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South Africa struggles with surge of gender-based violence4 minutes read

South Africa has been hit by protests against femicide over the past few weeks after a series of murders that shocked the public

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South Africa struggles with surge of gender-based violence
A man holds a banner reading "No woman will be killed in my name" during the "One Nation, One Voice" campaign to remove the scourge of child abuse, femicide and other social ills facing all communities in South Africa on June 30, 2018 in Durban. (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP)

Broken, cream-coloured tiles form a mosaic of a woman’s face in the entrance hall of a South African shelter for abused women. Branches extending from her head are painted across the wall, decorated with colourful leaves.

“The face represents the broken women who arrive” here, says the director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, Bernadine Bachar.

“The branches show the healing, growth and final empowerment they experience through the programmes we offer.”

The centre in Athlone, on the outskirts of Cape Town, is a 24-hour safe house for women and children who have been victims of abuse.

The shelter can take up to 120 women at a time with their children –- and they are usually at full capacity.

#AmINext –

South Africa has been hit by protests against femicide over the past few weeks after a series of murders that shocked the public.

Among them was a student from Cape Town who was raped and killed in a post office.

South Africa struggles with surge of gender-based violence
Women hold signs and shout slogans as they protest to demand police protection against gender-based violence in solidarity with women who have been subjected to violence and in memory of those who have been killed, inside the Kwazulu-Natal Provincial Head Quarters of the South African Police Services (SAPS) in Durban, on September 7, 2019. (Photo by Rajesh JANTILAL / AFP)

Women’s Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said that more than 30 women were killed by their spouses last month.

The hashtag #AmINext has been trending, with protesters demanding immediate action from the government.

Some of them have called for the return of the death penalty and for a state of emergency to be declared.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an emergency plan to stop the resurgence in violence against women on Wednesday.

During an emergency sitting in the National Assembly, he said South Africa was one of “the most unsafe places in the world to be a woman”.

The Western Cape Women’s Shelter Movement (WCWSM) protested outside parliament during the talks, demanding it consider the significant role played by safe houses for women and children.

Bachar says urgent action is needed.

“We’ve absolutely seen an increase in gender-based violence over the past three months,” she says. 

“Not only has the number of women (affected) increased but they’re suffering from more intensive injuries than they used to before.”

According to Bachar, they are seeing a lot more burn victims, particularly from boiling water thrown at the face, and an increase in stab victims.

She blames this on a lack of government intervention, high levels of substance abuse and an unprecedented increase in unemployment rates that result in “a lack of power and control which drives gender-based violence”.

‘Dripping with blood’ –

Bachar also accuses the police of not taking the victims seriously and says they need to undergo special training to equip them with the necessary skills to deal with cases of sexist violence.

People from various religious church formations shout slogans as they march during the “One Nation, One Voice” campaign to remove the scourge of child abuse, femicide and other social ills facing all communities in South Africa on June 30, 2018 in Durban. (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP)

One abuse survivor, Rachel Petersen, recounted a bitter experience with authorities.

“I went to the police, and I was dripping with blood, but they still wouldn’t help me. They said they don’t get involved in ‘house issues’,” Petersen says.

The 44-year-old, who currently lives and works at the abused women centre, blames a lack of education and awareness for the problem.

“I was always taught by my grandmother that as a wife it is my job to be submissive. Before I came to this centre I didn’t even know what abuse meant,” she said.

The centre receives funding from the Department of Social Development — but Bachar says that only covers 40 per cent of the annual cost of running the shelter.

She says it needs a further R6 million, but raising that amount is “impossible”.

“Increased funding would mean we could uniformly extend our services to more survivors.”

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Hunger, xenophobia threaten migrants during Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa

“Hunger has no colour, but unfortunately the government of South Africa has discriminated against us on the basis of our country of origin”, said Amir Sheikh, head of the African Diaspora Forum.

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Hundreds of illegal migrants from various African countries are gathered on the streets as they are evicted from the makeshift camp they are occupying around the Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town on March 1, 2020. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

The car approaches the gates of the small parish church, where an army of hands await.

The precious food is swiftly taken from the car boot and back seat and lined up in bags in the courtyard, rather like a military parade. It is time for the handout. 

In the eyes of the waiting women and children, there is relief: a gleam that comes from the prospect of having a full belly.

The scene, in the parish of Mayfair just outside the centre of Johannesburg, has become grimly familiar across South Africa’s largest city. 

Even as a strict lockdown to slow the coronavirus pandemic is eased, many foreigners living in this country have no work and are hungry.

South Africa is the continent’s second-largest economy and a magnet for millions of refugees and migrants from elsewhere.

