Gender-based violence (GBV) has long been one of the worrying factors in South Africa. This is evident from the disturbing stats that emerged during the Covid-19 lockdown period last year and the more recent ones.
According to the government’s GBV and femicide command centre – a call centre to support victims of GBV – recorded more than 120 000 victims in the first three weeks of the lockdown. Just weeks later in Pretoria, a similar call centre received up to 1 000 calls a day from women and children confined in abusive homes, seeking urgent help. Prior to the pandemic, femicide in SA was already five times higher than the global average and the female interpersonal violence death rate was the fourth-highest out of the 183 countries listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2016. Evidence has now emerged that suggests cases of violence against women are increasing.
I have, over the years, been watching and listening to the news and the organisations that have stood up to try and fight this problem that has now been deemed a pandemic. All the stories in the news about GBV cases have been very upsetting, to say the least, but the one that touched me most is the recent one at Fort Hare University in East London, less than two hours’ drive from my home town, Komani. Because of this, I feel I cannot keep quiet because this is unfortunately a conversation that cannot be avoided any longer.
The brutal killing of the law student, Nosicelo Mtebeni, left me anxious and really scared for our children, especially for the country’s girl children. What’s worse is that this incident happened during Women’s Month – a time in our calendar when we should all be celebrating women and protecting them where necessary. Over the years, we’ve seen the trend of how women and children are attacked or killed during the commemoration of ‘16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children’. It seems these periods mean absolutely nothing to these men and instead encourage them to abuse the vulnerable even more.
My daughter will go to university soon and the thought of her leaving home alone brings shivers to my spine. My cousins and I spoke about ways to protect our children when they are not with us. We said that, as part of the stationery when they go to varsity, it’s probably best to include either a taser or pepper spray so that they have some kind of weapon to protect themselves, on and off campus. What’s scary about this whole thing is the fact that we even have this kind of conversation about protecting our children. Almost every woman I know was scared for her life and those of her children.
Women are living in constant fear for their lives because of our country’s men and how they seem to have declared war on the defenceless – women and children. The question every time these tragic incidents happen is why these men do not fight with other men their size instead of attacking those that cannot fight back. My other question is – are the good men in South Africa doing enough to help women fight this scourge? I appreciate the work organisations such as Not in My Name are doing, but it seems whatever effort is made by corporate companies or NGOs is not yet yielding the results we all want to see.
My final questions are: What must happen for men to stop seeing women as their punch bags? If men are unhappy in their relationships, why don’t they leave instead of abusing or killing women? Why do men feel they have a right to do what they like with women and children and, in most cases, get away with it? Since this is a societal problem, what is everyone committing to do in order to end this war that has got out of hand? As a society, are we doing enough to teach boy children early in their lives how to treat women better? Most importantly, what are the ‘good men’ going to do to help women end this terrible phenomenon? I believe the solution is in the hands of men reprimanding and policing each other. Women don’t have the strength to fight these men physically or psychologically. Whatever the solution is – because maybe there is one out there – we simply cannot continue to go on like this. Something has to give.
Miranda Lusiba is the founding director of Strangé Consulting – a boutique PR agency specialising in communications, freelance writing, media relations, reputation management and media training