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Rapist Killer Police in Kenya, and Appalling Rape in South Africa

Photo by DEMOSH | CC BY 2.0

Killing, maiming, and the destruction of property accompanies presidential elections in Kenya. In repeated elections, in 2007 and in 2013, huge violence took place. Then, and again in late 2017, ethnic rivalries were prominent. This is not so-called ‘primordial tribalism’. It is planned political action that contains a strong class element, stemming from the gulf between the winners and losers in the bitter struggle for land and power, in the decades before independence in 1963. The ‘Loyalist’ constitutional nationalists won, and the rebellious landless peasantries lost out. President Uhuru Kenyatta is the scion of the former, notably wealthy. ‘Unmasked ethnic tensions still haunt the country’, says Human Rights Watch (HRW), and retain this class basis.

Another characteristic of electoral violence in Kenya is the impunity of the perpetrators. The authorities repeatedly fail to initiate credible investigations, and possible prosecutions. The organisers of electoral violence are chiefly people around the president. (Considered in ‘The Annulment of Kenya’s August 2017 Elections’, CP, 20 September 2017.)  In Kenya, as in other African countries, like Uganda and Botswana, power is highly centralised in the presidency. Flagrant acts of state violence can occur. A UN investigation into murders by Kenyan police, in March 2009, reported by Xan Rice, pointed to systematic, wide and regularised extra-judicial killings on the streets of Nairobi, the country’s capital.

During the fraught 2017 two-stage presidential elections, on 8 August, annulled by the Supreme Court, and re-run on 26 October, particular violence was directed at women and girls. Rape by state security agents occurred. As before, the state deployed large numbers of well-equipped paramilitary units in opposition areas in anticipation of violence, and to mete it out themselves: these forces included the General Service Unit (GSU), specialists in riot control, the Administration Police dedicated to protecting state assets, and units from Prisons and Kenya Wildlife Service, the latter skilled in armed combat with poachers. These agents carried guns, batons, tear gas cannisters, and often wore helmets and anti-riot gear.

A report by HRW of 14 December 2017, ‘They Were Men in Uniform’, identified the police as the perpetrators, and examined the impact of the violence through the first-hand testament of victims. In investigations carried out between September and November 2017, HRW confirmed widespread violence directed at women and girls for both their gender and their ethnicity: to ‘punish the individual and their communities for the way they voted’ and their suspected allegiances. They documented cases of vaginal and anal rape, gang rape (involving two or more rapists), mass rape, rape with an object, and putting dirt into a woman’s vagina. ‘About half’ of their reported cases were gang rapes. Many attacks were accompanied by additional acts of torture and violence. Sexual violence had, and was clearly intended to have, a wide and ‘devastating’ impact: many experienced injuries and other health consequences, leaving some unable to work, care for themselves and for families, or handle school work. ‘Profound mental trauma’ was common, reinforced by ‘well-founded fears that husbands, family members, and communities would reject survivors.’ With their history of human rights abuses, contacting the police, was not a viable option for most victims. Complainants were repulsed, humiliated or verbally abused. ‘More than half’ of the women interviewed by HRW did not receive any medical treatment, and ‘few got timely and quality post-rape care.’

The Report provides graphic details of the assaults endured by the victims, and makes clear that the rapists aimed at political repression. This was what Josephine Anyango experienced in Nairobi on 5 October 2017: “It was the Saturday after Uhuru was announced the winner. Guns were ringing all over. There was tear gas all over. They broke the gate to our plot. They were men dressed in uniform. They were just beating people… They were saying, ‘Come out now and throw stones.’ “I heard women crying, saying, ‘Don’t rape me’. “Three came to my house, beat me seriously, and raped me.”

Rose Otieno, 37, was in her house with her five children on the night of 11 August. She said two men dressed in green and black uniforms, boots and helmets, broke into my house. One had a gun, the other a baton and a whip. “One asked me to say, ‘I do not support Raila [Odinga, the opposition leader], I support Uhuru.’ I refused. The one with the gun slapped me and told me to shut up. The other one said, ‘Let’s teach her a lesson.’ He raped me in the presence of my children.”

