Echoes of Violence, Whispers of Hope

A Genocide On Our Women


It’s heart-wrenching to confront the string of recent femicide and domestic violence cases plaguing South Africa during the Festive season.

The absence of formal statistics does not diminish the gravity of these incidents. The stories circulated via media platforms along with personal accounts paint a distressing picture.

The following names are emblematic of the tragic toll of violence:

  • Francis Van Der Merwe, 54, found murdered in her Midrand, Gauteng, home on 16 December 2023. She was discovered lifeless, naked, poisoned, and with a stab wound to her face by neighbours.
  • Aminah Mthimuny, 20, discovered deceased in a Hendrina, Mpumalanga dam, on 17 December 2023.
  • Hesty-Ann Green, 18, found dead in an abandoned building in Brandvlei, Northern Cape, on 31 December 2023. She was last seen attending a dance party at the sports field the previous night and did not return home.
  • Tania Zungu, 39, shot in her home in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal, in front of her two young sons by her SANDF husband on 2 January 2024.

But we in South Africa are not alone.

Unsettling Parallels Between Gaza and South Africa

There are unsettling parallels between the systemic calculated killings of women and children in the Middle East and the appalling femicides in South Africa. The disregard for the lives of women and children has become a disturbing trend, often seen as disposable or objects of hostility, or even just considered ‘collateral damage’.

In both global conflicts and individual cases of violence, a common thread emerges — the pursuit of power, money, land, and control, driven by fear of those they seek to harm.

Is it far-fetched to draw these parallels between the genocide and South Africa’s war on women?

Not really—23 000 Palestinians have been killed in the past 3 months; Women for Change has estimated that at least 25 000 women have been killed between 2013 and 2023.

What does the genocide in Gaza have to do with us, as the Faith Sector?

Everything, it is vital to recognise that the Zionist genocide of Palestinians is not a religious conflict, but at the same time, the Zionist narrative is invoking religious texts as well as religious differences to justify their actions, and we should be very aware of the spiritual abuse that is behind the discourse that seeks to justify it. This is also common practice in cases of individual abuse.

Learning The Lessons: How To Pledge Your Solidarity

Amid this despair, lessons are emerging for our work for social and gender justice and an end to all forms of oppression and injustice, and specifically for us as partners in the Faith Action to End GBV Collective. It is critical that we recognise and address the shared underlying patterns driving various injustices and violence, regardless of their scale or proximity.

A critical lesson for us all, in the Palestinian situation as well as in individual cases of violence against women, children, and those who do not conform to predefined social categories, is that we cannot afford to be PASSIVE BYSTANDERS!

Not now, not ever.

Religious Bystanderism Within The Faith Sector

Religious Bystanderism needs to be called out for what it is. As the Brazilian activist educator Paulo Freire said once:

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless is not neutrality, means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

Paulo Freire, Brazillian Activist & Educator

We have seen how powerful politicians who have colluded with Zionist Israel have depended on the world to accept that there is nothing we can do, that it is best to be ‘neutral’.

In the same way, we have seen how powerful men have relied on their boys’ club and female lackies to discredit or intimidate GBV survivors who lay charges or allies who speak truth to power.

Will we ever forget the Zuma rape case in 2016 or his accuser who had to flee the country for her safety and died of a broken heart, alone in a strange land? Or the brave women who stood under the stage during Zuma’s election results speech bearing placards with her name, who were forcibly removed from the auditorium, after which the Deputy Chair of the IEC apologised to the President?

Several churches have been known to pledge their support for Zuma during and after this case

Oscar Pistorius’ release on bail this week after only eight years’ imprisonment is another stark reminder of how the rich and powerful can literally get away with murder, even in a country with one of the most impressive legal frameworks towards the protection of women and children. The media report him as claiming he and Reeva ‘used to pray while they were dating’ and that he is considering becoming a pastor now.

In terms of the religious sector, similar patterns exist:

We have seen how powerful religious leaders have convinced their members that they are ‘men of God ’and those who accuse them are attention-seeking, or even ‘of the devil’.

We know of the Omotoso case, which has made little progress since his lawyers convinced the court that the judge was biased… and the Malawian prophet Bushiri, who with his wife, managed to pay his way back to Malawi and deportation immunity for his crimes against young women whose testimony never saw the light of day, to name just two of the most well-known cases…

Another crucial lesson is that those with the power to influence the narrative to invisibilise the suffering of those targeted by those committing violence will go to any lengths to achieve this so that they can achieve their goal of annihilating their ‘enemy’.

They will even feel justified to misuse their sacred texts or longstanding cultural traditions to convince others that what they are doing is in line with “God’s will”. They will confuse the bystanders by taking isolated texts to convince them that:

• “this land was given to us by God, as His Chosen People – so we have a right to take it by whatever means necessary – “we have warned the Palestinians to leave their homes and their land, and if they don’t we are within our rights to destroy them all – after all, we were considerate enough to warn them”;

• “I paid lobola for her so I have a right to make her do whatever I ask – and if she does not, I am within my rights to ‘discipline’ her if she just doesn’t obey even after I have warned her ”; or

• “God ordained that my wife’s body belongs to me (partially quoting from the New Testament Bible- 1 Corinthian 7 vs 4a, ignoring vs 4b) and so I have a right to ‘take her’ whenever I need and it cannot be seen as rape.”

I am sure you can think of many more examples….(*The above are illustrative quotes)

These stories are familiar. We have read them, watched them on TV, seen them play out in our lives, families, communities and places of worship.

As the trappist monk Thomas Merton said, we are “guilty bystanders”.

SIGNS OF HOPE – In Uncertain Times

Brian Maclaren of the Centre for Action and Contemplation in the US rightly points out that “much religion has been selling people an evacuation plan rather than helping them participate in a transformation plan”.

