'No safe place': South African women suffering 'epidemic' of violence, activists warn

by Kim Harrisberg | @KimHarrisberg | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 3 September 2019 16:01 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Fikhile Mthiyane (L), holds her 2 week-old grandson Lubanzi Ndlovu as she talks with her mother-in law, Thumekile Mthiyane, 90, who is known as Gogo Mthiyane, outside of the family home in KwaNdengezi, South Africa, May 18, 2017. Gogo means grandmother in Zulu. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

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According to government statistics, more than 1,500 people are murdered every month in South Africa, a nation with a history of violence and profound inequality

By Kim Harrisberg

JOHANNESBURG, Sept 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A ctivists have warned of an "epidemic" of violence against women in South Africa after a spate of killings and rapes sparked outrage in a country with one of the world's highest murder rates.

A female boxing champion was gunned down on Friday by a man allegedly serving as a police officer and another man was charged on Monday with attacking a Cape Town university student in a post office and raping and murdering her.

According to government statistics, more than 1,500 people are murdered every month in South Africa, a nation with a history of violence and profound inequality.

But the brazen attacks have shocked even those accustomed to daily incidents of violence.

"These murders are proof that the battleground is no longer nighttime and dodgy spaces ... even public spaces like the post office are no longer safe," said Given Sigauqwe from rights groups Sonke Gender Justice calling the violence an "epidemic".

"We need the criminal justice system to be more accountable and the perpetrators of these violent crimes to face the full might of the law," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed "deep pain and support" for the families of recent victims of gender violence, underscoring the growing political significance of the issue.

Thousands of South Africans on social media used the hashtag #AmINextProtest to call for criminal justice reform.

More than 400,000 signed a petition demanding the death penalty - abolished in 1995 - be reinstated for crimes against women.

Some pointed to the sad irony of the killing of boxer Leighandre "Baby Lee" Jegels which happened at the end of August, celebrated as Women's Month in the country.

About 3,000 women in South Africa were murdered in 2018 - or one every three hours - which is more than five times higher than the global average, according to the World Health Organization.

Authorities have condemned the killings and the South African government said on its Twitter account on Tuesday that women "should not allow themselves to become victims".

The post was deleted after being criticised for blaming victims.

"Enough of this nonsense making men's crimes a woman's responsibility," tweeted South African Tessa Moore.

A vigil for the murdered student, 19-year-old Uyinene Mrwetyana, was held at the University of Cape Town on Monday. (Reporting by Kim Harrisberg @kimharrisberg; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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