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Media, Race and Gender

Media, Race and Gender

Media, Race and Gender by Demelza Bush

Sandiswa Mhlawuli tried to obtain a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend, Nkosinam Xabadiya on more than one occasion.

She had repeatedly gone to the police only to be told that domestic issues are not for them to sort out. But after months of pleading, the 27-year-old single mother of two eventually managed to get her restraining order.

In fact, it was in her handbag when Xabadiya stabbed her to death in the back of a moving taxi, in December 2013, in the middle of South Africa’s 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and Children.

Sandiswa was from Chafutweni, a small village near Dutywa in the Eastern Cape. She was the sole breadwinner in her family and had started to save money to build a house for herself, her mother and her two little girls, aged 5 and 7, so they could move out of the tiny aluminum shack they all inhabited together.

After stabbing Sandiswa several times in front of the Grade 11 pupil who happened to be in the taxi with them, Xabadiya went on to threaten the learner with the knife.

Fearing for her life, she jumped out of the still-moving vehicle, sustaining several injuries to her ankles and legs, pain she still battles with today.

The police arrested Xabadiya and bail was set at R1000. Xabadiya claimed he could not afford that amount, or any bail for that matter. So in January 2014, only one month after he killed Sandiswa, he was released from prison, with no bail.

They just let him out.

Free to resume earning a living. Free to intimidate witnesses and Sandiswa’s family – he lived within walking distance of her mother’s tiny shack where her daughters were now living as well. Free to do just about anything he wished.

Sandiswa’s case didn’t make many headlines. In South Africa, more women are killed by their current or former male partner than in any other country in the world. On average, a woman is killed by her male partner every 8 hours. And Sandiswa was just another number.

She was a poor black woman from the rural Eastern Cape, so her death wasn’t afforded the same amount of media attention and public interest as the deaths of Reeva Steenkamp, Jayde Panayiotou and Franziska Blochliger.. And the details of her murder wouldn’t be considered as shocking as those of Anene Booysens, Karabo Mokoena and Nosipho Mandeleni. She was only stabbed in a taxi, after all.

Admittedly, the media can’t cover every rape and murder case in South Africa. If we did that our papers would carry nothing else and journalists would never sleep. But how do we decide whose rape or murder is worthy of our time or the public’s outcry?

We, as media consumers, have become fatigued with the details of the rapes and murders of black women. Unless there is something extremely shocking about these cases, we don’t care. We don’t have capacity to care, because we have become numb, desensitized to the never ending stories of death and destruction.

We are less fatigued by the rape and murder of white bodies, more outraged, better able to identify with the victims perhaps, so they inevitably get more space in our papers and our minds.

Women, and especially poor, black women, just don’t mean that much in this country – and arguably globally. This is not based on their contribution to the economy, because we all know the world is built on the shoulders of, black poor and working class women.

So what is it about our culture that enables both the continued assault on women’s bodies and the continual decline in public interest or concern about it? And how responsible is the media?

There have been only two instances in this country where journalists have been banned from live tweeting and reporting in detail on testimony being given in a court of law.

The first was enforced in the so-called Modimolle Monster case during rape survivor, Ina Bonnette’s testimony. The second was Reeva Steenkamp’s autopsy report.

Both of these women are white.

But cast your minds back to Anene Booysen’s case. Booysen was raped and murdered by Johannes Kana. She was disembowelled with a blunt object and over a metre of her small intestine was protruding from her vagina when she was found.

These details were live tweeted. There was no ban. There was no call to protect her dignity.

Why are black bodies not treated with the same respect as white bodies? It’s a question that neither the media nor society nor anyone really wants to answer. The answer doesn’t fit with our neatly wrapped rainbow nation delusion.

We are all equal, but some are more equal than others.

And so women, mostly black and working class, continue to be beaten and killed every day in our country and we all participate, actively or passively, in the culture that allows this to happen. Often, we do not have the empathy to care, or even think about the victims, unless the details of the murder are graphic and sickening, or the victim is white. Then we all wring our hands in shock, and ask each other, horrified, how this could happen. Pretending that we don’t know that it’s happening right under our noses. Pretending that it’s #NotAllMen when we know in our hearts that #YesAllWomen.


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