In the recent history of our nation, political promises to address gender-based violence and femicide have been made repeatedly. South Africa is a population that is longing for safety, especially for womxn and children.
In 2018, the first Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide brought us a presidential promise of security — a commitment to shield the vulnerable through adopting a National Strategic Plan on GBVF. In 2022, there was another Presidential Summit. The Department of Justice and Correctional Services was in the room. They presented.
Each pledge to address GBVF gives us a bit of hope, but as activists, we know not to get our hopes up too high, because the implementation does not match the promises.
During the part of the 2022 Presidential Summit in which SAPS presented on crime statistics, I was overcome with a feeling of nausea and walked out of the conference venue because I could not manage to be there. As I did so, I thought of Palesa. She is no longer with us. A victim of femicide whose death we memorialised in our exhibition at the summit.
We did this to remember her, not as a number, but as a young womxn who was full of life but who no longer walks among us. Her dreams and plans will not be fulfilled, just as Reeva Steenkamp’s will not be. Palesa’s son has lost a mother. He has received minimal support from the state.
Some officials found this mock crime scene too confronting and chose to walk around the exhibition stands in a way that they did not need to see our stand. We understand the position of those with post-traumatic stress, but not those who choose to be present at the summit to hear but not to listen — those who say words out of their mouths that they do not have any intention of fulfilling.
As the stark statistics confront us, a war against the bodies of womxn and children rages on. In this violent reality, questions demand answers.
One of my questions is what have we done to those who decide who gets parole?
What thought processes led to part of the justice system deciding to announce the release of Oscar Pistorius at the beginning of the 16 days of activism against GBVF? Why would they announce this during the time we are reminded of the pain that many families, including Reeva Steenkamp’s? Why now?
Read more in Daily Maverick: Pistorius to walk free — after chequered justice experience in prison
The timing of this announcement, against the backdrop of our collective call to end the violence, gives rise to great frustration and anger. If you are a man who does not get it, you can call me an angry feminist if you want. I am angry. I will wear your insults on one of the dresses on which we print the many inappropriate things that politicians say. Many womxn are angry. Justifiably so.
The harsh reality that so many GBVF activists know from daily lived experience is that systemic failures continue. Womxn continue to be turned away at police stations when they come to report abuse. Sometimes police take victims back to the very home where they are in danger and encourage them to reason with the abuser.
Protection orders are not worth the paper they are written on if that piece of paper is even obtained. When they are arrested, alleged sex offenders continue to be given bail, placing their victims at increased risk.
We are angry. And we are sad. And disappointed.
We remember Reeva.
We acknowledge the pain of her mother, June. We stand with her.
We remember Palesa Mokhele. You may not know her name, but her family does.
We remember Tshegofatso Pule.
We remember Uyinene Mrwetyana.
We remember Nomvula and Nomtjala.
The list is very long and continues to grow longer.
Say their names. They are not numbers.
These questions will probably go unanswered like many questions about GBVF. If those who have the ability to answer them do not want to, they speak through their actions. What is needed is just actions, not insulting conduct and empty promises. DM