I am broken and deeply pained by the escalating violence against women and children in South Africa. At Bishopscourt, I met with 12 representatives of different women's groups—from different religious faiths, from the media, from the Trauma Centre and Hope Africa. I heard their pain as they pleaded with me: “You declared apartheid evil and a sin, please declare gender-based violence to be evil and a sin as well.”
“These atrocities are committed by men,” they told me. “Get the men to act.” They asked for a judicial inquiry into gender-based violence, and for young male students at our universities to be taught what consent is. They told me that the press ombudsman should know that newspapers are numbing us by normalizing rape, death and drug abuse. Finally, they cried out: “Men of the cloth, where are you? Arch,” they pleaded, “we have come to unburden, we have marched and prayed, but we need something more tangible than symbolic marches.”
I also hear of similar painful stories in dioceses outside South Africa. We live in a time that is unprecedented. The domestic abuse, rape and murder of women and children is at crisis levels. It is a crisis needing the some energy and commitment as the crisis of state capture, if not more.
Statistics tell us that a woman is killed by a current or former intimate partner every six hours in South Africa. It is also an international crisis, as it is reported that one in three women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of either intimate partners or non-partners in their lifetime.
We condemn in the strongest of terms the escalating violence against women and children in South Africa. The country needs to pause and ask: what are we not doing right? Why are we not stopping the deplorable violence against women and children? It cannot be business as usual while women and children continue to be kidnapped, trafficked, raped and murdered.
As a community and as a nation, we have failed terribly in not protecting the most vulnerable among us, the women and girls who have suffered violence, not once but many times over. We cannot claim to love, care and cherish women and children if their welfare and their lives count for so little.
The situation leaves me heartbroken. I cringe at the thought that a man can harm his own daughter, niece, wife, mother, sister or grandmother.
We are living a nightmare that is not ending. Men have become a threat to the well-being of women and children in our society. We cannot continue like that.
Our faith gives us the foundation to build a violence-free South Africa and world, one where men and women, boys and girls, work together to bring peace for us all.
Therefore, we are here to say that:
It cannot be right for women and children to live in fear in their homes, on our streets and in our schools, our universities and our places of worship;
The dignity and fundamental rights of women and children in society and in our homes, need to be reclaimed;
Women and children: you are not alone. We share in your pain and suffering;
We need to get to the root causes of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence;
As we worry about the crisis of water in Cape Town, we cannot turn a blind eye on the escalating violence on women and children;
We cannot do what we have done in the past to fight the scourge of violence on women and children – the strategy ought to change;
The safety of women and children is a collective responsibility;
We cannot allow the kidnapping, rape, trafficking and brutal murders of women and children to be normalised in our society;
I would like to call for a nationwide consultation on sexual and gender-based violence including religious leaders, civil society organisations, SAPS, the NPA, unions, media, universities and political parties. This issue affects us all. One of the key objectives of such a consultation should be to decide on ways to ensure that women are treated with respect in society. Ubuntu demands that from us.
Before finishing, an appeal to men. Would all the men confess our bad behaviour and/or our complicity in this crisis, and resolve in future to speak up and ensure that gender-based violence does not happen on our watch?
Recently I watched a movie about Nigerian women who, wanting the state to enforce a law against child brides, embarked on a strike and forced men to join them in escalating the protest. Might this be one way of forcing the appointment of a judicial commission of inquiry into GBV? Or what other real and tangible action can the MU undertake to do so?
We are people of HOPE. The churches, mosques and synagogues were in the forefront of destroying apartheid. Together, we can stop violence against women and children. Let us go out from here and do just that!
By Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.