These are very dark days for us in South Africa, and it pains me to admit that I have nothing reassuring or funny or uplifting to offer. There is nothing funny or uplifting about femicide and the rape and murder statistics in this country. But I feel the need to say something, anyway, as it’s weighing very heavily on me. It was our 12-year-old daughter, on her phone at breakfast, who told us that Nene’s killer had been identified. As a family gathered around the kitchen counter on an ordinary Tuesday morning we learned the circumstances of her murder. Along with all of South Africa, the details of her disappearance had been a topic of discussion for days. Where could she be? What could have happened?
On our way to watch The Lion King on Friday evening, my daughter and her best friend ventured their opinions. ‘Maybe she’s just hanging at her boyfriend’s house,’ one of them offered hopefully. ‘Maybe,’ I agreed, trying to assuage their fears, but knowing – as these things go – that the chances of her being found alive were slim to non-existent. And then the truth, the shocking, devastating details of her attack, were announced. I think I couldn’t process the horror right away. I paid bills, bought a bed, did some washing, cooked bobotie, added extravagant amounts of butter and sugar to the yellow rice.
On Facebook I read the reactions of friends, all reeling, all petrified, many wanting to leave the country. It was in a state of high anxiety that I walked the 500 metres to my yoga class this morning, leaving my phone behind (just in case I was mugged on the way, or worse) and constantly looking over my shoulder. At one point a man with a briefcase walked a few steps ahead of me, and I glared at the back of his head, daring him to turn around, to try anything, just try. The magic of yoga lies less in the softening and strengthening of the limbs than the softening and strengthening of the heart; the remembering of how deeply connected we all are as human beings. It took just a few moments of hearing the soft, mellifluous sounds of my Hindi instructor’s voice guiding us through the Asanas to make big, splashy tears drop down on my mat. Nene was everybody’s daughter. The pain of her rape and death is not relegated to her family and the ones who personally knew her.
We failed you, Nene. Our beautiful, innocent child. We also failed Meghan Cremer, Hannah Cornelius, the 14-year-old girl whose body was found in a backyard in Heinz Park a few days ago. So many victims; too many to mention by name. According to recent stats, a woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa. Every 3 hours, people. We are failing as a nation. The ANC’s P.R. team issuing a facile, generalised statement making everyone wonder, where is our leader? If ever there was a time we needed comfort and reassurance; to be told that this isn’t okay, that there is a plan in place; that addressing the rampant and growing levels of femicide in this country is high on our government’s agenda, that time is now. Where is uCyril? Playing Candy Crush in the bath?
We are a fatherless nation. But if nothing else I have learned that if you’re going to wait for a man to pour your wine or give you permission to speak you’re going to be mute and mightily thirsty. So, what I can offer is this: there is power and strength in numbers. A short while back we believed ousting Zuma was a lost cause but we showed up to toyi toyi anyway, and what do you know? The old doos went. Before we give up and move en masse to Portugal (they eat a lot of sardines, I’m just saying), let’s find every march we can and show up and shout and scream and make our collective outrage known.
On 9 August 1956, 20 000 women marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest against the Pass Laws. It was the biggest march by women this country had ever seen. The women stood silently for 30 minutes and then started singing a protest song, Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (‘Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock’). We cannot sit in silence. We can’t live like this, constantly afraid and looking over our shoulders. Petrified to send our daughters out into the world. Always on the alert, in our minds fending off attack. All of you based in SA, find out where the marches are happening in your area and show up. Sing, shout, do whatever it takes to be heard. We learned long ago that ain’t no man gon’ save us. It’s time to make a noise and take matters into our own hands. Let’s make history and make this the biggest gathering of women our country as seen. We owe it to Nene, to Meghan, to our daughters. Not only that, our lives depend on it.