When taste of Christmas is soured by GBV heartache

On November 17 2019 I lost my younger sister, Prudence Mphahlele; she was strangled allegedly by her husband.

There have been many definitions of femicide, but the common thread is the killing of a female by a male. It does not matter whether the victim was a partner in a relationship, married or on a one-night stand escapade.

In many instances of femicide, the focus is more on causation than on the victim and those close to her and left behind - the children, parents, siblings and, in the African setting, the extended family.

I believe that there should be no mercy for the perpetrator. In most instances, I believe, the perpetrator has not only once or twice threatened to kill but simply carried out what he has always been planning to do for a longer time.

The case of victims dying with a protection order clearly gives rise to the question: where to go if you are fleeing gender-based violence (GBV).

Here I also think of Nthabiseng Dikgale who almost died when choked by the husband she ran away from but he still managed to enter a supposedly secure estate.

He was denied bail but has launched a new bail application.

My sister's killer was granted bail of R10,000 but he had supporters and his family members in red T-shirts emblazoned with words calling for him to be granted bail. My sister's colleagues also had black T-shirts emblazoned with "Justice for Nhlanhla/Prudence" and yet he was granted bail.

Should we just fold our arms and give up the fight against GBV when such cruel evil people are granted bail by our courts? Or is it rather an invitation to the victim's extended family to help themselves in exacting revenge on the perpetrator?

For the first time in my life, I planned to go to the graveyard early on Christmas Day to lay fresh flowers on my sister's grave. I readily noticed that my mother and some relatives were highly emotional and would most certainly need medical attention thereafter if we went ahead with the visit.

I quickly suggested that the visit be done on another day. It was an emotional occasion but I could not break down as I had to appear strong to my mother who has never been well since my sister's passing and to both my son and nephews who are still also equally struggling like their grandmother.

Most of the causes cited as giving rise to femicide are:

  • Jealousy, where the woman seems to be in love with another man and seeking divorce or break-up;
  • Parasitism, when the male partner is financially depended on the female and cannot maintain a similar lifestyle when her funds are no longer available; and
  • Controlling, when the woman can no longer stomach his affairs with other women and has decided or threatens to leave.

There is a need for a new strategy in combating GBV and that does not simply entail throwing money at the problem.

I believe that GBV has taken on the same proportions as HIV/Aids before the supply of antiretrovials. While HIV/Aids could be fought with the supply of condoms and public education, GBV needs the public education in addition to specially trained prosecutors to deal with the multitude of cases likely to follow public education.

In fact, the entire criminal justice system - from the police at charge offices, to arresting officers and the detectives who are assigned cases to investigate. Included in this chain should be the medical professionals and the magistrates who preside over these cases.

Cooking on Christmas morning was so difficult as I thought of all the suggestions my late sister would have made in terms of the spices to use and the time period for each food item. As we sat down for Christmas lunch one could not escape the feeling that we were not all together and that for the first time someone was missing.

Fortunately, my mother had calmed down by the time we were having lunch as I had begged her to be strong for the sake of my nephews.

As for me, I ate my lunch to share the hurt and anger with my extended family but deep in my conscious I was wandering in the cemetery towards my sister's grave with flowers in my hands.

With every bite, it felt as if she was next to me and chatting to her about our lives, love things and family as we usually did when together. I asked myself many a times why I did not strongly beg her to return back home rather than wait for schools to close and that we would have found a plan to take the children to school even it meant being late to the office.

The most unfortunate aspect and challenge in the fight against GBV is the concentration of resources in the criminal justice system in the fight against corruption. This is unfortunate as most of those prosecuted for corruption and state capture are mostly the same gender who are also the perpetrators of GBV.

My wish is for us as South African women to feel safe in our country as we have nowhere to run to and have no intention of leaving for exile.

We wish to be able to put on the clothes we have bought with our sweat without arousing any emotions. We wish to be able to take a walk in the early evening or even late without fearing any victimisation. We wish to be able to sit on the verandas of our homes and houses without anticipation of potential attack whatever time of the day it may be.

All in all, we want to be free like men without being escorted or chaperoned.

Lastly, with the NPA being led by a female for the first time, I have trust in the criminal justice system that my sister's death will be dealt with so that justice is done for my nephews, my mother, her nephews, and the entire extended family.

According to Unicef, my nephews have been rendered orphans by the deliberate and premeditated killing of their mother.

Once again, my sincere thanks to those who have supported and stood by us through these tough times. These include Prudence's colleagues, our neighbours both in Tembisa and Boksburg, the lawyers who freely gave their advice in more than one instance, Prudence's former employer, Eskom, for facilitating and picking up the tab for psychological therapy.

As Benjamin Franklin once said: "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."

*Radebe is the sister of the slain Prudence Nhlanhla Mphahlele

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