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HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Femicide and the invisible man

OPINION

Uyinene Mrwetyana (Nene) went missing on the 24th of August, except, she didn’t. Her hidden body was found in Khayelitsha almost a week later, dead and bludgeoned to death.

Nene was a student. She visited the post office, a regular errand on any given day, to enquire about a parcel. She was asked to return at a later stage because there was no electricity. She returned as told and found herself alone with the same man, who locked the door behind her, assaulted her, raped her and then hit her with a scale until she died because she screamed for help.

If she remained quiet, would she have lived? Does it even matter? Is this where we are? Where a woman’s choice is to submit instead of fight back - to live with rape an abuse, instead of die with rape and abuse? It is sad. It is horrifying. And it is not a solution. But what is?

Nene’s death prompted one of many outcries on social media. It was the flame that ignited the #AMINEXT movement. Twitter feeds are bleeding with the stories of other women who have been subjects of abuse, rape and femicide. Many of them are naming and shaming the men, who undoubtedly are perpetuators of rape culture whether they knowingly or unknowingly participate. UCT students held a vigil, to mourn and protest the death of their fellow student and friend. And country-wide protests have started to take place.

Of course, the South African government has also chimed in – first with a weak washed-out tweet that merely read: We would like to extend our deepest condolences on the death of UCT Student #Uyinene Mrwetyana. May her soul rest in peace. Government condemns any form of violence against women and children. #RIPUyinene.

The generic nature of this tweet was followed by another enraging one: "Violence and abuse against women have no place in our society. Govt is calling on women to speak out, and not allow themselves to become victims by keeping quiet. Women who speak out are able to act, effect change and help others," the tweet read.

“Violence and abuse against women have no place in our society. Govt is calling on women to speak out, and not allow themselves to become victims by keeping quiet. Women who speak out are able to act, effect change and help others”.

Here’s the problem with this response. There is no mention of men. The onus of being careful, of being “armed” and aware and ready to defend lies in the hands of women. Women should speak out. Women should affect change. Women should help others. Women should not allow themselves to become victims.

But these are all moot points. Because it is women who do all of the above. It is women who fight back, speak out, endure and protest. Where are the men. Why are they not being confronted by the state and why, in fact, are men not confronting other men?

As long as authorities maintain this narrative, men are allowed to remain in the background of a problem that is theirs and not ours. If this is the messaging that keeps making the rounds by institutions who can actually affect change, femicide will continue to be seen as isolated incidents instead of patterns of behaviour carried out by men – and society as a whole, intersectionally, will fail to see the connections that highlight the bigger issue. A very real issue that isn’t just a statistic. To deny these instances and fail to humanise them, all the government essentially does is evade tackling it.

Acknowledging the scale and significance of male violence instead of the “victimhood” of women is the first step to prevention. How many men are responsible? Where is that data base? These are critical exponents of information. A google search will reveal the statistic of rape and femicide in South Africa, but hardly ever the statistic of the men responsible. Who are they? How do we count them? Why does a public database not name them, and why is that database not constantly updated?

To say that “violence and abuse against women have no place in our country” is a given. There is no place for that in any country. But to say that is not leadership and it is not enough. It minimises the impact of men. To say that “violent men who abuse and rape and pillage and kill women – they have no place in our country” – that is the critical and absent statement. That is identifying the problem, that is how we deal with prevention and that is how government can take constructive steps towards understanding it.

Tweeted pictures supported by RIP hashtags are not stand-alone “trends” that occur in isolation. They are not the only instances in which our government should respond on ineffective mediums. They are linked, all of them, to men. There is no record that publishes the data on these men, the relationship they have to these women, they do not elaborate on the circumstances of the crime carried out by the offender and the different forms of violence they incite against women. And if they did, would they ever be updated? They should. And they should allow this kind of freedom of information because instead of placing the burden of responsibility on women, reverse it, and place it on government and men themselves.

As often as we see layer upon layer of our women’s pictures being shared widely in media, we should see these men. #AMINEXT needs to be replace by #HEISNEXT, because it is in fact “he” who is always protected, not held accountable, and not counted and he must be.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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