“Instead of improving, it gets worse”: in South Africa, the scourge of violence against women

In orange bibs, women disperse in a township known for its criminality. They knock on doors, stop everyone passing by, even children returning from school. The task of these “gender-based violence brigades” in South Africa is Herculean. This scourge has been designated a priority by the government, which admits to being helpless.

The stories are chilling, the number of reported cases dizzying. A student cut into pieces packed into a suitcase. Another raped, clubbed to death. An eight month pregnant woman stabbed, found hanging from a tree … The list is long and constantly renewed. “We cannot stand idly by while waiting for justice to do its job”, sighs activist Juliet Ngonyama, 52. Especially since the violence has worsened since the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Two by two, the activists lecture everyone they meet, men and women. “Gender-based violence is abuse in various forms: emotional, physical, financial, psychological”, they recite.

“These numbers are a shame”

South Africa has an unenviable reputation for having one of the highest levels of violence against women in the world. More than 100 rapes are recorded every day and a woman is murdered every three hours, according to official figures. Between July and September, rapes increased by 7.1%, with 9,556 complaints registered. Not to mention the undeclared rapes.

“These numbers are a shame”exasperated President Cyril Ramaphosa in November, calling gender-based violence “Parallel pandemic” at Covid-19: “It is a relentless war waged against the bodies of women and which, despite our best efforts, shows no sign of appeasement. If the character of a nation can be judged by the way it treats women and children, then we are desperately off the mark. “

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The brigades were launched in August in the Johannesburg area “So that the victims are contacted at home via a door-to-door campaign”, explains the coordinator, Senosha Malesela, affirming that they made it possible to raise new complaints. That day, in the township of Rabie Ridge, neighbors reported a 22-year-old woman being abused by her brother. Too terrified to tell the details – he’s around – she slips her phone number: the brigades can call him later.

Women like them, trapped in the same space as their attackers, often find themselves in shelters. But the country has only a hundred, who sometimes receive little public money. The Nisaa Center, in the township of Lenasia, near Johannesburg, is the same age as South African democracy. Not a single day has it been empty since April 1994, says its 57-year-old manager, Gladys Mmadintsi: “Instead of getting better, it gets worse. “

In Cape Town, at the southern tip of the country, the Sainte-Anne refuge has also noted an increase in violence for two years. During a recent visit by AFP journalists, a woman arrived overnight. Another, with a baby and a child, in the morning. The lockdown has forced more women to flee their homes, explains its director, Joy Lange: “Before, victims could breathe when they went to work. “ Now, the level of violence and “Their intensity” increased.

“All the factors are explosive”

In September, Parliament passed three laws to strengthen the repressive arsenal. But for activists, this will not get to the roots of the problem. South African men often grow up without a father and have also suffered violence, explains Craig Wilkinson, founder of the Father a Nation association. With distorted notions of masculinity and rampant unemployment, “All the factors are explosive”.

“No law will be able to repair damaged, broken men”, he said, referring, among other things, to the aftermath of apartheid. The law alone is “Like putting a lid on a pressure cooker.” You have to manage the pressure, otherwise things go wild. ” And to add: “We must remind men of their value, repair them, teach them to use their strength” wisely.

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Violence against women is so trivialized that it is “Much more difficult for the victims to call for help and for others to come to their aid”, notes Sima Diai, from the Nisaa Center. It took Nathalie, 40, a refugee at the center for two months, ten years to escape her executioner, who broke her ribs with an iron bar.

Jacqueline, 29, has been in Sainte-Anne for nine months. It evokes “A guy who [l’a] beaten so hard [qu’elle s’est] hated for letting him do it “. She did not file a complaint but is relieved to have survived, “Because we all have a story to build”.

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The World with AFP

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“Instead of improving, it gets worse”: in South Africa, the scourge of violence against women