Editor’s note: This story contains details of sexual violence.
South African women have taken to Twitter to share personal stories of the violence and sexual assault they have experienced, and how the country’s pervasive gender-based violence (GBV) has affected their daily life.
Using the hashtag #AmINext, women have been sharing their fears for their safety. This comes after news that Uyinene Mrwetyana, the University Cape Town student who disappeared about a week ago in Claremont, Cape Town, has been murdered.
Police confirmed on Friday that a body found in Khayelitsha was that of Mrwetyana, and a 42-year-old man was charged on Monday with her rape and murder, appearing at the Wynberg Magistrates Court.
South Africa, it has long been reported, is one of the most violent places in the world for women.
In an extensive 2018 report on violence in the country, Statistics SA noted the rates of femicide in the country were more than five times the global average. This trend goes as far back as 2000.
The report notes that rape targeting women and girls is one of the biggest problems facing South Africa. It also states that 250 out of every 100,000 women are victims of sexual offences.
This was supported by a report by the South African Police Service stating that 80% of the sexual offences reported in 2016 and 2017 were rape.
Feminist academic professor Pumla Dineo Gqola calls rape “a South African nightmare” — and women are now sharing their nightmares on social media in the hope of driving real change.
From parents who are paralysed by fear over their daughter’s safety, to survivors of attacks by strangers, friends, and intimate partners. And yet more shared their experiences at work and academic institutions.
The tweets being shared capture the overwhelming feeling that women and girls don’t feel safe anywhere, and address the urgent need to tackle levels of femicide and gender-based violence.
Last month I wanted to open a sexual harassment case, the female police officer who was “assisting” me said I can’t be surprised if men can’t keep their hands off me because “ke pakile”— M (@Mahlodi_Makobe) September 2, 2019
I was so defeated
We’re on our own
"Pakile" is a slang-word for a curvy body.
In an emotional trip post, a mother recalled how she had already been groomed by her rapists when she was her daughter's current age.
My daughter is 14. At her age, I had already been raped. I look at her every day & just see a baby. Today, I thought about how young I was & how I also looked like the baby I was. But men are vicious, violent, destructive & hateful.— Sihle Bolani (@MsSihleBolani) September 2, 2019
In March this year, a group of academics wrote an open letter to the then minister of higher education and training Dr. Naledi Pandor, detailing the magnitude of sexual and other forms of violence experienced female and gender non-binary students.
Part of the letter said: "This environment compromises both the academic freedom and citizenship of female staff and students in our higher education and training institutions. We know that this is not unique to the academic setting but prevails in society as a whole. However, we hope that the Higher Education sector can start leading the way and show how to deal with sexual violence in other sectors as well."
In 2014 when I was in 4th year. I was sexually assaulted by a patient in a ward full of other patients. After the incident the senior psych reg who walked in minutes after it happening started telling about ‘transference’ and ‘counter transference’.— Dakalo (@Wa_vhudi) September 3, 2019
A month back one of our staff members gave her teenage daughter money to go buy a matric dance dress in town. She never returned. Her body was found in a bush not far from the hospital.— Dakalo (@Wa_vhudi) September 2, 2019
As well as sharing their fears and experiences, women once again called on Cyril Ramaphosa and the government to step up efforts to fight GBV.
Dear @PresidencyZA@CyrilRamaphosa This your 100th day in office will be remembered by the brutal murder of womxn, the raging #femicide and @GovernmentZA failure to respond effectively, and lead with accountability @CountryDutyZA@Wise4Afrika— #feministAtwork #IamNotMyHair (@AfroDiva) September 2, 2019
The tragedy of Mrwetyana's disappearance and murder is not the only incident of GBV that has been making news in the country. A 22-year-old boxing and karate champion, Leighandre "Baby Lee" Jegels, was shot and killed by her police officer boyfriend. She had a protection order against him.
My nephews are 4 years old. By that age, my rapist had already started grooming me. He had already put his hands in my panties and stuck his tongue in my mouth. Four. Years. Old.— Hermione Stranger (@nikistarfish) September 2, 2019
A young female journalist just reminded me how I saved her by fighting off a potential rapist in one of the former newsrooms I worked at. I pushed him when I found him pinning her against the wall. We fight everywhere just to exist!— Dimakatso Ngoasheng (@dimak8) September 3, 2019
Others shared the guilt and shame they felt after they were violated.
[He] coerced me into having sex with him, I was on my period and kept refusing, but he didn’t care! For the longest time I convinced myself that he didn’t rape me until I told a friend and he explained how i was raped. This happened 6 years ago💔😭 https://t.co/ZW4Wo2mYQz— Take Back Your Power!!! (@tendani_mey) September 3, 2019
In her seminal anthology, Collective Amnesia, poet Koleka Putuma writes: "I don't want to die with my hands up or legs up."
Her words resonate with the experiences of many women and girls in South Africa.
I was so fearless and vivacious as a teen. So carefree and full of life. But the constant hypervigilance and paranoia has taken from me what I’ll never get back. I’m a prisoner in my own body.— Go molemo ‘tiro tsaOne (@gomzickles) September 3, 2019
If you live in South Africa and have experienced sexual or gender-based violence, you can find resources for advice and support here.