Melanie Verwoerd | Senzeni na? A message to the men of South Africa

Friends and relatives of slain Tshegofatso Pule hold balloons at her funeral, which took place in Meadowlands on Thursday. One of the balloons is imprinted with the image of her face and the message ‘Rest in peace, Tshego’. Picture: Tebogo Letsie
Friends and relatives of slain Tshegofatso Pule hold balloons at her funeral, which took place in Meadowlands on Thursday. One of the balloons is imprinted with the image of her face and the message ‘Rest in peace, Tshego’. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

The brutal truth is that, despite our beautiful Constitution, no woman in our country is truly free, because we perpetually live in fear. Fear of what you, the men, do to us.



I am tired!

I know that I have to write again about the plague of gender-based violence (GBV) that continues to ravage our country, but I am so tired!

I'm not sure what more one can say that will make a difference?

I can mention that a woman gets killed every three hours in South Africa and that it is almost five times the global average. I can write about the multiple reasons researchers suggest that men abuse and murder women. I can comment on various measures locally and internationally that have been put in place to try and combat GBV.

But will it make any difference? I don't know.

I am tired.

I am tired to the point of feeling broken.

No matter how hard I try, I just cannot understand how any human being can stab a beautiful, tiny, young woman in her stomach in order to kill the baby inside her, which is almost ready to be born. What kind of barbarity must you possess to do that and then hang that woman from a tree?

READ: How to stop Femicide in South Africa: Six questions for SA’s Gender Health Research unit head

Or, what kind of human being can rape a baby girl, while she cries and bleeds? What kind of human being kills their wife and children in cold blood while they beg for mercy? What kind of human being rapes, kills and then dismembers a woman before dumping her next to highway?

Senzeni na?

Men of South Africa, please tell me: "What have we done to you, that makes you perpetrate these evil deeds on us?"

We gave birth to you, we fed you on our breasts, we clothed you and protected you. We are your mothers, your sisters and your wives. Yet, we get beaten, raped and killed.

Senzeni na? What have we done? Wat het ons gedoen?

I am tired!

Tired of being scared – every time I walk alone into the mountain or in the dark, or every time I drive somewhere alone – or when I hear a noise at night.

The brutal truth is that, despite our beautiful Constitution, no woman in our country is truly free, because we perpetually live in fear. Fear of what you, the men, do to us.

Every time one of our sisters gets raped and murdered, we have marched, worn black, held vigils, begged and pleaded to our government for help.

Yet, it continues.

Men of South Africa, you have to take a stand. Every – single – one of you, so we can collectively get our humanity back.

And in case you think you don't rape or kill, know this: If you tell sexist jokes or use sexist language, if you expect women to serve you, if you  believe you have an entitlement to sex, you are complicit in a culture that sees women as lesser human beings - and it is this belief that leads to rape and violence.

If you are truly free of all of these beliefs (and I know many men are), then you have to lead the way – because we are in deep trouble.

Tshegofatso, my sister, words leave me when I attempt to express how sorry I am for what has happened to you. I hope that you and your little baby, that never took her/his first breath, never felt the air or saw the sun, are in a special place reserved for all the women and children of our country who have died too soon at the hands of men.

May you rest in peace.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland

See www.melanieverwoerd.co.za

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