South Africa is often hailed as a democratic wonder, the country that came up from the brink of civil war in the late 80s to early 90s, and instead chose peace and reconciliation. We recently celebrated 25 years of democracy and peaceful elections. While change is here in some aspects – there are things that have remained the same.
South Africa has 5 times the global femicide rate and has been named one of the most dangerous countries for a single woman to travel to. Women, children, and marginalized groups are murdered at rates that are comparable to warzones around the world.
August is known as Women’s Month in South Africa and is meant to honour those who marched to the Parliament Buildings on August 9 1956, demanding freedom of movement for black women.
However, beyond the talks and “women empowerment” narrative – the nation saw a surge of violence during this time period.
One of the brutal murders that made international headlines, was Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old University of Cape Town (UCT) student. She had been just visiting the Post Office when she was raped, murdered and her body dumped in Khayelitsha, a township further away from the city centre.
Other headlines included, Jesse Hesse, another 19-year-old student from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) had been murdered in her home, along with her grandfather.
Janika Mallo, a 14-year-old girl who was found dumped in her grandmother’s yard. Her body was half-naked, covered with a blanket and she had a serious head wound.
Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels, a champion boxer, was gunned down and her mother was shot by her boyfriend. She had obtained a protection order (restraining order) before he killed her.
Uyinene had been missing for a week, and her friends did the tireless job of sharing flyers, making sure that her name and face were not forgotten all over social media. Her killer went to a police station, confessed his crime and let the police officers know that “she took a long time to die”. Her death, along with the recent spate of murders, enraged the nation.
Women have spoken up about how the South African Police Service (SAPS) is ill-equipped to deal with gender-based violence, how the courts are overwhelmed, and how rape victims are gaslit and treated flippantly when they go to report a crime. There is just not enough support for the overwhelming number of crimes committed against women, and when you do take the “right path” – there’s little to no support from government services.
But along with the marches, vigils and the global awareness – things have changed. Women are sharing their stories, outing their abusers/rapists and taking back their agency. We simply cannot go back to how it was before, we are all too scared and traumatised.
A recent march in Cape Town, saw women take to the streets close to the Parliament of South Africa to demand change. As President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the crowds, there were chants of “No debate!”
We don’t have the time to debate about what needs to be done, how to better assure our safety – we are in crisis.
We aren’t free if women, children, disabled people and the LGBTQIA+ community are not safe. Freedom of movement in this country is a human right, a right that many before us fought for and yet, we’re all restricted.
Walking to the post office. Going to the park. Riding a bike. Going to the gym. Leaving our homes. Travelling to work, school or church. Using public transport or taking an Uber.
These are just a few locations where women have simply existed, thought they were safe and had their lives cut short. The time for telling us to “stay safe” is over.
Will things change or #AmINext?