South African women are taking a stand against rape culture

The recent accusations of rape against DJ Fresh and Euphonik triggered a much-needed conversation on rape culture and its devastating manifestations in South Africa.

South African Women take part in a protest against gender-based violence nationwide gatherings during 16 Days of Activism on November 28, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. It is reported that about 200 protesters gathered outside parliament to protest against Gender Based Violence. (Photo by Brenton Geach/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
South African women take part in a protest against gender-based violence on November 28, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. [Brenton Geach/Gallo Images via Getty Images]

In January, a Johannesburg woman publicly accused popular South African DJs Thato Sikwane, known as DJ Fresh, and Themba Nkosi, known as Euphonik, of drugging and raping her and three other women on a night out in 2011, when she was a second-year student at the University of Pretoria. In a tweet, Siphelele Madikizela explained that she was so inebriated at the time of the alleged attack that she is not certain whether both men or just one of them raped her, and added that they both laughed about it the following morning saying that the women were so drunk they kept “blacking out”.

Both Euphonik and DJ Fresh denied the accusations, and their supporters and fans swiftly branded the alleged victim an “attention seeker” and “a liar” on social media. While the woman received some support from several activists and social media influencers, who said they believed her, many others dismissed her claims and put their support behind the two men.

Despite the many attacks she faced, the victim stood by her statement and filed an official complaint against the two DJs a month later.

On February 15, South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) announced its decision not to prosecute the case due to insufficient evidence. The NPA decision, which was not an acquittal but an assessment that “there are no prospects of successful prosecution on the available evidence”, further emboldened the accused. They issued a joint statement celebrating the move, and doubled down on their claims that their accuser is “lying”.

This, however, is not the end of the road for the alleged victim. The NPA decision neither nullified her accusations nor ascertained the innocence of the accused men. She can still demand a review of the NPA decision or opt for private prosecution provisioned under Section 7 of the Criminal Procedures Act. Pursuing these options may create favourable conditions to secure a trial and encourage other victims to come forward to bolster the case.

Moreover, even though she did not yet succeed in bringing DJ Fresh and Euphonik in front of a judge, the woman already achieved a lot by speaking up against these two powerful figures in the entertainment industry.

Although a final assessment of the case before a court may be in the future, the accusations, and the campaign of harassment directed at the alleged victim that followed, ignited a much-needed conversation in South Africa about rape culture and its many devastating manifestations.

Many women, including myself, who are familiar with the university party scene in South Africa, did not find the woman’s account of the events that led to her alleged rape surprising. University students regularly attend alcohol and drug-fuelled parties alongside popular DJs, celebrities and other elites, and at times find themselves being coerced into sexual encounters with these men that they would not consent to if they were sober. Men pressure young women to drink to the point of blacking out, or even drug them without their knowledge, and go on to sexually assault them. Sadly, society often considers these encounters as consensual and the women do not speak up or press charges, as they fear they would be accused of lying or being promiscuous.

By publicly speaking about her ordeal, the accuser has put these issues under a spotlight. While she received much fury and vitriol for pointing the finger at these two popular media personalities, she also managed to attract attention to an issue often swept under the carpet in discussions on rape and sexual abuse: powerful, popular men accused of abusing young women with impunity.

Indeed, many assume successful men loved and respected by society cannot also be rapists. The accusations of abuse and rape levelled against such men, especially by women who willingly entertained or even dated them, are readily dismissed as lies or blackmailing attempts. However, as author Robin Warsaw put into sharp focus in her book I Never Called It Rape, “rape that occurs on dates or between people who know each other should not be seen as some sort of misguided sexual adventure: rape is violence, not seduction”.

We should all acknowledge this fact and act accordingly if we are to rid society of rape culture and all its manifestations. And hopefully, the discussions triggered by the accusations against the two DJs, are going to bring us a little bit closer to this goal.

The accusation of rape they recently faced also had some direct, material consequences for DJ Fresh and Euphonik. Primedia Broadcasting, the parent company of the 947 Radio Station, where both DJs worked, first suspended their contracts and later announced their dismissal.

The decision was undoubtedly motivated by the company’s desire to protect its public image and distance itself from any allegations of rape. Whatever the motivation, however, it demonstrated that companies and cooperations now feel they cannot ignore allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse, even when they are directed at some of their most popular and profit-generating employees. Moreover, it showed that even the most powerful men cannot avoid facing consequences when the women they allegedly abused bravely speak up.

In recent years, many powerful men in South Africa have been held to account for their predatory behaviour after multiple women found the courage to publicly accuse them of sexual misconduct and abuse. In 2020, Kaya FM Station Manager, Greg Maloka, resigned from his position following sexual harassment allegations levelled against him by four different women. He resigned without clearing his name, leaving the allegations alive and possible closure for his victims elusive.

In 2015, former tennis star Bob Hewitt was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment after being found guilty of two counts of rape and one count of sexual assault. The charges stemmed from testimonies given by three women who Hewitt coached in the 1980s and 1990s. In his verdict, presiding Judge Bert Bam highlighted the striking similarities among the three women’s testimonies which he said demonstrated a calculated conduct by Hewitt.

A similar fate may even await DJ Fresh and Euphonik, who have faced several other allegations of gender-based violence and sexual impropriety prior to the rape accusation that was levelled against them in January.

It is still not easy for women to publicly accuse powerful men of sexual abuse and misconduct. However, the times are changing – more and more women are refusing to be intimidated into silence by their powerful abusers and their supporters. I am hopeful that, thanks to their bravery and strength, we will soon rid our society of rape culture and hold to account all the celebrities and other elites who for too long abused women with impunity.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.