Georgina Musa went to buy groceries on Saturday afternoon 12 August, when she “saw three policemen. They wore helmets, had guns and teargas. I started running…One ripped off my clothes. I told him, ‘I could be your mother.’ He slapped me, kicked me, and raped me as the others were watching. They took 200 shillings (US$2) from me. One told me, ‘Go and tell “Baba” [Odinga].’

Doris Syombua was at her bar on the night of 11 August. There was a lot of violence outside and she was trembling with fear. Three police men in uniform broke the door and entered. “One raped me in the front [vaginally] and the other at the back [anally].”

In about one-third of the cases documented by HRW, women and girls were raped in the presence of other family members including young children.

Jackline Mkamburi was at home with her three children and husband on the night of 11 August. Three men wearing police uniforms attacked them. “They said, ‘If we don’t rape you, your husband will [be forced] to rape your daughter.’ I pleaded with them to spare my husband the shame. They raped me before my husband and children. They said, ‘This is our government and there is nothing you can do to us.’”

Many sexual assaults were accompanied by slapping, kicking, beating with batons and whips, throwing women and girls on hard surfaces, and with humiliation and verbal threats. Several women in Dandora in Nairobi told HRW that their rapists threatened, ‘We will come back in the night to rape and kill.’

The assaults had a devastating impact on the victims. Most survivors experienced near crippling pains and aches. On 11 August at about 11 a.m., Gladys Moraa went to help her neighbour’s young child who had been hit with a teargas cannister. Amid confusion, Grace tripped and fell. “A police officer kicked me on my upper back with his booted feet. I couldn’t move. He raped me and left. Another one came, kicked me on the stomach and back, and raped me. I thought I would die.” Mercy Maina and her sister were raped on the night of 11 August by “police with rastas [dreadlocks]”. Grace Kungu was raped on 12 August on her way from work. “They took me to an unfinished building and all four raped me in front and behind. Since that day…I take pain killers all the time.”

‘Most of the women and girls’ interviewed by HRW spoke of trauma, depression and post-traumatic disorder: ‘feelings of shame, anger, hopelessness, self-hatred, fear and anxiety, sleeplessness, and suicidal thoughts.’ Janet Kiptoo, 16 years, and her 15-year-old cousin, Darlene Chemutai, were raped by two men at gunpoint. The men beat, harassed, and tortured them for almost two hours before and after the sexual assault. She told HRW: “I don’t know if it will ever end. I have no peace…I should just die.”

‘Almost all survivors’ worry if their rapists have infected them with HIV, and that ‘their families will find out that they are rape victims. The women were particularly concerned ‘about the emotional state of children who witnessed the sexual violence.’ Their traumas were compounded by the fact that ‘many of them suffer alone in silence,’ The Report identified four women who were abandoned by their husbands after disclosing the sexual violence they suffered.

Pamela Wambua was raped by four GSU men at gunpoint on 11 August. She went to a local hospital for medical aid but did not receive any counselling. She said: “I remember the rape all the time. It disturbs my mind…It’s like you are in a different world.”

Young girls who were raped were reportedly ‘having trouble focusing in school.’ Purity Onyancha told HRW about her 17 year-old daughter, Peris Onyancha, who was gang raped together with her friend on 14 August. Peris was left for dead, and her friend died soon after.

As noted, the country’s history of impunity for election violence, undermines or completely negates ‘confidence in the police’. Grace Kungu did not report her assault to the police because “They are the same people who rape us.” Neema Abdul never went to the police. “The men who raped me wore green uniform. They stole my phone and 15,000 shillings (US$ 146).” Purity Onyancha went to the police to report her daughter’s rape. “The police said if I don’t know the rapist, they won’t open a file. They asked why I went to hospital before reporting to them. I realised we were not going to get help, so I told my daughter we leave.”

