Violence against women has seen an increase during the COVID-19 outbreak. According to President Cyril Rampahosa, two weeks after South Africa ended a nine-week ban on alcohol sales, the country experienced a surge in rapes and murder of women.

Many of the victims became the subject of campaigns against gender-based violence in Gauteng. These included 28-year-old pregnant Tshegofatso Pule who was found hanging from a tree, Naledi Phangindawo who was stabbed, and Sanele Mfaba whose body was dumped by a tree in Soweto.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the rate at which women in South Africa are murdered by intimate partners is five times higher than the global average. Rights groups say the level of violence against women increased during the lockdown.

One Johannesburg woman is also accusing the police of wrongful arrest and of adding to her trauma of being abused by her ex-husband. Avanti Naidoo says that her ex-husband had physically abused her for years and that she fears for her life despite having a protection order against him.

“When he scolded me, I was shaking, trembling, I didn’t know what to do.”

After just a year of marriage, Avanti Naidoo began to see traces of her husband’s abusive tendencies. It began with verbal abuse and his constant need to see her slogging. Naidoo says that he isolated her from her family, even during her mother’s final days. She says that as time passed – the mental and emotional torture intensified.

“He used to pick on my weight, control my eating. Nobody knows this, my family would be devastated – I used to starve most of the time. (Crying) I would cook the best food, him and kids would eat and I would hardly or not eat at all. I used to make roti, puri – he wouldn’t allow me to eat. If I’m eating popcorn and he felt I had enough, he’ll take the bowl away from me and his daughter.”

Unemployment, alcohol abuse contributing factors

Unemployment and alcohol abuse are cited as some of the main contributing factors to the increase in intimate partner violence in South Africa. Gender activists say men tend to compensate for their lack of employment by physically and sexually abusing their partners. One victim of gender-based violence, Nosipho Mkhize from Soweto, says she’s desperately looking for a job for her husband so he can stop abusing her.

“He is a totally different person – he is moody and starts a fight over anything – it doesn’t matter how kind or gentle I am with him.”

Mkhize says her husband has started drinking heavily and she has to endure almost daily physical abuse from him, often in front of their two children.

“It pains him to see me going to work in the morning – the only thing that will sort out his problems is getting a job again. I miss my husband.”

Family distraught

In the Eastern Cape, a man shocked the country when he hacked his wife and their five children to death.

Pepela Skhundwana, the father of the slain woman, says the incident has left the family distraught.

“My daughter stayed with someone but on Tuesday night a family member who came from watching soccer from the neighbours house knocked but my daughter’s partner said they will not open at that time of the night,” Skhundwana says.

Her mother, Nolungile Skhundwana, says they were surviving through her grandchildren’s social grants.

“This hurts so much. In this home we live on social grant money. Our children are unemployed. I don’t even have food to give people who come to mourn with us. He took children’s’ SASSA cards, he then cuts their birth certificates and ID documents into pieces.”

The suspect, Nowa Makula, abandoned his bail application during a brief appearance in the Xhora Magistrate’s Court last week Monday.

He is due back in court in late January.

In a speech in June, President Cyril Ramaphosa, reiterated government’s concern over the death of women in the hands of men. He has described the scourge as a pandemic.

Ramaphosa says R1.6 billion has been set aside to support the implementation of an emergency response plan to combat gender based violence and femicide that was first announced in September 2019.

“At the time when the coronavirus pandemic has left us all feeling vulnerable and uncertain. Violence is being unleashed on the women and children of our country with a brutality that defies any form of comprehension. Over the past few weeks no fewer than 21 women and children have been murdered. Their killers thought could silenced them but we will never forget them and we will speak for them where they themselves can not.”