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They don’t owe us their stories

21 May 2018

For those who managed to listen into Eusebius McKaiser’s show of Monday, 21 May 2018, you’d have heard this important conversation about how, and even if, friends and family members of victims of gender based violence should support and disclose their friend’s situation. Eusebius hosted journalists Karyn Maughan, Nolwazi Tusini and Claire Mawisa in a provocative discussion about how best to support survivors of abuse, while respecting their agency and voice as survivors.

Given the extent of gender-based violence in South Africa it is imperative that these conversations about disclosure take place and that we honestly acknowledge the extent of intimate violence in our society.

“Intimate femicide is a horrific epidemic in South Africa. We cannot underestimate its terrible reach and the way in which its destroying our society.”

Karyn Maughan shared how she had covered over 100 femicide murder cases in her investigative journalism career.  Maughan shared with deep emotion her experiences of hearing women’s stories, or sensing that there was abuse happening – and the ethics and challenge of whether to report it, or speak up about it.  She spoke of the case of third-year Journalism Student, Twenty-two-year-old Rhodes University student Boitumelo “Tumi” Manyadioane who was killed by her intimate partner.  Maughan spoke of how people suspected something was wrong, but didn’t speak up. Likewise with Karabo Mokoena people new but didn’t speak up, or if they did they were unable to provide the necessary support and empower the victim to seek help, or escape the abuser.  Maughan emphasized that women in these situations are vulnerable, undermined and disempowered and so find it extremely hard to have the courage to speak up for themselves.

However this does not mean that it is okay to disclose another’s experience so publicly and effectively shame them in public. Is it not the right of the victim to tell their own story? How do we respect the dignity of a survivor as they have their own voice? Knowing they have their own voice, or agency, how can we help them if they do not have the courage to speak up?Also if it’s a living survivor one cannot re-traumatise them, as they have already suffered the trauma of the abuse itself.  Disclosure must be based on the victim’s willingness and agreement to disclose.


“Don’t force people into situations where they are further traumatised.”

The social media firestorm was sparked by the public disclosure by Masechaba Ndlovu during a Metro FM drivetime show that Babes Wodumo, self-proclaimed queen of Gqom, was being physically abused by her long-time partner, Mamphintsha, who is also her ‘boss’ and a musician and record label owner.  Babes since split from Mamphintsha but public disclosure, by Masechaba, left many callers sharing strong views.

Some felt disclosing Babe’s abuse alienated Babes and disempowered her even more. Inadvertently Masechaba shamed Babes by disclosing this so publicly on radio. Some felt she had sensationalized it, and should rather have gone to the police, or had Babes permission to disclose. 

“They don’t owe us their stories”

This begs the question when and what does one do if you are aware that a friend, colleague or family member is being abused? In the case of Maughan she mentioned that, as an investigative journalist, she is guided by a code of conduct.  Empathy is important when interviewing, or researching a story and she always puts “the person before the story” said Maughan. Yet there is the personal challenge of how to be an activist journalist fighting the fight against gender-based violence and abuse, yet not wanting to put the individual person at risk, through writing about their abuse, or disclosing their identify, or story. What happens if we don’t speak up and that person, be it an interviewee, friend, colleague or family member, is then killed by their partner?In case you missed it click here to catch the show. https://omny.fm/shows/mid-morning-show-702/abuse-when-if-ever-is-it-right-to-tell-someone-els

For more on intimate partner femicide in South Africa:

“South Africa femicide rate is 5 times more than the global rate,” said Nathi Mthethwa, previous Minister of Arts and Culture at a Femicide Imbizo in 2017.  Key findings from the “many surveys which have been done on this matter” included that “in South Africa, every 8 hours a woman is killed and at least half of these women die at the hands of their intimate partners” said Mthethwa. (https://africacheck.org/reports/femicide-sa-3-numbers-murdering-women-investigated/)

Researchers, mainly from the South African Medical Research Council’s Gender and Health Research Unit, corroborated the data by interviewing police investigators “to verify the cause of death, to identify relationships with perpetrators and to collect other crime investigation data”. The sample of cases was then weighted to be nationally representative.

For the study’s purpose, intimate femicide was defined as the murder of women by their “current or ex-husband or boyfriend, same-sex partner or a rejected would-be lover”.

A study on Intimate Partner Femicide in South Africa indicated that the police could identify the perpetrator in 1,792 of an estimated 2,363 cases. Of the cases where a perpetrator had been identified, more than half of the murders (57.1%) were by an intimate partner. (Intimate Partner Femicide in South Africa in 1999 and 2009, Naeemah Abrahams, Shanaaz Mathews, Lorna J. Martin, Carl Lombard, Rachel Jewkes) http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001412

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