South African women march to demand an end to gender-based-violence in their country

Under the hashtag #TheTotalShutdown, women across South African cities protested and called for real action to bring an end to high levels of violence and femicide. 

by Sara Chitambo with photos by Nicky Newman

Every August, South Africa marks ‘Women’s Month’ to commemorate the Women’s March of August 9th 1956 when 20 000 women protested against harsh apartheid pass laws that restricted movement of the black majority. This year wearing black and red in solidarity under the hashtag #TheTotalShutdown the women of South Africa mobilised and kicked off the month with protests against violence and femicide across the country’s 9 provinces. South African women experience high levels of gender-based violence and it is reported that a woman is raped every 26 seconds and that women are more likely to be killed at the hands of their intimate partner than by a stranger.

We marched to government offices to hand over a memorandum with a list of demands to make the country safer for women and for government to take action on increasing levels of violence against women and children.

Young and old, black and white, women and gender non-conforming individuals formed a cathartic train as we observed moments of silences, chanted, sang and cried during the march.

In Pretoria we marched to the Union Buildings the official administrative government meeting place to hand over the memorandum to President Cyril Ramaphosa, as the women did in 1956.

The president had known about our intentions for two months, but he was not there when we arrived. He was still not there after about 3 hours waiting in the sun when some women clashed with police who fired teargas to disperse the crowd.

Defiant women carried on chanting, singing and waiting.

By 5pm the president had still not come and communication from his office across the wire fence had ceased. We persisted.

As the sun started to go down, many women started to lose hope knowing that with the darkness the very dangers we were marching against increase. Public transport would end soon, and most women would be stranded. We began to make our way home, angry and disillusioned, wondering if today would end up being just another march.

A defiant handful of women remained in the dark carrying the hopes and wishes of 51% of South Africa’s population.  20:45pm, at last the president arrived. Those that had waited read the 24 action points on the memorandum. First of which is to convene a national meeting to address femicide, rape and safety of women in the country before the end of August.  A small victory to build upon.

#TheTotalShutdown movement started on social media and through posts shared widely across social networks women were mobilised and committed to marching. Women in the neighbouring countries of Namibia and Lesotho also marched on the same day.

Diversity, strength, resilience and pride

Photographer Nicky Newman writes, Women across South Africa marched, sang, raged, cried and danced ONCE AGAIN to  express our frustration and anger at the ongoing and ridiculously high levels of violence, abuse, kidnap and murder. The pain was palpable, the stories almost too much to bear.

Obviously as photographers and activists we are going for the shots that show the thousands of women, united.  But I really wanted to share the amazing diversity, strength, resilience and pride of so many beautiful women, each and every one enduring pain and fear and heartbreak on a daily basis.  

I felt quite conflicted showing some of these photo’s, someone’s grief, so close up. But that is what is too often hidden and I decided to include the more difficult images as they are such an important part of this barbaric narrative we seem to be stuck in – hopefully not for too much longer!! the slideshow below is best viewed on a full screen.