Okmalumkoolkat’s Case: As Men We Need to Check Ourselves

A tweet by one of South Africa’s biggest Sunday papers, City Press, reopened the discussion around Okmalumkoolkat’s sexual harassment case.

A tweet by one of South Africa’s biggest Sunday papers, City Press, to an article titled “AKA collaborates with convicted sex offender OkMalumKoolKat on new cover,” last week reopened the discussion around South African artist Okmalumkoolkat’s sexual harassment case.

It was an oddly timed tweet, about an artwork Okmalumkoolkat made for AKA’s song “Caiphus Song,” which was released about two weeks prior to the article.

To a lot of people, including AKA, the headline was an instance of white media’s attempts to demonize black people, while protecting whites. While that notion isn’t untrue, it proved how black men (and some women) have a tendency to give racism more attention than patriarchy, which they are perpetrators of.

AKA made a comparison of how the media addressed South African athlete Oscar Pistorious during his murder trial. Black men are vocal in conversations about racism, because the fingers aren’t being pointed at them. But internal issues like rape culture and patriarchy in general, aren’t given as much attention.

A lot of people went on about white media (which is problematic, yes), instead of assessing the importance of the topic City Press raised: South Africa has a serious rape problem. According to Africa Check, in 2015/16, 51,895 sexual offenses were recorded in South Africa—an average of 142.2 per day.

AKA, in his response on Twitter, made the the issue about him through a series of tweets in which he declared City Press one of the publications he would never give interviews to.

South African hip-hop (and the South African population, in general) doesn’t address sexual violence as much as it should. The only instance I can think of is the rapper Tumi Molekane’s “Yvonne,” a seminal poem off of his album with his former band The Volume Live at the Bassline (2004).

In the poem, Tumi speaks of Yvonne, a woman he fell in love with and managed to get her number. When he calls to talk to her, he gets the response, “She got raped this afternoon, she can’t come to the phone.”

Yvonne then tells the story of how the incident happened. She begins by just talking about how challenging it is for a woman to just walk around in the city, “A 5-minute walk through this place takes an hour in the city/ See, brothers act rude and throw gestures at you/ Some will even try to grab like you in a petting zoo/ You gotta get fully dressed and not summon suggestions/ That will get you pressed to brothers.”

And she eventually gives the graphic detail of how it happened: “Slapped from behind I turn around/ There are two in front of me/ I am shaken, I gave 'em my purse/ Thinking they mugging me/ When the other two drag me to the nearest shrubbery/ Pulls my lips to his, unzips the jeans/ And rips the seams/ Knocked unconscious in attempts to scream.”

The rapper gave the poem another life on his 2011 mixtape, Powa, adding Yasiin Bey’s verse from the song “Taxi.” He featured emcees like Reason, Ben Sharpa, Pro, Mr Mo Molemi, ProVerb, and in between songs Akona Ndungane, a victim of rape, detailed how she became a victim in a party, reading posts from her #ISaidNo campaign on Twitter and her blog.

“I’m telling this story, not because I want your pity,” she says in the end. “I’m telling you because I need your help to do something about this. I need help to get justice for all the victims, whether we know about them or not. I need to help change the entitlement of this patriarchal society. I need help to say enough is enough. I said, ‘No.’” Her story is not unfamiliar in South Africa, and the world at large.

A reasonable number of people found the City Press headline distasteful. As I said, I found it odd that the paper was only reporting about a 2-week-old artwork like it had just been released a few days ago, and why only mention AKA, as if he's the only artist who has worked with Koolkat after his conviction?

But the defensive responses from South Africans showed just how much we don’t take sexual harassment seriously.

A few years ago, I would have probably felt the same. I grew up in Swaziland, another country with a serious rape problem. It took me working with a team of mostly women to understand my privileges as a man, even though I belong to a race group that goes through atrocities like racism. It was uncomfortable at first, being told that #MenAreTrash. I had to swallow my pride, and get into terms with my privileges. Guys, men are trash. Period.

It took being in a relationship with a woman who had been raped by a relative as a toddler, for me to understand the effects of rape. In her early 20s, that memory was still haunting her, and in turn, me. To this day, she's still trying to recover from an incident that happened about 20 years ago.

I started seeing things differently. I had to unlearn a lot of things I grew up being told were normal. I had to unlearn that being raped is a woman’s fault, because she was asking for it with the way she was dressed. Or, why was she drinking in the first place?

I’m still not an expert in such issues, as I learn new things every day, by reading and listening to women. Reading Okmalumkoolkat’s series of tweets, a cringe worthy attempt at an apology, hit home. To me, the tweets revealed a man who has no understanding of how serious rape is.

Some of his statements were problematic “I’m sorry that a woman felt violated on my account,” went one of them (emphasis on “felt”, which somehow insinuates he doesn't see anything wrong with what he did). It ended up being about him. Basically he was saying, “I kinda did wrong, and I’m sorry, plus I served my time, so cut me some slack. Also my music dope, though, why isn’t anyone writing about that?”

The responses I saw on social media reminded me of a tweet I read some months ago, that went something like: “Black cisgender men are the white people of black people.”

What we do to black women as black men, is the same thing that white people do. When people of color raise issues of racism, white people are quick to be defensive. The blame is usually shifted to us. “Black people are just lazy,” “Apartheid has been over for 20 years, get over it,” or even get labelled “professional blacks.”

As black men, we demonize feminists, call them “angry,” (like they have no right to be) or tell them to sweep issues of rape under the rug, as we have bigger problems that need addressing. A good example of that is how sexual violence was treated within the #FeesMustFall movement.

The writer Kagure Mugo, in this Op-Ed, wrote: “Often the victims of sexual assault are told to remain silent in the name of the revolution. In a number of cases women and gay men have been sexually violated by movement leaders only for it to be swept under the carpet because those within the struggle are said to be in the middle of ‘important dismantling work’ that cannot be detracted from.”

Because, you know, racism is the only real problem we're facing as black people.

What we need to do to about this issue, is what white people need to do about racism, and that is listen. Listen to an oppressed group, with intent to understand, not defend yourself.

It’s uncomfortable at first, but it’s necessary, and is the only way we can understand fully the effects of sexual violence, which we were never taught much about in our homes and in school.

So, dear Simiso, if you are reading this, know this: no one hates you.

You are actually one of the most innovative and most celebrated artists of our time—your album Mlazi Milano is amazing. But you need to swallow your pride and learn about rape culture from the people who are primarily affected, and maybe that will lead to a genuine apology.

Mansplaining just won’t cut it. And that goes for every man.

Photo by Piero Cruciatti/AFP via Getty Images.

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