A review of The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court: Reflections on the Rape Trial of Jacob Zuma, by Mmastshilo Motsei.
Although The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court is not yet selling like hot cakes and there are signs that the book suffers from being hurried through the publishing process, this is a very important book. It is clear that Motsei is a compelling voice and has a unique perspective on what is happening in South Africa.
The punchiest part of the book is in the earlier pages where, under the heading 'Zuma, moral regeneration and sexual violence', she almost addresses Zuma directly. One can almost hear her saying: You were the voice and figurehead of the Moral Regeneration Movement, for heaven’s sake. You also know that Zulu culture expects you to act like a father and protector to this person. And did you not consider what would happen if your multitude of male supporters opted for condomless sex because they followed your strange logic of “a slim chance” of getting the virus? Motsei goes on to argue that Zuma’s actions reflect thoughts, attitudes and practices that exist in broader society. In this regard, the Zuma trial represented – for her and the nation – a kind of a life shock; it was time for all South Africans to reflect on our part, or our collusion in, the processes of moral decay.
The text swings between the actual court case (its actors and its impact) to context. This context is the global manifestations of patriarchy as well as South Africa's transformation challenges. So if you are going to read this book, prepare for a rollercoaster ride, with diversions and surprise digressions.
Motsei’s describes a world of horror that women live in, one in which they are relentlessly haunted by violence, pain and discrimination. From birth to the grave, women face violence and hardship as a consequence of being female.
She points out that if children survive sex-selection abortion, they go on to face child abuse, genital mutilation, trafficking and forced marriages. “Once they reach adulthood, they are faced with unequal access to …. opportunities, sexual harassment, marital rape, STDs predisposing them to HIV, and possible death resulting in complications from childbirth. If they survive sex slavery and terrorism and reach old age, they are scorned for no longer being receptacles of men’s sexual desires. If their husbands die first, they may be accused of witchcraft or suffer abuse as widows.”
This may be laying it on a bit thick (not all women in all contexts experience all of these afflictions), but she succeeds in driving home the picture: it is rough out there for women, with females being infinitely more at risk than men.
Motsei probes some of these unjust practices against women, how they work and the beliefs that underpin them. There is a chapter setting out in fairly gory detail phenomena such as infanticide, dowry deaths, female mutilation, and honour killings.
She furthermore draws out the double standards and mixed expectations faced by women. Traditionalists view women as good (emphasizing their mother role, however); at the same time, they are viewed as evil temptresses that must be controlled. Referring to the root of many of the violent practices against women, she notes: “The women is the bearer of cross of morality, while the man is allowed to sow his wild seeds as widely as his organ can reach while (in many cultures) expecting to marry a women whose body is regarded as 'pure'".
According to Motsei, violence against women takes particular forms in times of war. In this sense, militarism is bad news for women. She draws the link between the penis and the gun - and notes that men seem out of control on both fronts. And so she asks: “(I)magine racist South Africa invading Botswana, penetrating ANC camps with a cocked machine gun but second before ejaculating a spray of bullets stopped to ask the question: is it okay if I ejaculate into you?” She wonders whether this explains “why we are living on the edge expecting to be wiped out by erect weapons of mass destruction poised at the point of no return but with no option but to ejaculate”.
Motsei condemns the singing of the freedom song “Umshini wam” (my machine gun) as irresponsible in the context of the country’s gun control problems and immense sexual violence challenges.
The book does not recap details of the court case as such; its business is the wider implications for gender justice and morality that flow from the trial.
Motsei reserves high praise for Khwezi (not her real name), the complainant in the rape case, for proceeding with a rape charge against one of the most powerful persons in South Africa. In Kanga, Motsei is less concerned with the legalities of consent (during the sex act in question) and more preoccupied with moral culpability. She holds Zuma accountable for having had sex with “a women young enough to be his daughter who is not only HIV positive but who, because of historical and cultural reasons, holds him in awe”. As a father figure to Khwezi, she notes, Zuma had a moral duty “to exercise control over his sexual urges” and he should be aware that tradition “encourages … non biological parents to take communal responsibility for the material, psychological and moral well-being of every child in their community”.
For the rest, Motsei uses The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court as a vehicle to deliver a wide range of insights and pithy observations. For example:
·- She calls for a “national cleansing campaign” to deal with the rapes that occurred during the liberation war. As far as she is concerned, this issue is still haunting the nation.
