All too often across South Africa women are assaulted and abused at the hands of sexist and chauvinist men. If a woman wears long pants, she may be stripped and humiliated; if she wears a mini-skirt she may be assaulted; if she loves another woman she may be raped and/ or murdered; or all of the above just for being a woman. In this country, in which everyone is so proud of their so-called progressive constitution, a woman is not free to be herself unless the image of herself conforms to that narrow-minded image of how a woman should act and behave held by so many bigoted men.
The statements of Jacob Zuma during his rape trial reflect the prevalence of such sexist attitudes within the leadership of the ruling party and might very well encourage such attitudes in others. All the more so now that the ANC has chosen Zuma as its leader. Contrary to the claims of the Cosatu bosses, Zuma is no friend of workers or oppressed people, but a reactionary sexist traditionalist.
We welcome the mass action on Friday 29th of February, made by the Remmoho Women’s Forum (an initiative of the Anti-Privatisation Forum) in protest against the assault on a young woman at the Noord street taxi rank in Johannesburg. We were disgusted, however, to learn of aggressive and sexist attitude displayed by the taxi drivers towards the protesters.
As long as women are abused, assaulted and publicly humiliated simply for being a woman or for decisions they take relating to their lifestyle we support the freedom of people to take to the streets to demand an end to this victimisation. In fact we urge them to do so. As anarchists we defend the freedom of people to dress and behave however they choose, as long as this does not infringe on the freedom of others. The decision by this young woman to wear a miniskirt in no way infringed on the rights or freedom of others, yet she was assaulted by a group of cowardly men for the way she chose to dress. We strongly condemn this attack.
We want our streets to be safe for women to walk, without having to worry about being raped or assaulted, regardless of how they dress or their sexual orientation. We therefore support the call to make Noord street taxi rank safe for women and for everyone else. We are a bit concerned, however, with the measures that the Remmoho Women’s Forum called for.
In particular we are concerned by the call for increased police surveillance in and around Noord street taxi rank, noting also that the Democratic Alliance has raised concerns about inadequate surveillance in the area. Although we acknowledge that there are probably few other measures that could have an immediate impact on making the area safer, we are sceptical about the role of the police in this situation, as well as being wary of the long-term impacts of increased surveillance. We recall that police have often been the perpetrators of assaults and rapes (for example the constable in Amersfoort accused of raping two young girls on January 14, or the man employed by the SAPS as a clerk and reservist arrested for the abduction and rape of three women in November 2007) and that, because of the authority they hide behind, they are seldom brought to justice for their crimes. It is also known that the South African police have a history of covering up rape, and of protecting certain perpetrators. In the long run increased police surveillance will make the police stronger and lead to a Big Brother state in which we would be harassed and assaulted not only by sexist taxi drivers and criminals but by the police as well. Homeless people, immigrants and women, amongst others, are already being harassed and abused by the police on a daily basis, and investing the police with more control is only going to make this problem worse. The police, like Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and the rest of the ruling elite, are not accountable to the people.
Ideally, as an alternative way to put pressure on the taxi associations to meet our demands, we would prefer to see a mass boycott similar to the bus boycotts of the 40s and 50s. We recognise however that given the present political conditions, this is perhaps highly unlikely and probably difficult. We encourage people to vote with their feet, though, and if people identify certain taxi drivers who are abusive to their passengers they should try not to use those taxis. If the harassment carries on we support any calls for mass action, and believe that people should begin working towards mass boycotts if sexist taxi drivers do not change their attitudes. This would show them that they depend on their passengers and the whole country that women deserve to be treated with respect.
We would also prefer things like community and women’s self-defense groups similar to those of the 80s as an alternative to increased police surveillance, because we believe that the police cannot be relied upon to defend the interests of anyone other than the rich and powerful.
We fully support the rights of women to defend themselves; by whatever means necessary, from chauvinist attack. In the long run we believe that the world will only start treating women as human beings and not as inferior to men when women and men from the popular classes organise and struggle to put an end to sexist and patriarchal oppression. We recognise that the ruling elite benefits from the division between men and women and that it is in the interests of both working class and poor men and women to organise together against this oppression.