#AmINext #SAShutdown GBV movement in South Africa

July 28, 2023 Jesi Carson, Participedia Team
July 24, 2023 Jesi Carson, Participedia Team
February 28, 2023 Babongile Bidla
February 24, 2023 Babongile Bidla
February 22, 2023 Babongile Bidla
February 20, 2023 Babongile Bidla
February 20, 2023 Carla Ruiters

#AmINext and #SAShutdown are hashtag movements against gender-based-violence in South Africa (SA). Thousands of women within SA came together and marched to Parliament in Cape Town protesting against "government’s failure in dealing with the rise of violent killings and rape against women and children in South Africa’ (Morshedi, 2020).

Problems and Purpose

Due to multiple murder rape cases of women and girls being reported in the media during South Africa’s National Women’s Month to name a few victims:

(1)  Leighandre Jegels 25-year-old South African boxing Champion, who was shot dead by her police officer boyfriend (2) Janika Mallo 14-year-old found in her grandmother’s yard raped and murdered (3) Jesse Hess 19-year-old UWC student raped and strangled to death. However, the last straw for many was when (4) the body of 19-year-old UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana – was discovered raped and killed by a post office employee in August 2019.

As a result, after the horrific murders of specifically Uyinene a #Hashtag revolution was born. Where women all over South Africa, took to social media and used the hashtags #SAShutdown and #AmINext (Morshedi, 2020). The purpose of my study is to show ‘how’ firstly social mobilization and secondly digital activism was used to hold government liable and accountable as well as understanding the severity of the gender-based violence crisis in the country. 

Background History and Context

As cited by Williamson (2017, pg. 8615) “GBV in policy context varying: the essence however focuses on the acts that uphold female subordination. This violence can occur on multiple levels and may include - intimate partner violence, sexual violence, economic violence, economic abuse, childhood sexual abuse, female genital mutilation, forced prostitution, deliberate malnourishment of female children, dowry related murder and including marital rape.”

South Africa celebrates almost 30 years of democracy. A democracy that was led by the determination for a country, to practice equality and equity. South Africa has made many advancements and continues to progress and create transformational changes that empower both the nation as well as the global system. South Africa’s Constitutional Bill of Rights in relation to policies and rights implemented to protect women and children are seen as the most comprehensive and progressive constitution in comparison to other states (Williamson, 2017). However, women in South Africa continue to face high levels of gender-based violence – it is a problem that is far from unique to South Africans. As illustrated by Enaifoghe, Dlamini & Durokifa (2021, pg. 137) “In South Africa, gender-based violence (GBV) is a profound and widespread problem that has a severe effect in impacting on almost every aspect of life.”

South Africa’s difficulty of overcoming gender-based violence is deeply rooted within their cultural, societal, economic, political and social inequalities. According to a report by the WHO (2005) “reported that women are often denied equal opportunities in different cycles of life, including access to education, economic opportunities and political leadership and they are regarded as weaker vessels.” Thus, women and children in South Africa are the most affected groups of gender-based violence due to deep ingrained systems, institutions, cultures and traditions in South Africa.

In 2019 the South African Police Service reported, nearly 3000 women were killed in South Africa between 2017 and 2018. This was demonstrated by the fact-checking organisation’s calculations (AHO), which revealed that 'the killing rate for adult women at nearly 15.2 per 100 000’. Furthermore, after comparing states retrieved from the World Health Organisation (2016), showed that "the murder rate is 12.5 per 100 000 women and girls”. Therefore, based on these figures, South Africa became the fourth worst country out of 183 countries – who continue to face extreme cases of gender-based violence issues within the global world.

A report by SAPS Crime Stats in 2019 further illustrated an increase in sexual offences, murders and rape cases that occurred in South Africa during the years 2019 and 2020.

  • As stated by African Health Organisation (AHO) (2021) “2019/20, 53 289 sexual offences were reported, an average of 149 per day, up from 52 420 in 2018/19. Most of these were cases of rape. Of this the police recorded 42 289 rapes in 2019/20, up from 41 583 in 2018/19, an average of 116 rapes each day” 
  • “in 2019/20 a total of 2 695 women were murdered in South Africa. This means a women is murdered every three hours.”

