South Africa can be a difficult country to love, but beneath all the disappointment, fear and anger we do love her deeply. Ubuntu calls us to one body and when the hand is injured the pain resonated through the whole person. At this moment the pain is rippling through our country and behind muffled cries rises desperate prayers that this must stop!

We have coddled our reality with acronyms and softer terms. We can get stuck behind them, like GBV and harassment. We have learned to avoid the sting of our truth. That rape is rape and that violence is violent. It has become critical for us to view this as more than the political football our leaders wish to pass around. It is time that we realize that our country, our people, our mothers, brothers, fathers and sisters are all suffering. And so should we continue to address acts of violence against our women, children and the most vulnerable? Should we continue to address gender-based violence and harassment? Or, perhaps, should we simply just stop?  Should we not stop GBV and harassment? Should we not simply stop acts of violence against our women, children and the most vulnerable?  To some this may seem like a novel or idealistic approach and others may deem it impossible.  But, as idealistic as it may be it is certainly not impossible. Not when the only real obstacle is ourselves.


Kwanele! Enough.


Every year organizations, politicians, even local heroes approach the podium on Women's Day to make the same pleas. They try to appeal to our better natures - our morality. They make cases for the amazing benefits of a safer society. They call us to a higher purpose and to be mindful of each other. Yet, the status quo remains. So much so that the day itself can be viewed as a grotesque anniversary of our people's greatest shame. South Africa is widely known as the rape capital of the world. What morality is there still to discover? What do we need to fix to enjoy the amazing benefits of safety? Can we be called to a higher purpose and consider each other? It seems so much easier if we would just, stop. Men to stop allowing their insecurities to manifest as violence. Women to stop attacking other women who come forward. South Africans to stop looking to violence as the knee jerk response to all crisis.

When Covid hit our shores the violence became concentrated to the home. Because of this emergency lines were flooded with desperate calls for help. Lockdown revealed that for millions of us the home is not a safe place. 2020 statistics revealed that femicide was out of control with 1 South African woman being murdered every 6 hours. Sadly, the true number is likely to be higher as these statistics were determined only through the information known to us.  Most victims do not report their assaults as the investigation and prosecution thereof is often sloppy or not given the appropriate urgency. There are no shortage of examples where coming forward placed the victim in even more danger and in many cases lead to that very woman being discovered and further brutalised, if not murdered, by the accused.


Kwanele! Enough.


Then the barriers of lock down were lifted and through the gates came pouring more violence, seeping into our remaining spaces. To some the horrific attack and rape of the innocent women during a recent photoshoot may have been deemed as an attack by foreign elements, who by nature must be evil. To others we can see the journey we took to get here and we can recognize that we have paved that very road ourselves. We cannot place the onus of our aggression solely on the shoulders of foreigners. It is by our hands that the violence in our hearts are realized and only our actions and thoughts can change that reality. It remains that most of these acts of violence are committed by someone close to the victim or known to the family. So this is very much still a South African issue at heart. Violence is birthed and fed in the secret places of our thoughts, and it is there that we have the unique opportunity to arrest those thoughts and practice the mindfulness that thousands of speakers and leaders have beckoned us towards. South Africa undeniably has a culture of violence and it is our most vulnerable and loved that pay the price for our inability to control it. It is here, in our thought-life, where we can take the first steps in making the violence stop.

It is critical that we arrive at a point where we acknowledge that this goes beyond a “zama-zama crisis”.  How can it be that our neighbours are inherently violent? Perhaps only the violent and criminal foreigners slip through our borders? Or is it perhaps the climate itself, the one we have created, that has resulted in the ideal breeding ground for the dark seeds of hate to take root? This violent nature that stems from the hearts and minds of every person living within these etched out borders. Is it possible that to some degree we are all being strangled by its vines? Presented during those moments of envy or embarrassment when you lash out with a sharp tongue at a loved one. Or when you catch yourself feeling big by making someone else feel small. 


Kwanele! Enough.


We have gotten used to fathers slapping around mothers. We have spent evenings trying to drown out the shouts and screams between two people who once declared their love for each other. We are taught that submitting to another is weakness and tantamount to destruction and so we set out to destroy others first. We are raised in these houses; in these communities; with these values. We are indeed raised within a culture of violence. It has closely become an official language within these borders. A language peppered with fear and hatred. Our first response to every crisis. And it is the language our children will inherit.

