top of page

Gender-based violence in rural areas of Buffalo City Municipality

By Anelitha Tukela


In the scenic landscapes of South Africa’s rural areas, where vibrant cultures and breath-taking views abound, there is a dark side to everyday life that has become increasingly evident since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020: gender-based violence (GBV). Such violence silently devastates the lives of countless women, leaving scars that extend beyond those produced by physical harm. South Africa has long grappled with alarmingly high rates of GBV which have been associated with cycles of poverty; limited access to education and healthcare; and deeply ingrained patriarchal norms. However, gender-based violence accelerated under COVID-19 lockdown and the legacy of this continues to affect rural life.


Recently, in an open discussion among more than 20 women in Tuba village, Kwelerha, which was undertaken to consider a range of issues related to women’s lives during and after the pandemic, gender-based violence emerged as a major topic – with the women sharing their stories of GBV and the causes of GBV in their relationships.

The women at the workshop divided themselves into two groups – a larger one comprising the older women and a smaller one comprising the younger women – to discuss issues that were affecting them as women in their communities. The older women’s group consisted of pensioners; and the younger group consisted of community work programme (CWP) staff, community leaders and unemployed women.


The separation of the women by age at the meeting was in part the result of an unwillingness among the older women to discuss their problems in the presence of the younger women. They said that the younger women would “take their problems and post them on Facebook”. Meanwhile, the younger women also were uncomfortable about joining with the older women because, they said, they couldn’t “share their problems in front of their mothers”. In this regard, strong generational divisions seem to make it difficult for women to unite in their response to GBV.


The workshop heard that, under lockdown, there was a surge in reported cases of gender-based violence in South Africa. The lockdown restrictions placed individuals in confined spaces, leading to an escalation of inter-personal domestic violence within families. At the same time, the discussion at the workshop indicated that GBV had been an issue for some time before the pandemic, even though it had become worse during lockdown. The women spoke of the incidents of gender-based violence that took place under lockdown as part of longer histories of violence and abuse in their families.


The women identified financial dependence as a significant catalyst of GBV in the village. They said that women’s financial dependence on men conferred power and control on the men. The unemployed women at the workshop said that they felt particularly vulnerable in the absence of any means of supporting themselves. In this context, the ability to earn one’s own income was viewed as beneficial for the children and the family, and as a shield protecting the earner from inter-personal violence. At the same time, the women noted that efforts to acquire an income could anger men, leading to jealousy and accusations of disobedience.


The stories told at the workshop revealed how rural women can become trapped in abusive relationships. One of the women stated that she didn’t want to leave her abusive relationship because she was financially dependent on her boyfriend. She said that she had two children with this man and feared that, if she left him, her children wouldn’t be taken care of. She said that she would only be able to leave the relationship if she found employment to support her children. Other women mentioned that the physical presence of male intimate partners in the household afforded them a measure of security, making them less vulnerable to crime and violence from other men. As one woman explained: “An unprotected household is a vulnerable one. People can come there at any time without thinking there will be consequences – they lack fear.”


A number of women ascribed gender-based violence to male jealousy. In this regard, some of the women considered gender-based abuse and violence as a normal part of their lives. They said that their partners only acted violently because they were isikwele (jealous), which was seen as a normal response that could naturally lead to inter-personal violence. One woman said that her boyfriend sought to control her because he was jealous. She said he would try and make her stop being friends with people or try and prevent her from going out with her friends. He would tell her where she could and couldn’t go. When she met people whom he didn’t want her to see, he would shout at her; and if she persisted, he would beat her. This woman saw her boyfriend’s violence as a form of jealousy, not abuse. Meanwhile, some women said that, in the absence of love, they would rather have an abusive partner than no partner at all.


Drinking alcohol or taking drugs was described as a mechanism for coping with gender-based violence. Some women said alcohol and/or drugs made them happy and allowed them to forget about their problems. Under lockdown, the sale of alcohol was forbidden, and those who sold alcohol illegally charged high prices. So, some women said that they had resorted to prayer instead as a means of coping. Others stated that they would take out their stress to their children or family members. Yet others said that they had found something else to do to keep them busy.


The women described how they generally liked to visit their neighbours and friends and talk about their problems with them as a way of coping, even if such conversations failed to produce an actual solution to their problems. However, under the COVID-19 lockdown, they were not allowed to visit their friends and neighbours. In addition, the churches were closed. Although many said that the lockdown restrictions forced them to address problems that they had been avoiding for many years, the inability to commune with friends and neighbours also produced feelings of isolation and mental health issues with which many of the women were still struggling.


To conclude, gender-based violence in rural areas of South Africa is a grave, complex issue that demands urgent attention. By raising awareness; fostering dialogue; and implementing targeted interventions, those seeing to address the issue can help build communities that value equality, respect and the inherent dignity of every individual. It is through collective efforts that a light may be shined into the darker corners, defeating the shadows and paving the way for a safer and more inclusive future for all.

95 views3 comments

3 Comments


Anelisa Ndamase
Anelisa Ndamase
Jul 06, 2023

This is really a great read. Well done!

Like

Scenes by Zena
Scenes by Zena
Jul 06, 2023

Really great read! It’s interesting to hear about the generational divide and how that affected women sharing their stories

Like

Scenes by Zena
Scenes by Zena
Jul 06, 2023

Really great read! It’s interesting to hear about the generational divide and how that affected women sharing their stories

Like
bottom of page