What is even more outrageous, is the fact that, the African Health Organisation highlights women in South Africa who experience violence in their daily lives ‘ranks higher than issues of smoking, obesity or high blood pressure as a contributor to death, disability and illness’ (AHO, 2021).

As cited by Francke (2019, pg. 2) “at least 137 sexual offences are committed per day in South Africa, mainly against women, according to official figures. This week the women’s minister – said more than 30 women were killed by their spouses last month (August)”

During South Africa’s National Women’s month, 19-year-old Uyinene Mrwetyana was brutally raped and murdered on the 24th of August 2019 by a post office employee. The deceased victim Uyinene enquired about a parcel she had purchased and was expected to collect the parcel at the post office in Claremont at 2pm on the 24 of August 2019 (Nombembe, 2019).

However, as she arrived inside the post office, the employee locked the front door and started to make advances towards her. He raped, choked and beat Uyinene to death with a post office scale as she screamed and showed resistance. Uyinene died and her body was locked inside a safe at the post office (Nombembe, 2019). The employee left the office that evening and returned the next day- early morning (25 of August) to continue cleaning the scene and waiting to remove her body once it became dark. The employee placed Uyinene lifeless body into the trunk of his car and dumped her body in a Township called Khayelitsha which was near to where he lived. Furthermore, the employee purchased petrol to dispose of the body, which was discovered the following day on Monday the 26 August 2019 (Nombembe, 2019). As a result, of this horrific murder case a protest and digital activism almost immediately began. The media played a key role in reporting the Uyinene case.

Images: Stop Gender-Based Violence written on a hand and #AmINext Protest Poster in Cape Town

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

Due to the murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana and the many other brutal murders and rape cases that occurred during women’s month in South Africa, fueled a digital revolution and called for a state of emergency to be declared (Morshedi, 2020). As a result, Sivuyile Ngesi a black South African actor and celebrity (comedian, presenter and producer) with a social media following total of 245 200 followers (total number of people following him on social media sites: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook). This actor is known for speaking his mind and never afraid to do so. Therefore, due to the gender-based violence cases- Siv tweeted a video on twitter as illustrated by Morshedi (2020, pg.8) “a video of a group of gender activists being released from a police station in Cape Town and captioned it “Finally released at 1am! 10am, we march again to Parliament #SAShutDown.

Mr Ngesi initiated the #SAShutdown movement where he urged South Africans to call for a nation-wide shutdown with the hopes of bringing gender-based violence to the government’s attention (Morshedi, 2020). Furthermore, on the 3rd of September 2019 he uploaded a video on Instagram expressing ‘even though South Africans are able to quickly recover from difficult situations we cannot get used to it – I believe we as South African’s we should shut down this country! Every single one of us should march because enough-is-enough! Additionally, he stated that ‘our women are at war and children are at war and we walk around as if everything is okay! Shut the country down! Hashtag SA Shutdown and take it to the streets! Enough-is-enough! We need to take a stand

Moreover, it has been challenging to track whether there were funding involved within establishing the movement. However, this was a digital movement that revolutionised into a street protest to parliament Cape Town. Thus, an organisation called the ‘Fight Back SA’ facilitated the gender-based violence gathering or event and the public page on Facebook called “Gathering against Gender Based Violence in South Africa” which outlined the date, time and venue (parliament) including a few rules for the public gathering against GBV. This page had a response of 20 600 individuals who indicated on Facebook their interest in attending the GBV gathering. Furthermore, Fight Back SA collaborated with other organisers such as the ‘Protesting Against Violence Towards Women and Children event’ who shared the similar guidelines for the GBV event, and 10 000 individuals indicated their interest in attending the GBV gathering. Although there are individuals who do not use Facebook or other social media platforms, the details for the street protest was highlighted on the radios, shared amongst peers via messenger and a few news outlets.