In Memory of Anene Booysen

Guest Post by Melinda Fantou

The road that leads to Bredasdorp, a small town about 180 km from Cape Town, meanders through barren fields shaved of the wheat they once nursed to maturity. The sheep sidle through protruding stalks, stomaching the lack of greener pastures. The resilient blue gums – the only trees that seem, ironically, to break the dullness of the Cape Agulhas region – lay their leaves to roast in the harsh sun. A “Beware of Children” sign stands at the entrance of Bredasdorp with its 15,000 inhabitants.

That Sunday afternoon, the streets are empty, as is often the case in small South African rural towns. Shops and museums are closed. Some of the restaurants are still serving lunch and a few people eat quietly at a cosy terrace, contemplating space and time. Five hundred metres away from the main street, past the tall cement silos full of the grain harvested this season, a memorial service for Anene Booysen is underway at the community hall named for Nelson Mandela. In Bastiaan Street, opposite the hall, people are watching the beginning of the service from the gardens of their RDP government houses. Leaning against their fences, they look at other Bredasdorp residents sitting under the white tent erected next to the hall for the occasion. Women mostly, from the community.

Outside the hall, a woman surrounded by teenagers is interviewed by the local TV. The fast flow of her response to the journalist attests to her anger: “We are human beings, stop raping us, we deserve to be safe!” Angry but calm. Under the tent, about 500 people are also waiting quietly for the service to start. Women sit patiently under their colourful hats, some raise perfectly crafted posters asking to “stop the violence and abuse against women.” Children run between the rows of seats, two of them get smacked for pushing an old lady.

Bredasdorp’s ANC mayor, Richard Mitchell, takes the stage: “The world now knows where lies Bredasdorp on the African map. And the incident, where Anene was murdered, is the cause for the interest of the world in Bredasdorp.”

Inside the hall is Corlia Olivier, Anene’s foster mother, sitting next to her mother and brother. She listens, composed. A woman stands at the back of the crowd and whispers: “This must end. My daughter was raped, my granddaughter was also raped when she was 4 months old. My daughter-in-law was raped. How do you cope with this? My brother didn’t when his wife was raped. He committed suicide. Sorry to lay all this on you but we must speak out!”

“And I want to start with our members from national parliament, continues Mayor Mitchell. Members from provincial parliament who are present today, mayors from surrounding municipalities, councillors, and even a delegation for the commission for gender equality. Representatives from the unions – Cosatu, also representatives of the SACP – the communist party, the ANC Women’s League, the ANCYL. Members of the NEC of the ANC, members from the opposition party – the DA, and then we also have the veteran association Umkhonto weSizwe and as I said all other protocols observed, ladies and gentlemen, and… and mostly our communities.”

A woman carrying a baby tries to enter the hall from the side door. A veteran of Umkhonto weSizwe (the ANC’s now-disbanded armed wing), dressed in military kaki uniform, brushes her off. She looks at him, offended, while a man wearing a shirt with a machine gun drawn on the back and displaying the “Umshini wam” (bring me my machine gun) slogan made famous by the country’s president, Jacob Zuma, is left to stand in the doorway.

“Many politicians have requested to give a message during this memorial, we will allow 3 minutes for each of them”, warns the master of ceremonies.

Simphiwe Thobela, a local ANC Youth League representative, walks to the microphone after a short speech by a local member of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and starts his diatribe against rape :

“Mayors, ANC members, comrades, I won’t be long but I’m gonna steal a minute from Cosatu because they didn’t use their three minutes”:

-Viva ANC!


-Viva Women’s league!




For two hours, the SAPC, the ANC Women’s League, the DA, Cosatu and other official representatives take the microphone, one after the other. Between speeches that quickly denounce the rape crisis, political stumping slips in.

An agitated man wearing an ANC shirt and a Che Guevara beret walks up the aisles asking the sleepy crowd to clap their hands for a song is about to start. The “Power of your Love” eventually gets the crowd going. The agitated man looks more content, and walks to a group of singing women wearing ANC t-shirts. With a broad grin, he hugs his comrades and photographs them. Some still-clapping residents look on, puzzled.

It is now Cosatu General secretary Tony Ehrenreich’s turn to speak. Ahead of the event, he had warned that “this crisis is much bigger than our political division.” After greeting Anene’s family, he goes on: “I come here as Cosatu, it is a crisis we need to respond to as an organisation.” In the front row of the crowd, sitting under the tent, a man and a woman stand up and raise their fists to punctuate the political punch lines.“Enough is enough” – “an injury to one is an injury to all” – “We must get involved, we must tell the abusers that no longer will they abuse our communities.”

