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We must call out femicide for what it is — a hate crime


Nqophisa Diko is a research assistant at the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation and a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Pretoria focusing on South Africa-China relations.

Femicide should be classified as a hate crime and perpetrators charged accordingly.

A hate crime is defined as a crime motivated by prejudice, bias or hate against certain persons or groups of people. Once again, another young woman in South Africa, a victim of femicide, has become a trending hashtag on social media — under #justicefornamhla.

Singwa Namhla Mtwa was a 35-year-old woman from Mthatha in Eastern Cape, who was allegedly killed by her boyfriend. Many pictures have appeared online showing Mtwa covered in gruesome bruises allegedly caused by her boyfriend assaulting her. No arrest had been made at the time of writing.

Mtwa will not be the last victim of femicide who will trend on social media this year.

One of the tweets trending under #justicefornamhla was from a young man who tweeted: “Drag me if y’all want but I was a perpetrator of GBV. Served 8 years for the murder of my then girlfriend. Still on parole. I have a message for the gents. DON’T DO IT!”

This tweet generated more than 3,000 likes and it illustrates the views and mindset of not just the perpetrator who tweeted it, but of the thousands who liked it.

It is absurd that it took going to jail for the murder of his girlfriend for him to realise that GBV is wrong. It is absurd that the convicted murderer then feels that he can post his epiphany under #justicefornamhla to educate people about GBV. His girlfriend is still dead, her family is still grieving her death and here he is sharing his grand epiphany. It is also absurd that more than 3,000 people liked his tweet expressing this grand epiphany that he was only able to have after wreaking destruction, grief and pain on another family.

What is most absurd is that this convicted murderer is walking free instead of still being behind bars for committing femicide. This is an indictment of South Africa’s justice system.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the crimes that is plaguing South African women and girls. GBV has created a global health crisis, physically and mentally, for women who are victims and survivors. The prevalence of GBV and femicide in South Africa creates a collective trauma for women and girls living in fear that they will be the next victim. The fear that many women face is seen in the social media hashtag #AmINext. This hashtag usually trends alongside the ones calling for justice for a victim of femicide.

In 2020, more than 47,000 women and girls globally were killed by their intimate partners or by family members. This averages out to one woman killed every 11 minutes, with Africa having the highest femicide numbers relative to female population size, according to a 2021 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Furthermore, South Africa ranks in the top five globally in femicide among countries that keep track of these statistics. In South Africa, a woman is killed every four hours. Unfortunately, Mtwa was one of many women and girls in South Africa who became a victim. Whenever there is a high-profile femicide, people call for justice and organise protests and marches in her name and her story trends — until the next woman becomes the newest social media trend.

What is unfortunate is that justice sometimes is delayed or denied and perpetrators get away with murder, as is the case with Ayanda Simelane who was murdered in 2018. Her murderer has still not been arrested. This corrosive problem affects all South Africans and it will take everyone in society to end it.

Due to the high levels of femicide in South Africa, it should be classified as a hate crime and perpetrators charged accordingly.

Initiatives and programmes are created to try to educate men and deter them from being perpetrators of GBV. However, these initiatives do not seem to be curbing the problem and perpetrators of femicide write tweets online to educate men on the pitfalls of femicide instead of being in jail!

The government and law enforcement agencies should be working harder to fight the high levels of femicide. Because of the impact that femicide has on victims, their families and society, Parliament should move to classify femicide as a hate crime and perpetrators should be charged with committing not just murder, but also with committing a hate crime. DM


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