A spate of violence against women in South Africa has seen an increase during the COVID-19 outbreak. According to President Cyril Ramaphosa, the country experienced a surge in rapes and killings of women since the lifting of the 9-week ban on the sale of alcohol.

He added that the end of the country’s strict COVID-19 lockdown brought trauma to many women.

Many women became the subject of campaigns against Gender-Based Violence in Gauteng – including 28-year-old pregnant Tshegofatso Pule who was found hanging from a tree, Naledi Phangindawo who was stabbed, and Sanele Mfaba who was dumped by a tree in a Soweto township.

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.

Some rights groups also say the level of violence against women went up during the lockdown period.

Femicide on the rise despite being declared a national crisis in 2019:

‘Physically abused’

A Johannesburg woman is also accusing the police of wrongful arrest and of adding to her trauma after 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, Naidoo began to see traces of her husband’s abusive behaviour. It began with verbal abuse and his constant need to see her slogging. Naidoo says 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. I would cook the best food, he and the kids would eat and I would hardly or not 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.”

Questioning the role of culture in Gender-Based Violence:

Unemployment and alcohol abuse contributing factors 

Unemployment and alcohol abuse are 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.

A Gender-Based Violence victim from Soweto, Nosipho Mkhize, 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.”

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

Man accused of killing his partner and her five children remanded in custody:

The father of the deceased, Pepela Skhundwana says the incident left the family distraught.

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

Her mother, Nolungile Skhundwana says they were surviving through the social grants of her grandchildren.

“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 cut their birth certificates and ID documents into pieces.”

Emergency Response plan

President Ramaphosa announced an emergency response plan in September 2019 to combat Gender-Based Violence and femicide. Ramaphosa said R1.6 billion has been set aside to support the implementation of the plan.

“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 they could silence them, but we will never forget them and we will speak for them where they themselves cannot.”

Ramaphosa described Gender-Based Violence in the country as a pandemic. However, it won’t be dealt with if women, who are becoming more courageous and speaking out about abuse, are not backed by the criminal justice system.

President Cyril Ramaphosa establishes Gender-Based Violence and Femicide council: