In September, thousands of women in South Africa dressed in black and purple, to commemorate the dead and marched to parliament in Cape Town. They were protesting the failure of the government to address the rising violence against women. The march came in response to an August that has set records as the deadliest month for violence against women in the country’s history, as a number of (unconnected) rapes and murders hit the headlines.
The shocking rise in femicide has seen women mobilise again on the street as the protests continue, carrying placards that announce ‘enough is enough’, and on social media, where they ask #AmINext. But the protests are said to have come in response to two brutal killings of two young women, the news of which came only days apart and which prompted many South Africans to ask how much more they could take.
Uyinene Mrwetyana was a 19-year-old student at the University of Cape Town who went missing on 24th August, after she went to the post office. It was there that she is said to have met the man who killed her, who lured her into the empty building after his colleagues had left and locked the door after her. Inside, he raped her and bludgeoned her to death with a set of post office scales. He then burned her body, before burying the remains.
A week before Mrwetyana’s body was found, the 25-year-old female boxing champion Leighandre Jegels was also murdered. The accused was her estranged boyfriend, a policeman who she had a restraining order against. Jegels had been driving with her mother, attempting to flee from the man, when he shot her three times in the face, killing her and then shooting her mother. He died himself from injuries sustained in a car accident before he could see his trial.
A woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa
The two cases occurred in the same month that 19-year-old student and youth leader Jesse Hess was found raped and murdered in her home, along with the body of her 85-year-old grandfather, who had also been murdered. Her body was discovered hours after she had won a radio competition celebrating Women’s Month. As the University of Western Cape prepared to hold a memorial for Hess, further violence erupted as police were called to the scene after a male student allegedly raped and beat another female student.
And earlier that same month, 30-year-old showjumper Meghan Cremer’s body was also found, days after she had gone missing. There was a rope around her neck and she had been buried in a sand mine. Three men were later arrested for her murder.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has likened the number of deaths to those of a country at war, while admitting the country is in a national crisis. Statistics released by the South African Police Service show that a woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa, while the Minister of Women, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said that 30 women were killed by their partners in August alone. Look on Twitter and as well as the fear and outrage, photos from protests and demand for change, you’ll find the photos of other women who have gone missing and calls for help.
And it’s not only women that are seeing an escalation in violent crime, rape and murder, but children too.
Janika Mallo was 14. Her half-naked body was found in her grandmother’s garden. She had been raped and then bludgeoned with a concrete block.
Ayakha Jiane was 17 when police found her body hanging from a tree. The bodies of her three siblings, Kuhlekonke, four, Khwezi, six, and Siphesihle Mpungose, 10, had been found earlier that day, also hanged. They were last seen alive with Sbu Mpungose, father of the three younger children and stepfather to Jiane, who had taken her out of school earlier in the day. He was later found by police, hiding in a bush. The murders were said to have been sparked by the divorce Mpungose was going through with his wife.
President Ramaphosa has announced a plan of action to address the situation and curb the violence. £60 million was pledged, after an emergency sitting of parliament, for measures that include better education, strengthening the criminal justice system and increasing the care for victims. He also said that the laws on domestic violence and sexual offences would be reviewed to ensure they were more effective in combating crime.
Meanwhile, his citizens have taken matters into their own hands. The sheer number of brutal crimes happening in such a short amount of time, coupled with an apparent lack of accountability, has led to the launch of an online petition calling for the return of the death penalty. So far, it has accrued over half a million signatures.
They’re reacting to a country that has failed to protect its women and children from the most horrific crimes and telling their government that enough is enough.