Soweto, South Africa — During the late 20th Century struggles to end apartheid in South Africa the historic Regina Mundi church was a safe-haven for anti-apartheid activists who constantly faced brutal violence from the police and military of that country’s then racist white-minority government.
Recently Regina Mundi, known as ‘the people’s church,’ served as a site for a large rally called to end another form of brutal violence that is tearing at the soul of South Africa: an upsurge in rapes and murders of females, some as young as three-years-old.
Among the women, and men, gathered for that anti-violence rally at Regina Mundi, located in the Moroka neighborhood of Soweto, was Kamogelo Legodi, a Soweto resident and first-year University of South Africa student who is studying public management.
“It is import to raise awareness about women being abused, kidnapped and raped,” Legodi said, while standing outside of Regina Mundi, the largest Catholic Church facility in South Africa.
“As women, it is important for our voices to be heard,” Legodi said. “I have a friend who was almost abducted two weeks ago but she ran away.”
Although rape is a long-standing problem in South Africa, recent horrific incidents have sparked unprecedented national outrage, galvanizing people across the country to rise up against rape and other violence bludgeoning females.
One incident garnering wide attention was the gruesome April 2017 murder of 22-year-old Karabo Mokoena, a resident of Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city. Police charged Mokoena’s boyfriend with her murder. The boyfriend, after allegedly fatally stabbing Mokoena, burned her body with gasoline after pouring acid on the body.
The vile death of Mokoena was not an isolated incident during April. One newspaper listed other April crimes against females including a five-month pregnant 34-year-old raped by five men before they burned her body and the murder of a six-year-old girl who was stuffed into a plastic bag.
The May 2017 rape-murder of three-year-old Courtney Pieters in Cape Town brought South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma to that coastal city where he visited the family of the slain child and condemned violent crime as spiraling out of control.
“It’s a crisis in the country, the manner in which women and children are being killed,” Zuma said.
According to data from South Africa’s police, there were 42,596 reported rapes in 2015/2016. However, rape is an underreported crime across South Africa. South Africa’s rape culture includes ‘corrective rape’ where men rape lesbians proclaiming such an act will cure the woman.
While rape and other violence against women is reportedly most pronounced in impoverished areas occupied by non-whites, violence against woman cuts across race and class lines in South Africa.
The 2013 fatal shooting of model Reeva Steenkamp by her boyfriend, Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius – a double-leg amputee nicknamed ‘Blade Runner’ – generated international attention. Pistorius received a five-year sentence later increased to six years.
“We women live with such fear. Some statistics state that one in four of all woman in South Africa will experience sexual violence in their life time,” charity worker Rene’ du Preez said.
The charity where du Preez works as a project manager is Solidariteit Helpende Hande. This is a charity for Afrikaners located outside Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. (Afrikaners are a white ethnic group descended from early Dutch settlers in South Africa. The Afrikaner political party that rose to power in 1948 instituted the system of apartheid -– racial segregation more rigid than practiced by British colonizers of the country.)
“During house break-ins women will be raped. They will tie up the whole family and then rape the mother in front of the family,” du Preez said during an interview. “The fear is not just of people taking your stuff but rape also.”
The upsurge in the frequency of sexual violence against women and the severity of the sexual assaults during the past year has many across South Africa searching for explanations.
The killing of women and children is “worrisome” for Thabo Yoma, a manager in South Africa’s prison system where he’s worked for 24-years. “We don’t know the motivation,” Yoma said during an interview. “There is a lot of gangsterism in South Africa,” Yoma added.
Dr. Vusi Shongwe wrote a recent newspaper commentary where he tied the horrendous rape and slaying of women to a decay of “morals” across South African society. Shongwe works in the Office of the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa’s East Cape.
South Africa’s Minister of Women in the Presidency, Susan Shabangu, challenged men to be more proactive in challenging other men to change their attitudes towards women during her remarks at that Regina Mundi rally.
“We must treat boys and girls the same. If we keep teaching that men are strong we will end up here again,” Shabangu said.
“Killing and burning is wrong. We bury too many women,” continued Shabangu, a member of South Africa’s Parliament and its ruling party, the ANC (the African National Congress). “Neighbors have to get involved and stop ignoring crimes.”
Outside the rally at Regina Mundi Blessing Ngwail said he wanted to see more men involved in the movement to reduce violence against females.
“We as men tend to forget that women are those who bear children. When men kill women they are killing our nation,” Ngwail said.
“As men we must use our power to protect women. But we too often use our power to harm which is basically wrong.”