The Spectre of Domestic Violence and Its Progeny: A South African Perspective
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, 1 Mar 2021
“Monsters Breed Monsters”
Today, Thursday, 25th February 2021, officially marks the day when abject poverty has been vanquished in the Peoples Republic of China under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, when he announced that China has scored a “complete victory” in its fight against poverty. This is based on the Chinese benchmark earning of $US2.30 per day, income has been achieved in China[i]. President Jinping is also General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, said absolute poverty has been eradicated in the world’s most populous country[ii]. This is indeed a landmark victory in the global fight against poverty.
On a more sombre note, the global deaths from SARS Cov-2 pandemic has reached 2,497,023[iii]. The Declaration of Covid-19 as a Pandemic by the World Health Organisation on 11th March 2020[iv] with 118,00 recorded cases in over 110 countries globally and the sustained risk of further global spread, was the beginning of another pandemic in South Africa, which saw an unprecedented rise in cases of general domestic violence. On March 23, 2020, the South African government declared the first Level 5 lockdown[v] which was officially initiated from midnight on Thursday 26th March 2020. This date also signified an exponential increase in Gender Based Violence (GBV) as well as Violence Against Women and Children (VAWAC). During this strict 21-day lockdown, announced by the South African President, Honourable Cyril Ramaphosa during which all South Africans were instructed to stay at home, except the “essential personnel” or “under strictly controlled circumstances, such as to seek medical care, buy food, medicine and other supplies or collect a social grant”[vi].
This singular act of people staying at home resulted in an increase in generalised domestic violence and the birth of its progenies in the form of GBV, VAWAC.
According to non-governmental organization, Amnesty International, GBV increased in at least five southern African countries during different Covid-19 lockdowns.[vii]
In a study titled “Treated like furniture: Gender-based violence and Covid-19 response in Southern Africa”[viii], the NGO found that during the Covid-19 lockdown imposed by southern African countries, some homes across the region became enclaves of cruelty, rape and VAWAC trapped with abusive family members and nowhere to report or escape the danger, because of the lockdown.
In South Africa, within the first week of the lockdown, the South African Police Service reported receiving 2,300[ix] calls for help related to gender-based violence. By mid-June 2020, 21 women and children had been killed by intimate partners in the country.
In analysing the fundamental problem in South Africa and the reasons for the rampant increase in general Domestic Violence[x], as an umbrella malady amongst the members of the community, one needs to examine the essential, four basic “Pillars of Humanoids”. These are The Physical Form, The Material Form, The Intellectual Form and The Spiritual Form, which make up total humanity. In this hierarchy there is an increasing level of human evolution from prehistoric times and the Neanderthal Man[xi]. Most of humanity has only achieved the first two levels of advancement and socially has not evolved any further. These stages do not apply to the socio-economic status of the individual and not concomitant in development but are totally independent of one another. The members of the community who have remained at the first two phases of the pillars of human development are the protagonist of Domestic Violence. They are the “violinists” in the orchestra of Gender Based Violence, ranging from “gentle” verbal abuse to grievous body harm and culminating in brutal murders of their female counterparts[xii]. This is a personality trait[xiii], deeply embedded in the genotype mainly in the male gender but also occurs in females to a much lesser extent and physical manifestations.
Globally, one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Roughly 20 percent of women have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18, while just over 7 percent of women and girls older than 15 have experienced non-partner sexual violence.[xiv]
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which happen each year from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, offer an important opportunity to step back and consider what we can do all year long to put an end to gender-based violence.[xv]
In South Africa and globally, the spectre of Domestic Violence has increased during the Covid-19 lockdowns of different levels for the following reasons[xvi]. There are cultural issues of male dominance in African Countries. The male is the ruler and what he says is final with no representation from the fairer sex, what soever, in household matters, in governance and social issues. The male ego is sacrosanct and must be respected. The additional problem is that females have a domestic role to play and are traditionally subservient to the males who are principally the bread winners in a single income household[xvii].
Females are often involved in menial, low paying employment and who have often played no role in the “Council of Village Elders”[xviii], which is constituted by males. Another issue is the consumption of alcohol and compounded by drug addiction. Often males are involved in polygamous relationship[xix] due to the traditional migrant worker system[xx] deeply rooted by the former apartheid system[xxi], prior to 1994. In fact during the Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa, alcohol was the main concern and many black market entrepreneurs[xxii] emerged making a fortune by selling alcohol in the township. It was interesting to note that the hospitalisation rates from alcohol and substance abuse decreased drastically due to a ban on alcohol sales, freeing up vitally need bed for Covid-19 patient.[xxiii] As soon as the alcohol was more freely available due to pressure on the government, from the wine industry, there was a concomitant rise in the number of motor vehicle accidents with resultant hostalisations and mortality.[xxiv] Therefor substance abuse is a major contributory factor in the genesis of DV and GBV.
