We need the spirit of youth of 1976 to fight gender-based violence in SA
Tshegofatso Pule, 28, was murdered in Roodepoort, Gauteng, and Naledi Phangindawo, 25, in Mossel Bay, Western Cape while the country was under lockdown.
The youth of 1976 fought a different struggle to what those of today fight. All those years ago they took to the streets, opposing the apartheid regime for imposing Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.
It has been 44 years since the student uprising that saw hundreds of young people mowed down by the apartheid regime. This led to hundreds more going into exile to swell the ranks of the liberation movements.
With Covid-19 battering the globe, South Africa has not been spared the severe impact of the virus.
But women face an additional struggle - one of violence.
The police have indicated there has been an increase in the number of gender-based violence cases during the lockdown.
The youth of 1976 took to the streets to fight a battle that was going to free all South Africans, irrespective of race, colour or creed.
But today, women suffer in silence and some of them end up dead before their time.
Just how vicious gender-based violence can be hit home for the uncle of Tshegofatso Pule, who was eight months pregnant when she was stabbed several times and hanged from a tree.
Her uncle, Tumisang Katake, told mourners at her funeral in Soweto this week that he would no longer represent abusers.
Katake was one of the lawyers who represented Sandile Mantsoe in 2018. Mantsoe was on trial for killing his ex-girlfriend Karabo Mokoena, 22. Mantsoe was convicted and sentenced to 32 years in jail.
Katake said his niece’s murder had broken him.
“Tshego is Karabo Mokoena today. I now know how it feels. I now know what the family of Karabo went through.
“Yes, I did my job, but I now know what it feels like for the family.
“And from this day on if you come to me and say you have raped, go to hell. You come to me and say you have killed your girlfriend, go to hell. You come to me and say you have molested a child I don’t care, go to hell,” said Katake.
These are trying times for women and the nation to be able to adequately respond to the scourge of gender-based violence. The government has pledged billions of rand in the fight, and set up a task team to deal with the crisis.
But still Pule and Phangindawo have added to the number of women killed.
Once released, the annual crime statistics will give a fuller picture of what has been happening behind closed doors during the lockdown, although Police Minister Bheki Cele has said there has been an increase in reported cases of gender-based violence during this period.
This is a fight that we are far from winning.
The government has been slammed for its slack response and for failing to put appropriate measures in place.
Some of the interventions it did implement included passing laws that would deny bail to the accused and imposing tough sentences on those found guilty of gender-based violence.
But activists have warned that the fight is far from over while the number of women and children killed by close family members remain high year after year.
While the generation of 1976 has moved to playing a leading role in society since the dawn of democracy, the current generation of women and girls face the reality of having their lives cut short by the people they trust.
It is a tough situation for many people. Women have to look over their shoulders every time they walk out of their homes to work or other places to seek better opportunities for themselves and their children. It is worse when they are attacked at home and even killed by the people who are supposed to protect them.
These are tough times for a country that needs to implement serious and effective measures to fight gender-based violence.
One of the things that has been done is to re-establish the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit, but its impact is yet to be felt on the ground.
Non-governmental organisations are stretched to the limit and crying for more help during the lockdown, as sources of funding dry up amid a massive increase in their workload.
The organisations have warned that they will not cope if the government does not intervene.
The last crime statistics Cele released in September showed that the rape and murder of women and children were high and showed no signs of abating.
The number of women killed during the 2018/19 period stood at 2 771. More than 41 000 women were raped and 1 014 children killed.
This shows a country in crisis, battling to find a solution.
These statistics are alarming, and South Africa and the rest of the world are horrified.
But for the ordinary women and children who face the onslaught of violence and murder, they are not mere statistics. They are mothers and son’s and daughters of their families.
These are hard realities we have to deal with.
When Pule left home more than a week ago, her family never thought they would get that dreaded phone call from the police to identify her in a cold morgue.
A few months ago a woman in Durban was also allegedly killed by her boyfriend. Sinetmemba Ngubo, 26, was also pregnant, with Simiso Chonco’s.
He allegedly strangled her and dumped her body in a cemetery in Durban. Ngubo’s boyfriend is on trial in the High Court in Durban.
These are senseless killings that continues to shock the country because of the nature of the violence meted out on defenceless women and children.
There is no glimmer of hope that gender-based violence will come to an end soon.
It is against this backdrop that more drastic measures are needed to help save the current generation.
On Tuesday, we celebrate the heroes of June 1976 who led from the front against the apartheid system. This was a generation that sacrificed everything to free this country from the bondage of apartheid.
Women and girls today face a new struggle, one that leaves them living in constant fear of whether they will be the next to die.
This is a society that has condemned women to a life of misery with no hope for the future. They live in the shadows of their partners who wait in their wings to strike and kill them with such fierce violence.
This is a society that has not been able to rein in the perpetrators. They continue to fill our prisons, and women continue to live in fear of death every day.
The time has come for society to stand up against this violence. It is only through the public’s intervention that those behind gender-based violence can be unmasked.
We need a generation of 1976 and its spirit to fight this scourge.
* Siyabonga Mkhwanazi is a senior political writer.