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Gender-based violence is a crime against humanity: A tribute to Ntokozo Mayenziwe Xaba

Gender-based violence is a crime against humanity: A tribute to Ntokozo Mayenziwe Xaba
Ntokozo Xaba. (Photo: Instagram/@ntokozoxaba)

Violence against women is not inevitable. Violence against women is not a natural disaster. It is a crime systematically and frequently committed by men in a societal culture that not only tolerates the crime, but assists it. This is the level at which our interventions should be pitched.

No vice-chancellor of this or any other university should be sentenced to utter the sentences I am about to utter. This is the wrong speech, at the wrong place and at the wrong time, occasioned by an act so heinous, it will live in infamy in the history of Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). 

On Sunday, 12 February, Ntokozo Mayenziwe Xaba would have celebrated her 21st birthday. She would probably have taken time on her birthday to connect with the spirit of her recently deceased mother, umama uTholakele Shezi. 

Ntokozo would have called her beloved grandmother, ugogo uPetty Shezi. She would have told the old woman who brought her up how much of a pillar of strength she was to her, and she would have told her grandmother how much she loved her.

Her grandmother would have reminded Ntokozo that she was an embodiment of the hopes of the entire Xaba and Shezi clans.

Ntokozo would have received congratulatory phone calls from her uncles, especially uncle Nkosingiphile Mabuza. She would have told her uncle that she was on course to complete her national diploma in integrated communication in record time. And why not? She was performing excellently in her studies! 

I imagine Ntokozo using the occasion of her birthday to reminisce with her brother uNhlakanipho, himself a recent TUT graduate. And maybe Ntokozo would have confided in her brother about how she had eventually managed to end the toxic relationship she had had with her boyfriend.

But alas, sometime during the night of the 1st and the morning of the 2nd of February, the life of Ntokozo Xaba was cut short.

Until the police make us wiser and until the court processes are completed, we will not know the details. What we know for sure is that Ntokozo Xaba did not just die, she was killed.

And thus was the name of Ntokozo Xaba added to those of Nosicelo Mthebeni, Uyinene Mrwetyana, Tshegofatso Pule, Nosipho Mandleleni, Karabo Mokoena, Zolile Khumalo, Anene Booysen, Jesse Hess, Reeva Steenkamp and hundreds if not thousands others.

The killers of these women are men. Black men. White men. Old men. Young men. Rich men. Poor men. Powerful men. Powerless men. Educated men. Uneducated men. 

What South African men have in common is neither the national flag nor the national anthem, it’s neither their braai prowess, nor their beer-drinking stunts.

What distinguishes South African men from their peers worldwide is the brutality with which they keep women in a state of permanent terror and the heartlessness with which they keep killing women. 

War against women

Somewhere in the rotten underbelly of our fraying country, there must be a factory that constantly manufactures killer men and distributes them strategically across every nook and cranny of the land. No tribe, race, class or geographical locality is without these murderers who masquerade as boyfriends, husbands and uncles.

Read more in Daily Maverick:We must dismantle South Africa’s female fear factory, brick by brick

This low-intensity war against women is the greatest threat to our democracy and the greatest setback to all our noble developmental goals. 

We can write up the best national development plans, we can craft the most erudite policies and the churn out the cleverest strategies on Earth, we can deploy the most sophisticated technologies, and we can dream the loftiest dreams – but as long as we continue to terrorise and kill women and children, all our lofty national plans, all our dreams, are a charade and a mirage. 

Cowardly carnage

Of all the cocktail of violences that characterise South African life at this time, gender-based violence (GBV) is the most cowardly and the most dastardly. You and I belong to a generation of South Africans who are witnessing yet another crime against humanity. 

Since the German crimes against humanity in Namibia at the beginning of the 20th century, and the Belgian crimes against humanity in the Congo at the turn of the 20th century, the Nazi atrocities of World War 2, as well as the apartheid crime against humanity, the carnage of men killing women in this country has become the latest instalment in the shameful litany of crimes against humanity

More than being witnesses to the crime, our generation is aiding and abetting the crime by dint of our acts of omission and commission. Worse still, our generation is in danger of becoming bystanders in this crime scene that is South Africa. 

Ladies and gentlemen, once again, a young South African woman has been killed, violently and mercilessly. Her name is Ntokozo Xaba. Unless we change our responses, and our behaviours as society, the killing of Xaba will not be the last. 

‘We must do more’

We may not use this occasion merely to shout our usual slogans. This time around, we must do more than engage in a competition of expressions of condemnation, shock and sadness. Until now, neither shock nor condemnation has saved the life of a single woman. 

Nor will it be enough for all manner of do-gooders to use this occasion to prop up their obscure GBV initiatives and attempt to launder their consciences. 

South Africa in general and the higher education sector is awash with GBV policies, policy frameworks, studies, task teams, reports and strategies. It is not for lack of strategies that women continue to be murdered by men in our schools, universities, homes, workplaces and in the streets. Nor will it be enough for us to reduce this to policing and prosecutor services. 

Ntokozo Xaba was not murdered somewhere in the bushes or out in the street. She was murdered in the safest possible place she could be, her only home away from home, her residence room, in the company of someone who was supposed to love her.

Not even the protection orders that some women keep in their handbags have protected them from being killed. Women are killed with protection orders in their hands.

Being taught the skills of violence

While security arrangements, policing agility and judicial judiciousness have a pivotal role to play in the struggle against GBV, society, customs, culture and mores have as critical a role to play.

Above, between and below the schools that we send our children to, there is a school as pernicious as it is influential. In that school, boys are taught the skills of violence as well as the art of entitlement, entitlement to everything, but above all entitlement to female bodies.

That pernicious and ubiquitous school teaches boys and men how to maim, to rape and to kill. We must dismantle the factory that manufactures killer men, and the school that produces boys and men of low self-esteem whose manhood depends on their ability to wound and to murder.

All my reservations about the mere shouting of slogans, the sheer brandishing of strategies and the wielding of task teams notwithstanding, few universities have taken more enthusiastic heed of the call of the government to rid higher education of GBV than TUT. Few universities have more thorough strategies against GBV than TUT. Our senate has an anti-GBV task team.

In collaboration with the SAPS, we have a victim empowerment centre at our Soshanguve campus. We have installed an anti-GBV desk at the Faculty of Arts and Design. Last year, we launched a research chair intended to subject the phenomenon of campus violence to scientific scrutiny. 

The death of Ntokozo is a tragic and serious setback for our gallant institutional efforts. Given the pain in our hearts at this time, we may be tempted to become discouraged. We may even begin to question both our efforts and our intentions in the struggle against GBV. 

Doubling down

But no, we dare not allow ourselves to be despondent. We do not resort to the familiar refuge of playing the blame game and finger-pointing. 

For Ntokozo’s sake and in her honour, we have no choice but to double down on one push for zero tolerance of GBV.

Every killing of a woman, every murder of a female student is nothing but an act of terror intended to beat us into submission so that we accept, as a normal part of life in our country, the logic and the terror of violence. 

Violence against women is not inevitable. Violence against women is not a natural disaster. It is a crime systematically and frequently committed by men in a societal culture that not only tolerates the crime, but assists it. This is the level at which our interventions should be pitched. 

For Ntokozo Xaba’s sake, we dare not let the killers win. For Ntokozo’s sake we, as institutions of higher learning, we as society, dare not succumb to the treacherous, cowardly and debilitating logic of gender-based violence.

This is an edited version of a speech delivered by Professor Tinyiko Maluleke at the memorial for Ntokozo Xaba on 9 February 2023. Professor Tinyiko Maluleke is the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Tshwane University of Technology.

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