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Enough condemnation, we need protection; we need action

Capetonians took to the streets outside Parliament on Thursday, 5 September to raise their voices and take a stand against the onslaught of femicide and gender-based violence that has rocked South Africa in recent weeks. Claire Mathieson was on the streets and created this pictorial of the day’s events.

Protesters included children in school uniform, civil society organisations dressed in a sombre black, political and faith-based groups, and a stream of people walking out of their offices. But the distinction was not that obvious. The sense of togetherness – enhanced by common messages, chanting and singing, flowed through the masses.

This sense of “togetherness” was in stark contrast to how most of the protesters said they felt: afraid, scared, and largely ignored by leadership. The sense of urgency from the government, law enforcement and other civil bodies does not appear to be on par with the need the crowds were calling for. Condemning violence was simply “not enough”, with many of the protesters carrying signs asking “Am I next?” – a phrase popularised on social media and highlighting how indiscriminate and frequent the attacks against women are. No one is safe.

There was also a question of “where” women could feel safe. The image of a closed church in the background to the protest was perhaps telling of how dire and lost South Africans feel, with multiple protesters asking “Where am I safe?”

The image of Uyinene Mrwetyana, the recent victim of femicide inside a city post office, was ubiquitous, as were the names of dozens of other high-profile victims. The latest statistics reveal a woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa.

And while men still make up the majority of victims, South Africa had the fourth highest female interpersonal violence death rate out of the 183 countries listed by the World Health Organisation in 2016. This makes the country one of the most unsafe countries for women to live in – a fact many believed was due to a failure of government.

There was a strong police presence during the largely-peaceful march. President Cyril Ramaphosa did come out to the streets to address the crowds. Sadly, force would later be used to disperse crowds who felt such statements were not enough. They broke through barricades outside the World Economic Forum (WEF), currently underway in the city.

As protesters departed, they left their messages outside Parliament – which, ironically, was extremely well protected and seemingly not under threat. “This is the kind of policing we want to see every day,” said one protester. “Today I feel safe on the streets of Cape Town, but today is not an ordinary day.”

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.