You can shove “getting in line”, too
Dear Helen Zille,
I’ve been wanting to write to you as a follow-up to my Women’s Day roar of rage, but like the rest of the country, I have been too horrified by the Lonmin mine massacre to think straight. But the sexual violence that stalks this country isn’t going away, and so I have to say this.
You know that Rape Crisis is retrenching staff and shutting down most of its operations after 35 years of supporting women, children and increasingly men in their most desperate hours and months and years of need: reconstructing lives shattered by rape. As the Premier of the Western Cape, this is happening on your watch; and apparently the official response when you were approached was “Get in line – there are thousands of NGOs desperate for funding, all equally needy.”
This makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Do you not realise you need Rape Crisis as much as they need you? I know this is an unpopular thing to say, but not all NGOs and charities are equal. Many rely on volunteers. And if someone wants to donate blood, plant a tree, help at an animal shelter, read to the blind, make food for the hungry, even build a house, all that’s needed is time and willingness. No special expertise is necessary. If a soup kitchen closes down, it’s awful, but anybody can still make and distribute soup to the hungry. Civil society really can just get stuck in.
But training a Rape Crisis counsellor or court supporter takes months of intensive specialist work. They get more training than the average security guard or kitskonstabel. They are carefully supervised, and their training is constantly updated, because the treatment and forensic protocols and the legal issues surrounding rape change all the time. And the truth is that providing expert, professional support to a woman who’s been gang-raped, or a child whose uncle has sodomized her, is NOT in the same league as organizing a school outing.
People working for Rape Crisis represent an incredibly rich source of medical, psychological, forensic and legal expertise – especially because of their long history. If Rape Crisis shuts down, 35 years of desperately needed skill and experience, of community trust and participation, just disappears. Lost and gone. It’s an insane waste of capacity – that buzz word for people who actually know what they’re doing – that this country, this province, this city needs more than ANYTHING else.
I know you’re not personally responsible for the eleven billion rand local municipalities managed to waste in one financial year. I know it’s not your fault that the country is in hock unto the fifth generation for the mind-bendingly expensive pieces of scrap metal currently in dry dock at Simonstown. I also know that as Premier, you had an awful Women’s Day weekend, what with most of Cape Town’s poorer areas ankle-deep in water, along with riots and stonings that left five blameless people dead.
But I need you to understand how urgent this is. Cape Town is not the deaf/ leukemia/ malnutrition /diabetes capital of the world. But it IS the rape capital of the world. Not only are we Rape Central, we have the worst gang rape and child rape figures of any city in the world. The world! There is not a family on the Cape Flats that isn’t affected. And the only silver lining is that we HAVE an organization that’s been dealing with this since 1976, that takes a huge weight off your hospitals, police stations, forensic labs and courts. (Did you know that some prosecutors insist on working with Rape Crisis because their conviction rates jump by 80% when they do?)
Do you have any idea of the economic cost of sexual violence to the state? The medical and social fallout (injury, unwanted pregnancies, HIV and STD infections, depression, panic attacks, suicide attempts, marital breakdown, job losses, families torn apart)? By tackling these problems, organizations like Rape Crisis and the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children literally stand between the provincial government and a leaking dam of so much brutality and trauma and suffering, it makes my head spin.
But you want Rape Crisis to “get in line” with other charities, as if lifting a massive burden off the state by providing services to rape survivors is the same as stocking libraries or providing soccer uniforms. Aikona. I hate it (and so do you, I’m sure) that NGOs have to scrabble for the same crumbs from the table, but effectively telling women to “get in line” is unacceptable. It’s part of a centuries-old pattern of making women feel guilty for daring to demand attention or compete for scarce resources (“Think of all the OTHER needy people, you selfish hags!”). It’s the old trick of expecting women to be meek and mild and grateful even as we’re being thrown to the wolves.
I believe national government should fund crisis organizations that support rape and abuse survivors, and should provide the province with the means to do so, and I am writing some choice words to the Minister of Everyone Except Able-Bodied Men on the subject. But until then, I am begging you: do the right thing. Do not make us face the bitter irony of seeing this kind of capacity and expertise tossed onto the scrap heap under a female Premier and a female Mayor. Do not cut the few lifelines that exist for women and families devastated by a trauma for which we are notorious around the world.
To donate to Rape Crisis: http://rapecrisis.org.za/support-us/donate/
To tweet Helen Zille: @HelenZille Rape Crisis is shutting down during Women’s Month. Insane! Fund it now! #SaveRapeCrisis