It has become a life-saving requirement for men to learn better ways of communicating and manifesting their frustrations. The biggest challenge among men remains our ability to recognize that what we were taught about men who don't cry was fundamentally flawed. The phrase “women are not objects” is commonly used, yet most men seem to remain blind to how their actions and words are communicating exactly the opposite. Others allow their insecurities to control them and they outright dismiss the concept of equality. Even if we do not outright treat women as objects our thoughts and views on them might betray us as our education may have blinded us to some of our own behaviour. Most men have not given serious time or consideration to how they view the women around them and some are too afraid to find out. It must be noted that statistically males commit the vast majority of sex crimes and to such an extent that they are unambiguously seen as the problem.

Women also need to create safer spaces for other women. Victim blaming and false allegations are two specific areas that hamstring the progress that so many have fought, and died, for. When women cannot find a safe space with other women, where their cries can be heard and responded to, then where can they go? For same sex relationships this vacuum can make things even more painful and confusing. Have we considered that we minimize and dismiss the violence in a same sex relationships largely due to our ignorance and deliberate fear-mongering by some?

Recently it was announced that a local South African celebrity will be returning to the screen after allegations of assault was brought against him by his ex-partner. We know now that the courts have cleared him of these allegations. As comforting as it is to see the wheels of justice turn towards the innocent it is these types of false allegations that threaten to destroy the progress made toward realising a safer world. They cast doubts on legitimate cases and further alienate victims. Also this year an American celebrity couple exposed their legal proceedings for all the world to view, get involved in and comment on.  This internet spectacle captured the attention of millions, even here in our own country.  Viewers indulged in a televised buffet of domestic abuse and our hearts were exposed through online comments and conversations with peers.  These allegations also did not withstand the test and was followed by queue of internet trolls, fingers at the ready to distort our humanity. Through our online activity with these cases and, many other legitimate cases of assault, it has been revealed that, barring their use for entertainment, women as members of society have not made authentic progress in many people’s minds. Men and women alike.


Kwanele! Enough.


During his inaugural speech, President Nelson Mandela (Madiba) cherished the idea of a united, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. During this historical milestone Madiba declared, ” We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.”. He further stated, “We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”.

Words that painted this amazing picture of a safe and prosperous society - how sadly they echo now. We may argue that violence has been observed throughout humankind and our history, but even so we cannot deny that in some areas of the world it is simply out of control. That in some countries it has gone beyond common understanding and reason and that a turning point has to be reached, soon. We live in such a country. And no one is going to help us change it. No number of raids will eradicate this weed that is strangling the life out of our people and no petition can be circulated wide enough for politicians to be moved in an authentic way. But, we do hold the power within ourselves, to begin today, and become part of the change. This must go beyond a novel slogan, shedding the cliches and good "feels" that surround it, and become a mantra. A daily commitment to leave this world better than how we found it. A personal challenge to grow and do better next time. A commitment to ourselves and a future that we may still come to deserve.

This is a war for the very soul of our nation and the only way anyone will be left standing is by changing the tactics.  As it stands we are all slumped at the finish line, together in collective failure. All of us duped into a race we were never going to win with effort alone. Last year the NTEU President, Mr Xolani Tom, posed a challenge to, “defend[ing] where we cannot. It is my challenge to you, men young and old, to speak up when you see a sister being harassed, to end the derogatory joke, to correct the language of your peers until it fits the value of the person it’s addressing. Today the challenge lies before you to re-evaluate your own thoughts and behaviour. Will your voice be one of those joining in on the joke, or will you be a champion in that moment, taking the decision to make South Africa a safer place for everyone? I believe you can be the latter. I believe you can be that champion, and not just for one day, but all 365 of them!”.


Dear South Africa, a country at times so difficult to love and yet the heart bows to you every time. Kwanele. Please, you must stop.


Issued By:

Jako Nel

NTEU Brand & Communications Manager

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NTEU is a politically non-aligned trade union organizing exclusively in the Higher Education sector and is aligned to FEDUSA, the largest politically non-aligned trade union federation in South Africa.