·- The role of women as healers is not recognized enough in South Africa. She argues that, arising from her research, women are the ones who talk to the spirits during rituals and, in Venda, Tswana, Pedi and Sotho cultures, speak to ancestors on behalf of the community.
·- She warns that putting women in leadership roles in itself is not enough. Such moves need to be complemented by a mindset that values alternative ways of leading including “intuitive thinking … (and) collaboration not competition”
·- She lambasts religion for the role it plays in the oppression of women. She slams the religious view that “a good women is not only submissive and peaceful but also willing to sacrifice herself and her life for others” and takes strong exception to the biblical notion that paints single women as “immoral concubines”, “harlots” and seducers of men.
·- She sides with the view that culture, especially when treated as something static, often aids and abets women's oppression.
·- She rails against the view that “women ask for rape by the way they dress” and links this to a wider tendency to blame the oppressed for the consequences of their oppression.
·- She calls for a review of the relationship between white and black women, questioning the leading role played by white women in policy development and knowledge production in the quest to end gender violence. She is leery of approaches and paradigms that regard “white culture as the main event and relegate indigenous wisdom to the fringes”. With respect to research into masculinity, she wonders how such studies will represent black men and deal with the imperative of rebuilding the black family when “most of the subjects are black men from the ghetto and villages responding to … questions posed by white scholars”.
·- Her concern for young black young men is palpable. Drawing from her research in Alexandra township, she notes that many of them struggle with shunning a life of crime especially when they get an impression, from their observations of adult behaviour and widespread reports about corruption, that “everyone is doing it”.
·- Regarding crime, Motsei says there is a certain futility in dealing with crime by only focusing on putting more criminals behind bars. What is needed as much as nailing and jailing baddies, she argues, is a focus “on an internal process to build people’s capacities to live their lives in best possible economic, cultural and spiritual ways in order to render crime unnecessary”. In this regard, urgent attention should be paid to “healing the moral and spiritual wounds in our communities”.
Towards the end of the book, Motsei turns her attention to the justice system. She is highly critical of the way the justice system works. Motsei wants a justice system that would bring about healing of individuals, families and communities and advocates incorporating such concepts from indigenous justice and law into our legal system.
She also questions the use of experts in court cases. She wonders why traditional leaders or African elders were not subpoenaed to verify Zuma’s interpretation of Zulu culture and sex. She also questions the courts' reliance on psychologists with good academic training but who may have gaps in terms of crossing language barriers and relating to traditional cultural norms.
Motsei as a commentator packs a powerful punch, but she is also a humanist and a spiritualist. Although scathing in her criticism of Zuma, she does not go for the jugular. She writes that she is not implacably opposed to him becoming president(of the country) because she still harbours a hope that he will find his inner light and a capacity to “lead with truth”. Despite her perturbed mood, she spurns apathy and exhorts us to look to the future and not be disillusioned as a result of “one man’s inability to act appropriately as an elder and a leader”.
But I need to alert you: The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court is not an easy read. Motsei is neither linear in her writing nor does she miss any opportunity to digress. It is not always easy for the reader to keep up with the conceptual leaps and diversions. Also, Kanga could have benefited from tighter editing. On the one hand, Motsei will always write in the way she does, making numerous cross-references and giving expression to her belief in the connectedness of all things. In this regard, it would be counter-productive for publishers to go to extremes in enforcing conformity, particularly since Motsei's writing is unique precisely because she continuously interrelates various dimensions - the cultural, spiritual, political, gender and the psychosocial - in her social-change commentary.
On the other hand, in a book as complex as this, some 'pulling together' would have increased the sense of wholeness, of unity and coherence. For example, although this was done in one or two instances, the reader could have been provided with better clues as to what Motsei was attempting to do with chapters or major subsections. The writer could also have been induced to indulge us readers with some kind of summative section at the beginning or tail-end of the book, one which looked at the entire contents and which responded to the question, "So what am I saying?"
But one gets the impression the publishers wanted the book to hit the streets fast, while memories of that famous court case was still very fresh.
Nevertheless, I strongly recommend this book; reading it will deepen your understanding of South Africa and the big social change challenges it faces.