Can we blame apartheid for the high prevalence of gender-based violence that exists in South Africa?

Some argue that gender-based violence can be explained in part by the fact that many South African men have had their masculinity damaged by apartheid violence and by ongoing hardships. However, I do not see this as an excuse, or the only reason for the high prevalence of gender-based violence.

There are high levels of violence in many other countries, so apartheid and economic hardships are not the only factors contributing to high levels of gender-based violence. Even with the new constitutional democracy in South Africa, gender-based violence has perhaps increased because women have been able to achieve more power by moving from the private sphere to the public sphere.

Women having more freedom and rights now could have resulted in higher levels of gender-based violence, because as Jeff Hearn says; the less gender differentiation between men and women, the less likely will be men’s violence (Hearn, 2005). Another way in which apartheid may have allowed for higher levels of violence against women is the fact that the police was not really trusted, nor were they seen as reliable. So women were less likely to report abuse and violence acted against them, and in turn, men had no threat of being caught or imprisoned for their acts.

If one argued that apartheid is the only reason why gender-based violence exists in South Africa, then there are no explanations for the cause of gender-based violence in other parts of the world. By saying that apartheid and ongoing economic hardships are the only reason for high gender-based violence levels, one is saying that every man who has experienced this is capable of being violent towards women, and this is not true, as some men just don’t have it in their nature to harm a woman. It also indicates that it is “black” men particularly that abuse women as they were the main ones disadvantaged by the apartheid government.

In apartheid, violence revolved around race discrimination and inequalities. While currently, violence is still occurring in terms of gender. And while people have fought for race equality, the constitution has yet to change attitudes around heterosexuality being “the norm”. Our constitution is still structured around heterosexuality. So despite apartheid being in the past and despite economic hardships, men may still want to overpower women who are lesbians for instance because they are not giving into heterosexual relationships.

The new constitutional democracy allows more freedom and protects citizens from discrimination. However, this is not happening in terms of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Communities often deny people the right to live their sexual and gender identities as seen in African communities (Muholi, 2004). The rapes of black lesbian women are used as a weapon by men to discipline these women’s erotic and sexual autonomy (Muholi, 2004).

There are connections between men being violent during the apartheid era and men being violent now. Perhaps the fact that men lost power during apartheid due to the government robbing many of them of basic human rights, and now, the new constitution that makes men feel that their power is being taken by women who are participating equally in the labour force. In both cases, intimidation and a loss of power and authority may be part of the reason why gender-based violence exists by men against women particularly.


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