Book Review: Rape – A South African Nightmare by Pumla Dineo Gqola


The decision to buy and read this book did not happen easy. It is not a book that one wakes up and say I want to read about rape, let me go get a book on the topic and read it. I had to think about it for a while before buying it. Knowing very well that rape is a serious issue in South Africa, I still had to meditate on the decision for a while.

Knowing very close people to me that have been sexually violated encouraged me to know more about this unfortunate phenomenon.

Silence around a serious topic such as rape is like wishing it away and unfortunately it will not go away.

Silence on this issues is like Steve Biko not writing his Frank Talk essays because keeping quiet about what was happening at that time will somehow make it go away. This is one instance where the mute button is like an electric blanket that keeps the rape scourge warm and alive.

We are not going to wish the rape crisis away, we have to do something about it, and reading about it from experts is a start. We have to be conscientised about it more and more.

Having the idea reading this book marinate in my mind, I eventually bought the book. It is a difficult book to read not because it is not well written, or because it is highly traumatizing and graphic in telling the rape narrative, but mainly because it is a very difficult topic to read. It is well and thoroughly written, well thought out.

It is written from an analytical observation. It tells the rape narrative and culture in the country.

The book looks at the history of violence and sexual violence in the country, the use of fear against women in a patriarchal society, the myths of rape, various rape stories that grabbed headlines in the country. It looks at making sense of the responses to the Jacob Zuma rape trial, it looks at child rape, the rape of baby of Baby Tshepang, the rape of lesbians (so called corrective rape), it looks at the rape and brutal murder of Anene Booysen, it also looks at patriarchy and its relationship to sexual violence.

Prof Gqola looks at the violent history (slavery, coloniasm, apartheid, patriachy) as some of the reasons for this rape scourge.

Books should add the existing literature of its topic. This book is well researched and does a good attempt to contribute to the literature and discourse of rape. After reading this book I feel that we have a long way to go to end this scourge in our country. I feel there has to be more books written on this topic.

To think that South Africa is dubbed the rape capital of the world, it is interesting or rather worrying that few books have been written on the topic of rape, in comparison to for example about five books that were released after the verdict of the Reeva Steenkamp murder case, one case resulting in five books.

Books are a reflection of the current discourse in the country.

There are books written about the legacy of apartheid, about famous crime and murder cases (Lolly Jackson and Brett Kebble cases), there a number books written on corruption (arms deal, Nothing Else To Eat etc), there are about three or four books were written about the Marikana massacre, a TV documentary and a stage play on the brutal massacre.

Considering the seriousness of the rape issue in the country, one would think that there will be various narratives captured on this topic. As Prof Gqula notes, there is only one book written about the Jacob Zuma rape trial for example, only one. Not many books have been written about other heinous and popular rape cases in the country. I accept that this is not an easy topic to talk about let alone write about it, but I think this is a serious topic that we need to talk about more and most importantly do something about if we are to curb this scourge.

As a man, I will never truly understand what a woman go through, but as a father of two girls, as a brother, as a conscious man in society, it is important to work with other conscious men to change views about women and their femininity.

A man does not have a right to a woman’s body. A no simply means that, no.

Rape is usually perpetrated amongst people who know each other. Rapists are normal people in society, they wear nice clothes, they are decent and normal looking people. Rape usually occurs between people who know and usually trust each other.

We live in a highly patriarchal society. During the Arab Spring in Egypt, one female activist eluded to the fact that women are at the forefront of of the March at Tahir Square and overseeing the demise of a twenty year Mubarak rule but once attained, women are nowhere to be seen in government and senior leadership positions thereafter.



This is an important book. It is well written, well researched, and deals with very practical issues. This is a topic that needs to be written more with various angles. I’m yet to read a book that tells rape from a male perspective, from the psyche of rapists.

If you are conscious about serious issues affecting society, this is book to read.

Some of the quotes from the book:


  • Rape is an exercise of patriarchal violent power against those who are safe to violate: mostly women, girls and boys but also adult men and trans-people deemed safe to violate.
  • “Our men want us to be pure, so I never tell any of my boyfriends that I was raped. The problem is not about my losing my virginity. It is that being raped leaves a stigma. People do not sympathise with you. Instead they say you wanted it. Any black man who knows that I have been raped would lose interest in me.”

  • Most rape research globally suggests that women are more likely to be raped by men they know than to be abducted in public by men they may not know, or men they may not know well.
  • There is a cost – a huge, devastating cost that comes with rape – an invisible wound that remains long after the physical scars (where these exist) have healed. And what at cost to us to have so many of our people walking wounded.
  • There is no correlation between how a woman dresses and her ability to escape rape. Rape is about power not seduction, and men are not helpless children but adults with the power to self-control.
  • Shailja Patel reminds us that when “you want to understand how power works in any society, watch who is carrying the shame and who is doing the shaming.”
  • “How can a grown man be aroused by a baby?”
  • Rapists and other abusers are normal people.
  • The Republic of South Africa, therefore, has the contradictory situation where women are legislatively empowered, and yet we do not feel safe in our streets or homes.
  • One of nine thousand people who spoke at the TRC, only one, Rita Mazibuko spoke of her rape in the liberation movement even though many activist women confirmed rape in liberation movement sites.
  • We need to disown violence everywhere except in self-defence.
  • I believe an end to rape is both possible and worth fighting for.
  • A future free of rape and violence is one we deserve, and one we must create.


One thought on “Book Review: Rape – A South African Nightmare by Pumla Dineo Gqola

  1. Pingback: Leadership Manifesto: Sojourner Truth View | rochemamabolo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s