Oscar trial attracts opportunistic politicking

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A women in a yellow shirt blows a whistle at an ANC women's league march outside the North Gauteng High Court where Oscar Pistorius is appearing on charges for murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on February 14, 2013.

Among the many protesters and interest groups represented in the public gallery at the Pretoria High Court where the case of Oscar Pistorius is being heard is a group of ANC Women’s League members.

On any given day, they can be seen toyi-toying and brandishing huge banners with various messages. But the one that stands out reads:  Pistorius must rot in jail.

Other members have pictures of Reeva Steenkamp pinned to their Women’s League uniforms. It’s all so dramatic and attention grabbing. On the face of it, they have their hearts in the right place, this in a country where stats show that a woman is killed by her male partner every six hours, the highest rate of death by domestic violence in the world.

To use a high profile case such as this to drive home the message about women abuse can only be applauded – especially because this case is being televised and the impact of whatever happens both in and outside court will capture the public imagination.

Having said that, let me now move to problems inherent in some of the messages being communicated here. First of all, we live in a country which holds sacrosanct the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”. That Pistorius is in court, and a number of witnesses and experts are being called to testify, means no one has the authority, yet, to make a pronouncement on his culpability.

The huge banner with the message “Pistorius must rot in jai” unfortunately sends a message that some in the public gallery have already found Pistorius guilty even before the trial is over.

The second point – which is directly linked to the “innocent until proven guilty” principle – relates to another very public criminal case that should still be fresh in the minds of many, and in which the Women’s League did play a public role.

I am of course referring to the case of President Jacob Zuma who had been accused of raping a young woman who was a close family friend back in 2005.

As the case unfolded, members of the Women’s League were a regular presence at the court, not to support the female complainant but to throw in their lot with Zuma.

At that time, the Women’s League was championing the “innocent until proven guilty” principle. Outside court the complainant was insulted and called names, but the Women’s League, which today pins its colours to the anti-woman abuse mast, did not come to her rescue, nor even raise a public objection against her tormentors.

After Zuma’s acquittal, the complainant was hounded out of the country. Again, the Women’s League never raised a finger as a show of support for this woman who had been made a victim both during and after the trial.

To this day, we do not know what happened to the woman. As far as some of us are concerned, she remains forever a victim.

To go back to the Pistorius case: in the same building where this case is taking place, there is a little reported murder case where the victim is a woman, one Zanele Khumalo, 18, who was raped and murdered by her boyfriend Thato Kutumela.

The case has been unfolding steadily over the past two years. The Women’s League has not made a whimper about it.

These inconsistencies are so glaring as to infuriate one. They call into question the Women’s League sincerity in its fight against women abuse.

As I said earlier, if a high profile case such as the one of Oscar Pistorius comes around and you want to make mileage out of it, by all means go for it. After all, good timing is at the heart of good activism. A good idea at a wrong time does not always bear optimum results. A good idea, at a good time, on a good forum is a winning formula for any social or political cause.

But the Women’s League needs to be consistent in its messages or we will dismiss these for what they  clearly are: opportunistic politicking.

Just because the elections are around the corner, they deem it fit to be seen on public forums, punting a good cause. That’s very crass and spits in the face of the anti-woman abuse cause.

* Follow me on twitter @FredKhumalo