Spotters should stay in place to beat GBV

25 March 2020 - 11:05
By Malaika Mahlatsi
During the 21 days of lockdown, abused women and children will be in closed confinement with their abusers without the escape of work or school. /   Siphiwe Sibeko/ REUTERS
During the 21 days of lockdown, abused women and children will be in closed confinement with their abusers without the escape of work or school. / Siphiwe Sibeko/ REUTERS

A brilliant radical feminist, Palomino Jama, makes the argument that spotters deployed in public spaces by minister of police Bheki Cele to ensure the public is obeying new regulations in minimising the spread of Covid-19, should remain there to help with gender-based violence.

As I listened to President Cyril Ramaphosa announce that SA will be going into a national lockdown in the next 48 hours, I found myself thinking deeply about Jama's argument.

The containment of Covid-19, a novel coronavirus pandemic, must be the priority of every government. Ramaphosa made the right call in declaring this lockdown. It is the only way for us to contain the spread of this virus which has the potential to wreak havoc on our country's already fragile healthcare system.

And if Italy and Spain, developed nations in the most developed region of the world, are being decimated in the way they are, then we must prepare ourselves for serious trouble. But however fragile our healthcare system and limited our resources, the containment strategy is certainly an important step in the right direction.

But this and the measures put in place to regulate it has made me think deeply about the idea of declaring a state of disaster and locking down a country.

About two years ago when we marched in Pretoria, as part of the #TotalShutDown calling for the shutdown of SA in response to the debilitating levels of gender-based violence, we were calling for the president to declare a state of emergency so resources could be channelled towards fighting this scourge.

Of course, that did not happen, but as I watch how efficiently the government is reacting to the Covid-19 emergency, I cannot help but think that had this state of emergency been declared, we might have birthed a different reality for our country.

The reality is, SA should have been placed on lockdown ages ago. We have been in a state of crisis for a long time, particularly with gender-based violence.

Thousands of women are killed every year in SA, and millions more endure gender-based violence including domestic abuse. I cannot count how many women we have buried in the past decade, and how many are walking around with scars.

It would have been great to have the kind of attention we are directing to the Covid-19 pandemic given to gender-based violence, which in many ways is also a global pandemic and, certainly, a national crisis.

As I think about what 21 days of a national lockdown will look like, I cannot help but think about women in abusive relationships who are about to be forced to stay home with their tormentors without a break.

Some of them are only liberated when they go to work, and now will be in closed confinement. I'm thinking about the young women who live with uncles and fathers who sexually abuse them, and what 21 days without school mean for them.

And young girls who will be locked into homes where they are verbally assaulted on a daily basis by alcoholic parents who will certainly not stop drinking just because there is a national lockdown and who might be more violent.

I am thinking about sex workers and whether they will indeed stay off the streets or take operations underground and risk even more abuse by men now more emboldened.

When black lesbian women were being viciously killed in townships, and being found in ditches with beer bottles inside their vaginas, we should have shut the country down.

When young women were being killed and burnt by their boyfriends, we should have declared a state of emergency, or whatever state it is that would have seen more resources pumped into saving lives.

And I wonder if powerful people are listening to Jama, or at least entertaining the idea that spotters remain in public spaces post Covid-19 to make us feel, just this once, that we too are South African, deserving of compassion, our lives worthy of investment.