Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Domestic Violence as a 'Class Thing': Perspectives from a South African Township

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Domestic Violence as a 'Class Thing': Perspectives from a South African Township

Article excerpt

Domestic violence, especially intimate femicide is a pervasive problem in South Africa. The initial nationwide study on femicide in South Africa which was conducted in 1999 revealed a national femicide rate of 8.8 per 100 000 women aged 14 years and older. This rate is higher than other reported cases globally (Mathews et al, 2004). To demonstrate the comparative difference between South Africa's national rate vis-à-vis other nations, the report noted that in the United States of America, the state of North Carolina, which has the highest femicide rate in the country only reported 3.46 per 100 000 women aged 15 years and older (Mathews et al, 2004:1). According to Mathews et al (2004), by 1999 in South Africa, one woman is killed every six hours by her male intimate partner (see also Modiba et al, 2011, Ellsberg, 2006). After a decade, in 2009 when this study was repeated, a slight decrease was found comparable to the 1999 rate. The 2009 rate of femicide stood at one woman killed by her intimate male partner every eight hours (Abrahams et al, 2012). In a similar study, Amien (1998) noted that one in four women in South Africa is a survivor of domestic violence. While these figures sound incredible, one major fact gleaned from the statistics is that femicide rate in South Africa is alarmingly high. The high incidence of domestic violence has continued unabated despite the introduction of the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 by the South African government which aimed at protecting the rights of women (South Africa 1998)

As a result of this high rate, scholars have sought answers to the causes, prevalence and panacea to this social scourge. One of the common explanations of domestic violence in South Africa is often made by linking socio-economic deprivations of the majority of the black population by the apartheid regime (white minority rule) and easy recourse to violence. The core of the argument is that apartheid institutions ensured the socio-economic peripherialisation of black people, establishment of Bantu enclaves (townships) and the provision of substandard education - the Bantu education curriculum (Christie & Collins 1982, p. 59; Ramafamba & Mears 2012). The cumulative generational effects of these social and economic regimes resulted in the institutionalisation of poverty and illiteracy within black communities. These communities became marked by their lack of socio-economic infrastructure, low sense of motivation, high rate of crime and precarious marital relationships (Jewkes, 2002).

Since the end of apartheid regime in 1994, the majority of black population have continued to grapple with the bequest of apartheid. The townships have overgrown with population, but without commensurate socio-economic growth. There is high rate of alcohol abuse, gangsterism, robbery, rape, murder and general regime of patriarchy (Coetzer, 2005). The nature of social relations in these communities affects spousal relationships. Masculinity, interfaced with crimes has taken ascendancy over respect for gender equality and human rights. For instance, rape has become reconceptualised within a patriarchal identity - it has become in some instances, a 'manly' status symbol to have raped a woman. This is done with the view to emphasise the male agency in the society (Jewkes et al, 2005, p. 1818). For other men who appropriate the role of 'protectors' of traditional social norms, raping a lesbian, for example, is functional to their society - the 'corrective rape' syndrome (Boeshart, 2014). It is within this discourse, that violence against women, especially domestic violence is idealised as a 'class thing'. In other words, it is a practice rooted among poor black people living in rural areas and urban townships (Pronyk et al, 2006). Looking critically at this construct, it does not fully explain the reality of domestic violence as a pervasive social malaise in South Africa. It halves the fact about spousal abuse. While it may be more prevalent among the majority of poor black people, it is also a major concern within the middle class community in South Africa. …

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