Survivors of sexual violence in South Africa are finally finding their voices

But there are indications that the tide is turning in South Africa: not only in the way women are coming forward but how people rallied around Cheryl Zondi.

The tide is turning Zondi’s courage garnered the respect and overwhelming support of ordinary South Africans, the government, civil society and women’s groups. The Minister for Women in the Presidency supported her during the trial, as did the Women’s League of the governing African National Congress (ANC), among others.

Contrast this with another high profile sexual assault trial in 2006, which took a very different turn. A young woman named Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, then known only as Khwezi accused ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma of rape.

She was vilified, marginalised and threatened by Zuma’s supporters and the ANC Women’s League turned their back on her. She was denigrated and slut-shamed by the patriarchal court system, shunned, and fled the country after the trial. Zuma was acquitted and went on to become the country’s president.

A great deal has changed in the ensuing 12 years.

Women at the country’s universities have been at the forefront of speaking out about a culture of rape on campuses, “naming and shaming” the perpetrators. This has gained momentum in the wake of the #FeesMustFall mass student movement that swept the country in 2015, demanding deep change at universities.

Survivors of campus rape want to tell their stories on their own terms. One such event was the Rape Textile, which used performance art, monologues, dance and poetry to narrate the trauma of a violent campus rape of two Nelson Mandela University students.

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