S/Africa: Under siege by two pandemics

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa could not have made a more poignant observation when he stated that his crime-ridden country…

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa could not have made a more poignant observation when he stated that his crime-ridden country is currently fighting two serious pandemics – the coronavirus and gender-based violence.And statistics showing that a woman gets murdered every three hours and raped every 15 seconds are enough of crime reports to inform the president to reach the conclusion that South Africa was indeed under siege by two pandemics. 

 The saddest part of the murders and rape crimes was that they were committed by mainly men the victims knew very well as husbands, boyfriends or lovers, and that the crime scenes were usually in the perpetrators’ homes, public places or prisons, according to the police. 


Right now a sugarcane field in the south coast of KwaZulu/Natal Province has become the latest murder scene after the bodies of five women were dumped there in the past few weeks.


Police Minister Bheki Cele said his officers had arrested two men who will appear in court on Monday for the crimes.


“We are glad to say we have picked up some people and we believe those people are the right people. They will be appearing in court on Monday and they are local people,” Cele said without giving further details on Saturday. 


Such serial killings are not new in South Africa, whose notoriously violent culture observers have attributed to its centuries of subjugation under the murderous apartheid system of racial segregation, a period when the lives of black people were considered to be less than that of whites according to the supremacist doctrine of European settlers.


The transition to black majority rule and an end to apartheid atrocities, however, seem to have done little to end this negative culture as crime and the coronavirus seems to have teamed up to continue wreaking havoc on the 57 million people of the Rainbow Nation.


Ramaphosa, addressing men who are the main culprits in committing the highest percentage of the murderous and GBV acts, urged them to take the lead in the fight against the country’s gender based violence during his Women’s Day speech days ago.


Apart from femicide, children have also been targeted in the GBV pandemic – infants as young as six months have fallen victim to sexual assault in South Africa, police statistics show. 


While plans are in place to provide support for victims of GBV, the country needed to work together to stop, not only the Covid-19 pandemic, but femicide and infanticide as well, the president said in his appeal to the nation as it marked this year’s Women’s Day.


This is the occasion that started 56 years ago on 9 August when the country’s women in their thousands marched to the seat of government in Pretoria to protest the apartheid government’s harsh laws.


In his Women’s Day virtual speech, Ramaphosa noted that South Africa was in the grip of two pandemics — the coronavirus pandemic and the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide.


He said: “We can no longer as a nation ignore the deafening cries of women and children for protection, for help and for justice. 


“It has been eleven months since I addressed a joint sitting of Parliament to announce an Emergency Response Action Plan to combat gender-based violence and femicide.


“Since then we have taken concrete actions to provide greater support and care to survivors of gender-based violence.


“We have increased the number of shelters and care centres for survivors and improved the capacity of our police to deal with crimes of gender-based violence.”


Ramaphosa added: “We have made important progress in reforming our laws to give greater protection to survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

“Now we also have a National Strategic Plan which, among other things, aims to promote women’s economic inclusion.”


The president stated that one of the most important ways to reduce the vulnerability of women to gender-based violence was to enable them to become financially independent.


“With the launch of Generation Equality and with the implementation of the National Strategic Plan we have a unique opportunity to refashion our society and the lives of the women of South Africa,” he said.


The president also said the speeding up the process of giving land to women would help empower them.


“We will ensure that our own land reform process favours all historically disadvantaged people – including women – in getting land and the means to farm it,” he said.


According to Ramaphosa, “of the R75-million in Covid-19 relief earmarked for farming input vouchers, 53-percent of the beneficiaries will be rural women. 


“We must ensure that women subsistence and small-scale farmers continue to receive support beyond the lockdown.”

Minister Cele, however, said the lockdown had, ironically, reduced the number of GBV violence under the Level 3 lockdown, but this was temporary should the restrictions be lifted as some sectors of society have been demanding. 


Meanwhile, the state of disaster law empowering the country to reinforce the lockdown restrictions will end on Saturday (15 August). 

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