their being.

African men, for example, would be demeaned by being stripped naked so that white men could inspect their genitalia to check for venereal diseases. "Reception" places like KwaMuhle, which is now a museum, were notorious for this emasculation of African men who migrated to the cities in search of livelihoods. They would present themselves at KwaMuhle for special permits and health clearance to live and work in the city.

It was well understood that places like KwaMuhle represented an invasion of privacy, harassment and dismemberment from the human race. Men left these places without dignity, even if it was with permits and passbooks in hand.

Unfortunately in free South Africa today, we as men have assumed the role of those KwaMuhle operatives.

We have turned our streets into the most feared no-go areas. The indignity and humiliation which visited our grandfathers under colonialism and apartheid is now being experienced by their granddaughters today, who are humiliated through rape, sexual harassment and physical abuse, often in the course of gruesome ordeals that end in murder.

As the police special branch brutalised the people, we as men in a free society are doing the same to women, humiliating and dismembering them.

Our streets have become KwaMuhle for many women who fear men who feel entitled to their being as worthless possessions; men who believe they own women's bodies.

During slavery and colonialism, white people reduced Africans to their genitalia. Africans were incapable of being civilised because everything was reduced into the penis, as Frantz Fanon once noted. We know too well how African women became objects of caucasian curiosity, paraded in Euro-American exhibitions and medical laboratories where they became experimental dolls who endured pain and humiliation to give birth to such advances as modern gynaecology.

Maybe one is stretching this.

Maybe the men who turn our streets into no-go areas for women are too young to have been humiliated by the white boys fondling their genitalia at KwaMuhle. Maybe the parallels aren't too obvious to them. Thus, as the apartheid system did, they, in turn, dismember women through sexual violence, robbery and murder.

KwaMuhle is certainly back, in a different manifestation.

The symbolism is the same: strip women of their dignity and reduce their being into male-occupied territories patrolled by modern-day Oqonda (apartheid-era street-level enforcers of order and 'correct behavior') who commit gender-based violence with impunity.

Yes, at KwaMuhle men would line up, naked, waiting for white pseudo-doctors to test their genitalia for signs of sexually transmitted infections. These were just scoundrels who had no medical training.

Today we, as men of South Africa, have turned women and children into sexual experimental dolls, just as the colonizers did to African women like Sarah Bartman.

As stated above, places like KwaMuhle and attendant influx control and Bantu administration laws were tools of emasculation, of humiliation. They consolidated the idea of Africans as belonging to the zone of non-being.

The laws we have today symbolise the nation's aspiration for full human freedoms, equality and equity. Yet in reality, women are humiliated sexually, physically, economically and psychologically by those whose historical experience ought to construct a meta-consciousness of fellowship and protection of those who suffered the triple oppression.

In the same way that men couldn't just walk the streets of SA without permits, so do women today, their freedom of movement is curtailed for fear of their lives. Even worse, matrimonial bedrooms have become KwaMuhle too - some women lose their lives there in spaces that ought to be for rest, reflection and bliss.

Herein lies the challenge for the state, to mobilise society and double efforts to end gender-based violence. The great strides we have made to send over 90% of girls to basic education, provide grants which particularly mitigate poverty among young and elderly women, employment equity and provision of housing is well documented by local and international research institutions. But the scourge of GBV undermines all that.

Dumisani Hlophe was right the other year when he said GBV requires a sort of mobilisation similar to the fight against apartheid and more recently against the Aids epidemic. It requires firm leadership, mass mobilisation and solidarity across society.

Most importantly, this pandemic needs men to rethink their ways, to stand up against gender-based violence, to acknowledge the pain we afflict on women. Young men must be taught that sex is best when negotiated, when both parties are willing. They must know that ubushimane is no excuse for rape, neither does buying alcohol entitle one to sex.

Over and above leadership commitment, mass mobilisation, naming and shaming, dismantling the culture of toxic masculinity, abusers must face the full might of the law. Harsher measures must be implemented even if it is our fathers, friends and sons who must be punished for abusing women.

KwaMuhle has no place in democratic South Africa. Rapists are fascists who deny women their humanity and they must be treated in the harshest possible ways. When sex is a negotiation away, there is absolutely no justification for us to force ourselves onto women.

Busani Ngcaweni is co-editor of 'We are No Longer at Ease: The Struggle for #FeesMustFall'. Follow him on Twitter: @busani_ngcaweni