Gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa: the new terror, the new normal

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South Africa has one of the highest rates of intimate partner violence, where rape and sexual violence have become the order of the day.

No country exists free of violence, whether moderate or severe, and South Africa is no exception – hence, it is customarily referred to as having a ‘culture of violence’. As a country, South Africa is also widely known for its scourge of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), to the extent that it is notoriously known for being one of the most unsafe places in the world to be a womxn. Statistically, South Africa is ranked as number 38 of the most violent countries in the world out of 163.

Given this violent culture, South Africa has become a terror for womxn and children because of its high levels of GBV and other related issues, which are commonly making news headlines. This scourge consequently threatens the very existence of its citizens, particularly womxn, children, and the LGBTQ+ community. South Africa has one of the highest rates of intimate partner violence, where rape and sexual violence have become the order of the day. Womxn, young girls, and children in our country die at the hands of men every day – abused, assaulted, harassed, and murdered.

As a country, we are at the mercy of this calamity – it penetrates and impinges on every facet and fabric of our society. For this crucial reason, we need to come together as communities and end this entrenched crisis.

Institutions of higher education are a playground for GBV incidents

Incidents of GBV are increasing at a concerning rate in and around South African institutions of higher education – they have, to a large extent, become playing fields for this scourge. The increasing pervasiveness of such incidents is a worrying factor, especially because evidence points out that cases of rape and all related issues are a major underreported matter in South African universities.

This fact then urges us to make an intensive effort to eliminate this plight in our universities. We need to eliminate this plight, because GBV threatens and undermines the principles and laws that uphold human dignity and human rights as articulated in the Constitution of SA. More so, a number of survivors of GBV have experienced depression, and many others committed suicide because of it.

Several other students have left these institutions without completing their studies, consequently threatening the development of a skilled workforce and sound youth in the country. In addition, it is ironic that a large number of incidents of GBV occur in the very institutions of higher education that our society expects to be exemplary and to serve as a moral compass for a number of societal entities. Institutions of higher education are supposed to teach and instil principles of respect for human rights for all.

Institutions, therefore, need to rethink all related policies and mechanisms set up to address and prevent incidents of GBV.

Way forward?

The scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) has become somewhat of a normalised phenomenon in our society, where South Africans witness and read about it three hours of every day. This normative nature of GBV has become evident in how all womxn are feeling less and less safe each day, both in public and in their homes. Secondly, it has become evident in the ruthless nature of the rape and murder incidents reported each day, and lastly, in the lack of accountability of individuals (the perpetrators) and society at large for this scourge.

The time has therefore come for all South Africans to rethink how we can deal with this current reality – to stop and decisively deal with this problem for the safety of womxn, young girls, and children and for the progress and prosperity of the country. The complexity of this phenomenon requires multifaceted strategies and responses from all institutions and every citizen of South Africa. In addition, it has become quite evident that South Africa is a country that lacks the culture of accountability and consequences for perpetrators of violence. Therefore, going forward, South Africa needs to start by being a country that accounts for and takes outright responsibility when it comes to GBV. We need to come up with and improve services for womxn who have suffered any kind of abuse, notably, healthcare services and referral networks of reporting GBV. Other initiatives vital to tackling this scourge, include: continuous training, monitoring, and sensitisation of police officers on GBV and response to cases of GBV; improving pre-existing and/or developing institutional policies and procedures (where there is none) for GBV cases; developing and improving procedures for GBV survivors; developing and improving educational material at all schooling levels; assimilating and making gender and queer discourses compulsory in post-school education and training (PSET) curricula; incorporating GBV to become a crucial research discourse in the post-schooling system. Lastly, initiating programmes that focus on young men and boys.

The plight of GBV in institutions of higher education and in our communities all around South Africa is reflective of the calamities that the country is currently faced with, such as the underlying challenges in the curriculum, toxic institutional cultures, and so forth. GBV is a thorn that is continuously poking with every step we take as a country. This scourge is and has been a terror to womxn across all communities of South Africa. We need to rid our nation of this terror. We need to rid ourselves of this ‘new normal’, which has negatively impacted the identity of our people and nation.

Opinion article by Siyanda Magayana, Unit for Institutional Change and Social Justice, Qwaqwa Campus, University of the Free State.