But the vast majority of them depend on day-to-day work — and this informal source of income catastrophically dried up from one day to the next because of the lockdown. 

In a country considered by the World Bank to be the most unequal in the world, many of these luckless people now have nothing. 

“I see a lot of community members suffering because of this lockdown,” said Alfred Djang, a 50-year-old lawyer who left the Democratic Republic of Congo 19 years ago. 

Some had been working in shops, “they were selling things on street corners, but they are not allowed to do it anymore,” Djang said. 

“They don’t have permits so they need to beg for food here and there,” he added. 

– ‘Hunger has no colour’ –

Amir Sheikh, head of the African Diaspora Forum, said his non-profit group had been swamped by requests for help.

“Since the beginning of the lockdown we have initiated a process of cooking food for the migrants,” the Somali said.

Funded by religious organisations, his network provides 3,500 parcels and 750 meals each week.

“It is very important because those people have been neglected… hunger has no colour, but unfortunately the government of South Africa has discriminated against us on the basis of our country of origin,” he said.

As part of an unprecedented emergency plan, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced food distributions and a monthly allowance of 350 rand ($20 / 18 euros) for the most destitute, an AFP report said.

Neither Ramaphosa nor his ministers have mentioned any conditions for the nationality of people receiving the aid.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa


But migrants and non-governmental organisations insist that in de-facto terms, the help goes to South Africans.

While the “rainbow nation” Nelson Mandela dreamed of has some four million foreigners, most of them do not have a residence permit — a document with the value of gold.

– No work, no pay –

In Lenasia, a township in the remote outskirts of Johannesburg, 49-year-old Edward Mowo relies on his Lazarus hands for a living. He brings dead televisions, radios and telephones back to life.

Under the corrugated iron roof of his shack, the Zimbabwean admitted to having difficulty feeding his wife and three children.

“Most people don’t work anymore, so they don’t get paid. So how can I be paid?” he said.

“My kids were born here but they don’t get anything because we are not South African nationals,” Mowo said.

“Even with my documents I don’t get anything. They should help us, as we are legal but I’m still waiting. I’ve never seen them… We have to survive without the government, and it’s hard.”

Sharon Ekambaram, in charge of migrants’ assistance at an NGO called Lawyers for Human Rights, said the authorities had systematically refused to help foreigners.

“There has not been a single refugee that has confirmed with me that their application is through, that they qualify and they are going to get a grant,” she said. “This is a serious crisis.”

Questioned by AFP, the social development ministry declined to comment before an upcoming court case over the conditions under which its aid is distributed. 

Ekambaram said a hotline set up last week offering legal advice received more than 700 calls within days of grants being announced, many asking about food.

“We have seen children going to hospitals being diagnosed as malnourished,” she said.

Even though apartheid ended a generation ago, South Africa is still struggling with rampant inequality and poverty, which in turn have fed ugly xenophobia.

After a surge in violence and mob attacks in September against foreign-owned businesses in and around Johannesburg, Ramaphosa was booed at the funeral of his Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe.

“South Africa is not xenophobic,” he pleaded at the time.

– ‘Institutional xenophobia’ –

But ambiguities in his government’s policies have been laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni called for locals to be favoured for jobs as the country emerges from the crisis.

“The proportion of South Africans working in a restaurant must be greater than that of non-South Africans,” he declared.

Dewa Mavhinga of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the pandemic had brought this type of discourse to the surface.

“A number of migrants have no access to food, they are facing starvation. It’s a blatant violation of their basic rights, it points to a pattern of institutionalised xenophobia,” Mavhinga said.

“South African authorities have an obligation to support and provide assistance to those in needs who are unable to find food,” he said. 

“If the South African government is unable to help them because of lack of resources it must open up to international supporters to step in.” 

In its defence, the government says it has set up a Solidarity Fund to coordinate emergency food aid, and no proof of identity is required from beneficiaries.

“The Solidarity Fund’s response was to roll out a humanitarian relief effort aimed at assisting vulnerable families, experiencing severe food insecurity across South Africa, irrespective of their nationality,” said Thandeka Ncube, head of humanity support.

But many illegal immigrants prefer to keep their distance from these handouts, dreading that they will be picked up, say grassroots workers.

“Without any permit, our main worry is to be deported. They have to hide from the police, it’s exhausting,” said Abdurahman Musa Jibro, a leader for Ethiopia’s Oromo community in South Africa.

He says that he too has received no help from the authorities.

– ‘Humanity should come first’ –

“Some shopkeepers are asking their clients for an ID before selling them some food,” Jibro said.

“If you cannot show any ID, they tell you ‘go elsewhere, go elsewhere’,” he added.

