Living with the enemy

Khanyisile Nkosi

Khanyisile Nkosi

In South Africa a woman is killed every six hours.

In January no less than five women were reportedly killed by their partners despite interventions to protect them.

A woman was stabbed to death by her boyfriend in Atteridgeville, Tshwane, for disclosing her HIV status.

In Limpopo a security guard shot dead his girlfriend before taking his own life.

In KwaZulu-Natal a man appeared in court for the alleged murder of his wife, and in Mpumalanga police arrested a farmworker who allegedly sneaked out of a church service to strangle his lover and later returned to the service.

According to the latest research on female homicides, about half of all South African women murdered in 1999 were killed by their partners. This statistic is the highest rate ever reported in research anywhere in the world.

Lisa Vetten, researcher and policy analyst at the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, says women in abusive and controlling relationships face a greater risk of being killed.

"This is the most extreme form and consequences of violence against women. Research shows that men's sexual jealousy is the most common factor leading to women being killed. The second most common reason is women wanting to end a relationship. Women living with partners are at greater risk than married women," Vetten says.

She concedes that a protection order has in some instances been detrimental because women have been killed for approaching the authorities for help.

"Some men are enraged when they see a protection order. They feel humiliated," she says.

Vetten says power and control lie at the heart of these killings. "Many men who killed their partners saw them as possessions. It is not unusual for such men to say 'If I can't have you, no one else can'."

Research has found that women are very likely to be killed with a partner's legal firearm. Men with a history of domestic violence, are suicidal or threaten their partners with a firearm should not be permitted to own them. Their weapons can be removed and their gun licences revoked. When applying for a protection order, women should ask that the abuser's gun be removed.

If a partner is very jealous and has ever threatened you with death if you leave, leave when he is away and let him know of your decision only after you have left. If you need to return to the house to fetch your things, ask the police to go with you.

HIV counsellors need to find out if there is domestic violence in relationships. Insisting that women disclose their status may be endangering them to abusive men.

What should be done to end violence against women? Send your suggestions to