South Africa


Battered and bloodied by a week from Hell, Ramaphosa fails to match SA women’s courage and determination

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the masses during gender-based violence protests outside Parliament following the rape and murder of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana on September 05, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. While accepting a memorandum of demands from the protesters, Ramaphosa admitted that he will be addressing the issue of violence against women and children and that a state of emergency should be declared. (Photo by Gallo Images/Ziyaad Douglas)

President Cyril Ramaphosa outlines a number of steps to beef up the state’s response to the rape and murder of women. It’s old wine in old bottles, but President resists calls for a state of emergency and the death penalty.

On Thursday 5 September, President Cyril Ramaphosa cut out of the elite gathering of the World Economic Forum (WEF) to meet militant and angry women and men who staged an #EnoughIsEnough protest outside Parliament that spread out as far as the eye could see in the Cape Town CBD.

Activists say it is the largest march against the war on women in recent memory, the movement catalysed by the rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, the student murdered by a Post Office employee who allegedly lured her into the Claremont mail room and raped and bludgeoned her to death with a scale.

He had previous charges against him which were not picked up by his state employer.

Last weekend, an off-duty policeman shot his boxer girlfriend, Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels, in the face, killing her instantly even though she had a protection order against him and he should not have been in possession of a gun.

Thursday was the second day of protest. On Wednesday 4 September, protesters almost brought down the house as they pushed against the barricades outside the WEF meeting which draws diplomats and business leaders from around the world.

Meant to be a showcase of Ramaphosa’s reform initiative, it became an elite glasshouse as protesters staged sortie after sortie to make their point and demanded the president address them. Later, police opened water cannon on the protesters and used stun grenades against them; in Johannesburg, where looters and arsonists targeted migrant traders, there was no such policing.

#AmINext and #EnoughIsEnough

Ahead of Ramaphosa’s visit on Thursday, the fence of the Houses of Parliament was pinned with posters reading #AmINext, the slogan of a new movement fighting violence against women.

A woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa, according to Africa Check, and in 2018, 49,900 sexual offences were reported to the police, most of which are violence against women.

I don’t want to die with my arms up or my legs open,” said another slogan that signifies a new stage in the war against violence against women.

This week, an older (and arguably more patient) generation gave ground to activists and students who brook no political speech.

Boo!” shouted the crowd as Ramaphosa tried to calm them on Wednesday afternoon with the rallying cry to women of “Malibongwe”.

People gather during the gender-based violence demonstration outside Parliament, following the rape and murder of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana on September 05, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa skipped the World Economic Forum to address thousands of Capetonians mostly all dressed in black, where he said laws were to be changed with regards to violence and rape against women. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

Death penalty, death penalty,” shouted some in the crowd. Ramaphosa promised a national address in an hour and then took five hours more to deliver it. When he did, the president was obviously exhausted. The SABC broadcast an earlier prerecording in which he fluffed and had to recompose himself, showing the strain. Perhaps that is why Ramaphosa did not seize the moment.

(SABC later apologised for airing a wrong version of the address – Ed)

Words – eloquent; actions – insufficient

Ramaphosa said the right things: he said that he spoke as the President, as a husband and a father to his daughters, he called it a “war” against women, a sign that he understands the serious crisis of fear and violence that is normative for South African women.

Women have every right to expect that they be free from harassment and violence on the streets, in schools and campuses, on buses, taxis and trains, at places of work and worship, and in their homes,” he said.

Deflecting from calls for a state of emergency, Ramaphosa said he had heard the calls but downgraded emergency to urgency.

I will, therefore, be asking Parliament to discuss and identify urgent interventions that can be implemented without delay.”

He called it a crime.

It is a crime against our common humanity.”

