At least 110 women are raped in South Africa. Every day.
There are many similar statistics, all pointing to the same stupefying fact – that South Africa is one of the most dangerous places for girls and women.
This writer too is a survivor of an episode of violence, which – ironically – happened the evening before the country celebrated Women’s Day (August 9) in 2014.
In South Africa, a strong patriarchal mind-set, coupled with the intersection of race, gender, class and other identities, influence gender-based violence. There is also a gross underreporting of such crimes.
In the following pages, two educated young women recount how they didn’t let their own experience of violence get them down.
Samantha Smit* (name changed to protect identity) and Bukelwa Moerane reside 40 kilometers from each other, one in the affluent area of Roodepoort, and the other in Diepsloot, a township in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Their paths have never crossed, but destiny served them the same experience from hell – and they survived it.
Samantha Smit, 28
In 2013, three days after South Africa celebrated Women’s Day, Smit was drugged and raped by three male friends she had known for seven years.
When we meet her on a warm Thursday evening in January, the neighborhood is quiet, and her home warm and secure with high security fences. Wearing an oversized t-shirt and jeans, she leads us to the pool area her father helps set up for us.
Underneath Smit’s warm exterior is the aching heart of a woman still trying to comprehend a disturbing episode in her past.
“When you read statistics about women who experience violence, whether it’s sexual violence, domestic abuse or interpersonal violence, I would think I was lucky to not have experienced anything before I was 18 years old. And [this state of the country] is a sad reality,” says Smit.
What was an ordinary night out with friends ended up being her worst nightmare.
“They asked us to come through to their flat which was nothing strange, because we have all been friends for a long time. We trusted them, we knew them and often went to each other’s houses.”
They offered her a drink, which she didn’t know was spiked with Liquid E, a date rape drug.
Fifteen minutes later, she felt dizzy.
The next thing, they were stripping her in the kitchen and dragging her into the bedroom.
“The more I put my clothes back on, the more they were taken off. They found it amusing,” she recalls.
Smit was powerless at the time.
“It was like a ragdoll effect. I knew it was happening, I didn’t black out, I didn’t lose consciousness. But I wasn’t able to do anything about it. I felt like I was looking into the situation. The next morning, I had a cup of coffee and left,” she tells us.
She was in denial and did not want the stigma attached to being a victim.
“I think a part of me knew all along, but did not want to accept it. I also felt like maybe if we don’t give it a name it won’t have the impact… Because at least you still have a little bit of power and it is not completely stripped from you,” she says.
Her life was never to be the same again.
“Suddenly I couldn’t stand people touching me. It would suddenly repulse me. I was startled incredibly easily,” she says.
She suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and checked into a clinic five months after the incident.
“It’s a difficult thing to admit to yourself… I realized I was spiralling out of control.”
But she soon reclaimed her power by writing a letter to the three men and confronting them individually.
Though the scar will never completely heal, counselling, and opening up to other women, has helped.
“Every woman I opened up to had a similar story to share. That helped me a lot in breaking down the stigma.”
Bukelwa Moerane, 25
Moerane has been more vocal about her “near-death experience”. She lost her teeth trying to escape from her abductor in February last year.
She was on her way home in a taxi one night from Maponya Mall in the township of Soweto. As she stepped out at the Bara taxi rank in Soweto, it was near empty; then out of the blue, a man driving a navy Polo came up from behind and shoved her into his vehicle.
“What was going through my mind was ‘I don’t know if this guy has a gun behind me or a knife’. He said to me, ‘don’t do anything stupid, you will get hurt’. Instantly, as he said that, my mind stopped working,” shares Moerane.
The abductor drove off with her, holding on tightly to her wrist.
“He was swearing at me, and saying ‘I will rape you, I will kill you, don’t even try anything funny’!”
Moerane started saying her last prayers thinking of her mother and four-year-old daughter. Then, she noticed the door was unlocked.
“My heart started to beat faster. I started thinking ‘I need to get out, I need to get out, there is something I need to do’,” she says.
The kidnapper headed down a dark road she knew.
“I knew if he did something to me in that area, no one was going to find me. I know there are most [probably] thousands of bodies in that area not checked for. I was not going to be one of them,” says Moerane.
She pretended to be relaxed.
“I then looked at him, and noticed he was scared as well. His voice was shaking. I think he had gone through something and felt the need to revenge on me.”
She was no longer frightened.
“So if this person is scared, why should I be scared? I told myself to calm down and I started calming down, because he was holding on to my right hand at the time,” says Moerane.
She somehow mustered the courage to jump out of the moving vehicle kicking the door until it opened.
“He was slapping me and was trying to hold my hand. With the other hand, he was trying to drive and there was oncoming traffic.”
Her biggest fear was for the kidnapper to grab a weapon and kill her, so she leapt out. She lost two of her front teeth, and was bruised and injured.