The investigation by law enforcement officers in South Africa have often been mismanaged due to very poor crime analysis techniques and training.[xxv] This is due to poor educational status of the personnel, nepotism, “jobs for pals” and rampant corruption in some sectors of the police force. The famous post script when a murder or a transgression of law is reported in the media from minor crimes to major criminal activities and brutal murder is “The police are investigating”. There is often no further follow up as nothing has been investigated or the file is mysteriously “lost”. In fact, several high-profile murders have been obfuscated.[xxvi]
His Holiness, Pope Francis celebrates the joy of Easter in 2020, amid sorrow of the coronavirus pandemic outbreak.[xxvii] “In responding to the grave challenges caused by the present pandemic, we Christians are guided by the wisdom and strength born of the virtues of faith, hope and love.” With these words, Pope Francis began his catechesis series on the COVID-19 pandemic. Time and time again, Pope Francis has focused his attention on the dignity of the human being, and particularly on the poor of wealth and spirit. Time and time again, Pope Francis has focused his attention on the dignity of the human being, and particularly on the poor of wealth and spirit.
The conversion of the heart is central to reform efforts that put the human being at the centre of a new global narrative, which is one without distinction for race, religion, social status or nationality.[xxviii] In terms of DV and GBV the perpetrator of these transgressions are manifesting the Four Broken Pillars of acceptable social behaviour, namely; Hearing but not listening, Examining but not feeling, Analysing but not thinking and Looking but not seeing. In fact, majority of perpetrators of these social maladies are highly orthodox religious individuals in the community.[xxix]
Regarding the migrants, even in South Africa from neighbouring countries, the researchers are training men and women in informal settlements in digital storytelling and developing narratives. Refugees are being empowered to develop podcast content that they believe will transform gender norms and behaviors in their community. These podcasts allow people to share their own stories, as well as create opportunities for community-based dialogue.[xxx]
Targeted empowerment training, undertaken over 3-4 days, aims to improve mental health and increase personal agency, as well as improve uptake and use of clean fuels and cookstoves. This has already been shown to enhance productivity, self-efficacy, and fortitude. The next stage of this study, which is engaging men as well as women, will establish if it has an impact on GBV.[xxxi]
The institutes of higher learning in South Africa and in particular the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is proactive and deeply committed to ensure that all students and staff are able to study, work and live in an environment free from gender-based violence (GBV), including sexual harassment, according to the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nana Poku in a communique.[xxxii] The institution has developed and implemented a GBV policy and strategy, reporting protocol and numerous awareness campaigns, it is deeply concerned at the low levels of reported instances of GBV across the campi and residences.
Other suggested strategies against DV and GBV include government proactivity, identification of GBV stereotypes, human trafficking and prostitution, kidnaps and female sale as a commodity are rampant in Sub Saharan Africa including South Africa.[xxxiii] Furthermore, unsafe abortions, poor perinatal care, suttee practices in India and fate of widows, firearms and femicide all need to be prioritised in the battle against DV as undiagnosed infantile psychosocial upbringing have effects on GBV/ This strategy can be aided by use of technology in combating DV and registering regular offenders in a central database, from which files cannot be removed, by corrupt officials. Use of visuals such as “Everyday Heroes” which is comic story set in a vibrant and multi-cultural peri-urban community, of Bhekanani[xxxiv] (help one another) has had a positive impact on GBV.[xxxv]
In the United Nations, leaders, ministers from over 100 nations admitted that 25 years after the adoption of a road map to achieve equality for women, not a single country has reached that goal.[xxxvi] Furthermore, many warned that instead of progress there is now pushback. French President Emmanuel Macron put it bluntly: “Women’s rights are under attack”.[xxxvii] Safe Shelters, creation of emergency contingency plans for DV, are suggested strategies to combat DV and multidisciplinary research as well as evidence based interventions are urgently needed.[xxxviii]
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has attributed gender inequality to “centuries of discrimination, deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny”[xli] and this is one of the main causative factors in the generation and propagation of GBV.
In conclusion, there must be tightening of the justice systems so that legal loopholes are not exploited by the protagonists of DV. Government inertia and lack of political will are aggravating the problems in a country already plagued by racial and social inequities. At present, the law enforcement and the applicable justice systems are in favour of the criminals. In addition, the government, the private sector as well as the institutes of higher education in South Africa need to review and align the policies relating to GBV and sexual harassment, to the internationally acceptable norms, irrespective of traditions and cultures. Policies need to be reviewed regarding GBV with reference to coordination, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, reporting and accountability. Role modelship needs to change “I need a sword, a pocket knife and gun when I am big papa.” A 5-year-old girl tells her father. Is this what our society has become in South Africa?[xlii]
Finally, historical, and religious perspectives “Pillar of Salt”[xliii] ethos towards a female who transgressed need to be contextualised, where females are regarded as inferior and perpetrators of sin from the time of Genesis. Infant femicide[xliv] in middle eastern countries and drowning new born baby girls in milk[xlv], as well as in the Indian peninsula have all added credence to GBV and these ancient philosophies must be reindoctrinated in the communities affected by DV. Religious leaders need to be active participants in the battle against DV by regular propagation of the evils of GBV and change the mindset of members of their respective congregations in terms of their upbringing and childhood, family indoctrination to prevent DV and GBV in the community.
[xlii] Personal communication to the author by a shocked parent
Prof. Hoosen Vawda, BSc, MBChB (Natal), ATLS, ACLS (NZ), PhD (Wits):
-Community Health and Indigent Programme Services–Social Outreach, Medical Programme (Not for Profit Organisation)
-Lifestyle Change Management – PR: 1501305, MP: 0193801
Tags: Africa, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Gender Based Violence-GBV, VAWAC-Violence Against Women and Children
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 1 Mar 2021.
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