Fear grips women in South Africa over femicide


22 May 2017 | by
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Fear grips women in South Africa over femicide

A white coffin carries the remains of Karabo Mokoena. Her friends and family have gathered to say an untimely goodbye to their loved one.

She was found dead, burnt beyond recognition and buried in a shallow grave in a deserted field, several days after she went missing.

It is alleged that her boyfriend Sandile Mantsoe doused her body with acid and then set her alight when she threatened to leave him.

Mr Mantsoe has been charged with murder and defeating the ends of justice but has not pleaded.

The 22-year-old's death is the most recent case of femicide to have sparked public outrage.

She was buried in Johannesburg's Soweto township.

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Gender violence in South Africa

  • 1 in 5 women are assaulted by their partner
  • More than 40,000 cases of rape are reported every year, most of the victims are female
  • Femicide in South Africa is 5 times higher than the global average

Source: Medical Research Council 2009 study; Stats SA Demographic and Health Survey 2016

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Adele Tjale, one of the thousands of mourners gathered at her memorial, was visibly angered by her death.

She is a leader in a church Ms Mokoena attended and has been described as her "spiritual mother".

"I'm livid, this cannot be the norm, too many girls are dying… the fathers of this nation have failed the girl child," she said as tears rolled down her face.

Since Ms Mokoena's death, the bodies of four more women have been found in different parts of the country - all had died in similarly horrific ways.

The spate of these brutal crimes has generated a lot of comment on social media. Women have used the hashtag #MenAreTrash to share stories of domestic violence.

'If I didn't jump, I was going to die'

It has brought to light a series of gut-wrenching tales of near-death experiences. One such story was Bukelwa Moerane's.

One evening in February, she was abducted at a Soweto taxi rank by a stranger on her way back from a shopping trip.

"A man walked up behind me and told me to get into his car and not try anything stupid," said the 24-year-old who lost some of her teeth and was left badly scarred after the incident.

"He kept swearing at me, calling me names and told me he was going to rape and kill me.

"I knew I had to find a way out of this mess," she told me while nervously cracking her knuckles.

Ms Moerane managed to jump out of the speeding car and run for a few kilometres to call for help.

But no-one has been arrested.

"If I didn't jump, I knew I was going to die. I was willing to die while fighting for my life," she said as she choked back tears.

Deadly cycle?

President Jacob Zuma described "the manner in which women and children are being killed" as a "crisis in the country".

He urged victims of gender violence not to turn a blind eye to the problem and added that he would consider calls for harsher sentences for sex offenders.

2016 study by Statistics SA found that 1 in 5 women report that they have experienced violence at the hands of a partner.

Furthermore it found that 8% of women reported experiencing violence in the previous 12-month period, while 6% reported sexual violence by a partner.

Women hold signs during a protest against ongoing violence against women, in Gugulethu, on May 21, 2016, about 20 Km from the centre of Cape Town.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionSouth Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world

While there is renewed public outrage about the spate of violence against women, it is not a new problem.

"This is one of our episodic outbreaks of memory interspersed with amnesia," said Lisa Vetten, a researcher into gender-based violence at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

"I'm sure this one will die down and the country will be outraged again when this crops up again."

Sonke Gender Justice, a Johannesburg-based NGO that focuses on tackling the issue, has been organising workshops for both men and women in several parts of the country to raise awareness.

But will men talk? It would appear so.

At the workshop I attended in Soweto, some were justifying reasons for physically abusing their partners.

"Women are very stubborn, they're pushy and there are limits to what a woman can get away with when she talks to me… I end up lifting my hand to command respect," said Mzwakhe Ndhlovu.

But a woman, who was also a taking part, disagreed.

"I lost respect for my partner after he hit me - everything I did from that day on was out of fear and not respect," said Philile Nkumane.

In Johannesburg, a group of men gather in an a workshop to teach men how to treat women
Image captionThese men took part in a workshop on tackling gender-based violence

Most agree that changing attitudes will not be easy.

"Outrage is not sufficient, there's no app or quick-fix solution, this problem needs ongoing attention" said Ms Vetten.

Despite the fact that, according to a 2009 study, on average three women are killed by their partners every day in South Africa, the conviction rate for such cases remains very low.

Just as the friends of Karabo Mokoena continue to ask why she had to die in such a brutal way, so parents across South Africa are asking what more can be done to keep their daughters safe.

But many women are living in fear and asking themselves: "Will I be next?"


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