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This commentary uses Judge Willem van der Merwe’s rescripting of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ poem during the Jacob Zuma rape trial as a starting point to argue for the importance of understanding the ways in which spectres of a colonial, masculinist and racist past continue to haunt the present in South Africa. While Zuma invoked Zulu culture and his duties as a Zulu patriarch in his defence in the trial, this very idea of ‘Zuluness’ is a product of the same patriarchal racialism disseminated by Kipling and British colonialism. In order to address high levels of sexual violence in contemporary South Africa, the state needs to acknowledge the ways in which a colonial, white supremacist and patriarchal past has shaped responses to sexual violence. It also needs to redress problems of social and economic inequality that exist in South Africa as hangovers from this country’s colonial and apartheid-era past.
Keywords: Zuma, rape, Kipling, colonialism, post-apartheid, Anene Booysen