Being a woman, in South Africa, in 2017

One year and one month ago, four women bravely staged a silent protest to remind us of President Jacob Zuma’s infamous rape trial. The impact of the protest was great but it didn’t change attitudes towards violence against women – just one month later 18-year old Lekita Moore’s body was found in a field. She had been stabbed to death by her friend Cameron Wilson who was charged for her murder.

The first half of 2017 rolled out as a solemn calendar account of women who were either raped, murdered, or raped and murdered in sickeningly violent crimes:

  • January – Akhona Njokana, Nicola Pienaar
  • Feb – Priska Schalk
  • March – Franziska Blöchliger, Stacha Arendse, Rene Roman
  • April – Jeannette Cindi, Sthembile Mdluli, Iyapha Yamile, Karabo Mokoena
  • May – Hannah Cornelius


About 5,000 rapes are reported every single month in South Africa. Reported cases. The real number of victims is not known as many women do not lay charges due to the direct and indirect stigma attached to the crime.

Today, Women’s Day, South Africa commemorates the march of thousands of women from all racial groups to Pretoria’s Union Buildings in 1956 in protest against apartheid’s pass laws that sought to restrict the movements of non-white South Africans. The sad truth is that women are still restricted to move freely in this country, the context may have changed but the threat is still evident.

While South Africa’s Constitution enshrines gender equality, bodily integrity and reproductive rights; the words and meaning are seemingly lost on a society that refuses to change its attitudes and approaches to the rights of women.

I did a quick search on Wikipedia on women in South Africa and the following two pages were prominent:

Wiki Women in South Africa

Feminism in South Africa has been shaped by struggles for political and racial equality as well as by national and transnational struggles for gender equality. Through the country’s transition to multi-racial democracy in the mid-1990s, South African feminism contributed to the process of reconstruction, striving for a non-racist, nonsexist society. However, feminist activism and radical transformational politics were largely diluted in the process. Contemporary South African feminism continues to engage with questions of the role of feminism within broader national and international struggles for class and racial equality.

I read the Wiki pages and felt disheartened, disappointed. We need to change this narrative on how we women want to go down in history; it cannot continue to be about our gender struggle and prohibitive inequality. We need to rise above the political, racial, cultural and religious stereotypes that keep us apart when what we really need to do is join together with a single vision.

South African History Online has a comprehensive account of women’s rights and representation in the country. It is only in reading about the key Constitutional Court judgements in recent times that we can fully appreciate the journey that women in Mzansi have travelled, and will continue to travel if we ourselves do not drive the change;  these include judgements in terms of Common Law, extension of South African marriage law to Muslim marriage rites, Domestic Violence Act 1998, Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 1998, and the Maintenance Act 1998. It is unimaginable that most of these ‘basic’ rights have only been brought into law in the past 20 years.

South African Constitution, Section 9, “Equality”

“(3) The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.”

Our Constitution explicitly prohibits any discrimination on the basis of gender, sex, pregnancy and marital status; these specific qualifying criteria are deliberately included to protect women, and sends a strong message that no unfair discrimination based on any feature of being a woman will be tolerated.

In 1994 the Woman’s National Coalition published the Womens Charter For Effective Equality that was adopted at the National Convention.

Preamble Womens Charter

So, here we are; with all the best laid plans in place. What has gone wrong? Are women continuing to be victimised for not only the historic sexist views, but, now also for standing up to claim their inherent rights?

Is misogyny and patriarchy so deeply entrenched and therefore justified by men and women alike? If we all do not make an active stand against misogyny and patriarchy, or if we laugh off efforts by others to correct these views, we are actively agreeing to accept women as second-rate citizens. Some women are guilty of doing this as much as men.

Do our politicians and leaders recognise the damage they have caused by failing to stand up for women in sincere and authentic ways? Lip service will not address the scourge of HIV/AIDS, violence against women, and gender bias and inequality. Who will make a stand because it is the right thing to do, and not because they are simply led by their Party agendas. Will our real leaders please stand up?

We have indeed made bold leaps forward, and great strides to correct the imbalances of the past – and yes, we should celebrate progress – but not as an end but to encourage us to continue.

The struggle remains real in homes and workplaces all around the country. We must persist. We must fight on.



4 Replies to “Being a woman, in South Africa, in 2017”

  1. Where to begin? The ‘leaders’ of our country are the worst role-models. Patriarchy is entrenched in most of our cultures. Education has been dumbed down and does not address these issues. Access to information and knowledge is poor. Access to women’s right and to justice is poor.

    My own feeling is to be totally practical about this. We should try to educate through the churches. This has worked well in Rwanda for other issues. Approaching church leaders to come together and form a ‘Churches for Women’ movement. Fundraise for (a) training of the clergy and (b) cheap cellphones that can link women together

    1. Hi Nan,
      I’m sure that your extensive experience on the continent would provide valuable lessons for all of us – if only we/society were open to actually changing in bold steps.

  2. Very well said Mel. It’s heartbreaking that despite constitutional commitment to the contrary, discrimination and maltreatment prevails. I think you summed it up when you mentioned absence of leadership and the paying of lip service. This is the biggest problem in our country and it perpetuates the marginalisation and cruelty because it is in effect being condoned. Our world famous constitution has been rendered worthless in so many ways recently and the treatment of women is just one of them. A friend of mine teaching at a girl’s school in Australia remarked to me the other day that she thinks that there will be a big change in the role and perception of women in the future because these young ladies are growing up with a strong sense of gender equality and are most certainly not shrinking violets! Maybe it will take the coming of age of the next generation to see the shifts happen significantly. In the meantime, I agree that “we must persist and fight on”.

    1. Hi niktwo,

      I don’t know if you saw the Times Live article by Helen Moffett yesterday – she said what I wanted to convey, in the way that I would normally have said it in private conversation 🙂 If you haven’t read her article here’s the link:’s-day-and-shove-it/ It’s a goodie! Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy post and for commenting. Always value your feedback.

What are your thoughts on this article?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: