Southern African Catholic Bishops Justice & Peace Commission Speaks Against Gender-Based Violence & Femicide Following Uyinene Mrwetyana’s Murder

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Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old first-year student at the University of Cape Town went to the local post office on August 24 to collect a parcel. At first, she was turned away and told to come back later as the electricity was out.

When she later returned, the same employee who turned she away attacked her. She was raped, bludgeoned with a scale, and murdered. On September 2, the 42-year-old employee was arrested. He confessed in court to her rape and murder.

After Mrwetyana’s murder, the rage of women across South Africa could be felt.

On the 5th of September, over 1,000 protesters gathered outside South Africa’s parliament in Cape Town and marched to the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) where the World Economic Forum (WEF) was being held. They demanded that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa take action amid a growing crisis of violence against women.

Frustrated, protesters, most of whom were women, started to block the streets in the city. The police used stun grenades to disperse them. Unfortunately, eleven protesters – eight women and three men – were arrested.
But that did not stop the women’s protests against gender-based violence and femicide.

The hashtag #AmINext started to trend online, with women sharing their experiences of harassment and sexual assault.

Anonymously, details, including the names of alleged rapists, were shared online, contributing to the nationwide anger.

“The nation is in deep mourning. We are all deeply disturbed by the killing of women,” said Ramaphosa during a WEF keynote address.

Ramaphosa said the government would recommit itself to do everything in its power to make sure those accused were arrested and dealt with.

Data released by the South African Police Service shows that 20,336 people were murdered in the year 2017-2018, 2,930 of the victims were women.

The statistics indicate a woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa, according to a report by Aljazeera.

Reports indicate that in the month of August this year, over 30 women were killed in gender-based violence in South Africa.

The killing of Mrwetyana followed that of champion boxer Leighandre Jegels, 25, who was shot by a former boyfriend against whom she had a restraining order.

Before that was the murder of Meghan Cremer, a horse rider who was killed by three men as she left her farm on the outskirts of Cape Town.

Churches have also spoken out against GBV and femicide.

A recent state statement issued by Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SABC) Justice and Peace Commission on September 12, 2019, denounced the epidemic of violence against women, and “expressed outraged by the high levels of intentional killings of women and girls reported nationwide.”

The full statement is below:

Femicide Is A Crime Against Humanity

The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) Justice and Peace Commission is outraged by the high levels of intentional killings of women and girls reported nationwide.

Over the past few weeks, the country has witnessed unapparelled incidences of mindless and callous killings of innocent women and girls. The latest of such tragic killings being that of a University of Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana and boxing champion, Leighandre Jegels who was shot and killed by her police officer boyfriend.

The Justice and Peace Commission does not only condemn the killings, but also anger in our hearts and physical abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse and sexual abuse of women and children. We echo the words of Pope Francis who recently said that;

“Violence against women cannot be treated as ‘normal,’ maintaining a culture of machismo blind to the leading role that women play in our communities. It is not right for us to look the other way and let the dignity of so many women, especially young women, be trampled upon.” (Pope Francis, Peru, 19 June 2018)

South Africa has got an appalling record of femicide rate, with the World Health Organization estimating that 12.1 in every 100 000 women are victims to femicide yearly.  The obtaining human security situation in South Africa, is in stark contrast to the country’s revered democratic ethos. Violation of women’s basic human rights, as manifested in the current wave of wanton and senseless killings of women and young girls testify that South Africa is struggling to transient its violent past epitomized by the apartheid system.

Despite our impressive constitution that embraces plurality and equality between men and women, gender and power relations are still skewed in favour of man. The prevalence of patriarchal practices in all spheres of human interaction and media discourse shows that women are still not being treated as equals. Male chauvinism, misogynistic tendencies and stereotypes about women are a social pathology that still haunts our country. The collective upshot of these toxic day-to-day practices amplified through public institutions and media discourse offer justification for female subordination and oppression by men.

The recurrence of femicide and other forms of gender-based violence in our country speaks to the urgent need for collective action by all concerned parties in order to root out this deplorable culture. The government must take serious and practical steps to stem the tide of femicide. It is therefore imperative that the political leadership puts the security of women and young girls high on the national agenda.

It is time, in the words of Deuteronomy (30:19), to “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live …”   We invite the country to join Pope St John Paul II who once said:

“I proclaim, with all the conviction of my faith in Christ and with an awareness of my mission, that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy…  Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity” (Pope John Paul II, Dublin, 27 September 1979).

There is need for multisectoral engagement to raise public awareness about women’s rights. Existing laws on women’s rights must be enforced without fear or favour to ensure that perpetrators are brought to book. As the Southern African Catholic Bishops Commission Justice and Peace Commission, it is our considered position that femicide is crime against humanity and must be exterminated by all means necessary.

We commit our churches and schools as safe places for women and children. We as church will use our liturgies, catechesis and homilies to sensitize men and boys about the evils of gender-based violence.

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ImChris Charamba

ImChris Charamba

Head Storyteller at Enthuse Afrika. Balances literary writing with pop culture experience. Captivates raw, authentic sights, moments, feelings and conversations. Follow me on Twitter @ImChrisCharamba

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