A Government Sponsored Fallout Show: The State vs Women’s Safety

Newest member of the Hamshack Library community, writer and visual artist Rufaro Chiswo questions the wrestling match between the state and women’s rights activisits, set against the backdrop of Women’s Month and the recent GBV protests. Photo by Jackson Ford.

It has been a while since I’ve dared to write anything. I was planning on making my posts monthly, then August came around, and if you are a woman or femme presenting body, this month carries a great deal of trauma. 

Women’s month. 

This is, in theory, a month to celebrate women in South Africa and recognize how women have been in a perpetual wrestling match with the state and hegemonic patriarchy. During August, specifically on the 9th, you’ll have your Instagram feed plastered with black and white images featuring the women who lead the 1956 march to the union buildings in Pretoria. The march aimed to hand over petitions against our favorite policing tactic: the “dompas”. Now you could easily carry on swiping through your feed in an effort to escape the sea of black and white, but what you will miss is how frighteningly similar these images are to those we saw after last year’s anti-GBV protests. This is not to be redundant and point out how “history repeats itself” (which it does, but anyway), but rather to show that the only progression that has taken place is the range of demographics present and that the revolution is now “televised”, or at least Tik Tok’d. 

All that is to say, the wrestling match is not even close to being over, and the patriarchy led state doesn’t seem to have any intentions of leaving the ring. 

Upon reflection, what I found particularly interesting is the intention of the famed women’s march which is a marker of feminism in South Africa. The protest was not women marching for an improvement in status in general society, but rather against the persecution of black people, and primarily black men who were largely affected by the pass law constraints. The very thing that is used as an exemplification of women’s strength is just one in the series of acts across history whereby women have put themselves in compromising positions for others. 

So, is state protection too much to ask, or simply what is owed to women in South Africa? 

Gender-based violence’s genesis was not in August of 2019, but has been an ongoing problem in South Africa. Before I moved to South Africa in 2008, when watching the 7 o’clock news, it was impossible to watch any reports that did not include the brutalizing and disposal of women’s bodies. Suffice it to say, the state of SA was frightening. When protests broke out last year it was a primary concern of all congregants that this freight and lack of safety should be resolved; and when safety is in question, we all turn to the state. 

I would love to get into all the ways that the government has failed women but I think it would be easier if we look at what exactly the R1.6 billion that was dedicated to ending femicide has done. We must bear in mind that these funds were allocated to emergency interventions in 2019. The efforts are commendable, but only to an extent. Whenever GBV is a topic, state officials resort to overly didactic 3rd wave feminist musings and allocating grand sums of money, which does not directly addressing the ineffective criminal justice system in SA. 

Once again on August 29th of this year, there were countrywide protests that took place in the country’s major cities. While it is disheartening that there is still a need for mass protest action, people still mobilized. Peaceful protesters were met with the state’s lackeys who had already lined themselves up in true stormtrooper style. The protest ended in a flurry of detainments, teargas and stun grenades. 

Does Nkoana-Mashabane consider these as “vile acts” too? 

Where police are breaking up protests using brute force and imprisonments are their only tactic, there could be better investment in the restructuring of SAPS and establishing their role as an actual force of protection for women and femme bodies. The conversation on dismantling the carceral state has never been more important, and if the state has no intention of addressing policing and its role in perpetuating GBV, the wrestling match will continue. 

As someone who hates “About Me” sections, Rufaro says of herself, “I’m just a black woman who writes and makes things, and hopefully they’re good things.” You can expect her to tackle topics from art, music, politics, culture and, in as she puts it, “anything really.” Rufaro’s work is also featured in Three Mag and on her own blog KindaBadArt (go check out her previous stuff at https://kindabadart.wixsite.com/itreallyis). She is also a member of the Hectic podcast, which is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Anchor FM. Check out their Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/hectic.podcast/?igshid=ouxtebqhqd0b