Everything that is wrong with the official response (or rather non-response) to the war on South African women was visible at two protest marches that took place in Cape Town on Wednesday 4 September 2019.
Both marches, and those that will take place on Thursday 5 September, have enabled women (and our allies) to once again express our fear, rage and pain in the wake of the rape and murder of several young women, a daily occurrence.
The raped, murdered, butchered, and battered include UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana, UWC student Jesse Hess, boxing champion Leighandre Jegels, 14-year-old Janika Mallo, Lynette Volschenk, and Meghan Cremer.
First, the line of SAPS officers, dressed in protective clothing and carrying plastic riot shields, chose specifically to position themselves, in a grim line, outside the gates of the “people’s” Parliament. It was here where thousands – mostly young women dressed in black or their school uniforms – had gathered to mourn and protest against the rapes and deaths.
The SAPS mission was clear; stop the protesters from getting in, which it was patently obvious was never the intention. The mood was one of deep sadness and anger, but there was no threat of violence or disruption.
These are the same SAPS members who turned away businesswoman Thandi Ndlovu, who died in a car crash on 24 August, when she tried to report domestic abuse.
These are the same SAPS members to whom boxing champion Leighandre Jegels reported her boyfriend, a cop, Bulelani Manyakama, who later shot and killed her on 30 August.
These are the same SAPS members who occupy a police station next door to the Clareinch Post Office in Claremont where UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana was abducted, raped and where she met her brutal death, bludgeoned with a scale.
Nene went down screaming and fighting. SAPS didn’t hear a thing. These are the same SAPS members who appear indifferent to a witness attempting to provide further information about the man who raped and killed Nene.
He was found, just to remind you, not by the SAPS but by private investigators paid for by the family.
These are the same SAPS officers who were unable to stop the looting of shops during xenophobic attacks in Gauteng but yet were willing in Cape Town to fire stun grenades and use a water cannon on a crowd of mostly women – reportedly arresting eight – protesting outside the Cape Town International Conference Centre where political elites, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, were attending the first day of the World Economic Forum.
A handful of elected officials tried to brave the singing crowd outside Parliament.
ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina attempted a few vivas and amandlas but was shouted down. Instead, it was UCT Vice Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng who was allowed to address the crowd and hold their grief and anger.
However, before stepping down from a concrete flag base from where she addressed the marchers, Mamokgethi called for the reintroduction of the death penalty, an unfortunate full-stop to an otherwise rousing and comforting address.
As she spoke, Minister of Police Bheki Cele stood a little way off, squinting into the midday sun. He too had come out to meet the protesters. However, as the ultimate head of the SAPS, he didn’t think to ask the line of cops to step or hang back and let the crowd be.
It would have been a conciliatory gesture, a show of leadership that would have indicated that the SAPS exist to serve South Africans, including those who have a constitutional right to protest.
“Please just allow me one word and then you can chase me away. Just one word,” pleaded Cele.
His address was meaningless. “We need to work on what we do to prevent young women being abused, murdered, in their houses, at school.”
The crowd shouted over him. Women know what must be done. Women know how the SAPS generally treats women who report sexual abuse, harassment and rape. Just go and read the threads over on Twitter. It is just too much work, too much admin to act on women’s complaints of abuse and violence.
That is one of the reasons why we are dying.
Meanwhile, over at the Cape Town International Conference Centre, another march by women was being met by SAPS force.
While the presidents and economists inside must have clearly heard the plaintive songs of South African women, they kept talking about markets and money.
The marchers demanded to talk to the president. He was otherwise engaged.
The women of this country are justifiably angry at the conditions we live with daily and which circumscribe our every move, turning our lives into small, fearful existences.
We fear the men around us.
Our demands are not frivolous or malicious. They are about survival.
But the SAPS were there to ensure visiting dignitaries were not inconvenienced and so they turned on the protesters, firing stun grenades and repeatedly using a water cannon to disperse them. Eight protesters were reportedly arrested.
Over at the University of the Western Cape a packed hall paid tribute to murdered theology student Jesse Hess.
Poet Anjie Krog recited a rousing poem which captured the mood of the hour, the day, the years and years of suffering. Here is a verse – an excerpt – which the women of South Africa are screaming:
So here we are today,
To claim ourselves,
To claim back our bodies,
Claim it from knives,
fom jack hammers,
and to rage.
To rage against muteness,
Against the corrupt thoughts of men.
We rage against their yells,
against their misplaced desires for power.
We rage against what you think a man is
against your inward festering of destruction.
Among the crowds of women who gathered in Cape Town were several generations of South women, all of whom, so far, have survived the toxic masculinity in this country which threatens more than half of the population.
It was in the streets of Cape Town that older women passed on Struggle songs to a younger generation who are far from being free. But the enemy today is far more fearsome, for he walks among us, he is in our homes, our schools, our churches, our beds. We dare not give up. DM
Mooning is considered a form of free speech in the United States.