Hashtags, slogans, summits, activism and protests have not helped to keep women safe. Our government and society are crippled by an inability to protect women, writes Nthabi Nhlapo.
One of the first times I encountered the heart-wrenching stories of violence against women in this country was as a news journalist almost 15 years ago with the death of Francis Rasuge.
The police constable had gone missing in 2004 and her remains found around eight years later at her killer’s home by construction workers.
The untold story of victims of these violent crimes, such as Francis, is the scars that are left for their loved ones to live with. In this case, Francis’ twin sister, their mother and father, sister, brother and others were subjected to secondary pain and trauma as they had to stand as witnesses in the case against her former lover William Nkuna. He was later convicted of the crime before her body was found, and without ever admitting to the killing.
And had it not been for those construction workers, the Rasuge family would not have found closure.
According to case records, she had a protection order against her killer for threatening to kill her. Before that, she had laid a charge of rape against him, which she later withdrew. See the judgment in the case here.
Evidently, this is a dangerous man, and many like him roam the streets every day. More stringent policing may have spared Francis’ life.
In varying degrees, an entire community died with Francis.
This was not the first case of femicide/gender-based violence in this country; neither would it be the last. We have a legacy of violence against women and with time, it gets worse.
Since then, we’ve had numerous instances of women, young and old, who’ve had their lives violently snuffed out of them by heartless criminals. Some have been convicted and incarcerated, though they often get sentences that resemble far less than a slap on the wrist.
Others continue their killing sprees and roam the streets, unbothered.
Since Francis, we have seen the killings of dozens of women, like 22-year-old Karabo Mokoena, who was murdered by Sandile Mantsoe, and her burnt body disposed of in garbage bins.
Sparking outrage and nationwide protests last year, Uyinene Mrwetyana was raped and killed at just 19 years old by Luyanda Botha.
During her attack, the University of Cape Town student tried to fight her killer off but failed.
More recently, Tshegofatso Pule was killed in cold blood at 28 years old and eight months pregnant. Her killer left her expectant body hanging from a tree.
As expected, women are in mourning with the Pule family – they are angry, scared and alone.
Each time they take to the streets begging for help, yet nothing tangible ever happens. Women remain unsafe, unprotected and accessible for slaughter.
Moreover, the death of victims of heinous crimes against women affects a host of other people who have to live with the pain of what happened for the rest of their lives. Along with the victim, their family and loved ones fall like dominoes too, one after the other as they grapple with losing a family member so violently.
Last year, when Uyinene died, I spoke to Karabo Mokoena’s mother and sister, who shared that despite Mantsoe being sentenced, their pain remained raw and Uyinene’s death had reopened the wounds of Karabo’s death. Needless to say, Tshegofatso’s death has done the same too.
At the time of the interview, Bontle Mokoena, Karabo’s sister, shared the sentiments of many women. “Something must be done to tackle the sense of entitlement men have over women’s lives and bodies.”
Sadly, her voice and those of millions of women across the country remain unheard. South Africa has the highest rate of rape in the world, and three women are killed by their male partners daily.
Violence against women has increased during the Covid-19 lockdown, and many find themselves stuck at home with their potential murderers. Yet, we are offered only a half-hearted acknowledgement in major government briefings – and no follow-through.
Hashtags, slogans, summits, activism and protests have not helped to keep women safe. Our government and society are crippled by an inability to protect women. Until when will we continue to be killed?
– Nthabi Nhlapo is the editor of W24.