Justice for South Africa’s domestic violence victims is a long way off


Every day in South Africa three women are killed by their partners.

These grim statistics have given the country a reputation for having one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world.

Intimate femicide is the leading cause of unnatural death amongst women and we will never know the names of most victims.

Reeva Steenkamp’s death at the hands of her boyfriend, the Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius only serves to highlight how prevalent domestic violence is.

Intimate partner violence cuts a wide swath not only across cultures, but across income groups as well.

The trial was presided over by Judge Thokozile Masipa who is known to be tough on perpetrators of violence against women.

Last year she handed down a sentence of 252 years to a man convicted of raping three women.

Though Pistorius had a history of violence, the trial, and eventually the verdict itself, did not ultimately render his actions as closely compatible with the profile and patterns of domestic violence.

This was not the most important factor in determining his guilt or innocence.

The emotional reaction to the verdict has been partly due to the fact that people were looking to this case to set a precedent.

They wanted assurance that even men seen to be in positions of privilege would not be able to get away with criminal behaviour of this kind.

Unfortunately for the public, South Africa’s legal system is not set up that way. The accused does not have to prove his innocence, and can test how strong the state’s case is by raising reasonable doubt against the possibility of his guilt.

It was up to the state to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that Pistorius was guilty of premeditated murder.

Although there was much media attention surrounding the case, and a spotlight on the issue of gender-based violence, it was unsuccessful in pinning Pistorius as a poster boy for not getting away with intimate femicide.

But the Pistorius verdict is not uncommon.

According to the South African Medical Research Council, less than 38 per cent of intimate partner femicides in South Africa lead to a conviction in less than two years.

What this highlights is that when justice is sought for crimes committed against women, the imbalance is stark.

Unequal access to opportunities for legal redress is a reality here.

The law is one thing, justice is something else completely. A lesser-known facet of gender-based violence in this country is workplace violence, which is also an important issue.

Even the South African Police Service has its own domestic violence issues in that some police officers take the rage and frustration of the workplace home with them.

Such is the scourge of domestic violence that a policeman killing his partner is not an unknown headline.

It’s a sad fact but for those who felt betrayed by the Pistorius verdict, there may be many more betrayals out there which will never even make it to a court of law.