I wanted to wish you a Happy Women’s Day yesterday, but I choked

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South Africa - Johannesburg - 09 August 2019 Totalsports Womens Race Johannesburg Mary Fitzgerald Square celebration of womens day Bhekikhaya Mabaso: African News Agency (ANA)

I wanted to wish you a #HappyInternationalWomensDay yesterday, but I choked. I remembered just a couple of weeks ago when I took out my pepper spray and gave it to my niece who lives with me. I thought I would have to sit her down and explain to her why she needs it and how to use it.

Instead, when she saw it she exclaimed with so much relief “oh Dabs thank you so so much. You don’t know how much I have really needed this. You have no idea! Could I also have a stun gun please?”

I remained calm for her sake, while a lump sped up my throat and my body died one of those little deaths; because I knew exactly what she was talking about. We had casually talked about the cat-calls which are a daily experience for her, and the taxi drivers who pester her aggressively for her phone number every day as she goes to and from school.

The worse are the feelings of insecurity everywhere you go because there are always eyes, tongues, hands, and the ever present sense of danger and vulnerability on our streets. It is difficult to explain this to a male or someone who does not rely on public transport; what real insecurity feels like.

I had been shocked since my arrival in Johannesburg how aggressive and blatant the unwanted advances of men are here – even towards me, a 44 year old woman who knows exactly where to land a punch if the need ever arises. It’s unrelenting.

I kept a straight face throughout the conversation, but I died a little inside; hating every minute of having to train my daughter to never ever walk free on the streets. To be on guard, watchful, ready with a hand on the spray or a fight for her life. Where the hell am I and just how do I prepare her for this environment, while helping her save some innocence and hope for a bright untainted future?

I wanted to wish you happy women’s day yesterday, but I choked. I woke up to read about Lynette Ntuli, South Africa’s power house in the property industry. I had been wondering through 2019 where she had gone. Then I met her a couple of months ago on a flight. By met her I mean I saw her because I do not know her personally. I remember then thinking “what’s wrong? Who do you talk to when life is too much? Who is holding your hand?”

At the time, her voice seemed just too agitated on the call she was taking. The look in her eye was stressed and almost lifeless. I always die a little inside when I see young amazing women whose eyes have lost life, because I know a little too well what is going on behind that veil of success for most African women going against an unrelenting culture of oppression and exploitation whether in society or workplace. Turns out that she was in a fight for her life. Warranted by the mere fact that she was born a woman, living in South Africa; dealing with yet another entitled arrogant male criminal masquerading as a human being. Would it be too strong to wish he burns in hell?

So happy international women’s’ day. I hope you are breathing easy today. I, on the other hand, am still choking.

While South African women face real threats that could be solved in a moment; the powers that be in the Presidency are fighting over bureaucracy, red tape and turf. The President announced an emergency plan to address gender-based violence and femicide in 2019 after strong calls from civil society at the World Economic Forum Africa and on the streets. The committee responsible for the strategy and implementation has gone dead quiet. 

How many years does a country need to develop and adopt a strategy for one of its most urgent crises? You heard me right – the strategy to address GBVF is yet to be adopted in South Africa. Both Parliament and the Commission for Gender Equality issued a press statement last week stating the blatant refusal of this Presidential Committee to account for its work and funds allocated.

While this turf war takes place, there is the remaining question of who will manage and account for the 1 billion that the President announced as part of the GBV Fund. At stake are not just funds from government; but also funds from business and the donor community. It seems certain that there are preferred service providers already lining up to take chunks of the slice. Yet there is no transparency about the criteria for those being front-loaded; neither are there accountability systems in place to ensure that funds will eventually do their intended purpose. Can we trust that the system will handle funds of this nature when it has failed so many times before? Of course not.

There is also the unanswered question about the contribution of the business community in South Africa to a GBV fund which was made during the WEF Africa.  Subsequent to the meetings of last year, a seeming commitment emerged from BUSA, Business Leadership South Africa and the JSE.  It is deeply disappointing that no movement has been seen from these entities since.  Why are different forces pulling in different directions on a matter so straight-forward?

The solutions are as simple today as they were last year and the year before that: Put an emergency response system in place for women and children under attack. Technology to do this exists, it simply needs to be deployed to every South African.

Purge perpetrators out of society to jail where they belong. Can you believe that some perpetrators are still employed by government? A shared registry of offenders requires a simple information management system that business can develop in a matter of weeks.

Establish a joint but independent GBV fund between government, business and donors to pump funds into effective efforts to re-educate society, rebuild family cohesion, strengthen platforms for boys and men, take care of victims, and redress the situation. Examples of such funds, accountable to appropriate structures, exist and are effective when properly managed.

Each of these solutions would take between 3 and 6 months to get off the ground if our leaders were serious. But no, we would rather talk about it instead of doing something about it. So yes, happy international women’s day.

I hope you are not choking today. Because I am.


Namhla Mniki is a leader in sustainable development, global activist and agitator, pan-Africanist, ambassador representing the African Monitor and founder of KB Media.