They don’t come from Mars or originate in outer space. They live amongst us, day by day. They are brothers, sons, uncles, fathers and friends and you have a responsibility to tell the police if any of them was involved in the recent bus rank stripping incident. Staff Writer, PINI BOTHOKO sounds the alarm
Last Sunday, a young woman was stripped at the Gaborone Bus Rank by what appeared to be a crazed group of adult men old enough to be her father. She was insulted and mocked with one recording the unfortunate incident as an obscene memorial. Not a single member of the mob tried to protect the young woman. Not even the women who were clearly in the midst. They too laughed and apparently encouraged others to abuse the girl.
The video went viral on social media, triggering an uncomfortable national debate on the patriarchy, gender abuse as well as rape culture in the country.
As both men and women take sides on the issue, some castigating the mob and others blaming the victim, police have issued an appeal for information in order to take the matter to prosecution.
Despite the thousands of comments on social media, the scores who were at the scene at the busy bus rank on the day and the dozens of call-ins to radio discussions, a curtain of silence appears to have fallen on the matter.
Borakanelo Police confirmed they were investigating the matter, but were having trouble locating the victim, let alone her abusers.
“Some people came to us and complained about what transpired at the bus rank, pleading for our involvement as a young woman’s rights were violated,” Superintendent Mothusi Phadi, the station commander of Borakanelo Police told Mmegi.
According to Phadi, police have viewed the video circulating on social media, but its clarity means the suspects are presently unidentified. What is critically needed is for witnesses to come forward and identify those involved.
“The video clip that was circulating on Facebook is not clear and we are still busy with investigations.
“We are busy collecting the evidence and that will lead us to the offence that the perpetrators will be charged with.
“What occurred at the bus rank was wrong and inhumane as no one has the right to violate one’s rights no matter what,” Phadi said.
Sunday’s assault is not unique to Gaborone or Botswana. In 2014, in Harare, taxi rank touts stripped a woman naked after accusing her of dressing indecently and “offending their morals”. Some of the men were arrested after being identified on the viral video and were slapped with eight month sentences, with the magistrate saying there was a need to stop people from “behaving like animals”.
In South Africa, the situation is worse, with taxi ranks in the major cities a danger zone for women. Numerous incidents have been reported where touts, drivers and members of the public assault and strip women naked for allegedly dressing indecently.
The incidents have shone a light on the misogyny prevalent among the male-dominated taxi ranks and how this is possibly a lens into greater discrimination in the broader society. Some comments on social media on the incident have highlighted that some believe the young woman should have dressed “more decently” or “behaved better” or that she incited the mob and tempted would-be rapists.
“This is barbaric and it is as disheartening as it is pathetic that women still get harassed for how they look and what they wear,” she wrote on social media.
“As a mother, woman leader and most importantly, a Motswana, I will not stand on the sidelines and watch this happen. Let’s stand together and stop it.
“This is not us. It does not define who we are as a nation.”
Men and Boys for Gender Equality (MBGE) programme coordinator, Omphemetse Oneile said the young woman had been stripped and assaulted by the very community responsible for her safety and wellbeing.
“It was not aliens falling from Mars to perform that horrendous act. Foreigners did not cross borders to hurl insults and laugh and strip her naked.
“It was done by the very community that is responsible for her.
“We are deeply saddened and it was a clear portrayal that the day to day efforts of our organisations and networks we belong to in addressing gender violence are more vital than ever. We are appalled by this behaviour and do not condone it,” he said.
Oneile added: “How do people stand there, participate and encourage the sexual harassment of a young girl.
We are calling on the government, Ministry of Nationality and Immigration and Gender Affairs as well as the Ministry of Defence and Security to engage and take action with regard to this incident”.
The ‘Right to Wear What I Want’ Movement has already approached Borakanelo Police on the case. One of the organisation’s members, Obakeng Matlou said the mission was to ensure justice for the young woman.
“The police promised to help with investigations and we are hopeful that in the end, the responsible culprits will be arrested and justice will be served.
“It is upon us to build a better Botswana and the message should be sent to the bus and taxi ranks, as well as to street vendors that what they did was wrong and inhuman,” Matlou said.
The secretary general of the International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG), Game Mothibi described the attack as distasteful, saying it went against the great strides Botswana recently made in signing the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, after years of lobbying by activists.
“Botswana has signed protocols, it has legislation against domestic violence and what we need now is more enforcement,” she said.
For the “I Shall Not Forget” Movement, the bus rank incident is symbolic of the rape culture in the country.
“Some people believe they can dictate what someone should wear and even take a decision to abuse them,” Lembie Mmereki, one of the movement’s members said.
It remains to be seen whether with all the outrage and exhortations, some brave witnesses will actually come forward and finger those responsible in order to pursue justice for the young woman.
Phadi and his officers at Borakanelo Police Station are waiting.