On Gender Violence

Anene Booysen memoria(At the memorial service for Anene Booysen. Source: Daily Maverick)

Anene Booysen was a 17-year old girl from Bredasdorp in the South Western Cape. On Saturday the 2nd of February she went to a bar and drank there until the early hours of the morning. She was then lured out of the bar by some men, who raped her and mutilated her body. Several hours later she was found at a construction site by a security guard and taken to hospital where she later died from all her injuries. Before she died, she named at least one of her attackers (her former boyfriend, Jonathan Davids).

Since then there has been a huge media outcry and somewhere in all the outrage and public statements and marches, the person of Anene Booysen has been, if not ignored, then overlooked. For stories on this, read Kate Stegeman in the M&G and Ranjeni Munusamy at the Daily Maverick. I’ve read several stories on this and heard radio interviews and commentary and all I know about Anene Booysen, other than her shocking murder, is that she was fostered by another couple after her mother died. On the night Anene was killed, her foster mother warned her not to stay out too late.

There is talk that this will finally highlight the appalling violence against women in South Africa in the way that the terrible gang rape in India of the woman known as “India’s daughter” highlighted gender inequalities and violence there.

Generally people have reacted to this story with a combination of shock, numbness, disbelief, sadness, anger and outrage. There have been calls for improved justice, calls for a sustained focus on gender activism, as well as calls for increased funding of NGOs such as Rape Crisis. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights called for a comprehensive approach to tackle the “pandemic of sexual violence in South Africa”. Other commentators have said that after the initial outrage, we as South African society will forget … until the next time.

Apart from making a quick donation to Rape Crisis, I spoke to one of my colleagues about what he thought should be done. He was all for stopping school for a morning and protesting outside Parliament. Since my colleague is a lot older than me (and a respected figure) I couldn’t forcefully disagree with him. But I was frustrated by this response. It’s all very well to protest at what government is doing, but what are we doing? Government would say that they have substantial social development budgets. The President condemned the incident and called for a end to violence against women (perhaps ironic given that he was himself charged with rape a few years back, a charge that was later dismissed).

As for what we as schools or community organisations can do, schools have the power to raise money for worthy causes. Schools as organizations raise money and awareness with all kinds of drives and initiatives. Of course we are all busy. But isn’t it time that civil society engaged around this issue? How do we as a country address these vitally important issues?

We often hear the statement that South Africa is the “rape capital of the world”. Just today I saw that about 65,000 cases of sexual violence are reported in South Africa every year. A small percentage of those result in convictions.

Munusamy quotes Saths Cooper, one of South Africa’s most prominent psychologists, who highlighted the complex nature of sexual violence in South Africa.

He said there were several root causes of sexual violence against women including power relations, socialisation and economic and social conditions.

“In most societies where there is economic stability and social security, incidence of rape is fairly low. But when social and economic conditions are unstable, and there is a high level of uncertainty and anxiety, there are concomitant levels of rape and other aberrations,” Cooper said.

“We don’t know to what extent the frustration of young and old males, at their wits end in a society that has discarded them, where they have no jobs and women tend to get things quicker exacerbates the situation. That is not a cause, but could be an underlying issue behind incidence of sexual violence.”


I hope this story runs and runs. We need to move past numbness and hand-wringing and finger-pointing and outrage and highlight the areas of this problem that need fixing. Then we can support the various organizations that are already working to address the various facets of the problem. Justice needs to be the first priority. Empowering women and young people is crucial. Rehabilitating men is also important. It’s time for the politicians and civil society leaders (and all of us) to come up with plans to address this massive problem.


6 Responses to On Gender Violence

  1. Thank you for posting this, Pete. Like so many, I have been heartbroken and enraged by Anene Booysen’s brutal rape and murder. I would love to see mass protests against rape and sexual violence sweep South Africa just as they have recently swept India. But as you, and many other commentators say, protests and government action aren’t enough until a huge change happens in the hearts and behaviour of men.

    I respect Cooper, but I would like him to unpack what he means by ‘women tend to get things quicker’. I think there’s some old-school misogyny right there in a statement from one of South Africa’s leading psychologists. Which women get things quicker? I’d certainly like to meet them. If men like Cooper are making statements like this, then I fear for other men and the chances of ever changing their attitudes of entitlement to women’s bodies, minds and selfhood.

    • Pete says:

      Hi Charlotte. I think Saths Cooper probably means that girls are often more intelligent (and hard-working) than boys and so advance better through school and so are better equipped for jobs. But I agree with you that it’s worrying if he really thinks that women get things easier and quicker in South Africa than men do. Perhaps the figures on unemployment show that men are less employed than women. Certainly there seems to be a feeling of less qualified men being discarded by society.

