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Godongwana and the masseuse: The political weaponization of sexual assault.

By Gillian Schutte

It is saddening that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has declined to prosecute Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana in the sexual assault case against him. 

The statement issued by the NPA Regional spokesperson Monica Nyuswa states: “The decision follows a thorough assessment of all available evidence and after consultations with the complainant, who expressly did not wish to proceed with the case despite being offered all the necessary support available to complainants in cases of this nature,” 

As reasonable as this statement hopes to sound it certainly overlooks the probable reasons for the victim withdrawing her complaint against Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, given the powerful political forces she was up against. 

In this case the masseuse not only laid a charge of sexual assault against a powerful man, but also, some say, an entire faction of the ANC that seeks to protect one of their own.  This they did by not negating Godongwana’s statement in a News 24 article where he declared: “the allegations were a smear campaign “fashioned to achieve narrow and selfish political ends”. One can only surmise that he was referring to this as a set-up by the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) camp as a means to force him to step aside.  

Unfortunately for the masseuse, in a matter of hours her traumatic ordeal and subsequent sexual assault charge against the minister was catapulted outside of the usual scenario of gender based violence and into the arena of politics.

Given that the Godongwana scandal followed in hot pursuit of other ANC scandals, such as Phala Phala and President Ramaphosa’s hidden millions it caused yet another major public relations headache for the Thuma Mina camp.  A case of sexual misconduct by a Minister in the Ramaphosa administration once again added to their reputational damage. It also raised questions around Ramaphosa’s commitment to end Gender Based Violence. 

Some have speculated that because it was on the eve of Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign the outcome of this investigation could have seriously dented his image and impacted negatively on his chances of a second term. Furthermore it could have sullied the ‘clean administration’ scenario he seeks to portray.  Perhaps most importantly though, it was about the negative impact this case could have on the economy as outlined in a Bloomberg article  that reported: “South Africa’s rand faces a fresh challenge amid uncertainty about the fate of Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, who’s battling allegations of sexual assault and may be forced to step down. George Glynos, the managing director and chief economist at ETM Analytics further stated: “Should Godongwana be side-lined just two months ahead of a budget update, the rand would likely extend a decline sparked by concerns about Federal Reserve tightening that have boosted the dollar. “

Within days the masseuse’s charge against Godongwana had become about much more than sexual assault. It was now about the fate of the county’s neoliberal macro-economy, the Thuma Mina presidential campaign and the future of various politicians.  Daunting indeed.

In addition to these weighty implications, former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, also seemed to undermine the veracity of the sexual assault claim made by the young masseuse when she pronounced on the charge at an expert dialogue on gender-based violence (GBV) in institutions of higher learning’ held at Stellenbosch University. Here she stated that the allegations were ‘saddening’ and said the nation should be careful of allegations versus what has been confirmed. Madonsela added that until Godongwana is charged by the NPA, it is not fair for the public to call for him to step aside.  

One would have thought that as a woman-of-law Madonsela would have used this opportunity to critique the ethos of a male-dominated society that encourages the abuse of and use of power over others, in particular their disregard of the most vulnerable. Whether she meant to or not, her statement reinforced contemporary constructs of masculinity which most often ignore the ongoing subjugation of, and violence against women. Instead of believing the victim first, it appears, Madonsela used this platform to push an obvious political agenda at the expense of the victim. Madonsela’s utterances also served to underscore the neoconservative conspiracy-theory floating around those circles that this was most likely an RET setup.  

This acceleration of attention and political weaponisation of the case must surely have escalated the victim’s PTSD and overwhelmed her with dread. By this point her case would have required much more than the support offered in the NPA’s statement, especially when dealt with by forces in the state that are protective of a certain ideology. It would have been an extremely difficult and traumatic process for this young victim to go through a trial proving that she had told the truth when up against a biased and powerful system. 

Did she ever really stand a chance?

We may never find out the full truth of why the masseuse dropped the charges against Godongwana. It appears though that this case of sexual assault has been buried by both political and corporate economic interests. If so this is a grave injustice against Godongwane’s reported victim as well as all victims of gender based violence. It certainly makes a mockery of the NPA’s claim that they have “remained steadfast in vigorously prosecuting sexual offence cases and gender-based violence.”

*Gillian Schutte is an award-winning independent filmmaker, writer, and social justice activist. She is a founding member of Media for Justice.