Letters from TZ

When society is judge and jury, women have cause to fear

They say the law is an ass. Whether it’s a donkey or a derriere can is debatable, and I’m sure any lawyer would oblige you. But the reality is that the wheels of justice are slow and every so often they need to be urged on, much like a donkey. Donkeys have a reputation for pig-headedness and stupidity and it is the stupidly rigid application of the law that this phrase describes.

But perhaps it is more accurate to say that the law is a pain in the ass, thanks to the wide scope for interpretation, and our penchant to get it wrong time and time again. Laws are designed to confuse the man on the street. Whether by design or by accident, they are drafted to confound.

So it is no wonder that the public branded Elizabeth ‘Lulu’ Michael Kimemeta a murderer well before charges were brought against her. But even with her name on a charge sheet, she is not yet a murderer. Legally speaking – and depending on the outcome of the trial – she may never be a murderer, no matter what transpired on the night Steve Kanumba died. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove her guilty. And until then, the public must presume her innocence.

That’s just the way it is. Obviously, you are entitled to your own personal views on the matter of her guilt or innocence, but the views of the gallery are neither here nor there. The law will take its rightful course – inasmuch as that is possible in Africa – regardless.

Having said that, Lulu’s character continues to be assassinated in the court of public opinion. She has quickly been branded a malaya (prostitute). When you ask her accusers to substantiate their claims, they will quickly refer you to a series of images doing the rounds on the Internet – images that show the 18-year-old in various states of undress and intoxication. As if that were proof positive that she is a woman of “loose morals”. And everyone knows that women of “loose morals” are more capable of murder than virgins. Women who have sex cannot be trusted. Good women don’t do “those things”. Only bad women do. And they kill people too. Right. It all makes sense now.

What’s sex got to do with it, though? Whether Lulu is a prostitute or not is irrelevant. Maybe she is a prostitute, I don’t know. What I do know is that it wouldn’t matter even if she slept with Bill Clinton. It would still be irresponsible to suggest that she was more capable of murder because of it. At 18-years-old, she is barely an adult. For all intents and purposes, the girl is a child, because reaching the age of majority does not magically turn a child star into a grown woman. In this court of public opinion, are we really going to try a child for failing in an adult’s world? Are children supposed to be good at being grown?

If we’re going to start persecuting women for questionable sexual conduct, not many of us are safe. This is a classic “cast-the-first-stone” scenario. God forbid any more of us get arrested on a murder charge because then the verdict would be in, even while the jury was still out. You see, it’s not just about Lulu – it’s about women. Writing to the members of the Tanzania Gender Networking (TGNP) members Jacqueline Mgumia said it best: “Is this about good girls and bad girls? [Let’s] engage with the notion of good and bad girls in the media and its implication on [female] representation in general…especially in our digital generation.”

As a society we should be ashamed of ourselves. We live in times when people will soon be able to buy spaceship tickets to travel into outer space, and yet we’re still treating women like sexual objects. The notion that a woman’s seat of judgement is between her legs is so outdated it bears no mention. But isn’t it ironic that it gained momentum and spread like wildfire on the ultra-modern information superhighway? The more things change, the more they stay the same, it seems.

But whatever it is that we think of Lulu and her life choices, it is not our place to judge. Judge not that you would not be judged. The fact of the matter is that either she committed the crime or she didn’t. Her sexual practices hitherto are of no consequence.