Sociology seminar series: "Patriarchy and Power in the South African News: The Death of Anene Booysen”
Posted by: Sociology
09 October 2017
Prof Nicky Falkof from the University of the Witwatersrand presented the seminar. In February 2013 a 17-year-old woman, Anene Booysen, was gang-raped, mutilated, disembowelled and left for dead on a construction site in the town of Bredasdorp, in the Western Cape, South Africa. Before dying of her injuries, Anene named one of her attackers, a young man who was known to her and her family. The crime shocked South Africa and garnered global attention for its viciousness, with both local and international commentators comparing it to the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh on a bus in Delhi the previous year. This paper analyses South African newspaper reporting that appeared in the three months following Anene’s murder. It isolates two competing discourses that appear in that news coverage. The first, a small but significant minority, features female and feminist activists, academics, NGO workers and others, and takes an explicitly feminist stance that names patriarchy and masculinity as causes for Anene’s death and South Africa’s epidemic of violence against women. The second, largely featuring politicians and other state actors, frames rape as a ‘national problem’ that needs to be dealt with, without associating this problem with men. Drawing on previous research about so-called ‘Satanist murders’ of young women in contemporary South Africa, I use this press material to argue that, despite the presence of feminist comment in the news, dominant media discourses in South Africa condemn gendered violence while actively avoiding any overt critique of masculinity. In this way paradigmatic stories like Anene’s become symbolic of crime and social decay at large, while the need to interrogate violent modes of masculinity within a highly patriarchal society is consistently deferred. Despite the volume of coverage of the murder, much of it served to repeat rather than to undermine the patriarchal conditions that led to Anene’s brutal and unnecessary death.