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Tracing roots to remedy the scourge

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Picture: Supplied – Gender-based violence (GBV) activists, social workers and the family of Nkosikhona Zondo, 27, picketed outside the Richmond Magistrate’s Court where the man suspected of killing her appeared. The common occurrence of GBV in South Africa is largely due to the formal systems of social inequality, racism, and patriarchy that come from the colonial and apartheid periods and whose legacies continue today.

By Zanele Zuma

The gender-based violence (GBV) experienced in almost all facets of life indicates that South Africa is a violence-prone country. The abuse and brutal killings of women, girls and LGBTQI+ people in the private space of the home and the public space at work, in places of worship, in the entertainment space and in learning institutions attest to the notion that South Africa is an unsafe country.

Older people and people with disabilities are not excluded from these cruel experiences, as media coverage reports reveal cases of elderly women raped and sometimes killed at their homes. While GBV affects global communities, research demonstrates that South Africa bears the highest prevalence, where one in every three women and girls has experienced some form of GBV.

Furthermore, research reveals that GBV disproportionately affects women and girls. Men’s violence against women remains a pervasive feature of life in every country in the world. The upsurge in the killing of women and young girls is worrisome, as such, South Africa has become an unsafe place for its people.

People live in fear of their safety as frequent violent acts and random killings take their toll. South Africa is ranked among the most violent countries in the world, resulting in far-reaching effects on its entire population. It is imperative, therefore, to trace the sources of violence to understand the current state and the need to make inferences for the future state of South Africa. South Africa has been exposed to violence in different forms in its history.

The common occurrence of GBV in South Africa is largely due to the formal systems of social inequality, racism, and patriarchy that come from the colonial and apartheid periods and whose legacies continue today.

Gender-based violence occurs because of normative role expectations and unequal power relationships between genders in society. The power imbalance and the humiliation of a person with an intention to subordinate characterises the elements of violence.

The same elements formed the fundamental basis of the colonial and apartheid eras in South Africa. It is mainly during these eras that violent behaviour was entrenched and normalised, either as a means to enforce authority or as a survival means.

Violence became a common factor for the perpetrators and the victims. Unfortunately, post these colonial and apartheid eras, no rehabilitation measures were taken to recover and restore both the attitude and the minds of people.

The psycho-social state of the people still suffers the effects of violent acts to this day and, as such, has normalised violence as though it is part of their lives.

Historically, women suffered from exclusion and had no voice in the public space. They occupied a secondary position in society, secluded in the private space of the home.

The power dynamics in the private space have relegated women’s voices to a subordinate position, which may presumably be identified as the normalisation of pain in contemporary discourse. This silencing of women’s experiences ensures that women’s suffering and harassment are kept within themselves as a private matter.

While this attitude in women may be an indication of a psychological deficit that need needs to be addressed, it also elucidates that several GBV cases remain unreported. Cases of rape, kidnapping, serial killings, sexual partner violence and suicide cases, among others, indicate the prevalence of the scourge of GBV.

The effects of violent experiences inflicted on women are fear and men’s hegemony. It is a demonstration of men’s power and women’s subordination so that authority remains a man’s sphere of influence.

Our history of violence bears testimony to the violence that is directed at women today. It evokes what economist and philosopher Adam Smith refers to as astonishing depths of alienation and anger that women experienced in their encounters with oppression, rape, harassment, sexism, violence and others.

There is, thus, a compelling need to explicitly uncover the past events in the context of South Africa and find out how it correlates with the present state of violence. The uprooting process should partly involve the acknowledgement and acceptance of women in the public domain and the realisation that in the process of hurting others, men became victims who are also in need of rehabilitation programmes if we envisage a country that is free of violence.

Unveiling the past can benefit the intervention strategies that are aimed at addressing the scourge of GBV that is escalating at an alarming rate in South Africa.

Focusing mainly on helping victims and neglecting the dire need to cure the perpetrators bears the worst implications for South Africa’s fight against the GBV pandemic.

Dr Zanele Zuma – The School of Public Health at Wits University