South Africa was a difficult place to be in this week. Again. Many of us felt defeated. It’s just too much.
But those who still had some fight left in them took to the streets and to social media. The outrage against violence – whether it’s labelled as femicide, xenophobia or anything else – was more than justified.
Reporters were dispatched to the areas that were burning, and they came back with stories of devastation from those who were most affected by the violence and the looting – the ones who were left behind to pick up the pieces.
The manager of a shop that was looted in Katlehong in Ekurhuleni told City Press that the owners were trying to decide whether it would be worth it to reopen. It had affected her entire family, including her extended family, because she was the sole breadwinner.
A 50-year-old resident of Thokoza said that she was traumatised by the violence and too scared to go to sleep at night: “How is this violence helping? In the end, we as South Africans will be left with the burden of the aftermath.”
And then, on Thursday, in Katlehong Zone 3 Mandela Section, ironically named after the man who embodied the highest of human values, dozens of foreign nationals were displaced.
It’s a vicious cycle. Government is desperate to blame these acts on thuggery, not on xenophobia. Most of the time, at the core of these acts is desperation – people who have no food, no money, no prospects and no dignity. They are angry, but at least they still have some fight left in them.
But they are aiming their anger at the wrong people. Yes this administration is relatively new. However, in the months that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s team has been in control, things seem to have been moving at a snail’s pace. People can’t – and won’t – be patient forever.
The answers don’t lie in politicking, name-throwing, bullets or arson. The fact is that we should be better. We aren’t animals whose DNA dictates that we leave the weak to die – or, in some cases, turn on them. It’s not brute force or the ability to kill or maim that makes a person strong.
But in South Africa, it’s hard to be strong sometimes. It’s hard not to feel defeated.
We know some of their names: Uyinene Mrwetyana. Leighandre Jegels. Karabo Mokoena. Women who were maimed and killed.
And then there are those who are still fighting. Bonnie Meslane. Rosie Motene. The people who run nongovernmental organisations who valiantly fight on despite a dire lack of funding.
While we accept that he is trying, Ramaphosa doesn’t have all the answers. When he addressed the nation on Thursday, it was a bit repetitive as old ideas were rehashed (such as a sexual offenders list and harsher minimum sentences). One new plan was for the state to oppose parole and bail applications (Mrwetyana’s murderer was a hijacker who also had a case of attempted rape opened against him) regarding crimes against women and children. There was a promise to direct money towards the problem. Who knows where it’s going to come from.
Ramaphosa looked tired; maybe he also felt a bit defeated.
We also saw the rise of #AmINext, which promised women a platform to share their stories anonymously, and the ability to name and shame the perpetrators of sexual violence. The legalities were controversial, but it was obvious that South Africans had had enough. And they had no faith in the justice system, which Ramaphosa promised would be beefed up.
As women took to social media to expose alleged attackers, City Press’ media house, Media24, launched an #EnoughIsEnough campaign.
And, in various ways, City Press is responding to the urgent and powerful voices of South African women who are telling their stories through #AmINext. One of them is by creating a platform called #WeWereNext to honour the victims of femicide and to help make sure that their deaths were not in vain. We wish to show the faces of these women – who are real people and not just statistics – and to share their stories and the stories of the impact of their deaths on their families, loved ones and communities. It’s not a once-off campaign.
We acknowledge that, although these attacks appear to come in waves, they are an everyday occurrence.
We can’t bring back these women whose lives have been taken away. Nor do we have the power to physically stop the violence. What we can do is honour them and tell their stories; remember their faces. They won’t be the last ones whose stories we will tell. We don’t want there to be more. But there will be. And more after that.
We also cannot bring back those who have lost their lives and livelihoods due to xenophobic violence. But our outrage and disgust must not be doused. The perpetrators of these deplorable crimes must always know that they are scum, and they must be fought against with every ounce of our energy. Let’s try not to feel defeated. Let’s try to defeat them.