Every year we are in August South Africans celebrate women as the month is dubbed women’s month with the 9th of August set aside as an extra special public holiday for these celebrations. Women have definitely come far and sitting at the helm of the African Union now is Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is the first woman to head the body. She has served in South Africa’s government as a minister in the portfolios of health, foreign affairs and home affairs.
Another noticeable name would be that of our public protector Thuli Madonsela. Madonsela is also a Human Rights Lawyer and Equality Expert. She was also one of the eleven technical experts who helped the Constitutional Assembly draft the final constitution in 1994 and 1995.
While a lot of strides have been made in South Africa and the above mentioned women have been an inspiration to many in our new democracy, there are many others there still continue to live the life of struggle. While I was listening to radio some time in August I hear a story done by senior specialist reporter, Mahlatse Gallens. The story was about 45-year-old Ruby Marais who, after 20 years in an abusive marriage, is now serving 25 year prison term for the murder of her abusive husband. The mother of one from Stillbaai in the Western Cape was convicted for paying hit men ten thousand Rand to kill her husband. She says it was her only way out of an abusive marriage.
Ruby told the reporter that she tried over nine times to escape but each time he’d find a way to lure her back. Towards the end he threatened to kill her daughter. After twenty years in the abusive marriage she claims her domestic worker who witnessed the abuse suggested she hires people to scare him off. The plan backfired as the men killed her husband instead of scaring him. I did a follow up of this story for the Wits Justice Project and found that Ruby is now heading up youth projects in prison and her sentence has been reduced from life to 20 years, she and other women who are imprisoned for similar offences are planning to send the minister of correctional services letters asking for forgiveness and lesser sentences as they claim that they are not hardened criminals.
The Department of Justice estimates that 1 out of every four South African women are survivors of domestic violence. (450.311 Domestic Violence: Submission to the South African Law Commission in the Light of International and Constitutional Human Rights Jurisprudence Part 1, May 1997). According to People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) one in six women who die in Gauteng are killed by an intimate partner.
So as we continue to celebrate successful women and the strides made during the last eighteen years, let’s also spare a thought for those abused women who can’t leave their husbands or partners due to the fear of not being able to maintain themselves or the fear of being hunted down by their partners and possibly murdered by them. Let’s spare a thought for the women who stand on the streets at night to sell their bodies just to make a living. Let’s spare a thought for the women was executed in foreign countries for being drug mules so they can afford a better life.
Gift Ngobeni is a journalist at the Wits Justice Project which investigates miscarriages of justice by the South African Justice System.
He wrote this article in his own capacity and the views expressed in this article do not reflect those of the Wits Justice Project.