Media Statement: Stop the Silencing of Womxn Victims 18 March 2019

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MEDIA STATEMENT: STOP THE SILENCING OF WOMXN VICTIMS 18 March 2019

On 13 March 2019, Gugu Ncube staged a one-womxn protest outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Ncube’s placard read:

“President Ramaphosa: 1) The police are used to intimidate, threaten and harass me. 2) I was raped, sexually harassed by Shibambu Mhlava at UNISA. 3) I spoke out, they lied that I had resigned. #Produce my resignation. 4)CCMA Commissioner took bribe from the perpetrator. “

This was in response to alleged sexual harassment and rape suffered at the hands of her employer while working for Unisa Centre for Early Childhood Education, as well as additional threats and intimidation she faced from SAPS. While protesting semi-naked outside the Union Buildings, Gugu was arrested by SAPS on the basis of public indecency. In videos circulating online, the undignified and unnecessarily violent way in which SAPS treated Ncube can be seen.

They are shown dragging and forcing her into the police van in an inhumane manner. The inappropriate and aggressive use of force by SAPS in response to an unarmed womxn protesting peacefully is uncalled for, and unacceptable. This incident is indicative of a broader issue of the silencing of womxn’s voices, and the lengths they have to go to in order to be heard and believed.

If womxn feel that they have to stage a naked protest in order to be acknowledged and believed after being sexually harassed, then it is imperative to examine the broader issue at hand. It is necessary for us, as a society, to question the effectiveness of the policies and laws used to deal with sexual harassment, and whether they are truly victim-sensitive. Workplace sexual harassment policies are seldom victim-centered. They do not take into account the realities of victims, which are largely, but not exclusively, womxn. These laws or processes often isolate womxn even further, and cause further victimization and stigma. This causes further trauma to the victim. Protests such as Gugu’s are thus a way of sending a broader message that womxn’s voices need to be heard when they decide to speak out, especially against the scourge of sexual violence and sexual harassment in our society.

Being arrested on the common law charge of “public indecency” has implications of inappropriate sexuality and immorality. It is grounded in western ideals of decency and propriety. It is problematic that this type of protest is seen as a display of immorality or

sexuality when in reality it is a deep outcry against a system that fails victims. Naked protest is a symbolic and legitimate form of protest, and protest is an entrenched constitutional right. In this instance, naked protest, as in Gugu’s instance, is used to send a broader, desperate message about the failure of applicable law and policies to adequately acknowledge and protect a victim of sexual harassment (and other injustices). It is an outcry to demonstrate that one’s dignity has been greatly infringed upon.

The Women’s Legal Centre calls for the charges against Gugu Ncube to be dropped immediately. We believe that Gugu’s protest was a legitimate form of protest. We also strongly condemn the manner in which Ncube, and many other womxn in times of protest over the last few years – such as students of the Fees Must Fall protests – have been handled with disturbing force by SAPS upon their arrest.

We further call for our justice system to be developed in a manner that adequately considers, and responds to, womxn’s needs – from laws and policies regarding sexual harassment and protests, to the way that SAPS is allowed to handle womxn. The arrest of Gugu Ncube was another stark display of how the justice system fails women.

The system cannot continue to silence womxn. We call for an end to the arrests -especially on the basis of public indecency and immorality – of naked protesting women. We call for victim-centered approaches to sexual harassment policy and law, to replace approaches which protect perpetrators at the cost of victims, and fail to acknowledge structural drivers. We call on the legal fraternity and broader public to condemn such behaviour and work towards abolishing euro-centric archaic laws stemming from colonisation and apartheid, which are hostile towards protesters, and women, yet which are still being used in our post-apartheid democracy today. We call for an approach which is transformative, protects victims from secondary victimization, and places the burden of proof on perpetrators.

We call for an end to the silencing of womxn’s voices.

For further enquiries, contact Aisha Hamdulay at aisha@wlce.co.za or communications@wlce.co.za