But there are some faith-based voices calling for transformation, as exemplified by the international group of senior Christian leaders from diverse backgrounds who spent Christmas with Palestinian Christians in Palestine, listening to the pleas of one of their leaders to stand up for the truth.

The director of Gift of the Givers, which has lost a number of its own aid workers in Gaza, is calling on all Africans to support the South African submission to the International Court of Justice: “Africa is the embodiment of religious practice, spirituality, Ubuntu and humanity. As a continent we understand imperialism, colonialism, oppression, injustice, apartheid, bullying, hunger, thirst and medical ‘suffering’.”

The Faith Action to End GBV and We Will Speak Out SA support South Africa’s submission to the International Court of Justice. It offers a chance for genuine faith in action, to “pursue the path of values and ethics, to be in integrity so that we lead by example”.

(Sooliman, WhatsApp)

As I write, news has just come in of a group of Rabbis engaging in a sit-in protest inside the UN Security Council demanding that: “the US stop preventing the UN from taking urgent action for an immediate, permanent ceasefire in #Gaza” (from a Rabbis for Peace clip shared widely on social media).

BECOMING SIGNS OF HOPE – Ceasfire & End The Occupation

We heard a clarion call to action on 23 December 2023, when Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac said to the world:
“Let it be clear: Silence is complicity, and empty calls for peace without a ceasefire and end to occupation, and the shallow words of empathy without direct action—are all under the banner of complicity,” he said. The true Christmas message, he argued, is that “this genocide must stop now.”

How then can we, as religious communities, show our support in practice and beyond ‘hypocritical sounds’ from the religious sidelines, as religious silence is described by Brian Maclaren?

What are some PRACTICAL STEPS we can all take now to become the signs of hope so desperately needed in the world and in our fractured country?

  1. Inform yourself, if you are not already, and share with others what you are learning
    • I have been exposing myself to arguments on all sides of the endless debates about the Middle East, all the while praying for wisdom to discern God’s truth. On GBVF, ensure you understand the nature of gender-based and other forms of violence, take nothing for granted, and do not blindly accept those religious, social, and cultural norms that diminish anyone, ever.
    • I remain convinced that war has never been the Almighty’s first choice, that Merciful God is always on the side of the oppressed and the marginalised, and that God the Healer is not afraid to stand up for justice and inclusiveness.
  2. Regarding the Middle East Crisis:
    • Support the call to all people of faith by our diverse faith leaders to PRAY – and for those of us whose traditions include FASTING, to do so.
      To pray and fast during the 48 hours of the ICJ process on Thursday and Friday 11- 12 January.
    • And beyond these days – to never cease to pray for God to put an end to this madness, which can easily spill into a massive global conflict in which all of us will be losers – pray for Peace with Justice (the actual meaning of Shalom – the biblical Hebrew word for peace)
    • Advocate for international structures to take decisive actions against violence promoters. Hold perpetrators and those turning a blind eye accountable for their actions.
  3. Regarding our own South African crisis:
    • Let us bring the lessons learnt witnessing this global horror back home (those mentioned above and others that you discern):

We need to become ACCOUNTABLE for our own internal South African genocide – women and children killed in their numbers by those who are supposed to keep them safe.

STOP THE VIOLENCE – End The War on Women

We need to become ACTIVE BYSTANDERS and COURAGEOUS ADVOCATES for justice and gender equality, drawing on the many positive tools in our sacred texts and religious and cultural traditions to shift the narrative towards a transformed world – and to do so with ONE VOICE;

We need to ensure that there are CONSEQUENCES for those who perpetrate violence to achieve their own ends, as well as those who continue to turn a blind eye to hatred, death and destruction in our own homes, communities and even our faith communities.

We must take time to LISTEN – to understand the underlying multiple woundedness within ourselves and our society – and have the courage to confront our darkness and begin to heal. This last one is more difficult than all the others, and yet perhaps the most important.
Finally, we need to avoid the sense of our helplessness in the face of evil.

Let us heed the words of Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba:

“Nevertheless, we must refuse to be overwhelmed by despair.”Instead, he encourages us: “Don’t fear standing up to those who make war; don’t fear those who abuse power – whether in public life, neighbourhoods and homes”.

Anglican Archbishop, Thabo Makgoba

This is hard, but, as we build our joint Interfaith Action to End GBV Collective, we can rely on the solidarity and support of others.
Let us use 2024 to not only invite many others to sign our Interfaith Statement of Commitment on GBVF, but to support one another to bring it to life in fulfilling our commitments in decisive actions. It is time to be active bystanders and courageous advocates believing that it is our moral and spiritual imperative to turn the tide on our watch.

Join the Interfaith Movement To End GBVF Signature Campaign!

Pledge as an individual and as a representative of your faith to eradicate GBVF from within your institution and wider community. Your signature is more than ink; it’s a promise for change!

Spread the word—transform lives!

Share this statement and amplify our collective voice against GBVF. Let’s create a groundswell of commitment to reshape our nation


Daniela Gennrich

Co-ordinator, We Will Speak Out SA

Faith Action to End GBV Collective

Consultant, NGO Development Services and Gender Process Facilitator

Westville, Durban Tel. 0027 (0)84 581 0622)

Lay Canon, Gender and Gender Based Violence

Diocese of Natal, Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA)

The only thing that really converts people is “an encounter with the face of the other.” Emmanuel Levinas (1905-1995)

*NOTE: The writer recognises that similar dynamics are at play in all forms of violence, particularly in relation to South Africa’s political killings and the silencing of whistle-blowers, and the ongoing normalisation of all forms of corruption and violence. This blog has chosen to focus on one of these, in line with our mission to end gender-based violence against women and children in particular.