Thanks to the generosity of his community, his association has been able to feed around a thousand Ethiopian families, most of them undocumented or asylum seekers. 

“Some people are bringing us food parcels. That’s how we survive now,” said a 47-year-old Ethiopian woman who asked to remain anonymous.

She fled repression in her country and has been living in Johannesburg with her three children without a residence permit since 2008.

She said she believed the government should help her family because “we are living here in this country. Humanity should come first, before any document.”

Some consulates in neighbouring countries have recently expressed interest in arranging the repatriation of their citizens stranded in South Africa during the pandemic.

“That’s a possibility which I’m considering,” said Collin Makumbirofa, a 41-year-old Zimbabwean who has been living in the overcrowded Alexandra township in Johannesburg for more than a decade.

“As foreign nationals, we are contributing so much to the South African economy, it’s totally unfair from the South African government not to help people living on its own soil,” he said.

“It’s very tough, we are starving. Life has become unbearable here.”

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Zambia pardons nearly 3,000 prisoners, gay couple inclusive

Home Affairs Minister, Stephen Kampyongo said among the pardoned under the President’s prerogative of mercy, 155 are females while 2, 829 are males.

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Zambian President Edgar Lungu. (Photo by DAWOOD SALIM / AFP)

Nearly 3,000 prisoners including a gay couple have been pardoned by Zambian president Edgar Lungu.

Home Affairs Minister, Stephen Kampyongo said among the pardoned under the President’s prerogative of mercy, 155 are female while 2, 829 are male.

Kampyongo said the release of the prisoners leaves countrywide inmate population at 19, 248.

The Minister said the action by President Lungu is in accordance with article 97 of the constitution of Zambia which provides for Presidential pardon and substitution of severe punishment imposed on convicted persons.

The action was an effort to further decongest correctional facilities due to the COVID-19 threat, Kampyongo said.

His Ministry engaged the Director of Public Prosecution to consider giving bail or outright discharge to over 4,330 unconvicted inmates charged with miner cases and a total of 2, 719 unconvicted persons were granted unconditional bail, Lusaka Times reported.

The pardoned gay couple were sentenced to 15 years in prison in November under colonial-era sodomy laws in a case that caused a diplomatic row with the United States.

Japhet Chataba, 39, and Steven Sambo, 31, were among the freed inmates. A Lusaka High Court judge had sentenced them to 15 years in prison under laws that forbid sex between couples “against the order of nature”.

The case drew criticism from then U.S. ambassador Daniel Foote, who said the sentence was too harsh and could damage Zambia’s reputation. Washington later withdrew Foote following the row with Zambian authorities over the issue.

Over the past decade, several African countries have come into conflict over LGBT rights with Western countries, many of who are major aid donors.

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Mozambique seeks South African military assistance to fight insurgency

Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi last week asked for regional help from SADC in fighting the insurgency, which began in 2017, and has rapidly escalated in recent weeks.

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Masked men in camouflage uniforms posing triumphantly in front of Mozambique's Quissanga District Police Command and other buildings in March 2020, waving the black flag of the Islamic State/ISIS terror group. (Photo Handout)

Mozambique has opened talks with South Africa about providing military assistance to fight against an Islamic State-linked insurgency in its neighbouring country.

South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor said both governments were working hard on specific military assistance required to curb the insurgency in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique.

“Our governments are in discussions as to how we might lend support from our own resources as South Africa,” Pandor said in comments broadcast over state-owned SABC television.

“At this point, we understand that Mozambique is making use of private security providers in order to fight this insurgent group,” the minister said while assuring that South Africa will help curb the insurgency.

Over the past two months, a South Africa-based private military company Dyck Advisory Group run by the former Zimbabwean military officer, Lionel Dyck has been helping Mozambican security forces fight the insurgents, mainly by attacking them with helicopter gunships.

Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi last week asked for regional help in fighting the insurgency, which began in 2017, and has rapidly escalated in recent weeks.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) last week Tuesday also pledged support to quell the insurgency after a meeting in Harare on Tuesday of its Troika organ on politics, defence and security. This is the body tasked with maintaining peace and security in the SADC region which comprises 15 states, including South Africa.

The Harare summit was chaired by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, current chairperson of the organ and was also attended by the two other members of the troika: Zambian President Edgar Lungu, the outgoing chairperson; and Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, the incoming chairperson, local media reported.

The violence in the northern Cabo Delgado province that borders Tanzania has left more than 1,000 people dead and tens of thousands have fled their homes.

The violence has also halted natural gas projects worth as much as $60 billion that companies including Total SA and Exxon Mobil plan in the area.

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