We live in an extremely violent society, and recent crime statistics revealing just how children were killed is an eye opener, writes Liezil Cerf.
We need to have a conversation about child murders in South Africa. Why? Because as parents, adults and caregivers, we are not talking about it enough.
From newspapers to office and household conversations, we continue to live in a state of denial about the extreme violence a child endures before dying at the hands of another in South Africa.
Ahead of the launch of 16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF), the quarterly crime statistics showed, yet again, the grim reality of South Africa’s extremely violent society. Amid all of the shocking truths, descriptions and definitions about GBVF, further macabre details were tabled in a Parliamentary reply to a question on the nature of child murders over a period of four years in the country.
At first glance, the reply reveals statistics comparing thousands of incidents of child rapes and murders as well as the low prosecution rate for each year in question, up until 2021. But, the devil in the detail relating to each of almost 2000 child murders in the country appeared in an unsuspecting table, which listed a litany of weapons used in each child murder dating back to 2015.
Listed, in alphabetical order, the weapons used in the murder of thousands of children leave no comfort, even to the most hardened of hearts. Instead, it is a nightmarish showcase of the extent of violence perpetrated against our children and the shameful failure on our part as protectors of our society’s most vulnerable.
Excess 60 types of weapons used
Even though no age or gender groups are mentioned, the statistics are assigned to young people below the age of 18. It refers to newborn babies, three-year-old toddlers, 13-year-old adolescents and 17-year-old teenagers, whose circumstances of murder are nauseating.
According to the reply, an excess of 60 kinds of weapons are used to murder children in South Africa.
The most common weapons used in the killings are knives and firearms while almost 20 succumbed to an axe. A belt, a broom, cables, pieces of clothing and even a candle are listed too, and that isn’t even half of the list, as glass bottles, a fork, hammers, bricks and a booted foot have been used as well. The rest of the weapons, include fuel, a garden fork, pangas, poison, a rock, saws, sticks, stones, as well as scissors. The use of these weapons to kill children paints chilling and torturous last moments of thousands of young ones.
The graphic extent of violence against children revealed itself when three-year-old Courtney Pieters was murdered in 2017. Her tiny body was dumped on a rubbish heap in Cape Town. Her face was found heavily bruised, while her neck showed bite marks. Self-confessed murderer, Mortimer Sanders, admitted that he fed her ant poison to make her sick but when she started "making a noise" he started choking her. The pathologist testified that the toddler sustained external blunt-force injuries to her face, torso, limbs, and there were signs of pressure to her neck as well as injuries to her genitals. Sanders was a familiar face to the family and, during the trial, stated his ill feelings toward Courtney’s mother as a reason for poisoning the toddler. He denied raping Courtney, but semen was found in her body. The judge described the toddler’s murder as “vicious, brutal, inhumane, and ruthless” and Sanders was given two life sentences for the toddler’s rape and murder, which is only one of the thousands more child murders that took place over the reported period.
In a recent letter to South Africans, President Cyril Ramaphosa described the country’s rate of gender-based violence as "shameful" acknowledging, that despite best efforts, the relentless war being waged on the bodies of women and children shows no signs of abating. Through the 2020 National Strategic Plan to Combat Gender-based Violence and Femicide (NSP) government has brought to the table interventions, including legislative reform, but undoubtedly broader society needs to join the fight.
As parents and caregivers, we cannot turn away from this frightening reality as we ourselves are meant to protect children as "your child is my child". We are not meant to be passive observers of violence instead, active soldiers in this war. It requires almost militant vigilance when our children come into contact with unfamiliar and especially familiar persons or surroundings. There is no quick fix, but remaining on guard during the festive season and reporting any suspicious criminal activity to the police on 10111 could just save a child's life.
- Liezil Cerf is a GCIS Director: Parliamentary and Media Liaison and writes in her personal capacity.
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