From #AmINext to xenophobia, the stories that rocked SA in 2019

2020-01-01 07:21
Protests against gender-based violence. (PHOTO: Jay Caboz)

Protests against gender-based violence. (PHOTO: Jay Caboz)

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The year 2019 was one of headlines about horrific violence committed against innocent and vulnerable people living in South Africa.

From ongoing attacks on women and children, to the apparent targeting of foreign nationals and the deployment of the army to the Cape Flats – violence grabbed the headlines and the attention of citizens in 2019, who registered their horror and marched in protest to make their voices heard.

President Cyril Ramaphosa also cancelled travel plans and important economic forum appearances to address the nation, and come up with measures to show that the government was serious about the levels of angst in the country.

How did we get here?

Cape Flats

There has been an all-out war on the Cape Flats for many years as gangs continue to fight it out for turf and power.

Those who try to go about their daily lives often end up with the bullet wounds – unarmed men, women and children fall while walking or running to their homes, hiding away or playing outside.

This bloodshed is reflected in official crime statistics.

The Cape Flats is home to the Western Cape's 10 police precincts which have the highest attempted murder rates, contributing to 42% of the attempted murders in the province.

For years, many in the community, along with the City of Cape Town and the DA, have been calling for the army to intervene and help the police enforce law and order.

Their pleas were finally heard in July following a heightened spate of recorded murders. Police Minister Bheki Cele announced then that the army would be deployed to help stabilise ganglands in these 10 areas.

This was after Ramaphosa finally gave the go-ahead and wrote up the legally required letter to Parliament. He has since extended the deployment until March, 2020.

But there is still bloodshed.

A night of horror unfolded in Delft in August when separate shootings left three people dead and several others injured.

In September, gunmen kicked down the door of a structure in Elsies River and mowed down three children and a teenager.

Last month, three men and a woman were shot dead in their home in Mitchells Plain.

And in December, notorious gang leader Rashied Staggie was gunned down outside his Salt River home in the early hours of a Friday morning.

It remains to be seen what long-term impact the army will have in Bishop Lavis, Mitchells Plain, Delft, Elsies River, Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Mfuleni, Philippi, Kraaifontein and Manenberg.

Cele proudly stated in September that the work of the police, together with the SA National Defence Force, had resulted in more than 1 000 arrests in gang-ridden areas.

Of those, 806 were already in the system and were wanted for various crimes, including murder, attempted murder, hijacking and theft.

People are still being killed and, as stated by the Institute for Security Studies' Dr Johan Burger, the army, due to leave in March, cannot do the police's job.


The murder of University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana, 19, at a Cape Town post office shocked the nation, coming at a time where many murders of young women were being reported.

Horror killings hogged the headlines, such as that of South African boxer Leighandre "Baby Lee" Jegels, University of Western Cape student Jesse Hess, horse-riding enthusiast Meghan Cremer and Cape Town resident Lynette Volschenk, who was dismembered in her home.

In Mrwetyana's case, it emerged that post office employee Luyanda Botha lured her there on August 24 and when she didn't welcome his sexual advances, raped her and used a 2kg weight, used to weigh packages, to bludgeon her to death. He then hid her body in the office safe, before transporting it the next day, to be burnt and buried.

The nature of her murder, committed by a government employee in a public building in the afternoon, shocked the country. Women took to social media to express that they were not safe anywhere, not even in a public place or if they were equipped with self-defence skills.

Protesters gather to hand over a memorandum

Protesters gather to hand over a memorandum of grievances during a gender-based violence demonstration outside Parliament. (Photo by Gallo Images/Ziyaad Douglas)

The senseless killings prompted the nationwide #AmINext movement, with victims of abuse calling out their alleged abusers, which was documented on a viral thread on Twitter.

It sparked marches and protests across the country against gender-based violence, including and especially at universities, where students demanded that campuses be made safer.

Even international delegates attending the World Economic Forum in Cape Town were confronted with the chants of protesters who cried out for something to be done about the high rate of rapes and murders.

Riot police were brought in as the group, many students, demanded to address Ramaphosa.

Ironically, their cries for an end to violence were met with a heavy-handed approach in the form of stun grenades and several arrests.

Last month, Botha was sentenced to life in prison for murder, two life sentences for both counts of rape, and five years for defeating the course of justice, in terms of a plea and sentencing agreement.


At around the same time, foreign nationals in Gauteng bore the brunt of sporadic violence across all three of the province's major metros.

Communities looted both foreign-owned and local shops while calling for an end to drug syndicates.

Ten of the 12 people killed in the ensuing violence were South Africans, and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the evidence did not show that foreign nationals were being targeted because of their nationality.

She reiterated that South Africa was not a xenophobic country.

Pressure was on Ramaphosa to give an official response to both the gender-based violence and the apparent xenophobic violence.

Marchers against xenophobia in Johannesburg

Marchers against xenophobia in Johannesburg in April 2015. (PHOTO: Bridget Mnyulwa of Sonke Gender Justice)

He did so in an address to the nation on television, calling for calm and acknowledging that the period had been traumatic for the country.

He also opted out of the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

Using a provision in the Constitution normally called upon for State of the Nation Addresses, he held an extraordinary sitting of Parliament instead to tackle gender-based violence and femicide.

"There were 52 000 sexual offences reported in SA in 2018/19. Over the last weeks… we have been shaken by the brutal killings of women and acts of violence have just really exploded in this province," he told residents at Lusikisiki College in the Eastern Cape.

The result of the extraordinary sitting was a five-point emergency plan to be implemented over six months.

Pack up and go

Later that month, Ramaphosa was booed while delivering a speech at a memorial for former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe in Harare.

He said Zimbabweans only accepted him after he offered an apology for the violence committed against foreign nationals.

"It was only when I said I regret what is happening in our country and offered an apology on behalf of all of us as SA, that is when they responded positively in accepting that apology. I have apologised on your behalf and I hope that will sink into our consciousness."

He added: "The world expects us to behave in a way where we respect the rights of people from other nations."

Desperate Nigerians living in South Africa, including some who were forced to close their businesses following the attacks on foreign nationals, signed up for free flights back to Nigeria, instead of taking the risk of staying.

In Cape Town and Pretoria, groups of foreign nationals pleaded with the United Nations in weeks of protests outside their regional offices to be taken to another country.

Where to next?

While the government follows its plan to tackle gender-based violence, stories continue to emerge of women who are killed.

Last month, 21-year-old Limpopo student Precious Ramabulana was stabbed 52 times after her attacker sneaked through the window of her rented room while she was asleep.

Her alleged attacker, Aubrey Manaka, 28, has not yet pleaded to charges of rape, murder, housebreaking with intent to rob and aggravated robbery.

Commemorations for 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women have done little to stem the bloodshed.

Tebogo Setlhare was arrested on November 25 for the murder of his girlfriend, Kgaugelo Tshwae, 28, in Mmakau village in the North West.

Her burnt body was found after she apparently failed to return home from a holiday.

Also occurring during the 16 days, was the brutal attack on a woman from uMkhuze, allegedly by her husband.

She lost her arm and also had a cracked skull.

A plastic and reconstructive surgeon said her life would never be the same.

He added that as a teacher, she "needs a hand and one of her hands has lost function, but we will try to restore function to that hand. It will take multiple surgeries."

We do not know what 2020 holds, but 2019 has many lessons for South Africa.


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