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30/05/2018 12:01 SAST | Updated 30/05/2018 12:28 SAST

Tackling Gender-Based Violence: Activism Versus Sensationalism

'That is how abuse works – it is a system that is obsessed with power and control over a subject.'

Babes Wodumo performs during the 23rd annual South African Music Awards (SAMA 23) at Sun City on May 27 2017, in Rustenburg.
Frennie Shivambu/ Gallo Images/ Getty Images
Babes Wodumo performs during the 23rd annual South African Music Awards (SAMA 23) at Sun City on May 27 2017, in Rustenburg.

On May 18, South Africans were confronted with another scandal of gender-based violence; this time inflicted on musical treasure and entertainer Bongekile Simelane, aka Babes Wodumo, who has reportedly suffered at the hands of her allegedly abusive ex-boyfriend .

The news broke on Masechaba Ndlovu and DJ MoFlava's afternoon drive show on Metro FM, when Ndlovu confronted Wodumo with what she already knew to be the case — that Wodumo had suffered physical and emotional abuse in her former relationship. What irked me about the manner in which Ndlovu decided to go aboutexposing Wodumo's ex, was the violent approach it took —she stripped Babes Wodumo's power of telling her own story on air.

Not only did it seem that she was ambushed by the questions — which raised the question of lack of consent to the interview — but Ndlovu believed she was doing the right thing, even when called out by listeners who said her approach was nothing short of bullying, and motivated by PR.

Ndlovu does not seem to understand why people are concerned about her approach — in supposedly standing up for Wodumo, she stated on air that she knew that she had been violated and subsequently taken in by a mutual friend. If she knew of the abuse prior to the interview, people asked, why did she not extend a helping hand to Wodumo privately?

Why did she feel the need to make it a public stunt in the name of "being an activist and not turning a blind eye to the war on women's bodies"? Such a stance raises many concerns in the activism space — some do not know where the line between being activists and building careers as "activists" using people's lived experiences is drawn.

Yes, of course we should not turn a blind eye to domestic violence. However, if our actions seem to be perpetuating the violence by firstly stripping the survivor of power over her story ,and secondly making ourselves the heroes of the story, we can make someone who already feels they have lost bodily autonomy feel even more powerless.

That is how abuse works — it is a system that is obsessed with power and control over a subject.

Having someone narrate your experience for you, as opposed to you doing it yourself, can make the situation seem less than it really is – the lived experience of the survivor.

I remember when I came out as a survivor of rape publicly in November 2017. It was during my disciplinary hearing at Rhodes University for my involvement in the anti-rape protests that broke out in 2016 commonly, known as #RUReferenceList.

Throughout the trial I was made to feel as if the reasons why I was part of those protests were not important. Rather, the measures I and a collective of black women had taken were questioned, and the importance oftaking our power back as survivors of rape and gender-based violence on that campus was overridden. I had no say in the entire proceedings, and upon my exclusion I was found guilty — having not been allowed to share my own experience, let alone defend myself from the charges laid by the university.

Having someone narrate your experience for you, as opposed to you doing it yourself, can make the situation seem less than it really is — the lived experience of the survivor. In the case of Babes Wodumo, we heard what transpired in the allegedly abusive relationship through Masechaba Ndlovu's lens, in the name of being a "sister"and "activist"against gender-based violence — which completely took away Wodumo's control over her story.

Rhodes University deprived me of sharing my story, and when I was excluded, all that had been laid out was done so through the lens and voices of the alleged rapists on whom we had centred our 2016 protest.

The last straw for me was Ndlovu giving Wodumo's ex the right to respond to the allegations in the weekend after the news broke. A platform was specially designated for the alleged abuser to answer "Did you or did you not abuse Babes?" — a question that in itself defeated the purpose of Ndlovu supposedly giving a supporting voice to Wodumo's lived experience.

There are still many who believe in hearing two sides to the story to make an objective judgement. However, when it comes to a crime as serious and real as gendered violence against women and children, statistics already prove how very often this crime occurs. Statistics also show how seldom people lie about being survivors — so if Ndlovu really believed Wodumo and wanted to be there for her, she would have taken a completely different approach.

Violence has been trivialised and dramatised in modern society, so that someone who has been abused becomes 'a scoop', as opposed to the victim of violence we should be eradicating.

It is extremely important to note that Babes Wodumo found strength to voice to her own experience by leaving the abusive relationship before it made national headlines. Ndlovu's actions completely overrode the fact that Wodumo had since left the relationship and found peace and solace elsewhere. Much more light should have been shone on that, through allowing her to own her story — also a way for Wodumo to pave her own path to healing.

Violence has been trivialised and dramatised in modern society, so that someone who has been abused becomes "a scoop", as opposed to the victim of violence we should be eradicating. We need to understand the intricacies of abuse in a world that's so hateful towards women, before we end up perpetuating the very same violence, as women, among each other.

To out someone as an abuser should not be dealt with recklessly, as society is already against women and children reporting their experiences. If we truly want to help someone, let us also learn about the manifestations of violence that we too can be complicit to. Consent is important in everything, and giving power to a survivor of abuse should be what we strive for.

It is essential that we shatter the current stigmas attached to survivors of gender-based violence, and align them instead towards feeling empowered and in control.

Babes Wodumo has since become in control of her situation, through the measures she decided to employ on her own — she was not the desperate young woman in need of help that I felt Ndlovu tried to paint her, with the "saviour-inspired" approach she took.

It is never about us trying to help, but rather about those who have undergone the violence and traumas.