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Opinion Piece: GBV In South Africa

Picture: Unsplash
Picture: Unsplash

When gender-based violence strikes close to home

Pretoria - During my nearly three decades of walking the corridors of the courts in Pretoria, I have come across countless cases involving gender-based violence (GBV). But this was never an issue that I could call “close to home”.

I am sad to report that it is now close – in the form of new neighbours.

Living in the same tranquil suburb for many years, I honestly did not expect this issue to personally cross my path.

Alas, the first time I encountered it – albeit second hand – was during harsh lockdown when my neighbour’s wife asked for our wi-fi password as her husband had left the previous evening in a huff, taking their modem with him.

Apart from loud voices, I did not realise there had been a fight.

Anyway, she explained how she was going to leave him as he was aggressive, but a few days later he was back and all seemed fine.

The second time it happened, the husband also left following a loud argument. But, again, he was back within a day or so.

About a week ago the same thing happened again, only this time his voice was raised even louder, followed by a loud crash and the sound of his wife screaming.

Next thing she was there at my front door, crying hysterically. It turns out he had smashed the TV screen to pieces. She was upset, but not hurt.

This time he was gone for sure, she said, and she even carried some of his belongings outside. Needless to say, he is back and she seems happy again.

I am not condemning her for taking him back, as she obviously has her reasons.

But as 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is kicking off tomorrow. I have realised we cannot be quiet and turn a blind eye.

Our president, in his weekly newsletter, once again reminded us that despite public support for this campaign and many others like this, we are still a long way from a society free of violence against women and children.

As the president said, despite our best efforts, this type of violence remains a feature of the lives of many women and children – not only in South Africa, but across the globe.

GBV takes many forms, from verbal abuse to smashing things – even people.

In a recent judgment I reported on, a husband went so far as to decapitate his wife. His reason, as told to the judge, was that she had cheated on him and then inconvenienced him by going and leaving the children behind.

He received a life sentence, with the judge saying: “Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation, and perhaps the most pervasive.

“It knows no boundaries of geography, culture of wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.”

He added that South African society was tired of GBV.

“Most of the cases before me are femicides where husbands or boyfriends are of the opinion that the women in their lives are owned by them and may be treated worse than cattle.”

The judge warned that it was no longer acceptable to come to court pretending to show remorse. Like many before him faced with a similar scenario, the judge said the only alternative was to remove the husband permanently from society.

It is clear that this punishment is not a deterrent to all the abusers out there, but it is the only “weapon” available to try to deal with this problem. We may be tired of reading about this subject, but we can never give up trying to eradicate it.

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