Hundreds of women took to the streets of Athlone to protest against gender-based violence and the government’s lack of action to deal with violent crime.
On Saturday March 7 – a day before International Women’s Day – women, children and some men, picketed along Klipfontein Road, chanting “enough is enough”.
The protest was one of a few organised by South African Women Fight Back, an organisation that was started in response to the high number of women and child killings in the country in September last year. Initially, it was only a Facebook group where women spoke about abuse, living in fear and violence. It has since been registered as a non-government organisation (NGO).
The protest on Saturday also served as the launch of SA Women Fight Back’s Project Namuhla (which means Today) and is described as an emergency national mobilisation “to hold government accountable for their failures”.
The Athlone protest was one of many across the country, which included human chain events in Kempton Park, East London and Bergvliet.
Benjé Vermaak, spokesperson for SA Women Fight Back, said it had been six months since President Cyril Ramaphosa made promises to deal with violent crimes against women and children, but these promises had not been upheld.
“We handed in the SAWFB#16Promises petition, together with the petition of gender-based violence activist, Laura-Lee Gillion, demanding the stepping up of action by government. These petitions have already reached 530 000 signatures. We want action – not tomorrow, not next month, but now. The killings are multiplying and nothing is being done,” Ms Vermaak said.
One of the calls from SA Women Fight Back is that violent criminals are sentenced to life with no parole.
“Had this been implemented, our nation would not be mourning the death of eight-year-old Tazne van Wyk today. Enough with delays, enough with planning, enough with talk,” said SA Women Fight Back’s Debbie Engelbrecht.
Ms Engelbrecht said since its inception as an NGO, the organisation had helped hundreds of survivors of abuse to access legal assistance and counselling through networking with stakeholders and volunteers who had selflessly stepped in to offer knowledge, guidance and support, professional time and advice at no cost.
Protestor Janine Jenneker said she joined the picket because gender-based violence and child abuse were “close to home”.
Ms Jenneker said: “It is getting even closer to home. I don’t want to wait until it happens to one of my family members. Our aim is to rid our country of gender-based violence and child abuse. United we stand,” Ms Jenneker said.
Another protester, Venetia Orgill, said the issue was close to her heart too.
“I have grandchildren who are survivors of abuse. I too, am a survivor of abuse and just last month we celebrated the month of love, but instead of sending red roses, red blood was sent to the rivers of our country and the sand of our ground.
“The president has not honoured his promises, and so many children have been killed in the meantime. I must add, that we are all gunning the president and the government, but what are we as mothers doing?
“We need to be more vigilant, and be very selective as to whom we allow in our homes. Mothers must take more note of their children. Government does not live in our homes. We like to say my child is your child, but when does my child become my child?” Ms Orgill asked.
Kevin van der Watt was one of a few young men who joined the protest.
“Ultimately, I don’t want this to happen to my relatives or girlfriend. As men, we are also responsible to call out the bad ones in our family or friendship circles. Why should women be the only ones doing things to stop this violence, when they are not the ones perpetrating these crimes?” Mr Van Der Watt said.
His friend, Georgia Croeser said she wanted children within the next five years, but she was questioning whether she wanted to raise her children in Cape Town.