South Africa’s Masked Epidemic: Gender-Based Violence

Over the past few weeks, no fewer than 21 women and children have been murdered in South Africa. 

As a country, we find ourselves in the midst of not one, but two, devastating epidemics. Gender-based violence in South Africa should be considered as a second pandemic in the country – as serious as the coronavirus.

Societies free of gender-based violence do not exist, and South Africa is no exception. Although accurate statistics are difficult to obtain for many reasons (including the fact that most incidents of GBV are not reported ), it is evident South Africa has particularly high rates of GBV, including Violence against women and girls (VAWG) and violence against LGBT people.

More than half of all the women murdered (56%) in 2009 were killed by an intimate male partner. Between 25% and 40% of South African women have experienced sexual and physical violence in their lifetime. Just under 50% of women report having ever experienced emotional or economic abuse at the hands of their intimate partners in their lifetime.

Prevalent estimates of rape in South Africa range between 12% and 28% of women ever reporting being raped in their lifetime. Between 28 and 37% of adult men report having raped a women. South Africa also faces a high prevalence of gang rape. Most men who rape do so for the first time as teenagers and almost all men who ever rape do so by their mid-20’s. Furthermore, 31.1% of women reported having experienced forced sex. 

The tragic cases that we see, involving extreme violence, are connected directly to the pressures of everyday life on ordinary families. And there is no doubt that this pressure has increased with the deepening economic crisis.

Violence also has significant economic consequences. The high rate of GBV places a heavy burden on the health and criminal justice systems, as well as rendering many survivors unable to work or otherwise move freely in society.

Violence against women is closely related to the economic system in which we live and therefore the fight against violence against women involves a struggle against capitalism.

We live in a system that is no longer able even to pretend to guarantee decent living conditions for the majority of the people and this is reflected in particular in the terrible situation facing women.

It is important to note that the system we live under sees women’s secondary status. In capitalist society although the development of the productive forces has created the means to eliminate the unequal division of labour between men and women, the intrinsic nature and contradictions within the capitalist system itself prevent it from doing so. 

By employing women in large-scale industry, capitalism broke the cycle of isolation and dependence they suffered from during feudal times. However, the conditions under which women work supposedly as “free workers” remain unequal for the mass.

Capitalism has co-opted and strengthened male supremacist cultures and practices. Such a framework sanctions wage differentiation between working men and women, thus allowing an intensified rate of extraction of surplus value from a sizable section of the work force who are female. 

Women also add to the reserve army of the unemployed that keeps general wages down. Because of the social role assigned to women in this economic system, there is an ideological struggle of the ruling class to heavily limit sexual freedom for women and relegate them to the role of rearing and caring for children.This ideology further puts women at the risks of being raped and/or killed. 

It is within the family, in all its many manifestations, that society places the ultimate responsibility for the care of human beings and within it the woman plays a key role, because it is women who give birth and this biological aspect conditions their role in the family. 

Only a socialist society can provide the material basis for women’s emancipation through social ownership of the means of production and the elimination of the profit motive based on private property. 

This will enable the introduction of women into the sphere of socially productive labour on an equal footing with men.This will also enable women to own their bodies, and put an end to gender based violence. 

This can only happen under socialism and economic planning and priorities for the use of national resources that public bodies at different levels can provide the essential requirements for child care, for socialisation of domestic responsibilities to eradicate the unequal division of labour, to establish equality within families and between men and women, and to ensure women’s equal  participation in public life.

At the same time, the political will and commitment of the working class to consciously fight the ideological and cultural framework of male supremacy is equally important  if not critical. 



Contributor: Orthalia Kunene

Orthalia Kunene is a mother, activist, feminist and writer based in Soweto.


Her journey started as a activist fighting for service delivery issues in Soweto, with an Organisation called Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee/Operation Khanyisa Movement. Her writing  gave her strength to not shy away from the truth, it gave her strength to hold local government accountable and to advocate for access to information and  transparency through addressing socio-economic issues; inequalities around gender-based violence and climate change.

She is currently volunteering for an Organisation called keep left, as a working group member, keep left is a revolutionary socialist organisation that believes in workers control of society and the means of production. She is also a volunteer at an Organization called Extinction Rebellion, a climate change Organisation that seeks to fight the climate crisis. Her main focus is on Climate change issues, gender inequality and addressing issues of capitalism and how it feeds on inequality – particularly in South Africa.

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