(Column first published in the Daily Dispatch 16/02/2016)
FUNERAL black is a more appropriate colour for our South African Valentine’s Day. Love in this country can be a matter of life and death as the records show.
The term intimate partner femicide should be as well known as the term rape or HIV/Aids. The Medical Research Council last reported that every eight hours intimate partner femicide occurs in South Africa, the highest rate anywhere in the world.
Simply put intimate partner femicide means that, a South African woman is more likely to be murdered by her husband, boyfriend, lover or former lover. In other words, she could be murdered by her valentine’s date.
Reeva Steenkamp’s boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, shot bullets that resulted in her death on Valentines’ Day 3 years ago.
Last week news reported that ten school boys appeared in court for gang raping a 15 year old girl in Durban. The alleged incident took place within the school’s premises.
Constitutionally our republic is a “non-sexist” society. There has never been a period in our history where women have been more legally liberated or empowered than in our current democracy and yet, violence against women persists. Girls are not always safe at school. There are rape cases that are currently under investigation at the University of Cape Town. Last year, a Port Elizabeth man, Christopher Panayiotou, was charged with the murder of his wife Jayde.
There is a certain lacking response from men who could be positive agents of change in this regard.
It is a response I once witnessed as a rural Transkei child. We children were mimicking the way women wail when they respond to news of a family member’s death. In a matter of minutes of our loud wailing, a troop of rural men appeared- in haste, carrying their traditional sticks. I have never seen men so distressed. They were of course furious with us for our foolish childish games. Needless to say, the game was never repeated.
But I have never again seen so many men completely ready to save us. Today I cannot help wondering what it will take for men to stir from their relaxed state and become impatient with violators of women and children. What will it take for men to once again become unapologetic defenders of women and children?
Must we set up a clock that rings every eight hours which sounds like the voices of women wailing across this land? These voices will be crying out on behalf of the women whose voices have been cut off through intimate femicide. And when children ask, what is that sound, they must be told that a woman has just been killed by her partner – and we want it to stop. Girls must know that their lives matter and boys must know that too.
Such an alarm would undoubtedly be unpleasant but some kind of alarm is required to propel people towards an urgent response like those rural men once did. Violence against women in our country is alarming. The alarm must ring before another man kills his lover in the next eight hours.
Women must claim 2016 as a Woman’s year. 60years ago South African women of all races led a march to the Union Buildings in order to say no to pass laws. To be a South African woman today means to escape rape, intimate femicide, poverty and yet it also means to be a bold leader against the worst forms of oppression. According to the example of these 1956 women it also means to reclaim our dignity, voice and visibility when we say “no” together.
The bell must ring and the voices of wailing women must be heard across this land, so that any man or boy who even thinks about raping a woman will be haunted by the wail before he commits the crime. “No” means “no,” boys need to understand that She said No, whether …
She is black
She is white
She is Indian
She is coloured
She says NO
Stanza taken from Siki Dlanga poem called She said No.