Stop the Killings – We Must End Violence Against Women. 17/5/2017

Published by TAC

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is outraged and distressed by the violent killings of Karabo Mokoena, Nonki Smous, Tambai Lerato Moloi, Popi Qwabe, Bongeka Phungula, Mananki Annah Boys, Jeannette Cindi, Sthembile Mdluli, Mavis Mabala, Priska Schalk, Nicola Pienaar, Akhona Njokana, Thapelo Ramorotong, Meisie Molefe, Stasha Arendse, Iyapha Yamile, and many other women and young girls who have been killed in recent weeks. A report released this week from Stats SA echoes this alarming trend of abuse in our society – stating that one in five women experience physical violence in their lives, rising to one in three for the poorest households. We send our deep and heartfelt condolences to each woman and young girls’ family and friends – and to all others who have lost loved ones.

23 years after the onset of democracy, women in South Africa continue to face disturbing levels of oppression, violence and injustice – be it in the streets, in the workplace, travelling in taxis, or in our homes. The South African Constitution guarantees equality and freedom for all regardless of sex, gender, or sexual orientation – however across the country reports of murder, rape – including spousal rape and the so called ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians, harassment, domestic violence and sexual violence is worryingly prevalent.

"Karabo's killing showed us the reality of these Constitutional guarantees that remain only on paper for the vast majority of women in our country. Nonki's rape and murder last month, her burnt body identified only through DNA testing, showed us the brutal nature of hate crimes against the LGBTQIA community in South Africa. These killings are horrific. They point to a society that has been allowed to hate it’s women. Did we only fight for the freedom of men during the struggle? Many men think they own us – but isn’t slavery supposed to be over? Our Constitution doesn’t allow you to buy people and take away their rights,” said Sibongile Tshabalala, TAC Deputy General Secretary. “Eudy Simelane, Noxolo Nogwaza, Nandipha Makeke, and many others, and now Karabo Mokoena, Nonki Smous and countless more. How long will this violence against women and gender non-binary people continue?”

“As young women, we must educate ourselves. Knowing our rights helps us stand up against male dominance and older people making choices for us – whether that’s being interrupted in the meeting room, forced to have the contraceptive implant, or being coerced into sex,” said Leonora Mathe, a youth representative from TAC Gauteng. “However, learning to speak up or say “no” does little good if our voices are ignored or not respected. Most people agree that rape, abuse and murder are totally wrong – but everyday actions that oppress us and the widely-held belief that women should defer to men, don’t get much criticism at all. These acts of patriarchy also need to be dealt with to ensure equality in everyday life.”

“If we truly believe in an equal and a just society we will do things very differently as men. We will not accept it when other men discriminate against women. We will not remain silent when men say things that objectify or undermine women. We will constantly interrogate our own actions and privileges to understand how we contribute to the disempowerment and control of women. We will refuse to hide behind our various cultures and traditions – equality and respect for women is more important than any culture,” said Anele Yawa, TAC General Secretary.

“Not long ago I was attacked with a panga near my home – the police didn’t do much to find the man responsible. I don’t know if this attack was because I’m a lesbian – it could have been. Other attacks and abuse I faced from men in the past clearly were because of this. Even last night I feared for my life during an attack and received no help from the police. Tragically many more queer women are attacked and don’t live to see another day,” said Nkhensani Mavasa, TAC National Chairperson. “If the government is truly committed to protecting the rights of all people equally, then leaders must address the specific motives targeting the LGBTQIA community in these hate crimes."

Unfortunately the rape and murder of women is nothing new in South Africa. TAC, the Social Justice Coalition, Sonke Gender Justice, and a number of other organisations have worked over more than a decade to improve the criminal justice system and to change gender norms in society.

We recognise that the problem of patriarchy, homophobia and violence against women in our society is complex, deeply entrenched and has no quick solutions. But that is no excuse for inaction.

We do not need to reinvent the wheel. We must learn from the important work of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry that has already examined many of these issues. Government must implement the Commission’s recommendations and use them as a template for the rest of the country. This must include more equitable distribution of police resources and a commitment to progressive reform of the criminal justice system.

But beyond the urgent work that must be done regarding our failing criminal justice system, we need government and all leaders in society including organisations such as the ANC Women’s League, to show concrete leadership in ensuring meaningful equality for women in all spheres of our society. This leadership has unfortunately been lacking in recent years – as was clear from some of the resistance to the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry and from many of the public comments regarding Fezekile ‘Khwezi’ Kuzwayo – the woman who President Jacob Zuma was accused of raping. Minister of Women Susan Shabangu could have shown true commitment and leadership in establishing a fully funded National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence – however instead she sidelined the proposals at the ongoing expense of women’s lives.