Protesters chant in support of penile amputation

COSATU leads march against violence against women

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Photo of protest against gender-based violence
Protesters hold up a sign with a scissors and a noose on it. Photo: Trevor Bohatch

Over 200 people led by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) marched in Cape Town on Sunday to demand an end to violence against women and children. The demonstration was also supported by Sonke Gender Justice and the South African Communist Party.

“Most of our workers are women, especially with [the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union],” said Nandi Andries of COSATU. “We have to put an end to this brutal killing of women… The country is just folding their arms; nothing is happening.”

During the march, Andries called for harsher sentencing of perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence and more restrictions on bail. She also elicited cheers from the crowd when she said that if more protection for women and children were not put in place, communities would take the law into their own hands and “cut” rapists. Some of the protesters raised their hands in a scissors motion during the march, shouting “snip snip”.

“We want government to do something,” Andries said. “We want proper protection of our women, especially from the Department of Justice.”

The event began on Keizersgracht Street at about 11am and continued on to the Western Cape Provincial Parliament and National Parliament buildings on Saturday where organisers delivered lists of demands to provincial and national government representatives. 

“We demand that gender-based violence becomes a priority for our government at all levels, and that you stop your bias against poorer communities who depend on the state institutions to protect them,” said Sheryl Hendricks, who serves as COSATU’s Western Cape gender structure secretary. “We need more policemen and more social workers so that we can address the socioeconomic environment that gives rise to such cases of abuse.” She read these words from the memorandum.

The memorandum also called on both provincial and national government to end corruption in order to better serve South Africans, specifically those living in poverty. “Our poverty on the Cape Flats is because of the extravagance of the lifestyles of Zuma, Zille, and De Lille and they loot government for their friends who give them financial kickbacks,” Hendricks said.

Marchers gave both the provincial and national governments until 16 June 2017 to respond to their memorandum. If their demands are not met, organisers “will start with steps to have ineffective leaders removed who cannot solve the problems of our people,” Hendricks said.


Marlise Richter, Head of Policy Development & Advocacy at Sonke Gender Justice, said Sonke was dismayed at the memorandum, and the violent language used during the march. During a subsequent meeting with representatives of Cosatu’s gender sector on 31 July to clarify Cosatu’s position, Sonke raised concerns about the phrases “we will take the law into our own hands” and “we will go to war” that were not removed from the final memo as requested by Sonke. Cosatu representatives assured Sonke representatives that Cosatu is not a violent organisation. They tried to bring across in the memorandum the need for decisive action, and cited an example of “taking the law into our own hands” by doing a citizen’s arrest in a gender-based violence case and presenting the alleged perpetrator to the police, in an absence of action by government.

Editor’s Note

Violence against women in South Africa is one of our worst social problems. It’s part of the broader problem of out-of-control interpersonal violence, represented by nearly 50 murders daily (mostly by men against men). Protests to highlight violence against women are potentially useful if their role is public education and to try and change the culture of violence. But protests that call for men’s penises to be cut off and vigilantism are at best unhelpful, perhaps even sinister. 

TOPICS:  Human Rights Violence

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