South Africa is in crisis. In a very short space of time, a dense fog of violence has engulfed the country, unleashing countless acts of gender-based violence and xenophobia that have unravelled the rainbow in our nation. At Wits Vuvuzela we have been moved to dedicate this issue to confronting these two ills.
Over the past two weeks, we have witnessed sustained and heightened senseless violence against women and children, queer people and African migrants. As journalists we tell these stories, but as women and Africans we bear these scars in more ways than one.
Our aim with this edition is to shine a light on this watershed moment in this country’s history.
We are struck by the displacement which happens in the wake of GBV and xenophobia, the displacement of the mind and the body when violence and violation happen to you.
This week, queues of people have been standing in the baking sun with their entire lives stuffed into nylon bags, waiting to board buses leaving a place they once considered an asylum. The departure gates of our local airports are filling with parents and little children waiting for flights back to uncertainty.
At the same time, the statistics tell us, 110 women will be raped every day in this country. Further, a woman is murdered every three hours. It confuses us then, why GBV awareness is centred on prevention – safety kits, policing how to dress and dictating how we behave – instead of rape culture and toxic masculinity. Whether we are in a post office, a bathroom or our own homes, our minds and bodies should not be targets of abuse.
The cycle of violence starts with an individual who is born into a society that enables violence against the most vulnerable in society – a violence that displaces one’s personhood. Should we not be looking to change this?
Education is a critical part of addressing our problems – if we educate the children of today differently, we can create a different tomorrow.
But the onus is not only on the next generation to lead us into a new tomorrow. The change begins with us and how we treat one another.
Some call it ‘Afrophobia’, others say ‘xenophobia’. Either way, a line was aggressively drawn these past two weeks in Gauteng when foreign nationals were othered – a target marked squarely on their backs.
It is ironic that the rainbow nation, the beacon of diversity, is now the poster child of xenophobia on the continent.
Or perhaps it makes perfect sense.
The Jeppestown Hostel mob of angry men brandishing sticks and pangas in the name of restoring peace and order is symbolic of the anger, violence and lawlessness that have engulfed this country.
This fire was not started in a day, though. The failure of the state, structures, institutions and processes have ignited the blaze.
The reality is that many people are struggling to survive in post-apartheid South Africa.
Money is sparse, expenses are many and a decent meal is out of reach for countless people. Until these injustices are addressed, this fire will flare up again.
Wits University has over 2000 international students and the safety of these individuals is paramount. There is an implicit contract of safety between the university, country and the respective countries of the international students.
South Africa is not holding up its side of the deal – neither for foreign nationals who have been displaced from the places they once called home, nor its women.
The university also does not have a registry of sexual offenders. This is not a victim-centric approach and has the effect of protecting perpetrators, while survivors feel abandoned.
We cannot remember a time in our lives when we feared for our lives in South Africa as we do at present. As a woman-run newsroom this fear is intensified as we all know the nature of the threats against us as we pursue the truth.
South Africans need to do better in every sense of the term.
FEATURED IMAGE: The Wits community shows solidarity by lighting candles at a night vigil on Monday, September 9 held in memory of Uyinene Mrwetyana, the 19-year-old UCT student who was raped and murdered in the Western Cape. Mrwetyana’s death has reignited conversations around the prevalence of gender-based violence and sparked various protests around the country by university students and civil society calling for an end to the culture of femicide and abuse against women, children and queer people. Photo: Lineo Leteba