      But I agree with you that the statement “women get things quicker” is just plain wrong. I would expect him to have a good understanding of how most societies don’t allow women to get things quicker at all. That discrimination acts at all levels of society.

  2. cvheerden says:

    Hi Pete and everybody who had enough.
    I deal daily with victims of some kind of abuse, I am speaking to many different groups from pastors to students about the importance of civilian courage. Maybe its not the exact perpetrators that attend our church services and are friends of your friends, but definitely family members and friends of victims who look the other way. People need to learn the tell tale signs and step in. It is in our silence and indifference to the crime that we become part of the rape and abuse culture.
    We have to not just teach girls how to self defend, how to avoid abusive situations and how report crimes (why putting all the responsibilities at the victims doorstep, it is sad) but we have to research and address why do men in SA feel the need to dominate using sexual violence? How can we teach boys that this is WRONG?
    I know that the rate of the “random Stranger” abuse is not that high percentage wise, but translated into numbers it is still in the tenths of thousands every year.
    I have thought of a nifty little gadget which might find a market if someone can produce it. (my ancient laptops space bar went…so its a bit difficult to write) in Germany we have this http://www.ebay.de/itm/PERSONENALARM-TASCHENALARM-ELRO-110-dB-SIRENE-SC03-/370487238564
    pocket alarm which is super quick to operate, just pull the trigger out like tugging at a necklace, and makes a super hard unique noise. If Anene had had one of those, the people close by could have been alarmed, because you can not switch it off but have to destroy it which is tough. If one could build as simple app that once this noise maker is triggered, all your friends cell phones go off geo tagging your location, it could really save lives. How many ppl get killed by robbers because it just takes too long reaching for your cell phone, while ripping a trigger off your necklace is super quick?
    Now I have not found such a gadget linked to a cellphone app this would be a first and South Africa would for sure be a super market for it, if we can teach our communities a second value:Civilian Courage. African teens shared with me their concern that in their village every saturday night teens die at parties because just nobody does anything to stop violence.
    The mindset that a human life is not valuable enough to risk your own safety sickens me. Just today I passed a news stand announcing that it’s apparently okay in local tribal mindset for father to “show their daughters how sex happens” aka abuse. I wanted to vomit and attack the journalist, because his tone was so indifferent that its almost condoning, like”who are we to dictate cultural values”. People already feel it is not their business to step in when they assume that a child is being abused. As pastors we deal with sooo much perversion that I sometimes feel I could loose my faith inhuman kind, and I know the only thing that keeps me sane is the word of God and praying.

    But if you have any idea if someone would produce this alarm gadget, it would be possible to launch a more pronounced”step in and help”campaign.
    For now I am working with my church youth guy on a show to teach a different mindset, and I hope we can make adifference.
    I mean, I have never seen so much misogynism as amongst the afrikaans men, really. In my first week here in ~South Africa a lady gave me the sincere advise to “maak oop, maaktoe, maak coffeee” …
    Kiddies are forced to kiss all sorts of creepy relatives and aren’t taught it is okay to say no whenever you do not want to hug someone or you are uncomfortable with somebody.
    What about teaching how to be sensitive to yourself, and get out as soon as you feel unsure.
    I want to be involved in change.

    • Pete says:

      Hi CvH. I really like the idea of courage and agree that it’s a great message to spread to the youth. From a psychological perspective I would add the courage to face up to one’s emotions (positive and negative), one’s fears and of course courage to say no to any kind of abuse. I wonder what kind of life Anene had and what her relationships were like. (This is not to blame her in any way for what happened.)

      I also think the personal safety gadget that you mentioned is a good one. I don’t know any potential backers though (sorry, but I’m sure that corporates would be interested in supporting anything that makes our young women safer).

      Good luck with your work.

      • cvheerden says:

        I absolutely agree that we need to strengthen young people’s ability to say no and their trust in themselves. Your professional inquiry into Anene’s brackground would lead you to the sad truth that she was indeed a foster child raised in poor background, working while she should still have been going to school etc etc. Right now discussions are too heated and any inquiry why women grow up with so little loving support from their families is quickly seen as victim blaming. So one takes it slow, one little milestone at a time. Blessing to your work,

  3. litlove says:

    I can quite see why you were frustrated by your colleague’s response, Pete. There you are in a school, the very seat of learning and change. Time to involve the kids, right, and get them thinking of how their attitudes and behaviour could alter – they’re the future, after all.

    These events are so double-edged – at least they provoke reaction, but why must we always wait until tragedy before we act?

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