Lynne Brown, former ANC Premier of the Western Cape, calls out to the crowd: “The boys who have been arrested – they’re not anyone else’s child. They’re your child and my child. Remember that we will be gone tonight, in fact this afternoon, and you will stay here alone.”

After hugging Anene’s mother, the Western Cape ANC provincial leader Marius Fransman closes the political monologue : “Dan Plato (DA politician and now Minister for Community Safety in the Western Cape) is a criminal, he used taxpayers’ money to throw a party for gangsters. You can’t give money to gangsters and think it would solve the problem.”

So this is how the people of Bredasdorp gathered on a quiet Sunday afternoon to remember the life and times of AneneBooysen. Anene’s mother and her family were there. Her neighbours were there. The people of Bredasdorp who knew her and grieve her today were there. They alone know who AneneBooysen was. They alone know what her aspirations were.

But political agendas walled them up in silence. They have been told what their problems are – “drugs and alcohol are to be blamed”. They were made to listen to the ANC NEC, the Women’s League, the ANCYL, the Communist Party, the DA. The councillors and the delegations. The Amandlas and vivas. All other protocols observed in the memory of Anene Booysen.

Finally, the politicians dropped a memorandum at the local police station, packed up and left. Lynne Brown probably didn’t realise how right she was: the community of Bredasdorp did sleep alone that night.

* Mélinda Fantou is a photojournalist based in Cape Town.

2 thoughts on “In Memory of Anene Booysen

  1. Reblogged this on nyashasengayi and commented:
    Our fight against violence on women is a time capsule ..future generations are going to look back at our actions and the loud voices, and ideas and be truly thankful just as we are thankful for the women who strated the women’s rights ideology..thanks Melinda for such insightful writing ..we will fight for her memory!! with love from Zimbabwe!!

  2. “Most people would support human rights that are based on basic values, such as respect for human life and human dignity. ” South African Constitution and Bill of Rights
    Last month, a BBC feature asked “Will South Africans ever be shocked by rape?” It provided a shocking insight into South Africa’s apparent numbness to sexual violence, describing the country’s citizens as “unable to muster much more than a collective shrug in the face of almost unbelievably grim statistics”.
    I highly doubt that it is that the South African public lacks empathy and compassion, nor is the general attitude towards violent and sexual offences that of indifference or unconcern. People have not turned a blind eye, on the contrary, the most severe crimes have an overdeveloped sensitivity when it comes to the general public’s response.
    Due to a super abundance of criminal activity, South African communities are swamped with dread, fearfulness, tension and anxiety. It is not that South African’s are exercising an attitude of indifference, it is the loathing, vulnerability and repulsion at living at the mercy of violation, delinquency and savagery that is rife and malevolent in our society.
    I am exasperated by the media and government departments’ rationalization that heinous and inhumane crimes such as this are a result of anything other than a compulsion for gratuitous immoral aggressiveness, a natural disregard for the law and a troublesome, defiant attitude for social interests. Some of us spend some, if not all, of our time worrying about our safety and safeguarding ourselves and our loved ones while others are set out to abuse the rights that us as human beings hold dear to us, at our very core.
    “Extract” from The South African Constitution and Bill of Rights;
    “Each human being has the right not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way.Torture is not allowed.”
    “Everyone has the right to be free from all forms of violence in the home. This right ensures that the government and the police must take measures to prevent domestic violence, for example, abuse of women and children in the home
    “The Right to life;
    Your duty: not to hurt some one so as to threaten their life.
    The states duty: to pass a law to stop the death sentence.”
    When we speak about being ‘treated’ fairly or human rights, it encompasses a range of issues such as not threatening another person, verbally, mentally, physically or in any other way or mannerism that inflicts pain on that person whether it be psychological, emotional, spiritual or physical.
    Some documentation and opinions offer the explanation that this young girl’s brutal, invasive, unmerciful and unlawful slaughter was a direct or indirect result of gender inequality, sexual predication, poverty stricken conditions or lack of education and although these aspects do play a role, I’m sorry but I think that the South African public feels that while the barriers for justifications for criminal, masochistic behavior expand, the appreciation, respect, security and benefits that come from us having the Bill of Rights, become less and less effective.
    Finally, I would like to add that human rights are thought of or considered natural rights. “People are entitled to them regardless of where they live in the world or of their position in society. It doesn’t matter what a person’s race, sex, age, class, language, beliefs, culture or religion is, or how much money or education a person has, we all have the same human rights.”

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