More than 100 United Methodists dressed in black and blue marched to say “enough is enough” in regards to rape and gender-based violence, which is on the rise in South Africa.
The peaceful protest took place Sept. 14 in Bhizane in the Makukhanye District of the South Africa Conference. The march came on the heels of a Cape Town rally in which thousands of women marched to parliament to protest rising violence against women.
According to national crime statistics released by the South African Police Services, sexual offenses increased by 4.6% from April 2018 to March 2019. About 3,000 women were murdered in South Africa in 2018, according to the World Health Organization.
“Rape and gender violence has become a normality within our society that it hardly makes headlines in the national media,” said Bulelwa Ndedwa, a United Methodist deaconess who led the rally. “But recent attacks have shocked everyone in the congregation and community.”
She spoke about a string of murders that have haunted the community over the past two months, including the deaths of four children who were allegedly killed by their father.
Last month, she said, a 14-year-old was raped and killed and her body was dumped in her grandmother’s backyard. “Before we ceased to mourn from the 14-year-old girl, a 19-year-old student at the University of Cape Town was raped and murdered” at a local post office, Ndedwa said. A postal employee has been charged in her death.
She also noted a recent case in which a female boxing champion was gunned down during a car chase. Her boyfriend, a police officer, has been arrested.
“It seems as if human life is not valued in South Africa,” she lamented. “Our society needs to stop violence against women and against its fellow brother or sister.”
Ndedwa said the church has a role to play and must take action to help improve the situation for its female members and all women.
“Protests and marches like this need to be part of our church calendar in order to create awareness where there will be days to educate our male members. So we need to have a strategic plan that we can implement within our congregations and communities,” she said.
“Men must know that it is their responsibility to make sure (that) we as women and children are safe in our homes, in our schools, our churches and our communities.”
Ndedwa advised protesters to start talking to children at an early age about how to treat and respect girls and women.
Thabsile Nomvethe was among those marching hand in hand with other United Methodists at the rally.
“I am the mother of a 9-year-old girl who is a survivor of a rape,” the 34-year-old said. “South African women and children have become victims of sexual harassment and our legal system is failing us.”
She said the punishment for offenders isn’t tough enough.
“The legal system in the country is very weak because we see some of these perpetrators being released from jails with bails after some time.
“Unless our government changes something within the legal system of the country and takes these cases very seriously,” nothing will change, she said. “The current scenario is scary and pushes us to live in the state of fear as women in South Africa.”
Nomvethe said the concern is so high that some mothers feel they must hide their daughters to keep them out of danger.
“Even when you send your child to shops or to public places like the post office, it is not safe,” she said. “But the time has come when women must break the silence and speak up. Enough is enough.”
Mkwalo is a communicator for the South Africa Conference.
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