Gender based violence is a severe issue in South Africa today. The two events that have been high on the South African news agenda in the last two months have been the tragic shooting of Reeva Steenkamp and the terrible gang rape, disembowelment and murder of seventeen-year-old Anene Booysen. The scary fact is that there is so much domestic violence that goes unreported everyday in our country. I was lucky enough to interview Dr. Adelene Africa, who is part of the African Gender Institute, and lectures and convenes gender related courses at the University of Cape Town. According to IOL News there could be up to 3600 rapes everyday in South Africa. Is it the way we teach our children? Or is it due to our violent past? Why is South Africa a society and culture of violence?
I believe that it is a result of social factors and the normalisation of violence. Factors such as poverty, patriarchy, lack of education and substance abuse are contributing to this violent nature in our country. Poverty is a serious issue, as half the population lives below the poverty line and are trapped in the poverty cycle. Poverty results in exacerbating other issues such as lack of education, because children cannot afford to go to school. Thus children are brought up in hostile environments where violence seems to be the only option and mechanism of survival. Often, children who are abused grow up to be the abusers, which seems to create a hopeless cycle of abuse.
Alcohol and drug abuse also contributes to the issue. In the Anene Booysen case, the suspect Jonathan Davids was described as a “nuisance” when he was drunk that night at the pub. Whilst Africa agrees that there are “several structures which create a context within which violence becomes normalized” she also believes that “there are particular images of masculinity which play an important role in reproducing particular ideas of what it means to be a man in South African society”.
I also find that gender roles and patriarchy seems to be embedded in our society’s mentality. The media emphasises gender roles and stereotypes. Africa states, “These ‘images’ or messages are often created in opposition to women and other men who do not conform to masculine stereotypes”. We grow up learning what a man’s duty is and what a woman’s duty is. It is a very lethal ideology as it could contribute to gender based violence. Africa also mentions that although this is true, “violence is not inherently consistent with masculinity, it has come to be viewed and perhaps also practiced in that manner”. Men are viewed as strong and virile, while women are seen as weak and soft. This could lead men to think that they are the ones who hold all the power. Sometimes a man who lives in poverty and cannot provide for his family feels like he is not fulfilling his duty as a man. This is rife in South Africa considering the lack of jobs and high rate of unemployment. He could turn to substance abuse or take frustrations out on a woman.
Power and who holds this power has always been an issue in our country. The history of this power struggle still seems to be with us today. We are a nation that has risen out of violence to get to where we are. Violence has become so normalised in our society that it is as if we have become almost numb to the seriousness of the matter. “In some sense, we are desensitised while in others there is always a huge outcry when the brutality of the attacks is highlighted by the media. It seems that it takes such attacks to ‘shake’ us out of this desensitization” says Africa.
Mail & Guardian reported about a man named Dumisane Rebombo who now works for the gender equality organisation Sonke Gender Justice Network. He grew up in the village of Blinkwater in Mpumalanga, where violence against women was normalised and even enforces a man’s status of power. Rebombo said that no one in the village talks about or deals with the issue. It is terrible that women have to live in communities where they feel threatened and are hurt.
As the general public of South Africa, we hear about terrible incidents that occur on a daily basis. This also makes violence normal to us. This is a dangerous path for South Africa to head down because it makes one wonder what the breaking point will be. The Anene Booysen case did however cause an uproar from the public and activist groups, and rightly so. The government, who has been under pressure to take action in light of all these recent events, have launched a programme to assist sexual assault survivors. It was reported by City Press that Justice Minister Jeff Radebe has launched this programme in Phoenix in Kwa Zulu Natal. The programmed aims to deal with the sexual and gender based violence that has become a “pandemic” in our country.
It is crucial that the social factors are dealt with in our country in order to break this normality of abuse and violence. Women and children should not be victims of men trying to assert power and dominance. It should be taught in schools to young boys that real men do not rape or hurt women. Those who have suffered rape traumas and abuse need to be provided with care and counselling. South Africa needs to stop being such a “rape-friendly” society.