Hundreds of women heeded a call by #TotalShutDown and embarked on a peaceful march to the Union Buildings yesterday. But chaos erupted once they reached their destination when they demanded to be addressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)
DOMESTIC violence victim Thembi Maphan- ga took part in the #TotalShutDown march in Pretoria yesterday in memory of her late daughter, 2, set alight by her father in 2010. She was among those who carried pictures of victims who lost their lives at the hands of their loved ones.

Similar marches took place across the country, and in Maseru, Lesotho, and Windhoek in Namibia to highlight domestic violence suffered by women and children.

“After an argument, my boyfriend left the home we shared together with our daughter. He returned the next day to collect his things.

“However, he poured petrol all over me and our daughter,” Maphanga said. Her daughter died of burn wounds a few days later.

“He handed himself over to the police after four months on the run. I was still in a coma at that time. But he wasn’t charged then because they needed me as a witness.” She felt let down by the justice system.

The march in Pretoria started off peacefully, but pandemonium broke out when women screamed and shouted and tried to break through the security fence at the Union Buildings.

They rejected Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor, there to accept their memorandum. They demanded to be addressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Earlier, the group sang cheerfully as they traversed the CBD, growing in number as they approached the Union Buildings. They gathered on the south lawns and were met by two male government officials.

When they refused to give the memorandum to them, Pandor emerged. But this enraged the women, who started tugging and pulling at the security fence, forcing police to restore order.

Police were forced to use pepper spray to disperse the crowds, who insisted on staying put until Ramaphosa arrived. They tried to force their way beyond the security barrier where Ramaphosa’s office is. A small group eventually reached the building's entrance, where they sat down, chanting: “Cyril uphi (where is Cyril?); clearly the violation of women means nothing”. They eventually left without handing their demands to anyone.

Most who participated in the march were survivors of rape, abuse and gender-based violence.

Loyiso Saliso, of the #TotalShutDown national steering committee, slammed the president for not coming out. “If you don’t want to come out it is okay. We don’t want much, but for you to lend us an ear.

"We didn’t just write a memorandum but we also gave you solutions to our grievances,” Saliso said.

In Joburg, ANC Women’s League members also marched outside Luthuli House, where hundreds of women in party regalia gathered.

Minister of Women in the Presidency, Bathabile Dlamini, said: “We should be united to have a single platform of action to address all issues about violence against women and children.”

Dlamini said as long as women and children were killed and abused, the work of the ANC was not done. “It can’t be that religion, culture and God are used to violate women,” she said. Dlamini said the laws of the country must protect women as protection orders were no longer working.

Around 300 women joined the march that started at Constitution Hill. ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule signed the ANCWL memorandum and said it would be part of the agenda when the ANC's national working committee meets at its headquarters every Monday.

In Cape Town, hundreds of women also heeded the call and joined the march. Venetia Orgill, founder of Discover Your Power, an organisation opposed to gender-based violence in Mitchells Plain, said she had joined the march in support of the women and children who need to be saved from abuse.

Jessica Booysen of Sonke Gender Justice said: “Many women and children get raped and killed daily. Women must unite against it.”

Bystander Trevor Flowers from Mitchells Plain, a single parent of two daughters, said he was disappointed that the march was only for women. He wished men opposed to gender-based violence had been invited to take part to raise awareness that there were men who stood with the women against abuse. Yesterday was the start of Women's Month. - Additional reporting: African News Agency