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Opinionista

We are not free till our bodies, minds, and spirits are free: Freedom is no fear

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Advocate Tarisai Mchuchu-Macmillan is Executive Director of anti–gender-based violence organisation MOSAIC.

A woman dies every eight hours because of intimate partner abuse in South Africa. Women are not safe in their relationships, homes and communities.

In the South Africa I dream of, my job does not exist. 

While I am proud to be at the helm of an NGO that empowers women and girl survivors of domestic violence and abuse, in a safe South Africa, MOSAIC – and other organisations like it – would have very few people who need services year-on-year. 

Unfortunately, gender-based and domestic violence incidents are still very much a part of South African society and a daily lived reality for many. MOSAIC has had a 60% year-on-year increase in demand for our services since we opened our doors in 1993 in response to levels of violence against women, particularly domestic violence.

Like any contemplative 20-something-year-old about to turn 30, this is a reflective time for our organisation.

Fear and foreboding

What does 30 years of tireless activism for women’’s rights and their safety mean in the context of nearly three decades of freedom? Singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone’s poignant words come to mind: “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear.”

Fear, or the lack thereof, is a reliable barometer of how free women are in South Africa. One only needs to speak to any woman to know this or look at the latest crime statistics to confirm that women live in chronic fear of being harmed.

A woman dies every eight hours because of intimate partner abuse in South Africa. While annual crime statistics indicate an alarmingly high violence rate in South African homes, this is not the complete picture, as victims and survivors face several barriers to justice. Women are not safe in their relationships, homes and communities.

How can we celebrate what we have as freedom when we are constantly threatened with violence and can’t feel safe? We are not free till our bodies, minds, and spirits are free.

Protected by paper tigers

The women who stood in the long voting lines of April 1994 voted for a free South Africa where they would enjoy the right to equal protection and benefit from the law.

Instead, they and their daughters and granddaughters are still waiting to enjoy their constitutionally protected rights. The right to life, to have their dignity respected and protected, the right to freedom and security of the person, and the right to be free from all forms of violence from public or private sources remain painfully out of reach.

Noble protections that do not extend beyond the paper they are written on are meaningless. 

As of 14 April, the Domestic Violence Amendment Act 2021 (DVAA) became operational. However, the amended act can only effectively address the weaknesses of its implementation if all duty-bearers play their part.

The DVAA is meant to be part of the local domestic violence prevention and response system to improve access to justice and protect victims from further harm or femicide. It’s intended to afford victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from domestic abuse that the law can provide.

As the first responder and most community-facing duty-bearer, the SAPS has the broadest mandate with justice under the DVAA. It, therefore, must align its national instructions to ensure that the police are well equipped to enforce the strengthened protection orders and have enough resources to implement the envisaged safety monitoring.

Nevertheless, all duty-bearers need to be entirely on board, or the act becomes a paper tiger that fails to protect women from brute violence, and women will continue to die with protection orders in their hands.

Liberty, equality, advocacy 

So, how do we fight for change; after all, we have marched, signed petitions, tweeted and tagged, protested, and actively participated in the legislation-making process so that women can be safe and truly free.

By continuing to do all this and more we consistently chip away at the systemic barriers that impede women’s freedom. We cannot afford to give up or give in. Too many lives are at stake.

And as political parties begin to court us for our votes this year, we should demand to see the specific policies that aim to empower women in their manifestoes and vote accordingly.

Voting remains a powerful way to exercise our freedom of choice, a right we can still exercise fully and without fear. DM

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