“Remember, remember, the first week of September.”
South Africa Femicide
There was global outcry after the murder of University of Cape Town student, 19 year old Uyinene Mrwetyana was reported during September. Her brutal killing was followed by champion boxer Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels, 25, allegedly murdered by her estranged police officer ex-boyfriend along with University of Western Cape student Jesse Hesse, 19, who was killed in her home in Parow with her grandfather.
These three women were not the only victims in South Africa and would not be the last. The outrage saw the rise of #AmINext?, a movement born out of the question that many South African women had about their own safety.
In late August, Uyinene had been reported missing by her friends. Her loved ones took to social media to share images of her and held vigils for her around the university. Soon after, the news of her murder had made headlines with the suspect being a South African Post Office worker who turned himself in to the police. On the last day she was seen, reports mention she had walked to the Post Office and was bludgeoned to death with a scale in the same location. According to reports, the suspect had a criminal history before he started working at the SA Post Office.
But as the year comes to an end and the news cycle moves on, what’s happened to #AmINext?
Where do we go from here?
The ongoing reports about women being murdered, attacked and raped, hit a nerve with South African citizens. Shortly after the headlines about brutal attacks, South Africans took to the streets to protest against gender-based violence and intimate partner violence. The anti-femicide protests in Cape Town, saw thousands head to the South African Parliament buildings to protest while President Cyril Ramaphosa was in the city. In Johannesburg, protesters marched to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, located in Sandton and documented it with the hashtag #SandtonShutdown.
The grim reality is that Uyinene would not be the first or the last. According to the World Health Organization , the femicide, or the intentional killing of women or girls because they are females, rate in South Africa is five times the global standard. According to Africa Check, a non-profit fact organization, 2,930 women were killed between 2017 and 2018 and that a woman in South Africa is murdered every three hours.
In order to understand more about the impact of these protests, I spoke to Jordan Du Toit, an intern clinical psychologist at Sandton’s Tara H Moross Hospital in Johannesburg.
“We rarely see girls or women come in who don’t have an abuse history of some sort. It’s actually hard for our social workers to keep up with the filings of abuse reports,” Du Toit says. “The reports often go nowhere because the system is so overloaded very few cases are fully investigated or taken further.”
The South African Police Service (SAPS) official site states that reporting a crime is free, but women who often report crimes including assault, domestic violence and rape have been turned away from police stations, or there is often a long wait until any action is done. For example, a woman who was raped in a minibus taxi in Goodwood, Cape Town, reported her crime but three weeks later nothing had been done and no arrests had been made. This struggle continues, if you’re able to get a court date, there are administrative issues like dockets and evidence going missing. In July, it was reported that 76% of all police stations were without rape kits.
“Intergenerational transmission of trauma is absolutely real and we see the transmission of hatred towards those who hold less power in the way our men treat women, children and foreign nationals,” Du Toit says.
The South African government sent condolences to Uyinene’s family saying: “We believe that something drastic and immediate must be done in our communities that breed such wanton criminality and cruel behaviour, which must be taken up by community leaders, together with government, to return the moral fibre to our society.”
There is more than just a breakdown in moral fibre in South Africa, there is a culture of violence, misogyny and making sure that women live in fear. The South African College of Psychology and the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) found that 40% of men have hit their partners and one in four men has raped a woman. According to Africa Check that means that one in thirteen women in South Africa experienced physical violence with an intimate partner.
After protests around the country and threats of a national shutdown, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that an emergency plan to deal with the femicide epidemic.
We can never forget September 2019. It’s the period of time where headlines reported over 30 women brutally murdered in South Africa. It’s when tensions around gender-based violence finally hit a boiling point and women were less afraid to share their stories. Shortly after the march, Cape Town restaurant, Raptor Room spearheaded the #ComeIn policy, where women who feel unsafe can come into the selected eateries and staff will wait with them for their Ubers or walk them to their cars. President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken to South African cabinet members about upcoming legislation changes, from reopening unsolved sexual assault cases to training more female police officers to assist in police stations. There is funding allocated to provide adequate training to counsellors so they can help survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
The world is watching, but what is being done so far?
Shortly after the news of Uyinene’s murder and the subsequent news headlines, the Royal Family, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex Harry and Meghan visited South Africa, with Meghan paying tribute to Uyinene and her family by tying a ribbon at the Clareinch Post Office where she died. Actress and activist Yara Shahidi shared Uyinene’s photo on Instagram, but conversations about gender-based violence aren’t new in South Africa. The new cycles move on and the reality is that we still have to survive on a day-to-day basis. The conversation cannot and will not end here.
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T/W: Sexual assault, death and the destruction of light and livelihood, in any and all instances, must be combatted with a global response. Uyinene Mrwetyana‘s assault and death is unforgivable. Young women, particularly any of us living in the intersections of other identities, already live in fear. Already maneuver having to be hyper aware of their space. We must reclaim space for each other. Our response should emphasize the importance of ending gender discrimination and sexual abuse. Our response must honor her smile and spirit 🌟 #justiceforUyineneMrwetyana
Being a woman in South Africa means feeling palpable fear at all times of the day. You are not safe in your home, going to the Post Office, heading to the mall or on your way to work. The onus can’t fall on women to “stay safe” when men will harm you whenever they want to. In the wake of Uyinene’s death, I had to start thinking about what plan I’d have in place, if I ever went missing.
I share my Uber trips when I go out to meet friends. I tell my friends when I get into a bus, when I leave or arrive at any venue. I have a can of pepper spray and I’m going to get a taser. We’ve discussed self defense classes, and if I don’t answer my phone within a certain time period my friends are to assume I’m missing. The constant vigilance is tiring, it shouldn’t be like this and it can be hard to explain to people who don’t understand the South African context. We’re not paranoid, this is real and we’re all terrified.
The internet has become an invaluable resource in the fight against femicide and gender-based violence. South African women on Instagram have banded together and formed the account @keeptheenergy, which shares up-to-date information about women who have died at the hands of partners or were murdered for simply existing. The content isn’t easy to deal with, but it’s the ongoing reality. As @keeptheenergy’s bio states, “Our aim is to fight gender-based violence against women and children. We cannot afford to die down.”
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We have a website! Keep up to date with missing persons, up coming protests as well as a link to donate to our fund for the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children. The link is in our bio. Thank you to @driekusoosthuizen for designing the website. ✊🏽💜 #sayhername #keeptheenergy #keepsharing #aminext #endrapeculture #sashutdown #notogenderbasedviolence
Accounts like @keeptheenergy are making sure that femicide stays at the forefront of conversation, that we don’t forget about the realities women face, keeping #AmINext going strong.
How can you help? You also sign an online petition declaring a state of emergency in South Africa which has amassed over 500,000 signatures. You can donate to organisations like Rape Crisis or Sonke Gender Justice. But you can keep the conversation going online on social media platforms, using the hashtags #AmINext, #EnoughIsEnough and following South African anti-femicide social media accounts. We simply cannot be silenced.
Have you heard about #AmINext? We’d love to open up the discussion!
Image via Michelene Frantz