Stale old platitudes won’t stop men killing women. We need ...

Ideas

Stale old platitudes won’t stop men killing women. We need radical ideas

SA has done wonders fighting coronavirus, but it has only thrown money and excuses at its femicide crisis

Columnist
Tshegofatso Pule is but the latest victim of SA's depressingly commonplace crime of gender-based violence.
Country of killers Tshegofatso Pule is but the latest victim of SA's depressingly commonplace crime of gender-based violence.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo/Sunday Times

Nothing that our government has done so far to halt the brutal murders of women in SA has worked. Last week it was the name of Tshegofatso Pule and other women who had been brutalised and murdered that was on the lips of politicians and on the front pages of newspapers. Last September it was University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana.

All of them were killed in cold blood by men in what has become a depressingly commonplace crime in our country. We are a country that kills women. We are a country where one half lives in fear not just of discrimination or attack, but of death at the hands of their partner, their neighbour, their lover or a random male stranger angry at rejection of his advances.

We need radical new ideas. We need radical new action. The same old platitudes will not work, just as they have not worked in the past.

Last October, President Cyril Ramaphosa told parliament that the government had found an additional R500m to fight gender-based violence. This new money had raised the gender-based violence emergency fund he had announced at an urgent parliamentary session in September to R1.6bn.

Ramaphosa’s action plan at the time included beefing up the criminal justice system, improving the legal and policy framework around sexual offences and other forms of gender-based violence, and empowering women economically.

“Those who are found guilty of such crimes should not be eligible for parole,” Ramaphosa said at the time. “And if sentenced to a life sentence, this must just mean what it is, life in prison.”

It hasn’t stopped the femicide pandemic. Over the weekend Ramaphosa was saying the manner in which women are killed pointed to an “unconscionable level of barbarism and lack of humanity”.

We need radical new action. First, we need mass re-education of men at all levels of our society. Second, we need to actually arrest and prosecute perpetrators of such crimes. At the moment abusers know they can get away with murder.

As a woman in SA, when you see a man you have no option but to factor in that they may be an abuser. This is how degraded we are. This is how terrible our world has become.

Think of all the extraordinary things our government has done since the coronavirus pandemic hit. Our law-enforcement agencies have opened more than 230,000 cases against ordinary citizens for breaking lockdown regulations. Basic education minister Angie Motshekga is making good (one hopes) on commitments to make rural schools have proper toilets and actually be worth learning at. Water minister Lindiwe Sisulu seems to be finding a way to finally give people water after all these years of corruption and sloth.

Ministers are finding money, finding experts, finding skilled workers, and actually solving the problems they should have solved in the past 26 years.

Yet, on one of the most pressing issues we face – gender-based murder – we are making little or no progress. According to AfricaCheck, the most recent data from 2017/18 showed that a woman is murdered every three hours in SA. It said SA had the fourth-highest female interpersonal violence death rate out of the 183 countries listed by the World Health Organisation in 2016.

Yet we keep doing what we have always done. It is time for radical new ideas and actions. Change will not come while men are molly-coddled by a government that excuses, aids and abets their actions. The truth is hard to swallow: men kill women, men perpetuate myths of superiority and patriarchy and men need to lead the fight against gender-based violence.

It is us men who are doing the maiming, the beating and the killing. It is the same people who chant that black lives matter and shout George Floyd’s name out loud who are, at the same time, going home and menacing and killing their female partners.

There just aren’t enough men talking loudly and clearly (as Ramaphosa does above and as the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Mbuyiseni Ndlozi often does) about the truth of the matter: as a woman in SA, when you see a man you have no option but to factor in that they may be an abuser. This is how degraded we are. This is how terrible our world has become.

Very few women and men actually believe crime of any nature will be solved in SA. When police minister Bheki Cele announced on Saturday that police were pursuing a suspect in Tshegofatso Pule’s murder case at the weekend many of us laughed. We’ve lost faith in the police and the criminal justice system.

Struggles are won by direct action. Two things need to happen urgently: widespread and ongoing re-education of men and very swift beefing up of the investigative capacity of the SAPS for cases of gender-based violence. This is our real, daily pandemic. It needs to stop.