Violence against women and children in South Africa is extremely high. In 2016, the World Health Organization ranked South Africa fourth highest for female interpersonal violence death rates out of 183 countries. This meant the death rate for women in South Africa was 12.5 per 100,000 — 4.8 times the global average rate of 2.6.
In 2017/2018, the South African Police Service’s statistics showed a woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa.
On August 24, 2019, Uyinene Mrwetyana, aged 19, left her university residence room on a Saturday afternoon to collect a parcel from the post office she had bought online. She did not leave the post office alive. The man who was serving her locked the empty building, accosted her, and, when she resisted, raped her and bludgeoned her to death, then set her body on fire and buried her charred remains in a shallow grave.
Her death left South African women feeling scared, helpless, and vulnerable. Many wondered if there was anywhere that was safe for them to roam freely without the fear of being attacked. They turned to social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, to express their fears and find connections with other women, using the hashtags #AmINext and #EnoughIsEnough.
A campaign for women, by women
The women in the News24 newsroom felt no different and decided to do something about it. We met and discussed ways we could capture this feeling that was hanging over South Africa like a dark cloud. We were concerned it would have a short lifespan in the country and in the news, especially when the next breaking news story became the focus of headlines.
We decided to create a safe space on our Web site, a space for South African women to tell the stories of other South African women. The project needed to come across as authentic, not one that was trying to profit off women’s experiences. It needed to be a place where the voice of a woman could be heard, raw, and unfiltered — but with impact.
Taking a multi-media approach
We adopted a multi-media approach to tell the stories, mixing visuals, text, graphics, and user-generated content.
Uyinene Mrwetyana’s face, by virtue of the unusual setting of her rape and murder, indirectly became the “face of the movement” that took the country by storm.
However, there was tension among those close to her who feared she would be turned into a martyr when they felt she had been robbed of a future.
We decided to tell story of the young, vibrant woman she was while she was alive, the girl known by her loved ones. This was done in the form of a long feature, which led to a 13-minute documentary showing how her death gave birth to and ignited #AmINext protests countrywide and abroad.
Flowing from the documentary, readers were led to a vox-pop video of young women on the same campus Uyinene used to attend. They spoke about the sobering safety precautions they took before leaving the house or walking in public.
This was followed by a roundup of the most recent statistics on sexual violence against women in South Africa. The project ended with raw, unfiltered open letters from South African women, titled “Dear South Africa,” where we they were given the opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings, and personal stories or pleas.
The letters were obtained after a call to action was sent out on our main news site, News24, which is South Africa’s leading digital news brand with more than 7 million local users monthly.
An overwhelming response
To date, the site has recorded just over 230,000 pageviews, with more than 164,000 users who spent between six and 11 minutes on the site. The site recently added a news section where it is updated with gender-based violence news stories to keep track of the fact that violence against women continues.