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Cry the beloved women of South Africa

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander / African News Agency (ANA) – The sorry tale of gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa has no happy ending and the cries of women are growing even louder and more frantic every day, the writer says.

By Kim Heller

By all accounts, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s opening address at the recent Presidential Summit on gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide was well attuned to the severity and pain of these pandemics. But in the face of crisis, words, even those uttered in the most empathetic tones and even those by the first citizen of the country, offer little soothe.

For now, the sorry tale of gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa has no happy ending and the cries of women are growing even louder and more frantic every day.

These are the cries of baby girls, of virgin schoolgirls, of mothers, and of grandmothers, all of whom have been horribly violated by the ever-cruel monster of GBV or have forever lost loved ones to the fiend of femicide.

Violence against women in South Africa has climbed to such frightening, almost surreal heights that even the vilest scriptwriter of horror fiction would be repelled by the scale and savagery of it.

In his speech Ramaphosa spoke of how the shocking statistics on GBV and femicide tells “a story of a nation that is seemingly at war with itself but much worse; it is a story of a nation that is at war with the women of its country and the children of its country”.

Police records are alarming – in the first twelve weeks of 2022, 855 women and 243 girl children were killed. The wholesale slaughter of women and girls was up significantly year on year. This pandemic is spiralling out of control.

“Not a day goes by without a story of a woman or child that has lost their life or having been abused most horrendously,” Ramaphosa told attendees at the recent Summit.

The women of South Africa are under daily attack. The suites of preventive and support programmes, the emboldening of legislation, the lobbying and allocation of financial and support resources, the multi-party and multi-dimensional summits and work groups are simply not enough. Of course, these are all necessary actions to put a stop to the ugly hand of patriarchy.

Without doubt, these measures are a crucial source of support, comfort, and avenue to justice, to those who have been brutalised and dehumanised through GBV. These measures should all be considered mandatory if we are ever to rebalance a racial and gender hierarchy which has placed women, particularly African women, at the bottom, and to address the deep historical subjugation of women, particularly African women, thorough colonialism, and apartheid. These are all necessary initiatives for the revitalisation and restoration of the rights, dignity and well-being of women and children in South Africa,

But it is simply not enough. South Africa’s screaming crisis of gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa is unrelenting. It is a terror attack on women and the only fitting response is a war cry of urgent government-led action.

The theme of the recent Presidential Summit on gender-based violence and femicide was Accountability, Acceleration and Amplification, NOW! In his address, Ramaphosa said, “This is an accountability, Summit. What is required now is an accountability from government that has no full stop. Accountability means taking decisive action to reduce the horrific “body count”. It cannot be that year after year the battered bodies, broken souls and growing corpse of lifeless girls rise. This is the gravest insult and injury to South Africa’s women.

Nothing short of emergency action is required now. A 24/7 patrol of hot-spots and emergency monitoring and response in every community, in partnership with churches, schools and community organisations should be put in place with immediate effect, until this societal evil is arrested, and put to death. This is the nationwide declaration of war on gender-based violence and femicide required from the President, and governing party (the African National Congress), not tomorrow or at the next Summit, but today.

At the recent Summit, the first lady of Namibia, Ms Monica Geingos spoke of how gender-based violence and femicide has become normalised in society. She posed a salient question at the Summit. “How do we expect to shape the future without addressing the way children are being shaped and influenced?”

Accountability is more than immediate action, if we are to put an end to the seemingly never-ending story of GBV and femicide. It is about building a society that reveres its women and girl children. It is about normalising women participation in and leadership across all spectra of society. It is about giving pride of place to women in our society, who have, too often been assigned to the side-alleys. It is about the right value and attitudinal thought-scape on matters of gender. It is about teaching young girls that they are not less. It is about teaching young boys too.

In an excellent thought piece in the Mail & Guardian newspaper, on July 27, 2022, the Deputy Secretary General of the EFF, Poppy Mailola wrote: “patriarchy and sexism are pervasive in our society and as such have been relentless in challenging toxic and abusive belief systems”. She says that “GBV thrives in a society such as ours, where economic and social reality does not match the promises laid out in the Constitution.”

Mailola adds: “Addressing the root causes of GBV should become a permanent agenda rather than a reactive measure of the ruling party. The government must prioritise the pandemic on women and children.”

The NDP goal of achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030 is nowhere in sight. Right now, the situation is dire. The cries and screams of women and girls in South Africa has almost become the country’s twelve official language. It is the dialect of a failing democracy.

Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’

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