I begin this article with a trigger warning: the content below divulges in matters of womxn’s assault, rape and killing by men. It tells stories of womxn you may know and they aren’t pretty. This was not easy to write as it is a very scary and sensitive time for womxn who, like me, are asking themselves, “Am I next?”
It is with deep regret and worry that I write: to be a womxn in South Africa is to fear for your life every single day. The femicide conversation remains a staple in our national dialogue, which is horrifying for two reasons. Firstly, it is perpetually triggering. Apart from living with a constant overriding fear, we are further burdened with having to open up or be re-introduced to horrifying, real life trauma. Secondly, and more importantly, even in the swells of protest action, awareness and ‘dialogue’, men continue to get away with heinous crimes against womxn. With a femicide rate of 1 in 5, this is no longer just a ‘cause for concern’- it’s a mass killing in full-blown crisis mode. It’s time to do away with the euphemisms and change the conversation.
A body was found in Lingelethu West, Kayelitsha this past Saturday and yesterday, it confirmed the end of a week-long search for 19 year-old UCT student, Uyinene Mrwetyana. She was at the post office when she was assaulted in broad daylight, raped and later, killed by a 42 year-old man named Luyanda Botha. The Facebook and Twitter-popularized case had thousands all over the country sharing her photo, hopeful for her return. In many respects, Uyinene is a martyr. Her passing started a butterfly effect that had hundreds of women and allies exposing rapists and perpetrators of sexual assault on public platforms such as ‘HelpingSurvivers’: a Twitter account aimed at giving womxn a space to anonymously report their rapists. As her family, close friends and fellow students enter a very painful time of mourning; women around the country are, yet again, left with heavy hearts, disbelief and fear over their lives. This time, women and victims are initiating a shift away from what it is they should be doing to protect themselves from citizens who shouldn’t be allowed to pose as a threat to them in the first place. The year is 2019- we need to abandon any and all conversation that holds victims liable for their own endangerment. It is confirmed, time and time again, that womxn are no safer from men’s violence when they walk in daylight, walk in groups or cover up. If there were any truth to this insistent message, the state of womxn’s safety wouldn’t be this dire.
We live in a world where men limit their care for womxn’s safety to those they are related to or womxn who they love. If you don’t fall in that man’s category, you feel like a target. All womxn matter and all of them are in danger. Injecting almost all South African womxn with a strain of post-traumatic stress, our justice system fails to hold men accountable for their actions with the same vigour that they hold womxn accountable for their traumas. In 2017, the South African Medical Research Council released that “every 8 hours, a woman is murdered by their partner; 95% of whom are male.” And 2017 was recently reported “the worst year of South African femicide” by SABC. In the same year, Mexico was declared “the most dangerous country to be a woman” and even then, the numbers weren’t even half of what they are in South Africa.
Womxn declare that the conversation shift toward holding men more accountable. This isn’t a time for a ‘not all men’ stance; it’s a time for all men to speak on what they could be doing to stop the men around them from perpetuating rape culture. Rape culture, like any culture, is rooted in language, social interaction, music and art. The language, social interaction, music and art around how we treat womxn’s bodies needs to change from men. If staying away from the dark, walking in groups and wearing long pants is how we’re meant to ‘protect’ ourselves from men, it most certainly hasn’t worked.