A few weeks ago, South Africa was in a state of uprising.
A first-year student from the University of Cape Town (UCT), had been missing since the 24th of August 2019. Her picture had been posted and reposted across the various social media platforms in an attempt to raise awareness and find her. Together with her family, we unfortunately learnt that she had been raped and brutally murdered by a Post Office official on the very day she went missing, when she went to collect a parcel at the Post Office.
During this time, it felt like the slow fire that was edging towards South Africa had finally reached it and was consuming it. The flame had come too close this time, and the fumes were suffocating us. Gender-Based Violence (GBV) fanned the embers into a full-blown fire.
GBV is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon in South Africa. It is a deep-rooted social issue that is complex and messy and generational. My personal belief is that GBV is deeply rooted in characteristics of colonialism, apartheid, African traditional systems, economics, and norms and practices that we have deemed as socially acceptable, and which we have labelled as ‘culture.’
You might be asking yourself, So, if GBV is a ‘norm’ in SA, then why the uproar following the death of the UCT student? It happens all the time right?
Just because something is accepted, doesn’t mean it’s right!
Many say GBV victims bring this onto themselves either by wearing something ‘inappropriate’, being ‘loose’, having the ‘wrong’ partner, being in the ‘wrong place’, and the list just keeps going. You know the narrative I’m talking about.
My view is that our Post Office victim was running an everyday errand, going about her business. She went to the Post Office to collect a parcel she was expecting, yet she didn’t come out alive. The Post Office is equivalent to the bank, a shopping mall, your gym – places you take for granted are “safe”.
Collecting a package is the equivalent of making a deposit, grocery shopping, or going for a workout. It is an errand or activity that we all do. In addition to this, she was a beautiful, intelligent and confident young woman who came from a good family, and who was just embarking on one of the greatest seasons of her life.
So, here was this young woman who didn’t fit into any of the prescribed narratives yet she became a victim of GBV. It was a very in-your-face reminder that it can happen to ANYONE. Unfortunately, it is the girls and women that are most vulnerable, and so it can happen to ANY GIRL or WOMAN.
Like many women that week, I was angry, upset and emotional. On the one hand, I wanted to take up arms and hit the streets (what I was going to do on the street with arms in hand, I don’t know), while on the other hand, I felt utterly helpless.
I also noticed that the men around me were exceptionally silent on this issue. During a conversation with one of my male friends, it seemed that a part of his silence was that he didn’t know what to do or how to do it. This made me think that maybe the other men were in the same position. So, in an attempt to help the men, I sent them a message where I humbly requested that they come together to find ways to address GBV. I also asked them to “please help protect us”. I don’t know if my expectations were too high, but Yho was I disappointed. Without getting into the detail, it became crystal clear that as women, we are on our own (at least for the foreseeable future).
Another stark observation I made, is that amongst the women, the outcry seemed to be the loudest amongst women of colour, particularly the black women. After some thought, I realised an outcry is a response to something that has occurred and the subsequent impact on a particular person/people. What has happened is the abuse, rape and murder of women. The manner or level at which a person responds to anything is proportional to their personal experience with it, whether direct or indirect.
So, with the outcry (response) being mostly women of colour, especially black women, suggesting that these were the women most impacted by GBV. This means that they either have a direct or indirect experience with GBV. Gosh! Is my observation correct? Is this yet another unfortunate and sad reflection of the race dynamics in South Africa?
My intention for this post was to almost document the current atmosphere but it has turned into a bit of a glum post. I had planned to end it on a positive note, with a positive take away, but reaIise that, at this point in time, I have no positive take away. And perhaps trying to create a positive take away would diminish the seriousness of GBV and impact on our society.
How does the topic on GBV make you feel? What are your observations and views on how we are dealing with this as a people and as a country?
I’m interested to hear your thoughts and views so please comment below.