Gender-based violence moves society from anger to rage

Published May 30, 2024


Mabila Mathebula

I felt like a Psalmist when my former SABC boss requested me in 1994 to go to the Kruger National Park to cover the first democratic elections. After I interviewed the first-time voters, I had to join the snaking queue to cast my ballot.

It was a defining moment for me and I fearfully wanted history to note that I was a first-time voter in the country of my birth. My niece, Juby Shikwambani, told me that it was her long cherished dream to vote but she had been attached to the moorings of age. She was only 11 years old in 1994.

I was part of the historic election this year, I cast my vote on May 29, 2024 but my niece never voted, not because of age restrictions or voter apathy – she was killed by her boyfriend who was cruel enough to lock her up in a shack without reporting the incident to the police. He committed suicide three days later.

One of my relatives once condescendingly asked me the following question: “Who writes President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speeches? Ramaphosa will never deliver a speech without talking about GBV.”

After the death of my niece I told him that when your neighbour is a victim of femicide, it is bad news, but when your own daughter becomes a victim of femicide, it is devastating news. When people grieve they go through the following stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I have realised that in the event of femicide, it not only the extended family that is grieving but the entire community also grieves and their grieving is characterised by rage. People’s collective anger turns into rage. Simply put, GBV is an incendiary issue in today’s violent society.

Violence could be experienced by people at the macro and micro level. At the macro level, we see violence when people damage government property and trash the streets during protest actions. At a micro level, violence is manifested as GBV.

We need to deal with societal violence holistically. We must also educate our people about the philosophy of non-violence that was pioneered by leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Chief Albert Luthuli and Martin Luther King jr. If we did not tackle violence at the macro level, it would manifest itself at the micro level as GBV.

When President Ramaphosa was busy signing the National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Bill into law last Friday, I was engrossed in transferring my niece’s body from the government mortuary to a funeral parlour. The law is highly commendable but it came too late to those of us who are in mourning.

It is notable that when people fall in love there is no law that regulates their passionate love. The state is forced to introduce the law that regulates violent behaviour because people have forgotten the ancient teachings of love.

The ancient wisdom of love as aptly recorded in 1 Corinthians 13 states: “Love suffers long and kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.”

When I shared my niece’s devastating story with my friend, he asked me if parents have a profile of the men who are dating their daughters. He told me that his grandmother had a gift similar to that of Nostradamus to predict the future.

When his mother and her two aunts started dating, she would give them blow-by-blow feedback about these men. She told his aunts that the men they were dating were both abusive and one of them would use a bicycle chain to whip her and the other man would attempt to kill her in the middle of the night.

To his mother, she said that the man she was dating was a good family man and a hard-working man but she would end up in a polygamous marriage. Everything happened according to her predictions. Do parents know the background of people who are going out with their daughters? Did you interview them to assess their suitability for your daughter? Do they have a history of GBV?

Even TV shows such as “Date my Family” are not authentic; no family member will ever disclose that their son broke up with his previous girlfriend because of GBV. So, it is up to parents to sharpen their diagnostic skills with a view to profiling the people who are going out with their children to avoid what happened to Juby.

There are awareness campaigns on GBV and there are laws to punish the perpetrators, but are we doing enough to fight this scourge? I once lived with an uncle who was abusive towards his wife. She was employed and he was unemployed.

Every night he would fight with his wife and she would run away from the house and he would run after her in the street. I was young but I realised that his behaviour was unbecoming. I was traumatised and requested him to take me back to my parents.

Looking back, I realise that GBV is not something new but something fossilised. There is a need to educate men on how to manage relationship conflict and to impress upon them that where there is interaction, conflict is inevitable. Love is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of a willing heart to resolve conflict.

We can no longer wait for Ramaphosa to tell us how debilitating GBV. Every man has a duty to educate his sons at his home about GBV and how to manage relationship conflict.

Every faith-based organisation has a duty to empower its members on how to deal with GBV and to tame the evil man inside every man.

Perpetrators of GBV must be punished and must feel the collective rage of society towards them. Let us expose the perpetrators of GBV to victims of femicide. For example, those who have been convicted of GBV must work at government mortuaries to clean up the corpses of femicide victims. This will lessen the scourge of GBV.

Author and life coach Mathebula has a PhD in Construction Management

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