How many more women must die before South Africa takes a stand?

Recently, South Africa heard the disturbing news of a 17-year old girl dying after being gang raped and mutilated near her home in Bredarsdorp. The perpetrators, one of which is allegedly her ex-boyfriend, slit her neck, cut her from her stomach down to her genitals, and left her for dead with her intestines lying in the dirt. This story is disgusting by any standard, but what makes it even more tragic is South Africa’s lukewarm response in comparison to a similar crime that took place in India in December, which was followed by national outrage.

South Africa has grown so used to hearing reports of violent crimes, particularly those perpetrated against women, that it has grown largely apathetic. The media has a responsibility to cover what little outrage there is, so as to encourage it further.

All three articles in this analysis are hard news (Deahl, 2010). An article by The Daily Maverick entitled “The agony of South Africa’s daughter Anene Booysen. The agony of South Africa,” perfectly portrays South Africa’s growing apathy. The headline highlights the metaphor that this crime aligns with the abuse and neglect that South African women are subjected to everyday. Its powerful kicker reminds the reader that, though South Africa knows the shame of this event, it is so used to the weak being violated by the more powerful that it ‘chose’ not to stand up. The structure (Nielson, 1997) is in the form of an inverted pyramid, covering the “5 W’s and H”, starting with the most vital information.

The article uses BBC News as its first source, which is successful in supporting its claims that South Africa’s outrage has been dwarfed by that of India’s. Unfortunately, it also uses quotes from the SABC and Die Burger to explain the nature of her attack, which can be considered ‘lazy journalism’. However, the rest of the sources are both credible and valuable, as it seeks perspectives on violent crime from President Jacob Zuma, the ANC Women’s League and the President of the International Union of Psychological Science.

The ideological framing (Scheufele, 2000: 297-316) of this article coincides with equalitarian and humanitarian morals; it is wrong for the vulnerable to be regularly abused in a society which has the means to protect its citizens and enforce its laws. The article is more critical towards the lack of South African civil society than the government.

There have been pieces in the South African press with headlines that promise ‘national outrage’, which is the kind ofcoverage that is needed to mobilize public interest. However, the majority of these articles lacks any real evidence of such. A perfect example is a piece published on News24, entitled “Outrage Over Teen’s Gruesome Rape”. The headline grabs the reader’s attention and implies an actual public stand against violence. The first line provides a misleading and unsubstantiated hook, stating that the crime “has sparked a rare outburst of anger across the nation.” The rest of the content is simply a compilation of official statements released by various political actors, and there is no coverage of any real outrage or quotes on public opinion.

The structure of this article does not sufficiently cover the information needed (Nielson, 1997). The “five W’s and H” are not complete – the reader is not given information on when, where or why the murder took place. Also, some of the most relevant information is in the very bottom paragraph, citing useful suggestions made by government officials to put an end to the violent crimes – the opposite of an inverted pyramid.

Though the article quotes influential sources such as President Jacob Zuma, a spokesperson for the DA and The Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa, this is nothing more than a collection of official press releases which have been copy-pasted into an otherwise recycled piece of journalism (Nielson, 1997), that even cites basic information from the Cape Argus.

The framing (Scheufele, 2000: 297-316) of this article revolves around a political ideology, concentrating more on the political actors’ obligatory statements rather than public representation. A positive element of this article is that it unintentionally highlights the embarrassingly quiet public response to the regular horrific crimes perpetrated in the country.

A third article provides some relief to the otherwise grim picture of South Africa’s reaction to Booysen’s murder. Varsity Newspaper released a piece entitled “UCT Says ‘Enough’ to Violence”, covering a cross-campus march of over three thousand students, professors and alumni.

The structure is excellent, covering all relevant information within the headline and lead, reflecting the inverted pyramid (Nielson, 1997) at its most precise. It is pleasing to see an article that adequately covers the public outrage over violent crime.

Its sources are reliable and relevant (Pape & Featherstone, 2005), directly and independently citing The President of the Student Representative Council, Vice Chancellor Max Price and, most importantly, members of the larger public. A comforting statement was made by SRC member Tarryn Naude: “I’d say a bit of student apathy died at the march.”

The target audience for this article is anybody who wishes to see real action against violent crime, and those who are following the story of Booisen’s murder. The article is framed around an intellectually-driven ideology (Scheufele, 2000: 297-316), stressing the importance of engaging in public debate over the issue of violence, mobilizing people to take a stand against violence, and educating the public on the importance of protest.

The lack of coverage on public outrage following Booysen’s gruesome murder illustrates how remarkably underwhelming the public response was compared to that of India. Sadly, South Africa’s numb attitude to these violent crimes, particularly to those perpetrated against women, reveals the difficulty that we will face in curbing them in the future. What disappoints me is the media’s lack of interest in encouraging further outrage and participation in protest, despite its powerful ability to shape public opinion (Pape & Featherstone, 2005). As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility, and I feel that our media industry needs to step up and encourage the public to take a stand and end this apathy.

The problem with South Africa’s negligent attitude towards the protection of its women ties in with my blog because it highlights the importance of taking a stand for yourself when your society fails to. We have the ability to be strong, independent women and under no circumstances can we allow ourselves to be mistreated. After a breakup, you owe it to yourself to hold your head up high and empower yourself with happiness and dignity, despite the pain your ex-partner has put you through.