‘Women can’t breathe’

‘Women can’t breathe’
  • A #WomensLivesMatter picket was held in Cape Town to reflect the horror of the murder of women and children. 
  • It was held outside the headquarters of the Western Cape provincial police headquarters, where picketers held up posters.
  • The police officer who accepted the memorandum told the solemn gathering they agreed with them and welcomed them as partners.

The mournful dirge “Senzeni na?” was sung during a #WomensLivesMatter picket in Cape Town on Friday in a protest over gender-based violence, and to call on the police to take more action to prevent it and be more available to victims.

The song, which means “What have we done?” harks back to the apartheid era when activists questioned through song, what they had done to deserve the brutality security forces meted out on them.

One poster read: “Women can’t breathe” – a reference to the final words of Americans George Floyd, who died while police officer Derek Chauvin was filmed with his knee on Floyd’s neck during an arrest, and Eric Garner who died in 2014. Floyd’s death sparked global Black Lives Matter protests.

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On Friday, it was sung by a group of about 20 people dressed in black to highlight the murders of women such as Naledi Phangindawo, who was stabbed to death in Mossel Bay, and pregnant Tshegofatso Pule who was stabbed to death and hung from a tree.

Another poster had the words: “She was raped” crossed through and replaced with the words “He raped her” and “Women’s lives matter”.

Some of the police officers standing by were heard joining in by humming through the masks that everybody is required to wear when outdoors during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africa was in the grip of two pandemics – Covid-19 and gender-based violence.

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The SA Youth Council’s Western Cape secretary, Zuko Mdai who was one of the organisers of the protest, said he was appalled there were people, particular men, carrying out such senseless acts.


“We are here as men who are not doing this. If we are quiet at times of such injustices, we are as guilty as they are.”

He handed a memorandum of demands, with a 14-day deadline, to Major-General Mpumelelo Manci. 

The demands include that the Western Cape police commission publish a report on the ministerial “six-point plan” to prevent gender-based violence, assist victims at police stations and work with local community-based organisations, among other things.

They also want a specialised unit for gender-based violence to be established, consisting of specially trained personnel, deployed in local clinics and hospitals where the first point in reporting gender-based violence is.

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Manci stepped forward to chants of “sign, sign, sign”, and said: “We agree with you.”

“Gender-based violence is a priority for all of us, and we receive you here today as a partner, a vital partner in the fight against gender-based violence.”

The memorandum will be taken to the provincial commissioner for perusal.

Mdai said they want Phangindawo’s murder case moved to the Western Cape High Court from the Mossel Bay Magistrate’s Court.

Phangindawo was stabbed to death on 6 June. Her former partner and father of two of her children, Mlondi Ntlangulela, was arrested after presenting himself to police in Strand.

He has appeared in court, and has abandoned his bail application.