Activists in South Africa are fed up, and they’re doing something about it. Faced with an upswing of violence against women, citizens took to the streets to demand government officials do more to protect women and children as well as hold perpetrators accountable for their abusive violence.
At the start of the country’s Women’s Month, which runs the length of August, South African women and their allies, wore red and black. They shut down streets and government buildings across the country to deliver a powerful message: “My body, not your crime scene.”
Organized by WomenProtestSA
, the goal of #TotalShutdown was to demonstrate “against femicide, rape and gender based violence” in the country.
According to Africa Check, the femicide — or the murder of women and girls — rate in South Africa is five times higher
than the global rate, and women have had enough.
“We decided to start this march because we have seen the growing trend of women and children being murdered in this country,” said Nozi Samela
, a spokesperson for #TotalShutdown Western Cape.
“We have been waiting in silence, hoping the government would do something about it, but we’ve realised that they’ve done nothing,” she continued. “This is the start of Women’s Month and we expected to celebrate the victories of 1976, but we do not feel free.”
About 2000 protesters marched to South Africa’s Union Building in Pretoria, the nation’s administrative capital, to deliver a memorandum of demands
, which was comprised of 21 items with actionable deadlines. Some of the demands included protections and support for victims of violence, stronger sentencing for perpetrators, removal of abusive law enforcement officials, and protections for trans, LGBTQ, and gender non-conforming people.
Late Wednesday evening, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa met with protesters to accept the memorandum, after first sending Naledi Pandor, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, in his place. When protesters rejected her attempt to speak on the president’s behalf Ramaphosa met with #TotalShutdown marchers, who read their demands aloud.
Upon meeting with protesters, Ramaphosa said he was “deeply upset” by the violence many women have experienced.
“As president, I have deep respect for the women of our country and I want to listen to the issues you raise. Not only should you be respected as women because you are in the majority, you deserve respect because you are human beings,” the president told demonstrators.
“Men must demonstrate that they respect, honour and support women. We must intensify the campaign against gender-based violence. Today’s demonstration must make a huge contribution to raising the level of consciousness amongst all of us,” he added.
Ramaphosa promised to look into the groups’ demands “very carefully” and also indicated he’d be open to holding a gender summit.
While #TotalShutdown protests, held earlier this week, were powerful, many doubt they were a one-time show of force. WomenProtestSA
remains committed to seeing their demands come to fruition, and demonstrations have already spread
to other countries in the region, including Lesotho and Namibia.