It is a known fact that gender-based violence, especially rape and femicide often affects women the most in South Africa. South Africa was declared the rape capital of the world, beating countries that are experiencing active armed conflict. Although the names of victims are chanted and put up on billboards, the narrative of their experience is often blurred between the lines of the public's anger towards the unchanging state of insecurity for women in the country.
On July 29, eight women were gang-raped in the Krugersdorp mine dumps during a music video shoot. The crime caught the attention of the media, the minister and Commissioner of Police. The police commissioner ordered an immediate operation to raid the R28 mine dumps. The detained suspects are profiled as illegal foreign nationals from Lesotho, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.
Although the police responded to the case by raiding the Krugersdorp mines their response could be categorised as performative because it spoke to the public sentiment, and an easy fix not related to the real problem or the needs of victims that experienced trauma of a gang rape. These women's stories were only used as a headline but none of the interventions spoken about on public platforms related to the well-being and justice for the victims.
The normalisation of violence in South Africa can be traced in the relationship between the state and the public. The public's currency to communicate to the state is through protest and shutdowns. The police interventions in protests often lead to violence, rubber bullets are used for crowd control and community members are arrested for protesting.
Often times protesters destroy property, burn tyres, and close off streets to get the attention of the municipality, provincial and state authorities. These shutdowns often occur after an incident of disaster like a femicide case , a rape, or a prolonged state of no service delivery, and all these can be attributed to the incapacity of provincial and municipal departments to efficiently serve the community.
The residents of Mogale City have reported individual cases of rape, theft, and vandalism by the alleged zama zamas for years, but inaction from the police led to the tipping of a boiling situation. The community believes the police's lack of response is due to corruption, alleging that the zama zamas bribe the police so they can continue operating.
The public already does not trust the police, and their violent response and treatment during protests and shutdowns often continues to affirm the gap of trust between the police and the community. The use of violence as a means of public order, is no stranger to black South Africans in the townships; during apartheid, the white government used violence as a means of control.
The incident dominated the headlines and Krugersdorp community members took to the street to protest for the safety of women and children. This led to protests and the shutdown of Krugersdorp with the focus shifting from gang rape to zama zamas' illegal mining. But, interventions did not consider the psychosocial needs of the victims.
Individuals were violated in the act of sexual abuse, with rape comes many psychosocial implications, like trauma and stigma. This incident amplified the fear that women live with, highlighting that there is no safe place for a woman's body as these women were working. Due to fear, women in South Africa have self-imposed curfews and prefer to be in groups to feel safer. Yet the incident highlighted that groups in South Africa do not offer a measure of protection.
The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation conducted a study on GBV within Kagiso.
Findings from the study have shown that women are primary victims of GBV and that they are often blamed for violence committed against them.
Moreover, the responsibility for women's safety is placed on women to bear, because of the narrative regarding black women in South Africa; having to be strong and handle all challenges they invariably experience secondary traumatisation as leaders are negating their experiences.
Bheki Cele's utterances: "One woman was raped by 10 different men. The other one by eight, the other one by six, the other one by four, [the other by] three. The one 19-year-old was lucky — if it is lucky — [to be] raped by one man," demonstrate the insensitivity regarding the crime. Such utterances normalise the act of sexual violence and diminish the experience of one victim by quantifying experience as "lucky" when a woman experiences sexual violence from one person.
The gang rape was a catalyst that emphasised the complexities of violence that female bodies encounter in the townships. From interpersonal violence that occurs within confined spaces, transcending to the public space, to structural and symbolic violence against the people by the state to the collective violence that becomes the smoke that calls the state to respond.
South Africa's history is embedded in violence, and it seems its future will be as well. As a country that prides itself for the principle of ubuntu, it's imperative that ubuntu starts at home.
Normalising emotional support in private and public spaces like at home, socialising young girls and boys to choose peaceful means of dealing with conflict and issues. Speaking out against violence should be normalised, especially with the public not tolerating hate and derogatory speeches from leaders as the norm.
The work of CSVR promotes peaceful, equal, and violence-free societies. Our mission is to promote sustainable peace at community, national, regional, and global levels by understanding, preventing, and addressing the effects of violence and inequality.