Unemployment, depression, jealousy, a patriarchal society, alcohol and drug abuse are a deadly cocktail that has claimed the lives of hundreds in South Africa - mainly women and children.

In the past six days alone, 13 people in the Western Cape have died in family killings, including eight at the weekend.

Research by the Medical Research Council, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and the University of Cape Town found that the rate of murders of South African women by their intimate partners is the highest in the world.

One woman is killed by her partner every six hours. Yet slightly less than a third of men who kill their wives or girlfriends are convicted of murder. Nearly 70 percent escape punishment because of lack of evidence.

Researchers say the country's high "intimate femicide" rates are an indictment of a deeply patriarchal society. They allege that women who attempt to leave abusive relationships are often left "as good as dead" by ineffective implementation of court protection orders and police apathy about domestic violence.

Psychiatrist Konrad Czech said depression, substance abuse and personality type might lead someone to kill his family before taking his life.

"South Africa is a country under a lot of stress. There are many depressed people. If someone is severely depressed and doesn't get treatment, they might feel that there is no point in living."

He added: "Shifting patterns in the country's demographics and lack of work are problems. Things are changing rapidly in the country and many people feel that they have no future."

Czech, who often deals with people who threaten suicide or homicide, said people with "authoritarian" personalities and severe depression could end up killing their families as well as themselves if they reached a point of no return.

"This (type of) person holds very authoritarian views, and their families are not seen as separate entities from themselves."

Czech explained that this kind of person might feel that because they are to stop living, the same must be true for their family members.

Clinical psychologist Welmoet Bok believes there are many reasons for family murders.

"A patriarchal society could lead some men to believe that they had the final say in everything, including whether their families live or die," she said.

"One cannot help but ask why this has been so prevalent in South Africa, but the answer is not easy to find."

"Drink and drugs are dis-inhibitors and play a large role, but the point is, why do some people go that far while others don't?" - Staff Reporter