South Africa has a rate of femicide five times higher than the global average, with a woman being murdered every three hours in the country, according to the latest statistics verified by Africa Check, the non-profit organisation set up to promote accuracy in public debate and the media on the continent.
There is increasing awareness of this historic problem in our country. According to South African Police Service (SAPS) crime statistics, there were 40 035 rape cases reported in 2017/18. Sexual violence continues to be the reality for many South Africans.
High rates of mortality
According to a researcher at the Institute for Gender Studies at the University of South Africa, Sivuyisiwe Wonci, gender-based violence reduces women’s confidence, freedom of movement and opportunities.
She says: “Gender-based violence contributes to what we call ‘premature deaths’ in public health. Due to the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa, women’s lives are lost before the average age of death, which is 75 years,” says Wonci.
Wonci, who specialises in gender, health policy, and health care systems reforms in South Africa, adds that GBV is a public health issue in South Africa. It contributes to high rates of mortality and morbidity among women.
“It puts women at risk of life-threatening physical, emotional, and psychological illness. It threatens women’s dignity, safety and security both in public and private spaces,” she says.
Harsh reality for women
Following the high profile cases of GBV cases this year, i.e. the murdered boxer, Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jeggels; student, Uyinene Mrwetyana; and another student, Jesse Hess, some women have decided to take action to stay alive and keep other women around them alive.
Nomandla Vilakazi is a third-year student at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and a rape survivor. She facilitates classes with high school students about consent and rape culture. Like many students who attend UCT, Vilakazi was left shocked and fearful following the rape and murder of a fellow student, Mrwetyana.
“I carry my guard up every day. I was raped last year, and finally got to a place where I was comfortable with myself and felt independent. [But] after Uyinene’s death, I went back to [experiencing] anxiety,” she said.
Vilakazi says rape feels like a disease that can just happen at any time without warning, even though one takes every precaution.
'All eyes are on you'
“I would love to take up walking. If it’s in a group it would be okay. But I am scared of someone walking up to me. It's scary, gives me anxiety and holds me back. I have to watch my behaviour and think about everything, what activities I’m doing, what time I’ll be back, how will I get home – stuff like that,” says Vilakazi.
Stephanie Thomson* (26) from Cape Town says the fear of being violated has stopped her from exercising. “I gained weight and it becomes a sick cycle to break. Even if I went to gym, I would avoid the 'men’s' section because it feels like all eyes are on you and anything can happen.”
Lisa, who was sexually abused at her former workplace, told OurHealth that she often takes longer routes, just to avoid being raped.
*Not her real name