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GBV thrives when society chooses to look away

Nosicelo Mtebeni

Nosicelo Mtebeni

Published Aug 31, 2021


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Tuesday marked two years since the brutal rape and murder of University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana. The horrific crime made headlines in August 2019, when, after her disappearance, Mrwetyana's last known location was traced back to the seemingly quaint Claremont post office, where employee Luyanda Botha violated and killed her.

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A final year law student from the University of Fort Hare, Nosicelo Mtebeni, recently made headlines after she was murdered, allegedly by her boyfriend.

Mtebeni’s dismembered body was stuffed in a suitcase that was discovered about 100m from her residence on the morning of August 19, after police were alerted by a passer-by. The 23-year-old’s head and hands were left inside the house in plastic bags while the suitcase was dumped on the pavement.

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Nosicelo Mtebeni
University of Fort Hare students gathered outside the East London Magistrate’s Court where murder accused Alutha Pasile appeared. Pictures: Bheki Radebe
UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana’s ordeal sent shock waves across the country. Picture: Sibusiso Ndlovu, African News Agency (ANA)

Mtebeni lived in a communal residence with her partner in Quigney, East London, and according to neighbours who shared accounts on social media following the gruesome discovery, quarrels coming from the couple’s room had become a common occurrence.

On the day Mtebeni was murdered, it is believed that screams were heard coming from her room, and yet, no one came to her aid as she screamed for help.

Experts highlight that there is indeed a culture of silence that has been adopted by our society.

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Ngaa Murembedzi, from a non-profit child protection organisation, Women and Men Against Child Abuse, said there is a high level of bystander apathy in our communities.

“The assumption exists that maybe the next person will intervene. But, in actual fact, we don’t. We don't want to take on the responsibilities of what happens after you intervene. We have a stance of ‘I have my own problems, and I can’t get involved.’ We have a holier than thou approach to marriages and partnerships, treating them like areas where people should not intervene.

We do need to step up when we even suspect there is something untoward. We have a habit of outsourcing the responsibilities to state entities and distancing ourselves from other people's "personal issues." That is a culture that has to deeply change,” she said.

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University of Johannesburg Law Clinic attorney Elton Hart proposed that in order to eradicate gender-based violence, we need to make this (Women’s Month) a whole year campaign and not just a campaign in August.

“When we focus on gender-based violence, it should be a campaign against gender-based violence for 365 days a year, every year until gender-based violence has been eradicated from our society. Further to that is that perpetrators should be targeted and identified, named and shamed, and educated that what they are doing is wrong,” he said.

He reiterated that, on the other hand, victims should be educated that gender-based violence is not a sign of love, and women should not stay in relationships that are toxic to them merely because they are financially dependent on the perpetrator of gender-based violence.

“Gender-based violence perpetrators continue to operate because they know that the victims will not go through with cases against them and will not get them prosecuted in courts because they continuously withdraw cases,” he said.

Dr Belinda Pakati from the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Sexualities, Aids & Gender, warned that society needs to be taught to not only be bystanders to learn to break the circle of violence.

“Many women need to be educated and liberated to not stay in abusive relationships because if they are financially independent, that means they can escape the abusive situations and support themselves,” she said.

Senior Lecturer and Programme Director at the Centre for Gender and Africa Studies at the University of the Free State, Dr Nadine Lake, said South Africa needs to move beyond talk and lip-service to action.

“Education is key to challenging the normative status that has attached itself to violence in general in South Africa, especially violence against women. Educational awareness campaigns and programmes that promote equality between young women and men must be prioritised at primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education.”

On whether marches and national shutdowns are effective in the country, Lake reckons they are.

“Marches are effective because they constitute a public platform and a level of consciousness-raising around GBV. These marches also provide those affected by GBV to voice their concerns. It is crucial to place pressure on the state and to communicate the needs of people who are persistently marginalised in society,” she said.

Sunday Independent