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On Gumbura and Rape Culture

Independent End Time Message Church leader Robert Martin Gumbura has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for rape. The 57 year old husband to 11 wives, who bragged in court about his dream of one day being father to 100 children, was convicted on 4 counts of rape and possession of pornographic material. Three other counts were dismissed for lack of evidence. To read more about the highly publicized case that has gripped Zimbabwe for the last few months, see: Pastor Gumbura Accused of Raping Congregants.

Out of the whole saga, what struck me the most was the magistrate’s scathing commentary during sentencing. In passing the sentence, Harare regional magistrate Mr Hoseah Mujaya said:

“The court must always strive to find a punishment which will fit both the crime and the offender. In this case the accused was like a wolf in sheep’s cloth. The core-business of the church is to worship God not to sleep with girls and women and threatening them that misfortune would befall them… Pastors and deacons in this church must have been aware of the blasphemous teachings in their church and also the abuse of women but they chose to ignore what was happening.”

In a country were victims of rape often take some of the blame for the rape, this was a refreshing view. It actually focused on the evil nature of the crime and the perpetrator, and passed no judgment on the victims. During the time that Gumbura’s story dominated local media, street judges were busy castigating the victims. They said things like: “What did they want from him in the first place? Those women love things too much. How can one pastor rape all those women? Why did they take long to report?” However, the truth is that, as the judge stated, Gumbura took advantage of vulnerable women. He even threatened them, which made them give in and also delay in reporting his crimes.

I am surprised people cannot understand what these women had to endure and, indeed, what they still have to endure in the aftermath of the trial. A well respected pastor, with whom the women entrusted even their deepest troubles and secrets, used their vulnerability to his advantage. A well-known man-of-the-cloth violated them and thereafter threatened them with misfortune to conceal his crimes. Desperate women had come to him for help only for their burden to be multiplied – now they have to carry with them the stigma of having been raped by a prophet. And that stigmatization is fuelled by people who love to blame victims of rape, especially if the rape involves a prophet.

I have written an article before discussing the curious rise in the number of prophets in the country (see Prophets, Prosperity and Promiscuity). The article is a warning of some sort, urging especially women (who have a greater tendency than men to flock to these prophets) to be discerning in their dealings with prophets because many of the new prophets are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They prey on unsuspecting and desperate women using strange methods of demon-exorcising and spiritual cleansing, methods that sometimes involve sexual acts. I also wrote in the article that some of these supposedly religious sexual encounters are consensual – sometimes even ‘approved’ by the husbands of the women involved. However, some of these encounters are not consensual. Those are outright rape. And rape should never be condoned in any form. And whenever it is committed by a revered public figure, it should be condemned even more. It’s just shameful.

I have heard a South African song with the lyrics: “Hey sister, why are you dressed like that? Don’t you know that rape comes about because of dressing?” There are two ways in which one can view these lyrics. They can be viewed as a piece of advice for women – that more modest dressing will probably prevent rape. However, they can also be viewed as castigation of women who dress immodestly – that they are more likely to be raped because of their immodesty. I do believe the singer meant to convey the first meaning. And I do believe some women do dress and act provocatively, and are (probably) statistically more likely to be raped (think drunk parties). Usually, when people give rape-prevention advice to women, they are not necessarily condoning rape – they may just be giving safety tips. After all, rape does exist. However, this does not mean there aren’t any problems with this approach towards rape issues. Actually, I think there are two main problems with it.

A message for rapists

A message for rapists

First, it puts too much emphasis on women. It should be the opposite. Men should hear that rape is wrong. Very, very wrong. Men who rape women ought to experience more shame than female victims of rape. They ought to be scared of raping. They ought to know rape will be punished with “a punishment which will fit both the crime and the offender.” The crime is a physical and psychological violation of a vulnerable human being, a human being who may be physically and psychologically scarred for life. The offender is a maniac who preys on vulnerable human beings and literally obtains pleasure from that.

Second, the approach is harmful to actual victims of rape. It’s one thing to tell an attractive young adult, however questionably, to dress modestly for her own safety, but it’s a whole other thing to tell a victim of rape the same thing. Imagine your (admittedly) scantily dressed sister, girlfriend, wife or mother has been raped, and someone declares: “she should dress modestly” or “she should handle herself better” or “she asked for it!” How would you handle that?

Mr. Mujaya (the magistrate) was more sympathetic to the victims, and made no statement implying that they may have had a part in causing their predicament. He said:

“The complainants are going to be stigmatised and traumatised. They are going to be psychologically affected. The State must take a step and see that the victims are counseled.”

Perhaps that is how we should all view rape victims. We should reserve all our outrage and rebuke for the maniacs who prey on our sisters and mothers.

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10 thoughts on “On Gumbura and Rape Culture

  1. That attitude sucks and needs to be addressed via blogs like yours…I went to Gwanda with my daughter to get her ID. Someone asked her if her mum wouldn’t be shocked to see her dressed like that???? The young girl in the ID place said she would be ‘in trouble’ if the police saw her!!! As you can imagine I had something to say…

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    • I can imagine what you had to say! But yes, I think it’s important that issues like these be discussed in public forums. We should learn that rape is inexcusable, and that police should spend less time being fashion police, and more time trying to keep the public safe from criminals!

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  2. Yes, yes and yes Lesley!! There are no words to express how happy and grateful I am that you wrote about this issue because it is one of the most important issues worldwide. It is time that we raised both our boys and girls in a way that teaches them that hurting other people for ones own pleasure is absolutely unacceptable and will be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Thank you for this!!

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    • Thank you too Paida. I felt it was something that needs to be said. People who commit rape should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, while victims should be helped in every possible way.

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