An unidentified woman protestor listens to Cyril Ramaphosa address the protest march against femicide and Gender-Based Violence on 5 September 2019 outside Parliament in Cape Town. Photo: Anso Thom

But when it came to outlining the crucial “what”, he did not use his power to seed far-reaching ideas and added a few deliverables with timelines. Instead, he presented a lukewarm plate of leftovers that have not worked already, such as an updated and modernised sexual offenders’ list (the state has not been able to draw up one that is accurate); to introduce harsher minimum sentences (an old idea that is sometimes implemented and sometimes not); that the state should oppose bail and parole applications (a new idea); rehabilitation programmes; to strengthen emergency rapid response teams as well as other criminal justice measures such as more specialised courts and care centres, which have been on the agenda for over two decades but which have never been quite delivered at the speed, or scale, commensurate with the urgency of war response.

The president said old and questionable sexual violence cases would be reopened, but with the National Prosecuting Authority gutted by State Capture, this feels like a promise that can’t be met in the short, medium, or any term.

Ramaphosa said he would ask Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni to allocate more funds to these measures, but with a near-bankrupt fiscus, political analyst Karima Brown said on news channel, eNCA, that she wanted to see where the money would come from and how much would be allocated. Ultimately, the address fizzled because it may have had heart, but it did not have the power the moment demanded.

A bloody week

This week, Ramaphosa was meant to have celebrated 100 days in office. His team had planned to unveil a number of big reveals at the WEF meeting of how his reform agenda is working. Instead, it turned hellish on Sunday night when looters started a bloody trail of arson and looting in Malvern, the run-down residential and business suburb on the eastern flanks of Johannesburg. By Monday, it had spread to eight areas where migrants (and South Africans) run small retail operations.

By Tuesday, the East Rand was flaming; by Wednesday, Alexandra and Katlehong were part of the trail of destruction. Gauteng and Johannesburg, the economic heartbeat of the country, and Ramaphosa’s key constituencies, were out of control.

Looting of foreign-owned shops took place in Malvern, Turfottein and Johannesburg CBD, the situation in most areas remained tense with most shops being vandalised, Tuesday 4th September 2019..  Photo Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24

The international opprobrium from the African Union (which put out the first stern release against the attacks on migrant traders), the United Nations (which voiced strong opposition), from Nigeria (where President Muhammadu Buhari called a demarche on the South African high commissioner Bobby Moroe and despatched a special envoy to South Africa) must have cut Ramaphosa, who is an internationally renowned statesman.

In Nigeria, both South Africa’s high commission in Abuja and its consul office in Lagos are still shut after threats. MTN, Shoprite and MultiChoice have had to close offices in Nigeria and Zambia after threats and attacks. For a leader who is seen as business-friendly, this is not a liability Ramaphosa wants to own. The President’s reputation has taken a battering on many levels in a week when he had hoped to showcase evidence of his success.

In his address, Ramaphosa appended final figures. Ten people died in the bloody week; 289 are in jail. South Africa’s reputation is in tatters and Ramaphosa’s as a peacemaker and mover and shaker is hurt.

There can be no excuse for the attacks on the homes and businesses of foreign nationals, just as there can be no excuse for xenophobia or any other form of intolerance.

The people from other countries on our continent stood with us in our Struggle against apartheid. We worked together to destroy apartheid and overcome the divisions it created, where we feared each other and our differences were exploited,” said Ramaphosa.

As always, the eloquent President has the words, but has he the action? Since 2015, Daily Maverick has tracked the rate of looting on shops owned by migrants and there has not been any significant justice for these actions. While hundreds have been arrested, and the violence contained, our tracking system reveals that the criminal justice system cannot sufficiently provide leverage against looting and xenophobia by holding up the promise of justice.

Ramaphosa is an enormously popular president, but his reception by the biggest march against sexual violence on Thursday 5 September and the outcry against the attacks on violence against migrant traders for the entire week shows that he needs to rethink his governing strategy as he moves out of the honeymoon period of a presidency of promise and into the hard cold reality of a country in deep crisis. DM


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.8% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.2% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.2% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.2%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options