By Julia Rowley
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 9 of VARSITY News.
After the rape and murder of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana, protests were held on Wednesday 4th and Thursday 5th September in outcry against gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa. Although the protests weren’t without flaws, overall it was an inspiring example of diverse people fighting for a common cause.
On Wednesday 4th September, anti-GBV protestors began to gather outside Parliament from 10am, with the crowd exceeding over three thousand people later in the day. Although this was a protest that was initiated and supported by the UCT community, it was encouraging to see the diversity of people that attended. When seeing elderly women of colour protest against ill treatment, one couldn’t help but be reminded of pre-1990s political protest action (and was a stark reminder of how life for black women hasn’t changed much). Indeed, this was echoed by the Vice Chancellor’s speech: that after apartheid black women have “entered into a different form of bondage.” However, saddening as this may be, there was also a sense of unity and solidarity amongst the crowd. Elderly, young, black, white, womxn and men chillingly sang “what have we done?” while brandishing powerful signs such as ‘I don’t want to die with my hands up or my legs open.’ The unification of the diverse protestors was particularly felt during Vice Chancellor Phakeng’s speech. The righteous anger and desperation for change was palpable in the air when she called for an end to rape culture, toxic masculinity and the silencing of victims. It was truly inspiring to feel united with such a large, diverse group of people against a common cause.
The following day, the protests continued. Although the same energy of unification and solidarity was as present as the day before, there was also a rising anger. The much larger gathering brought out Cyril Ramaphosa to address the crowd outside parliament. “When he came out, the crowd booed and jeered, asking him to take responsibility for everything that has been going on,” says Sophie Zaaiman, one of the protestors present at Thursday’s march. “You could feel everyone’s anger because of his silence up until then.” Despite the crowd’s hostile response, the protests were successful as Ramaphosa announced a list of changes that he was planning to implement – including more funds being allocated towards fighting gender-based violence and harsher jail sentences for perpetrators.
However, successful as the protests were, they were not without flaws. The lack of men at the protests was disheartening and truly shows how ingrained toxic masculinity is in South African society. Womxn don’t need men to stand up for them – but we do need them to stand up with us if our culture is going to change. Similarly, there was a lack of intersectionality in the discourses surrounding gender-based violence at the protests. Issues such as many black womxn’s lack of safety in townships were ignored, and intersections between gender violence, race and class were not examined or brought up.
Despite their flaws, the protests were successful in being a spark for change because of the large amounts of diverse South Africans that showed up to stand against such extreme gender-based violence. Now one can only hope for the continued anger and pressure on the government to implement these much-needed changes.