Last Friday, a third-year university student died of suicide at home in Johannesburg. Khensani Maseko had been raped in Makhanda in May.
Yesterday her family buried her.
It was Women’s Day.
The significance is as poignant as it is tragic. Sixty-two years ago this week women marched to the heart of one of Africa’s most heartless regimes to fight for the rights of all South Africans —and forever dispel the misogyny that a woman’s place was in the kitchen.
Today, women might be politically free like all other South Africans, but they remain enslaved in the shackles of a predatory patriarchy that refuses to put gender-based violence beyond the pale.
We should be wrestling with this shame as a nation but we are not. Last week, our own president received a memorandum from marchers — at the very Union Buildings that apartheid prime minister JG Strijdom once occupied — only to mouth platitudes while his own party continues to house a former deputy minister of education convicted of beating up two women.
And what of our universities, what of Rhodes University with its proud boast “where leaders learn”?
We expect so much more from these supposed safe spaces where the brightest, the most privileged in our society go to study solutions for the problems that bedevil us.
Rhodes University, which was brought to a standstill only two years ago when students rose up against at least 11 unpunished alleged rapists, seems to have learnt very little.
This week, the university suspended lectures for two days for an alternative education programme on gender-based violence.
For the family of Khensani Maseko it would have been a case of too little, too late, made all the more bitterly ironic given that she had reported the attack at the end of July.
How many others are at risk? How many other Khensani’s have yet to come forward to report their secret horrors in the groves of academe.
Let us remember the clarion call of 1956 —wathint’abafazi, wathint’imbokodo — and let us ensure that the next time a woman is struck or raped, their attacker will finally have struck a rock.