Ignorance against violence and abuse of women is as real as the air we breathe. To a great extent, I am evidence of that horrible reality.
Sometime last month I stumbled upon a picture on Facebook with the caption “please help me find my friend…”
I paid little attention; to me this did not matter much, it seemed like some kind of silly joke. Honestly, I thought the beautiful woman on the captioned picture was some American celebrity and that someone was pulling one of those sick social media pranks. I was ignorant.
A week later, I got a shock of my life when I saw screen shot on Twitter which read: “Help find my daughter her name is Karabo Mokoena”. It was a screenshot of a Facebook post by Ntate Tshepo Mokoena. I became uneasy with guilt. Upon searching Karabo Mokoena’sname on Twitter, the picture I had ignored the past week on Facebook came up.
I then searched for Tshepo Mokoena on Facebook, and to my shock, on his wall there a post read: “The boyfriend confession. He killed and burned my daughter”.
At that very moment, my soul sank into an abyss. I realized how my ignorance of the picture I had seen a week earlier on Facebook implicated me in the scourge of violence against Black women in SA.
Like thousands, if not millions, of other men out there, I was complicit in this crime; my ignorance meant consent.
Thereafter, perhaps out of a subconscious guilt, I searched for Karabo’s profiles on facebook, twitter and instagram and took some of her pictures. I also came across powerful video clips on her instagram account where she was encouraging and speaking to women.
I then shared Karabo’s story with her pictures and videos on my Facebook wall, really disturbed and pained. Her story left me cold with deep sadness, pain and guilt. But I never expected what followed my Facebook post.
Literally, thousands of people responded to the post, sharing it and commenting expressing outrage at the story. I also received numerous inboxes on my Facebook Messenger from strangers, people sending me condolences thinking I knew or was close to Karabo.
What hit and cut my soul most sharply was an inbox message that was followed by a telephone conversation with a lady whose sister, Tinyiko Ngobeni, suffered the same fate as Karabo in November last year.
The lady, who asked to remain anonymous for her safety, told a painful tale of ruthless murder and injustice; her sister, Tinyiko Ngobeni, apparently left home for University with her boyfriend, who cannot be named for legal reasons, on November 13, 2016.
She never reached the Vaal University of Technology where she was studying her first year in Medical Biotechnology, as she never called her father to report her arrival as per routine. Upon contacting her boyfriend, to query Tinyiko’s whereabouts, the boyfriend allegedly said he left her at some highway for taxis. When questioned further, he got a lawyer, raising suspicions to the family of the missing 29 year old woman.
Her family had already reported her missing at the Katlehong Police Station. When the Police investigated further and interrogated the suspect, he allegedly confessed and went to point out where he had buried Tinyiko’s body. Her body was found, strangled and already decomposed, on November 19, buried in bushes in Kliprivier. Her boyfriend was arrested by the Vaal Police at the scene.
But on the next Monday, suspect who comes from a rich affluent family, was released. When the family of the victim went to the Vaal to enquire from the prosecutors why the suspect had been released, they received dodgy answers.
The case against the suspect has disappeared and no clear reasons for his release were given to the family of his alleged victim. It is alleged that his family had stated at the crime scene that they were rich and that their son would never go to prison.
Tinyiko Ngobeni’s family has lost all hope in the criminal and justice system. The suspected killer of their loved one, is still out there enjoying his life.
The Ngobeni family contacted me after seeing my Facebook posts on Karabo Mokoena’s story, in the hope that, since Karabo’s story has caught the nation’s attention and brought the issue of violence against women to the fore of national discourse, they too might get justice for their loved one.
So, as I reflected on the whole issue of violence against women and children in South Africa, it dawned on me that the entire criminal and justice system fails women in this country. More especially, poor Black women who are largely regarded as insignificant appendages in this largely Eurocentric, male dominated society.
Moreover, I realised the painful fact that the stories of Karabo and Tinyiko were actually stories of the daily existence and reality of many other (Black) women in this country. Violence in our communities, in our homes, in our families has become a normal feature of our existence.
Women in this sick nation are not only failed by those who inhibit ignorance about violence, and those who remain silent in the face of these injustices and atrocities; they are largely failed by the entire system. The whole socio-economic and political fabric of this country is designed to fail (Black) women.
South Africa is a sick and violent nation, a country in which violence has become a normal feature of social life, a place where violence and murder are normalised. After all, we are a nation in which the number one citizen, the State President, was accused of raping a young woman and acquitted by the courts.
The justice system is unjust and fails women. Whilst Karabo’s boyfriend and alleged killer, Sandile Mantsoe, may be in Police custody for now, the courts may either release him, give him minimal sentence at least, or grant him one life sentence at most.
This is the reality of the South African criminal and justice system. It serves the interests of perpetrators of crime more than the victims. Criminals commit crimes knowing there will be no severe consequences for so doing. Indeed, what an impotent criminal and justice system it is.
Consequently, we must admit that South Africa is a nation founded upon misogynist paradigms and the debasement of women, regardless of constitutional decorations and bills of rights. With all strides achieved, women continue to be marginalised, oppressed and erased in various levels of society: from the home, to the church, to the parliament.
We ought to realize that there is, in fact, no sudden rise in violence against and killings of women in this country, these recent killings are no sudden crisis. This is the daily reality of majority of women, particularly Black women, whose lives are daily theatres of violent existence.
What is new here is that Karabo’s story trended on social media and, as a result, got registered in our national consciousness and became public discourse.
Without excusing criminality, and definitely without condoning any violence against women and children, we must look deeper than the surface. Broken societies only bear, produce and rear dysfunctional people, broken men who then continue the cycle of destruction.
Whilst we condemn the individuals who commit these acts of violence against women, we ought to also condemn ourselves for our complicity and silence on the patriarchal siege against women and the entire normalization of violence in our society.
While also bearing in mind that the insanity within these men’s reasoning is no excuse for their sick behaviour, we must analyse the physical abuse and killings of (Black) women by their mates as inextricably tied to the whole patriarchal fabric of South African society.
Although violence against women is particularly a male behavioural issue, it’s roots are embedded in our accepted social and behavioural norms, as well as our acceptance of general malignment of and misogyny against women.
Whilst the trending #MenAreTrash may be seen by some as an extreme generalization, it is a correct and necessary cry that must be heard with sincere concern. But most importantly, there needs to be serious mutual dialogue and action from both men and women in our country to change old-age attitudes and stereotypes.
Serious attention also needs to be paid to the major challenges around building solid family structures in this country, owing to the history of its deliberate and systematic destruction by agents of white supremacy. Particular attention must be paid to the Black family structure.
Above all, we need to imagine and work towards building a whole new society in which women’s rights are ensured, a society in which women’s bodies and lives are respected, a society in which victimized women like Tinyiko Ngobeni and Karabo Mokoena are protected through the justice system.
The Afrocentric scholar and community educator, Dr Mwalimu Baruti, says “no African man should ever touch an African woman except in love and, even then, only with her express permission”.
Indeed, we must imagine and birth anew a society that values and consecrates not only the worth of women, but all human life. When women and human life are threatened or violated in our society, we must respond swiftly, decisively and harshly.
By Thando Sipuye
The writer is an African Historian and Social Scientist. He is an executive member of The Ankh Foundation, the Blackhouse Kollective and Africentrik Study Group based at the University of Sobukwe (Fort Hare). He writes in his personal capacity.