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The Myth of the Lying Woman: Historical Legacies of Rape Claims and Racialised Assumptions in South Africa

Erin Hazan and Emily Bridger

There is no crime more difficult to prove than rape and no injured party more distrusted than the rape victim.[1]

On 11 January 2021, popular South African DJs Fresh and Euphonik were accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Siphelele Madikizela in 2011.[2] This was not the first instance where either man was accused of gender-based violence. In 2012, Bonang Matheba laid charges against Euphonik of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, malicious damage to property, and housebreaking with the intention to assault.[3] She subsequently dropped the charges after the couple reconciled (they have since split permanently). When Matheba laid the charges, she was broadly accused of lying. In a 2017 interview she stated, ‘I was embarrassed, humiliated and ill-prepared in how to deal with my very first scandal. To this day I am called a liar.’[4] As for Fresh, in 2019, a woman anonymously accused him of rape eighteen years prior, and in 2020 poet and activist Ntsiki Mazwai accused him via Facebook of being a rapist. Fresh sued Mazwai for defamation and won.[5] On 19 February 2021, a third woman accused Fresh of rape via Twitter.[6]

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Sexual Violence in South Africa: Why Focus on the Female Perspective?

Much of the best academic research on rape over the past decade, in South Africa and globally, has focused explicitly on men, the primary perpetrators of sexual violence. Such efforts have resulted in truly important work; understanding why men rape is essential to combatting sexual violence. Furthermore, focusing on rapists helps hold them to account. Rape is often reported as a ‘perpetrator-less crime’, with undue attention paid to female victims – where they were, what they were wearing, or how they were behaving – rather than the men who most commonly inflict this violence. [1] Joanna Bourke contends that ‘it would be wrong to explore the violence carried out predominantly by men by studying the women they wound,’ arguing that doing so may only perpetuate tendencies to blame women for their own violation. [2] When specific research on rape in South Africa began in the 1990s, the primary focus was also on the rapist. [3] More recently, researchers have tried to establish exactly who the country’s rapists are, interviewing men from across various class, educational, and ethnic backgrounds, and why they commit this violence, exploring theories of masculinities ‘in crisis’, past-perpetrator trauma, socio-economic exclusion, and patriarchal gender norms. [4]