HRW launched their report, They Were Men in Uniform, in Nairobi in mid-December 2017, and Senior Researcher, Agnes Odhiambo, detailed their findings. The Inspector General of Police, Joseph Boinnet, rejected the report out of hand. “I challenge the organisation [HRW] to produce evidence if such persons allegedly defiled by police officers indeed exist”, he said in a statement distributed widely. This was the officer most responsible for the orgy.

The Enormity of Rape in South Africa

Rape against women and girls in South Africa is generalised rather than political, but both Kenya and South Africa are former settler colonies, where exploitation of labour and land was intense, and violence commonplace. South Africa has a strong constitutional democracy, an independent judiciary, and a lively civil society, but rape is huge in size, deep seated, and uncontrolled.

Diepsloot is a new settlement of some 500,000 inhabitants, north of Johannesburg. When 2,600 men there were surveyed anonymously by the University of Witwatersrand and Sonke Gender Justice around 2016, half of them admitted to having used force or threats of force to obtain sex in the preceding year. More than half of those said they had committed such crimes more than once. Many men in Diepsloot and in other parts of South Africa, apparently feel they have a right to use force against their partners. Of 500 sexual assault cases reported to the police there since 2013, only one resulted in a conviction. Researchers believed that police are informed about only one of every nine sexual assault cases in the country. Diepsloot police station has no specialist unit on rape and assault. Brown Lekekela has stepped into the breech, with his emergency shelter, Green Door, unique in the settlement. He dreads the end of the month, when payday for those with jobs means heavy drinking and violence. He worried, as he told The Economist, that the cycle of abuse “will become the culture of how we live”.

When ‘up to a quarter of women in South Africa are raped’, this might already have happened. While national data showed that 39,828 rapes were reported to the South African police in 2016-2017, Hannah Summers and Simisola Jolaoso say that ‘most survivors never report the crime.’ On the assessment of Amir Shroufi, a coordinator with Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Cape Town, “the scale of the problem is absolutely enormous.” The Thuthuzela Care Centres are on the front line, almost alone. They have forensic nurses who provide comprehensive health and criminal justice services at some 55 centres in public hospitals and in communities nationally. Teddy Ceba and Mabel Qhathatsi are forensic nurses working in Free State province. “The oldest victim I have seen was an 89-year-old woman”, said Ceba, and “the youngest one was four months—a baby boy molested by a family member.” Statistics indicated that intervention in rape cases improves the chances of holding the perpetrators to account by 35 per cent. The 400 or so forensic nurses across the country in late 2017 faced great difficulties: low pay, lack of professional recognition, coupled with great stress and long hours were causing many to leave. Garret Barnwell, a clinical psychologist with MSF, said that “the country faces a chronic funding problem at the very time it needs to be extending services”, Summers and Jolaoso noted in early December 2017.

Child-law consultant and forensic nurse, Christina Rollin, provides specialist help precisely for the very young, children below 12 years. But her clinic in Benoni in Gauteng was facing closure just when figures for the rape of the very young were rising and the brutality of the acts increasing. In October 2017, police minister, Fikile Mbalula, revealed that 9.1 per cent of all reported rapes in the country were of children aged nine or younger. The disclosure came just after a security guard was arrested for assaulting 87 girls at a Soweto primary school in Johannesburg. Rollin said that “examining children requires a great deal of expertise and patience.” She had treated 530 child victims and testified in more than 300 court cases. But her clinic had lost a major donor and closure threatened, Summers reported in late December.

South Africa is a middle-income country, the most developed in the continent. Confronting the culture of rape is a matter of priorities. Huge sums were lavished soon after majority rule on sophisticated weaponry that the country now cannot utilise, and large public funds were expended recently on a new housing complex for President Jacob Zuma at Nkandla in Kwa Zulu Natal. Rollin says that the total cost of keeping the Benoni clinic open is 19,500 British pounds a year, a piddling sum. The work done here and in the Thuthuzela Centres is of immense value to millions of children, girls and women. Their continuance and extension is a mandatory issue for an ethically based government and a democratic society.

Kenneth Good is a Professor of Political Studies, University of Botswana, 1990-2005 and honorary fellow, RMIT, Melbourne.

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