Femicide is Taking Us Closer to a Point of No Return. 4/6/2017

Published by IOL

We are complicit in the continued brutalisation of women and children if we remain indifferent to how our sons are socialised, writes Nonhlanhla Sifumba.

South African women and children are under siege. In the past few weeks the media has been inundated with harrowing stories of what seems an upsurge in the brutal murder and violence against women and girl children in our country.

The murders of five young women in separate incidents in and around Johannesburg in particular have raised the ire of the community and highlighted how broken the society we live in, is.

One watched the reports of these brutal murders and the reports of abduction with a sad sense of déjà vu. 

Shocking and horrifying as these incidents are, one has to acknowledge that this scourge is not new. We have been here so many times.

What was startling this time was the closeness in the times that these acts were perpetuated, and the proximity in which they were committed. 

We then realised, as a nation, we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room. As a community we need to call it what it is, so that we can deal with it aptly.

Merely pushing women and children abuse issues to some time towards the end of the year, when we dedicate 16 days against the scourge, is simply not enough.

Our open spaces that should be used as spaces for the community to gather, play, and worship were littered with bodies of young women and girls who had lost their lives at the hands of faceless men who are still prowling the streets looking for more victims. Enough!

As a country we have expressed our anger and condemnation over these crimes each time they were reported. We have vowed that NEVER AGAIN will they happen in our lifetime. Men have vowed that NOT IN MY NAME will these heinous acts be committed.

Yet, we wake up each time to the gruesome discovery of yet more bodies of women and children, and again we express our horror. We start hashtags to express our disapproval and circulate these widely on all the social media platforms. We plan marches, organise dialogues, but the elephant still remains in the room.

These recent murders are merely a tip of the iceberg. Research shows that every year more than 1 000 women are murdered by their male partners in South Africa. Many more cases go unreported, especially in poor communities, which are far away from the constant glare of the media. Femicide is a growing problem in South Africa.

According to Sonke Gender Justice, South Africa’s femicide rate is five times the global average. The frequency of sexual assault, murders and the brutality that accompanies the femicides is shocking, to say the least. Research by Statistics South Africa and the South African Medical Research Council shows that at least 73% of South African women have experienced sexual assault. A woman is murdered every eight hours.

We need a national strategy to fight this scourge, starting at grass roots level. Mothers are grateful when their daughters walk through the door after a night out, instead of being angry about a missed curfew. They thank the super powers that their daughters survived another night. That cannot be the norm, surely.

While social media activism is welcome, we need to change tack if we are to effectively deal with this scourge. We know the root causes of this violence: Patriarchy and masculinity, which allow men to think they own women and therefore can do whatever they like; absent fathers who leave our sons with no or very few role models; overwhelmed single mothers with no support systems; and alcohol and drug abuse.

The socialisation of girls and women is also a stumbling block towards the eradication of this scourge, and this is where we come in as a society. Women and girls don’t have to tolerate or bekezela (be patient) in abusive relationships, because their partners are good providers and respected in the community. They don’t have to go out with much older men or rich men who shower them with gifts on the one hand while giving them a klap with the other.

When our young women show up with lavish gifts we know are beyond their means, we must not rejoice and think our daughters have found good men. We need to look closely, as the signs of abuse are never far from the surface.

Yes, they may be hidden by that expensive foundation, but as parents it is easy for us to see unless we choose to turn a blind eye.

Now is a time for us to come together and get real solutions to end the slaughter of the women and children in our country before we reach a point of no return.

I grew up in Soweto, where communities fought for common causes together. Children were raised by the entire community. My child was your child, and my parent was your parent. Let’s go back to that. Let’s have real, face-to-face and honest discussions that teach our girls their intrinsic value without the trappings of crass materialism. Let’s teach our young men to respect women as they would expect their mothers, sisters and daughters to be respected.

Let’s attend to that angry boy who feels abandoned by an absent father by giving him hope. Let’s reassure him that the feelings of hopelessness can be overcome, that with the right support from those around him he can thrive and become an upstanding member of his community.

Let the good men and women in the community be the positive role models in these boys’ lives.

By joining hands we will be able to tackle this evil lurking in our communities. As women – the mothers, sisters and aunts of these boys and men – let’s not sit back and defend the indefensible when our children are involved in crime and abuse.

Let’s stop saying: “Owamu umntwana ngamfundisa kahle” (I have taught my child well), when there is a report of wrongdoing. Our young women do not have to bekezela when they find themselves in abusive relationships. We should instil in our sons that women deserve to be treated with respect. We are complicit in the continued brutalisation of women and children if we remain indifferent to how our sons are socialised.

We are adding to the problem if we endure abuse in our marriages or relationships because we don’t want to leave for the sake of the children or the material possessions. Think again, mfazi, because if you do this you are modelling to your children, both boys and girls, what relationships are about. The children will grow up thinking that this is the norm – and it is not.

This is our breaking point, a point of no return if we don’t act decisively. The future of this country depends on how we respond to the rampant rapes, assaults and murders of women and children.

The hashtags are a good starting point, but we have to take this debate off social media into our homes, workplaces, schools, churches, university campuses and into communities where the victims, survivors and perpetrators live.

I am starting on roadshows “Let’s Talk Jozi”, where as a Joburg community we will be defining our roles and responsibilities in eradicating this scourge. We will be talking about how we are going to hold each other accountable within the ambit of the law.

We are going to sign an accord pledging our allegiance and unwavering commitment to the protection of women and children in our society. As Mahatma Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”