The global coronavirus outbreak has forced South Africans to revisit some of the most important social ills we have been facing as a country. These are inclusive of, but not limited to, the senseless killings of black people which resulted in the global #BlackLivesMatter protest. We have also witnessed a spate of violence and murder that is directed at female bodies in South Africa. These brutal killings and violent behavior towards women can be traced throughout South Africa’s violent history. But what stands out is the fact that South Africa is amongst the few countries that top the global statistics with regards to femicide.
Many a time, when we discuss the scourge of femicide in South Africa there are other discourses that seem to arise from this social ill. What surfaces is the question of whether we are dealing with femicide, gender based-violence, intimate partner violence or openly just homicide. Whatever arguments that may arise from this discourse, do not entirely attempt to find interventions to the social ill that is femicide. It remains just as a public discourse that seeks to erase the fact that females are the target of the violence, and more often, sadly, this violence is administered by males. So for as long as the argument continues, stats continue to project that a woman is killed every four hours in South Africa.
The term femicide is used in regard to “ the murder of women or girls for gender-based reasons”. When a woman is killed, she is most likely to be murdered by an intimate power. Seedat, van Niekerk, Jewkes, Sufta, and Ratele in Violence and Injuries in South Africa: Prioritizing an Agenda for Prevention, observed that a distinct feature of violence in South Africa is its gendered nature, with males disproportionately affected both as perpetrators as well as victims of violence.
South Africa has one of the world’s highest homicide rates with 20 000 people murdered every year and stats prove that the government is struggling to curb crime. 57% of gender-based murders are done by intimate partners thus making South Africa’s femicide rate five times more than the global rate. Accordingly, one can assume, based on the femicide statistics that women, in South Africa, are endangered as a demographic. Gender-based violence cannot be attributed to a single factor however, but an interplay of individual, community, economic, cultural and religious factors interacting at different levels of society.
With all the statistics drawn together and pointing in one direction, it is perhaps safe to conclude that we are facing a nightmare. If we are still caught wanting, perhaps it would be worth our time to look at the recent emergence and rise of cases relating to the killing of women during a global pandemic. Though we might not, at this stage, be able to access all the statistics that relate to the killing of females since the inception of the lockdown, there is still evidence to suggest that indeed we are dealing with a pandemic within a pandemic. Of course, there are many causal factors of and that relates to the femicide. Amongst many, lies the fact that the lockdown caused quite a few layoffs, forcing many to be locked in with their abusers on a 24hour basis. This subjects them to continuous abuse and maltreatment until such time that they are either found dead or industries open up and ease the burden of having to negotiate through violence on a daily basis.
But of course these recent spats are not stand alone events. There is a consistent timeline that these events can be traced through. What has been consistent also is the fact that year in year out, civil society mobilizes itself to speak out against the killing of women, as we have seen in the Total Shut Down in 2019 and the National call for demonstration against GBV in all major cities of the country a month or two ago. In previous years we have seen some of the most cruel incidents that broke South Africans’ hearts. Such include the brutal murder and violation of the body of Uyinene Mretywana, Karabo Mokoena and that of Jesse Hess. There has also been a disturbing trend, of late, where pregnant women are killed in horrific manners and in some cases, women are killed along with their children.
These cases are pure proof of the fact that women are not safe in South Africa and that the country is on a continuous downward spiral. The lack of justice in such cases also leaves much to be desired and sends a message that crime is not punishable in South Africa, let alone the murder of women. South Africans are indeed living in nightmarish conditions and femicide is indeed South Africa’s nightmare, the sooner we respond to it the better. Otherwise we will find ourselves entrapped in the web of this social ill that is femicide for years to come.