Kedibone Adams delves into the shocking spate of femicide and examines why social media has become pivotal to the debate on domestic violence
Every day in South Africa, nine women die at the hands of their partners or are killed by strangers, giving the country the unenviable reputation of having the highest rate of femicide in the world.
Add the fact that South African police deal with 60,000 reported rapes per year in the country, and you get a truly shocking picture of the immensity of the problem.
In November 2015 I personally experienced the reality of the femicide statistics when I received a call while I was at work. I was informed that one of my cousins had been shot dead by her husband. He had then turned the gun on himself, leaving their children parentless.
Not long after my cousin’s burial, amid indescribable scenes of grief within my extended family, I received another devastating news – one of my friends had been murdered by her partner!
I had been aware that my friend’s marriage had turned into a rollercoaster of beatings, psychological abuse and serious threats to her life. She had confided in me that she kept going back to her husband despite frequent beatings, because she was petrified of what he might do if she left him for good.
It later transpired that the last time she had gone back to her husband, after yet another domestic violence, he had raped her in front of her toddler before bludgeoning her to death.
The man had calmly called the police to hand himself over, leaving behind a toddler who was so traumatized by what he witnessed that he has frequent bouts of screaming; urging his late mother to run away!
It is difficult to understand why such ugly horrors have become the norm in a country as beautiful as South Africa, a country moreover with unfulfilled potential to boost its economic growth to a level far higher than the junk status the country’s currency dipped into recently.
With South Africa becoming a byword for femicide, now rated five times higher than in any other country, one of the worrying aspects of these murders is that only a handful of such cases have attracted enough media attention to prompt national debate.
The murder of women has become so commonplace that it is only when a particularly dramatic or gruesome murder captures the public’s imagination and triggers prolonged media interest that some soul searching among South Africans themselves becomes pertinent.
Regrettably, some of the killers have not been caught and some murder victims have not been easy to identify due to their bodies being burnt beyond recognition.
It is difficult to compile comprehensive statistics of violence against women in South Africa because a significant number of such cases go unreported. The issue is further complicated by the fact that police statistics on crime do not always always indicate domestic violence as a separate category.
Of late, public anger on spiralling femicide cases has prompted a growing campaign by women on social media and in public debates.
One of the most publicised cases in recent times is that of Karabo Mokoena, a 22 year old who went missing on the 28th of April this year. Her body was subsequently discovered burned beyond recognition the next day, but it took the police two weeks to link her to her family who had reported her missing.
Karabo’s alleged killer is her 27 year old boyfriend. This case has galvanized women to become more vocal about domestic violence by highlighting the issue through the campaign #MenAreTrash, which is trending on social media.
The campaign has also sparked a debate among men and women alike. Some men argue they are shouldn’t be labelled trash because the majority of men do not hurt their partners or condone abusive behaviour towards women.
On the other hand women involved in the campaign argue that the #MenAre Trash movement is aimed at fighting against patriarchy and overarching traditional attitudes that instil in men a sense of supremacy over the lives of women.
Men whose mothers, sisters and children have been affected by crime against women have also taken a stand against domestic violence with some openly supporting the #MenAre Trash movement. The campaign has also spawned the #NotInMyName campaign, shunning the abuse of women and children.
Below are some of the murder cases cases in South Africa that have sparked international interest:
Anni Dewani who on 13 November 2010 was kidnapped and killed in Gugulethu, Cape town, on her honeymoon night by three killers. The accused, her husband Shrien Dewani was subsequently cleared of murder due to insufficient evidence to prove he had hired his wife’s killers.
Reeva Steenkamp who on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 2013 was killed by well-known boyfriend and athlete Oscar Pistorius. In court Pistorius testified that he believed there was a burglar behind a closed bathroom door and did not realize that Reeva was in there.
Jayde Panayiotou who a day before was kidnapped and on 22 April 2015 was found murdered. Her body was left in a field in Kwanobuhle, Uitenage. Her alleged killer is her husband Christopher Panayiotou who is currently awaiting trial for her murder.
More recent cases of women killings that made it to social media since Karabo’s death include:
Chuma Ntsenge, the mother of a 4 year old was shot and killed by her partner.
A 15 year old girl identified as Nombuyiselo was discovered several days after she had been burnt to death in Klerksdorp, North West.
Over one week end, the bodies of four women, possibly raped, were found in an open field in Soweto. Three of those bodies have been identified as those of Poppie Qwabe, 24 and her friend Bongeka Phungula 28. The third body was identified as Lerato Moloi. However, the fourth body, burnt beyond recognition, has yet to be connected to any missing person on police files.
Sadly, the spate of killings has polarised opinion across South Africa, with some claiming on social media that some killings are due to women tolerating abusive relationships until it is too late to walk away.
What is indisputable however is that South Africa needs to get to grips with the unacceptable levels of domestic violence.
Many theories are being bandied about regarding strategies to curtail this form of violence. However, it seems reasonable that any nationwide programme of action should involve a multitude of institutions, including churches, homes and schools where children should be initiated from a very young age, to shun violence and the infringement of human rights in general.