For a second, it seemed as if South Africa was united for once – although unfortunately it took the horrific story of the rape of a 7-year-old girl at a Pretoria restaurant to do it.
But while, to a large degree, South Africans have remained unified in their revulsion and outrage towards Nicholas Ninow, it didn’t take long for the story to become, at least partially, about race as much as rape.
As with many South African stories seemingly unrelated to race, for example Oscar Pistorius’ murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, to expect the rape of a black child by a white man not to become racialised in contemporary South Africa would be naive.
In Pistorius’ case, his argument that he had shot Steenkamp thinking she was an intruder led some, including journalists Ranjeni Munusamy, Bongani Madondo and Mondli Makhanya and crime novelist Margie Orford, to note the spectre of what Orford called in The Guardian, “the threatening body, nameless and faceless, of an armed and dangerous black intruder”.
This idea of the black intruder coupled with the belief among some that Pistorius’ race, as well as his status as a celebrity, led to him not facing the full might of our justice system, meant that a case which, on the surface, had nothing to do with race, became inextricably linked to it in the popular imagination of many South Africans.
Initially, an outcry over the protection of the rapist’s identity hinged around the belief of some users that he was being protected because he was white. Many on Twitter argued that Ninow was either being “protected” or treated with more respect than he should have due to his race.
While the view that Ninow would have been treated differently if he were black seems to have gathered a lot of traction, 702 host Eusebius McKaiser took to Facebook to detail his “struggle to understand” why so much has been made about the fact that Ninow is white.
McKaiser stressed the fact that there is no one type of man who rapes.
He also added, though, that the way in which black men are “specifically pathologised and feared”, as was the case with the imaginary black intruder in the Pistorius trial, is “exceptionally important.”
Comedian Muzi Dlamini, who has written for television shows including The Bantu Hour, The Mayor, Single Guys and Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola, expressed his view that rape should not be racialised.
I honestly struggle to understand why some people are positively excited that the alleged rapist who raped a child at…
Could we please not racialize rape? I'm sure this is not too much ask for.
While many people have been united in their condemnation of Ninow, the views expressed by a few on social media have not helped diffuse the racial tension bubbling under this horrific story.
Earlier, The Citizen reported that a few voices on social media have caused outrage in their espousing the apparent view that rape is not in the “nature” of white people.
In posts that have been widely screenshotted and shared by outraged social media users, one white person appears to express the view that Ninow was “framed” as “it’s not in our culture to rape little girls” while another expresses scepticism that a white person would rape a black girl as white people “know how to respect ourselfs (sic).”
SA website Mzansi Stories also published a story alleging that Ninow’s mother had taken to social media to express her view that her son is incapable of rape and must have been the victim of muti used by a black neighbour, and this story was then picked up by US news network ABC, but this story provides no proof of the original posts and so could be entirely fabricated.
When you can't even put down your racism for a second to feel some way about the brutal attack of a baby…
— Rachel Gichinga (@Raaheli) September 29, 2018
It’s understandable that these posts and stories will cause so much outrage in their buying into the narrative that black people are more capable of violence than white people.
This narrative is unfortunately common, and a recent story on far right vloggers Willem Petzer and Danie Barnard detailing racist memes posted on the former’s Discord server included a post in which a blond, white woman is seen cycling blissfully through whites-only town Orania, with the caption “I don’t get raped … in Orania”. Petzer has made a documentary called Crime Free Orania which seems to advance the same idea – that white people do not cause crime – in a less overt way.
Most recently, the reactions to a story about how Ninow appeared in court unrestrained, while Duduzane Zuma was forced to wear leg-irons while facing charges of culpable homicide, show that as with any issue in South Africa, it would be impossible to look at this one through a lense of colour-blindness.
The only positive aspect of what is an unadulterated depressing and disturbing story is the way we were, if even for a second, unified in our outrage about the rape of a child. This crime has become prevalent enough in our country for some cases of it to enter and exit our news cycle without the extreme reaction from ordinary South Africans that this one has received.
Seconds later, however, we were reminded that we are a deeply divided country, often unable to look at any issue as separate to our racially fragmented society.
But while I agree with Dlamini that rape should not be racialised, I also understand why, in South Africa, it’s inevitable that it will be.