When will men stop killing women? Femicide in Southern Africa

Image: REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

Tswana, Tshephang Motlhabane was stabbed three times in her home by a man who claimed

they had a lover’s quarrel.

South African, Oyinene Mrwetyana was killed by a post office worker. He raped her, beat her

with post office scales, and then stuffed her body in a trunk, which he burned and dumped.

South African, Tshegofatso Pule, stabbed and hung on a tree.

South African, Gomolemo Legae stabbed, doused with petrol, and set on fire.

South African, Precious Ramabulana, stabbed 52 times.

South African, Luyanda Nkabule, strangled in her home.

South African, Tebogo Mabunda, shot more than 10 times by her husband.

Zimbabwean, sisters Nokuthula and Ntombizodwa were tortured and assaulted by police


Zambian, Grace Mutale, stabbed to death by her husband.

Namibian, Purity Luze Matengu, stripped naked, strangled to death and had a cut wound below

her eye, at the hands of her husband.

In Malawi women’s breasts and genitalia are carved off for men’s sexual fetishes.

Women in Mozambique are burnt alive if they are suspected of witchcraft.

These are just a few of the Southern African women assaulted and some lost to femicide in 2019

and 2020.

Femicide is the killing of women by men, whether strangers or people known to them. In the past

several months the world has been reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health

Organization (WHO) and other governance bodies around the world correctly labelled it a crisis

and took what many of us viewed as drastic action. But the crisis of femicide has not been

handled with the same urgency. Women are murdered, often in very violent and punitive ways

every day. Countries like South Africa record 2,930 women killed between 2017 and 2018 and 1 woman murdered every three hours. How is this not a crisis?

In this series on femicide, we will highlight the prevalence of gender-based violence across the

globe. The voices of women who have been victims of femicide need to be heard. We hope to

be the voice for Black females and the injustices they face at the hands of men.

I am from Botswana where the total population is 2,349,187 million and the female population is

approximately 1.17 million. The Women’s Affairs Department and Gender Links conducted a

study that unveiled that over two thirds (67%) of Tswana women have experienced some form of

gender violence in their lifetime. That is, 78 390 000 women. This study was conducted in 2012,

8 years later the numbers seem to be growing and more women’s lives are cut short by men.

Just as people banded together to address the COVID crisis, we need a collective effort to

effectively eradicate femicide. However, there are many barriers to solving this problem as not

many people see it as a crisis. Even from an individual or case-by-case analysis, we see that there

are systems that protect the murderers instead of the women who are vulnerable. Convictions in

such cases are few and far between as Dr Raditlhokwa says. The Univeristy of Botswana lecturer

states, “Sometimes victims are urged to drop charges, by family and even police officers.

Unfortunately, some police officers aren’t adequately trained to deal with domestic matters and

often decide to encourage couples to deal with matters at home. It can be awkward and

embarrassing to muscle into people’s personal details in an attempt to mediate or lay charges.

Implementing agents and institutions lack practical knowledge on domestic abuse and femicide.

In the case of Tshephang Motlhabane, she was murdered in 2012, but it took 7 years for her

murderer to be charged and convicted. Her parents and interest groups had to press the courts for

a judgment to be handed out. Justice is long overdue for many women murdered in their homes

and communities.

We could try to address the crisis from multiple perspectives. What triggers femicide? Is it a

culture of female subjugation? Or mental illness in men who perpetrate these acts? Botswana, as

a predominantly patriarchal nation feeds into narratives of male supremacy. Gender-based

violence maintains male privilege and supremacy. Women are murdered by men who feel a

woman has transgressed against his domination as master and woman as servant. The more

independence, autonomy, and self-sufficiency a woman presents, the more likely she is to be

punished for it.

To address this crisis, we need to address the minority status forced on to women as citizens.

Governments, whether deliberately or not, underpin these injustices that extend into families and

intimate relationships. It is vital to change Botswana’s cultural norms in order to change the

relationships between Tswana men and women. Although many governments in Southern Africa

have changed laws and policies to reaffirm equality between men and women, the same

governments still support the customary rituals and practices that subordinate women to men.

Other factors, such as social stigma, force Batswana women to stay in abusive relationships.

Women who choose careers over marriage, who do not follow cultural expectations are

stigmatized. Such narratives lead women to internalize the violence, feeling they deserve the

abuse or have no right to seek safety. Many women stay for the sake of children they cannot

shield from the violence. Too many children have watched their mothers’ murder.

Half of the world’s population is in a crisis. “Passion killings” are not deteriorating and are not

being effectively dealt with by our governments. What do women need to do to be heard, to be

safe, to be equal? There must be an urgency in dealing with femicide. Gendered crimes need to

be met with the same level of aggression in our legal systems. Gendered societies like Botswana

need to deconstruct toxic gender affirmations if at all we are to achieve peace between males and

females. We hope for a future where femicide is a thing of the past.


Kagisano Women’s shelter


Gaborone, Botswana

National Shelter Movement of South Africa

+27 11 854 5804

Lenasia, South Africa

Sisters Incorporated

+27 21 797 4190

Cape Town, South Africa

UNICEF Mozambique

+258 21 481 100

Maputo, Mozambique

Young Women Christian Association

+260 211 255 204

Lusaka, Zambia

Friendly Haven

000 264813284386

Windhoek, Namibia

Musasa Project

+263-4 794983

Harare, Zimbabwe