Lebogang Mokoena Journalist & columnist
A protest and prayer event on The Nelson Mandela Bridge, in Johannesburg against GBV and femicide in South Africa. Picture: ALON SKUY
A protest and prayer event on The Nelson Mandela Bridge, in Johannesburg against GBV and femicide in South Africa. Picture: ALON SKUY

It’s an ironic thought that maybe, if beating women were classified as a violation of lockdown rules, we’d have harsher action to stop it.

Our law enforcement officials, it seems, are more obsessed with people jogging before curfew and couples holding hands in public than they are with women being stabbed and hanged from trees.

It makes it even harder to stomach the events of the past month, especially since President Cyril Ramaphosa, not long ago, set up teams specifically to address gender-based violence.

The police might say they’re doing all they can, but the results are far from convincing.

Allow me to explain: I live exactly 800m from the Orlando police station in Soweto. To the rational mind (and also Google Maps), it should take the police all of five minutes to get to my home when responding to an emergency.

Well, to be fair, maybe we need to factor in dispatch time, and the task of finding a car and tactical gear. So, maybe 10 minutes then.

This should be a comforting thought. If only this were so.

In February, someone broke into my family home and, luckily, I was able to capture and restrain the thief, who was armed with a knife and high on drugs. (Important advisory: kids, don’t try this at home.)

Anyway, we called the police at the Orlando police station just after 4am. And we waited.

In the end, it was 9am when the cops sauntered into our house, giggling to themselves and absent-mindedly asking us if all was well. By then, we’d let the thief go because, as with many cases in Soweto, his family had arrived to beg for forgiveness and carry him away.

Now, I’m no thief – but I think five hours to respond to a call from down the block would give any would-be assailant more than enough time to kill a person, discard the body, go back home to pack up and abscond to a different province for a few months.

And yet, when it comes to other incidents involving manifestly less harm, the police suddenly become Miami Vice.

The home next to mine used to operate as an illegal tavern; the police, after an anonymous tip that alcohol was being sold, raided the home with sirens blaring, and charged in with righteous indignation and all manner of threats. Tellingly, they confiscated all the liquor, and the fridge – just in case the owners should think of opening up again, you understand.

Not only did it not take them five hours to arrive that time, it sent a chilling message into the heart of every single mother trying to make sure her kids were fed.

Which isn’t to say the police shouldn’t be acting against instances of illegality, but rather that there is something dangerously skewed in their priorities.

The lockdown has provided plenty of evidence for this: scenes of raided taverns and hawkers in handcuffs contrast starkly against the grim images of another murdered woman on the front page of our newspapers.

It illustrates why, until our police get their priorities right, the nauseating stories of violence against women and children aren’t likely to stop.

Of course there are deeper questions to be asked about why our police don’t seem to have the stomach for tackling the scourge. But as it stands, Ramaphosa can set up as many task teams as he wants, it’s not going to remedy the problem.

At this point, perhaps the next time we report a crime, we should mention that the perpetrator also happens to be selling alcohol and not wearing a face mask.

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