South Africa’s president says it has been a “dark and shameful week” for his country following a surge in violence against women.
Cyril Ramaphosa’s remarks come after several femicides, including one woman who was eight months pregnant and found stabbed and hanging from a tree.
He noted they had occurred since some coronavirus restrictions were lifted, including a ban on the sale of alcohol.
The culture of silence around gender-based violence had to end, he said.
“Gender-based violence thrives in a climate of silence. With our silence, by looking the other way because we believe it is a personal or family matter, we become complicit in this most insidious of crimes,” President Ramaphosa said.
As many as 51% of women in South Africa had experienced violence at the hands of someone they were in a relationship with, the president’s statement said.
Calls for justice
Mr Ramaphosa condemned the brutality of recent killings, naming three of the victims, two of whom have become the subject of Twitter campaigns calling for justice:
- Tshegofatso Pule – #JusticeForTshego began trending after the pregnant 28-year-old was found hanging from a tree in Johannesburg on Monday. No arrests have been made yet.
- Naledi Phangindawo – the 25-year-old was stabbed to death in the harbour city of Mossel Bay last Saturday. Those using the hashtag #JusticeforNaledi want the suspect, who is now in police custody, to be denied bail. He is believed to be her partner.
The president said another young woman had been dumped under a tree in Johannesburg’s Soweto township on Friday.
Police later named her as Sanele Mfaba, sparking another hashtag that began trending on Saturday – #JusticeforSanelisiwe – calling for more to be done to protect women.
South Africa’s gender crime crisis
“The manner in which these defenceless women were killed points to an unconscionable level of barbarism and lack of humanity,” the president’s statement said.
“We note with disgust that at a time when the country is facing the gravest of threats from the [coronavirus] pandemic, violent men are taking advantage of the eased restrictions on movement to attack women and children.”
For two months, South Africa had one of the toughest lockdowns in the world.
“It is a dark and shameful week for us as a nation. Criminals have descended to even greater depths of cruelty and callousness. It simply cannot continue”
During that time alcohol was banned – it was argued that this would limit domestic abuse, prevent violence and ease pressure on hospitals.
On Thursday, Police Minister Bheki Cele linked rising crime to the partial lifting of alcohol sales on 1 June.
‘Most dangerous place for a woman’
President Ramaphosa said he was deploying ministers to meet with community leaders nationwide to understand what exactly was fuelling the increase in crime.
“We need to understand what factors are fuelling this terrible trend and, as society as a whole, address them urgently,” he said.
Referencing a recent case where a man could not be prosecuted for allegedly murdering his girlfriend because of a lack of evidence, he urged people to report perpetrators.
“For public faith in the criminal justice system to be maintained, gender-based violence needs to be treated with the urgency it deserves by our communities working together with our police,” he said.
Following an outcry over a spate of femicides last year, President Ramaphosa had said South Africa was one of “the most unsafe places in the world to be a woman”.
Since then special sexual offences courts have reopened – they have worked intermittently over recent years because of funding difficulties.
More resources have also been directed towards both places of safety for survivors of abuse, as well as government-funded programmes aimed at changing men’s behaviour.