On the 14th of February 2013 Oscar Pistorius allegedly shot dead his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his home. The double amputee and six-time Paralympic sprint champion claims he shot Reeva through a toilet door at his apartment after mistaking her for an intruder. The “blade runner” is accused of premeditated murder.
A year later we have an opportunity to reflect on her death, mourn her loss and ask what lessons, if any we can draw from this tragedy. We have to say that we are surrounded by Reevas – beautiful women and children dying at the hands their intimate partners, relatives and strangers. At the end of January 2014 a burnt and bruised 9-year-old child was left to die after she was raped and she said her assailant laughed as he set her alight. We have no name for her – we cannot talk about her as we talk about Anene, or Reeva. She is yet another nameless victim of an ongoing epidemic of rape and murder in this country. For want of better, I’ll call her the Girl from Delft.
What have we done in the year since Reeva died that made women and girls safer in their homes and communities? There have been press statements, and promises from leaders that more money will be allocated to the sexual offences courts. The budget hasn’t been found yet, but it will be, we are told.
Lule Xingwana launched the National Council Against Gender-Based Violence. She acknowledged that the levels of gender-based violence in our country are unacceptably high. She said that according to the statistics announced by the Minister of Police last year, the combined figures of all sexual offences, including rape and indecent assault, indicate an upward trend of 2,1% in 2010/11 compared to 2009/2010. Cases of murder of women increased by 5,6% and sexual offences against children increased by 2,6% during this period.
The Council was been charged with the following responsibilities:
- To drive the implementation of the 365 Days Action Plan
- To advise government on policy and intervention programmes
- Strengthen national partnerships in the fight against gender-based violence
- Create and strengthen international partnerships
- Monitor and report progress on initiatives aimed at addressing gender-based violence
How did that help the Girl from Delft? Not at all. How did it help Anene? Not at all. How did that help Reeva? Not at all. And if that is true, and government is not actually coming to this party in a meaningful way, what is left? Do we fall back, hopeless and helpless, drowned by the scale of the problem?
That’s not really an option. We have survivors to care for, streets to make safe, and some potentially viable policy options government does have some appetite for. So what can be done? We can honour Reeva, and Anene, and the Girl from Delft by remembering them, and take action. Find your local survivor support centre. Start one if there isn’t one. Donate is you can’t give of your time. Write to your MEC for Community Safety, and for Social Development, and ask why more money isn’t being allocated to prevention and support work.
You can tell the Minister of Health that you support his initiatives to limit the amount of alcohol pouring into our communities, an environment which just needs a spark to set off the most horrible crimes. And speak out – over and over and over again, until we can say a year on, we honoured your memory.
And then we too can say we have done what we consider to be our duty to our women and girls and that we too can rest in peace for eternity.
Kathleen Dey, Director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.