In South Africa, alcohol was banned for weeks because of corona. Since it was lifted, violence against women has increased dramatically.
“The last time my friend was drunk he nearly choked me to death.” 22-year-old Esihle Dimanda pauses, takes several deep breaths before continuing: “If my friend Cebisa is not accidental I wouldn’t have knocked on our door right now.” The fact that Esihle is expecting a baby in a few weeks does not stop her partner from beating her up. “When he hits me, I usually run over to Cebisa,” says the mother-to-be.
Esihle’s parents both died young. With the corona crisis, she lost her job as a waitress. The girlfriend is the last piece of perfect world that Esihle remains. From there, a small house in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township, she talks about the abuse on the phone.
The ill-treatment by Esihle’s friend is part of what President Cyril Ramaphosa now calls the “second epidemic” in South Africa. According to the president, violence against women and children increased dramatically after the relaxation of corona protection measures on June 1. It was the day when the alcohol returned to the shops. According to Ramaphosa, at least 21 women and children have been murdered in the past few weeks.
The excess of violence had been preceded by an experiment that had received worldwide attention. No alcohol was sold in South Africa for two whole months. This was supposed to prevent infections from drinking together and relieve hospitals by eliminating alcohol-related admissions. The plan seemed to work. According to the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), the number of accident treatments could almost be cut into thirds.
Since June 1, South Africans have been allowed to buy alcohol again at set times. Leane Ramsoomar of the SAMRC sees evidence that this has favored increased violence against women. For example, hospitals in the Western Cape Province have registered 70 percent more alcohol-related injuries since June 1. In the absence of studies, clear statements are not yet possible for this period. Especially in the current corona crisis, those hospital beds and doctors for the treatment of Covid-19 patients were missing.
In addition, Ramsoomar highlights the problematic consumption behavior of South Africans. According to WHO studies, “binge drinking”, i.e. heavy alcohol consumption within a short period of time, is extremely common in South Africa. “Our research shows that men are particularly at risk of violence against their partner after drinking intoxication,” explains the scientist.
For Nadia Mayman from the Bonteheuwel Peace Forum and Rafika Aziz from the Ihata Shelter, the connection between alcohol consumption and gender-based violence is beyond question. The two social workers are involved in different Cape Town aid organizations, but have similar experiences. “Many women are now working again,” explains 50-year-old Mayman. “When they come home with their wages, the partners of the women often become violent to get the money.”
Esihle also knows how it feels when addiction and misogyny erase all humanity. “When I was still working as a waitress, I often had to give him my entire salary,” says Esihle in frustration. Her hard-earned money ended up in her friend’s pipe in the form of small white Tik crystals – the South African version of Crystal Meth.
The excitement about violence against women is omnipresent in South Africa. The headlines roll over every day about murders and rapes. Twitter is becoming a mood barometer for the social media-savvy population: Many of the country’s most used hashtags call for justice for murder victims: #JusticeForTshego, #JusticeforNaledi, #JusticeforSanelisiwe, #JusticeForDanielle or #WomensLivesMatter. In his speech on June 17, President Ramaphosa read out the names of murdered women.
Esihle fears that she may soon be on the list too. But she is even more afraid of her unborn child: “If he beats me to death, what happens to my baby?” Social worker Nadia Mayman tries every day to prevent women like Esihle from appearing in the President’s next speech. Their struggle is exhausting: “We need safe havens for women who are mistreated by their partners. Our reception centers are completely overloaded. When women cannot go anywhere, they often have no option but to return to the violent men.”