"Wathint’ abafazi wathinti’ imbokodo – You strike a woman, you strike a rock!"

It’s been one of those weeks where I have felt like our country was in flames, figuratively. There were the protests at Mahikeng in the North West, the hooliganism at Moses Mabhida Stadium and protests on Durban’s M19. Add to this, the horrific alleged rape and murder of 8 year old Hlayisani Baloyi at Atteridgeville in Pretoria. It left me fuming, again figuratively, at this senseless crime which robbed a young man of his future.
I cannot even begin to articulate my anger then, at how a man could literally, set his girlfriend alight. She is just 17 years old. This happened in Pietermaritzburg. But it could happen anywhere in South Africa.
Here is a man, whom we know nothing about. But for some reason, he was driven to act in an inhumane way. No reason is justifiable. Violence is never the answer to problems in any relationship or any situation.
So, do such incidents happen only when some men “lose” their sense of rational thinking and behaviour? I won’t lay the blame solely their door. Such horrific incidents can happen when women put up with violent or abusive behaviour in the past, and it continues into the future. It’s women themselves who sometimes make up excuses for behaviour that should not be tolerated under any circumstances. Sometimes, friends and family see this and want to take action, but it’s the women, the victims themselves, who refuse, fearing that it would be “wrong”.  It shows the levels to which a culture of fear and keeping things behind closed doors still exist in what ought to be a progressive society.
Maybe, I’m being too harsh. Maybe, it’s because I don’t know how difficult it is to be in an abusive relationship. Difficult yes, impossible no. Breaking away from a toxic relationship can be done.
In the case in Pietermaritzburg, it’s believed the victim did not want to press charges. It’s the state that has now registered a case of attempted murder against the man, who is apparently on the run. The state has the power to do that and it should encourage other women to speak up and seek help. It IS a priority when it comes to women and children,  make no mistake about that. My own visits to domestic violence police units in KwaZulu-Natal as a journalist have proved this. You may think it’s just lip speak; that it’s only acceptable to talk about such issues when it’s the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children. But, together with the police there are ngos and support groups to help stop the wheels of this cycle of abuse from turning, 365 days a year.  Empower yourself and act NOW. If you’re a victim or know of someone who is, don’t wait.
I pray that the 17 year old victim recovers from her critical physical burns. The emotional wounds may never heal. And it’s scarred many others, including women and children, who also lived in this double-storey house with the couple. They witnessed the horror of her being set alight. And, they are now destitute, because one man chose violence.
I will not resort to bashing the male population. I know very well that there are some men who are also abused by women. But let’s be fair, the scales tip against South African women.
According to the latest statistics from the South Africa Medical Research Council, an estimated two in five men assault their partners – that’s 40 percent. A scarier statistic is that three women in South Africa are killed by their intimate partner every day.
Annelene Pillay fell victim to this, even though she had left her partner. They had been together for 10 years, but he apparently could not deal with their break-up. He confronted her and shot her several times as she left her place of work in Durban. Her family members have spoken to the media about how she feared for her life as he threatened that he would kill her. He confessed to her murder in court this week. Tyrone Pillay is now awaiting sentencing. And that’s where the courts have a major role to play in imposing strong sentences. It will never bring the victim back, but would-be perpetrators of abuse against women need to be forced to think twice about the gravity of their actions.
Abuse can take many forms. The benchmark is, if it is anything that undermines you or it is not something you are comfortable with, it is abuse. It does not have to be physical.
My fellow women of South Africa; we have made great strides. The women before us marched to give us the right to vote. With that power, we have transcended many barriers to earn our place in all sectors of South Africa’s workplace, the political sphere, the economy and even become entrepreneurs. There are some women who choose to stay at home too.
Therein lies the beauty: the power of women to choose. Let no one take away your free will. Celebrate it with pride today, tomorrow on Freedom Day and every day thereafter.
We owe it to the women of 1956 (and those visionaries before them too) who rightfully declared: “Wathint’ abafazi wathinti’ imbokodo – You strike a woman, you strike a rock!”

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