Gender-based Violence: Silence is moral complicity

by Russell Pollitt SJ


Earlier this week atrocious CCV footage emerged on social media showing Jaco Swart savagely hitting, punching and ‘fly-kicking’ his wife. The case against him was inexplicably dropped by the NPA last year. Controversial AfriForum decided to pursue their own private prosecution. What seemed like a clear-cut case failed when sentence was passed. Why? Because the prosecution couldn’t “confirm the video’s authenticity” and the judge accepted Swart’s “plea of remorse”.


Swart did get a rap on the knuckles: while convicted with assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm, he walked away with a R20,000 fine and a three-year suspended sentence. He will only be incarcerated if he offends again. Soberingly, the man we see beating the hell out of a woman, in front of their children, is now free. It is a disturbing video to watch. However, watch it, see evil with your own eyes. It is sickening.


The court judgement is more disturbing because it was handed down in a country where GBV (gender-based violence) is a pandemic.


A few days before this judgement South African’s heard the country’s crime stats for the first quarter of 2022. Alarmingly, the murder of women and children went from 37.2% to 70.5% respectively and almost 11,000 rapes were recorded in the quarter. Commenting on the crime stats the minister of police, Bheki Cele, said that “a staggering 4,653 rapes” took place in the home of the victim or the home of the rapist, “mostly by a person known to the victim”.


All the publicity and campaigns against GBV in the last few years have failed. The fact remains that women and children in South Africa live in perilous danger. Men still think it is acceptable to beat, kick, thrash, abuse, and rape them. The pitiful excuses for this vary from being frustrated to being emasculated to it being part of “our culture” or because of what a woman wears.


Sadly, time and time again, the very system that should be on the side of victims fails to deliver justice. The message from the courts reverberates: it is not serious when men do beat, kick, thrash, abuse, and rape women and children. Perhaps this is a judgement on the very system itself. It is so steeped in male culture that it cannot deliver justice to women.


Whatever the reason, it is a stark reality that the scourge of GBV is a soul-sickness that has infected South Africa and is out of control. It is a sickness that is defeating us. It is a sickness that we refuse to own and address. It is an intergenerational sickness that is transmitted to boys and young men every day because we simply will not face it and work to dismantle the deep-seated fragility of male power and the male ego.


This is not a societal issue alone; it is our issue – the Church’s issue. It is a contagion that seeps through our theological anthropology. It is conveyed in the theology we espouse; in the way we interpret the Scriptures and the way we form people’s image of God. It oozes through our stereotype preaching. Men who beat, kick, thrash, abuse, and rape women sit in our pews and minister in different ways in our Churches. They too are formed by the Church. What have we done? What are we doing? What will we do to face and address this scourge?


The Church’s silence on this issue is mortal complicity.

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