Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
In a recent speech to mark the official opening of the current Zimbabwean parliamentary session, President Mugabe said the country’s legislators would stiffen present anti-rape laws by increasing gaol terms for convicted people to between 40 and 60 years depending on the age or physical condition of the rape victim.
That is most welcome in view of the high incidence of that type of crime in Zimbabwe. Victims of rape range from innocently helpless babies to pathetically old and in some cases disabled women.
Rape is committed by utterly senseless, if not depraved, people whose very persona lacks human feeling, (ubuntu, vunhu, bunhu) but instead is ruled by a beastly streak such as prevails in male equines (donkeys, horses and zebras).
That is especially so when one considers the indisputable socio-economic fact that Zimbabwe’s business centres teem with commercial sex workers who are procurable for virtually nothing because demand for their services is far less than supply due to the existing high unemployment.
It is because of that basic economic factor that some fairly well educated women are actively involved in prostitution, the original name of that demeaning habit. Prostitutes are now somewhat respectably referred to as “commercial sex workers”.
At some urban and peri-urban centres in some countries, they include some high school and some tertiary education students.
In Finland in the mid-1970s, a very well-known hooker was a social anthropology professor. She was said to be an expert in the culture and languages of two or three South American Red Indian tribes, having lived and researched among them for more than a decade as part of her research in that subject.
She, strange to say, acquired a metre-long iguana that she kept indoors in an ever-green tree she brought with her (and the iguana) all the way from the hot, humid, swampy reaches of the Paraguay River where some primitive Red Indians still use shells of the giant turtle as a bathtub.
That strange Finnish “commercial sex worker” apart, in Zimbabwe such workers are a part of our own socio-economic environment countrywide.
In the rural areas, a cattle-herder who earns about $50 monthly, is treated like a king at business centres on his payday where local stout prostitutes wearing skirts that end at the tip of their bums dance most lewdly to attract and hold his lustful attention for as long as he still has a couple of bond notes.
Such a man certainly has no reason or excuse to rape, let alone a baby, a toddler, a helpless blind woman or a mentally challenged one. All he needs to do is to budget wisely until his next payday, or to arrange acceptable terms with the local prostitute or prostitutes.
Rape should not feature as that is not in his or the commercial sex workers’ interests as it leads to a lengthy incarceration for him.
Talking about incarceration takes us to the most important aspect of the sentence meted out to rapists and, indeed, to every convicted person.
Our courts send convicted individuals to serve jail terms of various duration. All effective jail sentences should cause much suffering, leading to regret by the convicted person to such an extent that he/she will not wish to undergo a similar experience again.
The jail sentence should generate a feeling of satisfaction among the complainants or offended; it should produce fear of imprisonment among those who are free but could have been thinking or planning to commit a similar crime; a jail sentence should effectively remove the convicted person from the community in which he/she lived.
Some sociologists and quite a few social welfare scientists say that a good, modern justice system should have a reasonably large corrective component, and that a convicted person who has served some time in prison should come out with either a profession or some type of vocational course, or whatever else that places him or her in a better socio-economic or cultural category than before he served his/her term.
To achieve that, they say that a country’s prison system should provide some form of training for convicts.
The considered opinion of the writer of this article is that a crime has four interested parties: the offended person or persons, the state whose law and/or security has been breached, the community that is emotionally or however else adversely involved or affected, and the criminal himself or herself.
In some instances, especially in highly industrialised countries, insurance and/ or life assurance companies are a fifth interested party. That is particularly so in cases of murder, theft, arson, road, rail and/or shipping accidents. Convictions in such circumstances are of interest to several social and economic segments of the nation.
However, it is not common to hear speakers at funerals of able-bodied, gainfully employed people who have been killed by road or any other accidents referring to the deceased’s contributions to the fiscus, that is to the state to whose coffers the deceased had been contributing as a taxpayer.
Speakers talk about loss to the deceased respective families but never to the tax collector, not even when the dead were prominent businesspeople whose contributions to the fiscus were undoubtedly significant.
If such accidents were caused by the drunken, reckless or unqualified driving of whomever, or of the poor condition of his or her vehicle, the courts need to consider that the matter is of a much wider interest than that involving a poacher who is convicted for snaring a lone rhinoceros.
To spend more state financial resources educating or training that convict whose drunkenness or recklessness or negligence has killed some taxpayers is to fail to think normally.
We now return to the case of rapists, by remembering that the psychological damage done to the rape victim is immeasurable; it is indeed unquantifiable.
In this day and age, the world deeply honours its women. Exceptions are of course a few primitive traditionalists in some remote Pacific Ocean islands whose minds still carry remnants of the feudal period when French feudal lords would forcefully demand to spend the first night of newly married wives of their villiens (serf, tenants) with those brand new brides.
Those feudal lords did not have any feelings whatsoever for the newly married women, to say nothing about their husbands. They only thought of their own sexual pleasures whether or not their sentiments were reciprocated by the irreparably emotionally hurt couples.
Those primitive French men belonged to a decadent culture where they believed that the only people with feelings were themselves.
In today’s Christian world, our social and cultural attitude towards our women is greatly influenced by that of Jesus Christ to his mother, Mary. That influence, although it is much stronger among the Roman Catholics than among the Protestants, is quite significant in many Southern African denominations, hence their reference to their female members as “amakhosikazi”, “bafumakadzi”, words that literally mean “queens”.
After the Zimbabwean anti-rape laws have been passed, it would be most helpful to send each headman and chief a copy with instructions that the laws should be read and interpreted to the people at least twice at each traditional leader’s court.
That would replace ignorance with knowledge, and would result in fewer rape cases in the rural areas. Presently, traditional leaders and their people usually come across most laws through court cases.
In a free and democratic nation, public information and knowledge are or should be free and accessible to all and sundry. We should also challenge that rather stupid colonial dictum: Ignorance is no defence.
If a traveller stopped under a sacred tree along a highway, unaware of the cultural importance of that tree, made a fire there and brewed some coffee, it would be absolutely unreasonable to arrest or to prosecute him or her. Ignorance of the law would have been considered by either the police or by the court.