I recently took up jogging. As a woman in South Africa (SA), a simple task such as jogging is never as straightforward as putting on your running shoes and heading out. You have to have a safety plan in place that is pre-emptively designed to find you, should you be subjected to any form of gender-based violence (GBV). My plan consists of me jogging with sufficient data loaded onto my phone, and a running app sharing my live location with a small community of trusted loved ones, and clutching a small can of pepper spray in hand. Be it jogging, walking, driving, or simply going to the grocery store, leaving a trace is sadly needed. These breadcrumbs serve as a trace should anything nefarious happen to us and are a lived reality for many women in SA. With 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children quickly approaching, let’s take a quick look at why this annual international campaign is sadly still needed.
Amnesty International South Africa has had enough of South Africa’s GBV epidemic. In 2020, as a part of Amnesty International’s Write for Rights, the largest annual human rights campaign, Amnesty International South Africa called the world to mobilize for accountability for Popi and Bongeka. Popi and Bongeka were two friends that were on their way to a night out in Soweto, Johannesburg. They hailed a minibus but after they were not heard from again, their bodies were found. Popi and Bongeka were murdered. The South African Police Service (SAPS) handled the investigation of the double murder with complete apathy and it was riddled with mistakes. Two taxi drivers were arrested on suspicion of the murders following the discovery of a blood-stained taxi. The two taxi drivers were also found to be in possession of a cell phone and lipstick belonging to the women. The calls of 341,106 petition signatures were heard with power and the case of Popi and Bongeka has been reopened and is currently in the hands of the National Prosecuting Authority.
On 19 November, Police Minister Bheki Cele released South Africa’s 2021 second quarter crime statistics. From 1 July 2021 to 30 September 2021 there were 9,556 reported rapes in the country. There was a 4.7% increase in sexual offences. Additionally, over 13,000 of the 72,762 cases of assault were cases of domestic violence. These are in addition to the already high and alarming rate of femicide in SA, which is almost 5 times the global average.
GBV spiked during the national lockdown. Gauteng Social Development MEC, Morakane Mosupye, recently revealed that South Africa’s government-run GBV Command Centre recorded more than 120,000 GBV cases in the first three weeks of the national lockdown in 2020. Why are we seeing such high level of violence against women?
South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, centred around human rights as explicitly stated in the Bill of Rights. However, for victims and survivors of GBV, the rights enshrined in the constitution may have little meaning. The country is struggling with dual pandemics: COVID-19 and GBV. This is a country that is at war with women; a war whereby a woman is reportedly killed every three hours on average.
We, at Amnesty International South Africa, believe that it takes ordinary people to do extraordinary things and we need to come together to fight GBV. With that very mindset, let us do something that is a part of our very fabric as a country, let us come together, join forces and mobilise for the women whose lives were stolen from them and us as a society. Let us remind the world that those we have lost to GBV should still be here, and survivors of GBV have a right to live a life of dignity, of the highest quality and with liberty. In efforts to eliminate the DNA of GBV, namely patriarchal norms, toxic masculinity and damaging stereotypes, let us come together and interrupt GBV in our homes, workplaces and communities. We also call on the South African Police Service to CARE. We call on you Minister Bheki Cele and your ministry to fight GBV by prioritising:
Capacity-building: By providing appropriate, mandatory, initial, and continuous training for all relevant professionals, including police and investigating officers, detectives, and other law enforcement officials who work with victims and survivors of gender-based violence. The training should include legal obligations (including the rights of non-nationals, explaining the rights to the victim, giving them the option to speak with a female officer, and taking them to a private room to give their statement); prevention and detection of cases; gender equality; rape myths; and harmful cultural and societal attitudes, beliefs and stereotypes.
Accountability: Setting performance targets that include ensuring all investigations are completed in an efficient, effective, comprehensive and sensitive manner.
Resource allocation: Officers and stations must have appropriate and adequate resources to investigate cases, including timely access to vehicles, appropriate testing kits and technology, victim-friendly rooms.
Efficiency: The quality and timeliness of effective, efficient and sensitive investigations must be improved, as well as the supervision of investigating officers.
Let us also remind the world that victims and survivors of GBV are #NotJustANumber. Amnesty International South Africa invites you to take part in our anti-GBV creative event at Constitution Hill on 25 November 2021. Here we will write out the names of victims and survivors of GBV with chalk and remind the world that they are #NotJustANumber, they are human beings.
As we mobilise for solidarity let us embody the great author and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s sentiments from her essay We should all be feminists: “Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. I am angry. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change. But I am hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better.”
Let us come together and remake ourselves and our society for the better. Let us play our part. For Popi Qwabe, Bongeka Phungula and all the women who have suffered from GBV.