South Africans say Gender-based Violence Worsening, Blame Substance Abuse

In June 2020, the body of 28-year-old Tshegofatso Pule, who was eight months pregnant, was found stabbed and hanging from a tree outside Johannesburg. The brutality of the murder shocked the nation. But the crime was one of many. South Africa suffers from exceptionally high levels of gender-based violence (GBV). One in every four South African women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetimes, and a woman is murdered every three hours in the country. Lockdown measures intended to curb the spread of COVID-19 may have exacerbated this crisis, leaving many women and girls vulnerable at home and unable to access help from organizations fighting GBV. During the first three weeks of the lockdown in April 2020, the government’s GBV Command Centre received more than 120,000 calls from victims of violence, and news of gender-based violence cases frequently dominated both traditional and social media. The South African Police Service (2020) reported 53,293 sexual offenses between April 2019 and March 2020, an average of 146 per day and a 2% increase from the previous year. A majority (42,289) were rape cases. The number of actual cases is almost certainly higher, as sexual violence often goes unreported. The most recent national Afrobarometer survey indicates that most South Africans believe that GBV in the country has increased over the past year, and they cite alcohol and drug abuse and unemployment as major factors contributing to this crisis. Women report feeling less safe than men at home and in their neighbourhood. Most South Africans say that domestic violence is a legal matter that requires the involvement of law enforcement, rather than a personal affair that should be handled within the family.