During the women’s march on Pretoria in 1956, the song they sang encapsulated the pride and dignity of the mothers, sisters and daughters of the nation. They were warning the government of the day that they were a force to be reckoned with, not to be taken for granted. That was then…

In more recent times, tragically, striking a woman seems to have taken on a whole new meaning, has even become a national pastime, affecting not only women, but children, too.  

Once again last Wednesday, as a country, we embarked upon our annual 16-day crusade against violence towards women and children. Judging by the escalation in numbers with each passing year, they are not only targeted for physical abuse and sexual assault, but increasingly, for killings of the most depraved kind. What sort of nation does this to itself? What kind of self-hate drives men to destroy their own future? 

Devastating statistics for the period April to June 2020 were published in the Mail & Guardian in August this year: for instance, of all adult rape charges laid, a mere 32% reached the courts and in only 5% of these cases was there a conviction. The statistics for children was similar: only 42% reached the courts and of these only 9% resulted in guilty verdicts. 

Of course behind these statistics live real women and children with shattered lives, waiting in terror for the next blow to fall, knife to be pulled, or fly to be unzipped. And, shockingly, these people and their abusers are living here amongst us, in the Overstrand.

Of course they must be supported with shelters and counselling and legal advice, but messages like ‘enough is enough’ and ‘stop the scourge’ are meaningless without getting to the heart of the matter: Why are our men behaving like this? Why are they so angry and so desperate that they abuse, mutilate and burn children? This is aberrant behaviour, even in a patriarchy, and if we don’t give it serious attention, we have a bleak future ahead of us. 

This then is our challenge to the people of the Overstrand: Let’s break open the rock of abuse, find the humanity inside and help to create lives of safety and meaning for our women and children, as well as for our men. If anyone in this country can do it, we can.

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