More than 200 UCT students gather in front of the Saartjie Baartman Hall to pay tribute to murdered student Uyinene Mrwetyana. Picture: Phando/Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Parliament - The rape and murder of University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana while on a trip to the post office have many asking are women safe anywhere - it's a question that even MPs in the National Assembly could not answer as they expressed their collective outrage at the spate of gender based violence which continues to torment South Africans from all walks of life.

MPs were visibly emotional during the annual debate on Women's Day as they expressed fury over the murder of the 19-year-old by a post office worker while she had gone to do a simple chore like picking up a parcel.

Women's Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said government would invest in prevention programmes "where love and respect is included and inculcated in our children", where dialogue is chosen over violence.

"Unfortunately, most of our homes are war zones and domestic violence has reached epidemic proportions. Therefore we see the escalation of violence everywhere and we urgently need interventions in many families."

Democratic Alliance MP Nazley Sharif read out an open letter to women, calling for the unlearning of "toxic patriarchal systems and gender norms and roles".

"We must start expanding a society of consent that hears a women's NO and respects it without demanding access to her body or her emotions. We must start raising our children differently. When you tell your son that boys don't cry, you must toughen up what you doing is raising men who don't know how to deal with their emotions in a healthy manner and it is us women that have to deal with that toxic behaviour," Sharif said, asking MPs not to clap as it was nothing to celebrate.

"Dear Women, you are screaming and I know it feels like nobody hears you. The silence can be deafening. You are screaming at a system that has always and continues to keep you quiet but I am here to reassure you that your voice can never be silenced."

Economic Freedom Fighters' Mmabatho Mokause decried the fact that it was "business as usual" in Parliament while women and girl children were being raped and killed going about their daily business.

"For many women in this country, a simple journey to the post office, a short drive to the gym, a visit to a beloved uncle may very well lead to a bloody termination of their lives. There is nowhere to hide for women in this country, regardless of the socio-economic positions one may be in - all women are prey for the deeply vile man who feels entitled to the women's bodies," she said.

The time for talk is over, said Mokause.

"We can no longer fold our arms as lawmakers of this country. A number of things must be done - legislatively and operationally - to rid society of this deeply embedded hatred for women. We need to enforce education against patriarchy and sexism, complimented by legislation...." 

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Liezl van der Merwe said while she felt a deep despair, she was encouraged by Sierra Leone's president who earlier this year declared the prevalence of sexual violence against women and children a national emergency.

Van der Merwe said in South Africa MPs continued the talking with very little having changed since the last women's day debate a year ago.

"The reality is that nothing has changed since we last stood at this podium to debate women's day a year ago...because what is missing from these debates year after year is action, outrage, urgency, political will, change and resources," she said.

"We know that the system is failing our women, we know that NGOs and shelters go unfunded and we know police stations don't have rape kits. We know the scale of the crisis yet nothing has changed in the last year. 

"Like every other women in this country I have to ask you my government, am I next or will it be one of you?" she asked MPs in the ruling party benches.

African News Agency/ANA