“I could see my skin peeling off, and dark particles. My glasses fell off. While this car was dragging me, I don’t know for how long, I landed with my hands trying to protect my face, but I guess I was too late,” she says.
Bleeding, she got back up and ran for her life. She tried to stop moving cars, pleading for help, but none did. At the nearest garage, she was taken to Baragwanath Hospital.
Moerane still fears traveling by herself, but finds solace speaking out.
She was a participant at the #NotInMyName march last year to the Union Buildings in South Africa’s capital Pretoria sparked by the death of Karabo Mokoena, the young woman allegedly stabbed 27 times by her ex-boyfriend.
Moerane also took to Twitter to speak out against gender-based violence in the country. She posted images of her after the kidnapping and sought crowdfunding to fix her smile.
That’s when celebrity dentist Alexander Faizi Rawhani, known as Dr Smile, helped put the smile back on her face.
“I believe God kept me safe that time and he [the abductor] could do it again. But one thing I know is if he comes back, we go out together. I don’t go out alone. We die together this time,” says Moerane.
Physical violence against women
• 21% of women over the age of 18 reported they had experienced violence at the hands of a partner. That’s one in five women.
• Divorced or separated women are more likely to experience physical abuse.
• The Eastern Cape has the highest rate of physical abuse (a whopping 32% women reporting it).
Sexual violence against women
• 6% of women over the age of 18 reported they have experienced sexual violence.
• 16% of divorced or separated women experienced sexual violence by a partner.
• 10% of women living with a partner reported sexual violence against them.
• The North West Province reported the highest rate of sexual violence (with 11.8% of women reporting).
[Source: South Africa Demographic and Health Survey 2016]
The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation
Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.
As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.
The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).
The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.
The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.
To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.
Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.
Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.
“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.
But South African businesses were affected too.
Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.
Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.
“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.
Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected.
Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.
“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.
Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).
Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.
Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.
The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.
Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.”
Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.
There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.
There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.
A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.
Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”
“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.
She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.
Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.
“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.
She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.
“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).
“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.
Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.
The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.
Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?
How LinkedIn Is Looking To Help Close The Ever-Growing Skills Gap
As the job market has evolved, so too have the skills required of seekers. But when 75% of human resources professionals say a skills shortage has made recruiting particularly challenging in recent months, it would appear as though the workforce hasn’t quite kept pace. Now LinkedIn is stepping in to help close the gap.
On Tuesday, the professional social network announced the launch of a “Skills Assessments” tool, through which users can put their knowledge to the test. Those who pass are given the opportunity to display a badge that reads “passed” next to the skill on their profile pages, a validation of sorts that LinkedIn hopes will encourage skills development among its users and help better match potential employees with the right employers.
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“We see an evolving labor market and much more sophistication in how recruiters and hiring managers look for skills. … We also see a changing learning market,” says Hari Srinivasan, senior director of product management at LinkedIn Learning. “The combination of those two made us excited about changing our opportunity marketplace to make the hiring side and the learning side work better together.”
So how exactly does it work? Let’s say a user wants to showcase her proficiency in Microsoft Excel. Rather than simply listing “Excel” in the skills section of her profile, she can take a multiple-choice test to demonstrate the extent to which she is an expert.
If she aces the test, not only will a badge verifying her aptitude will appear on her profile, but she will be more likely to surface in searches by recruiters, who can search for candidates by skill in the same way they might do so by college or employer. If she fails, she can take the test again, but she’ll have to wait a few months—plenty of time to develop her skillset.
The tool has been in beta mode since March, and while just 2 million people have used it—a mere fraction of LinkedIn’s 630 million members—early results seem promising. According to LinkedIn, members who’ve completed skills assessments have been nearly 30% more likely to land jobs than their counterparts who did not take the tests.
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“This has been a really good way for members to represent what they know, what they are good at,” says Emrecan Dogan, LinkedIn group product manager.
While new to LinkedIn, the practice of assessing candidates’ skills has been a standard among hiring managers for decades. But when research commissioned by LinkedIn revealed that 69% of employees feel that skills have become more important to recruiters than education, LinkedIn felt as though this was the time to give job seekers the opportunity to prove themselves from the get-go.
As important as the hard skills that members can put to the test through LinkedIn’s new tool may be, Dawn Fay, senior district president at recruiting firm Robert Half, encourages those on both side of the job search not to forget the importance of soft skills. “You wouldn’t want to rule somebody in or out just based on how they did on one particular skill assessment,” she says.
“Have another data point that you can use, question people about how they did on something and see if it’s something that can feed into the puzzle to find out if somebody is going to be a good fit.”
-Samantha Todd; Forbes
Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market
While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.
The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.
This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.
“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”
The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership
The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.
The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.
In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”
Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.
“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.
So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”
-Samantha Todd; Forbes
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