Intimate partner femicide is not something new in Botswana, as well as in the regional and more broadly in the global context.
It is a pandemic we are often silent about, despite how rampant it is and despite how close to home it has been for many of us in our country, whether as a form of violence itself, or in the context of other related violences. We know, or at least we should know, that in the grander scheme of things, murder, as it should rightly be called, sits at the highest helm of the gender based violence pyramid, being the worst and most final form of violence that can ever be meted against any other person.
Gender based violence, and more contextually, intimate partner murder affects all communities in our society. Despite being context specific, it affects all women in our society. Violence against women has previously been contextualised as a relational vulnerability, reflecting women’s subordination in status, in hierarchical gender relations and the dependencies associated with it. Violence against women is a human rights violation, recognised as such internationally.
Various international and regional norms position violence against women as a form of inequality and discrimination the state has a duty to protect women against. In our own national context, although over the years, we have observed the struggle of contextualising and steeply positioning and naming violence against women in the broader context of gender-based violence, we have seen a movement towards systematically addressing violence, with the objectives of achieving equality, development and peace.
The enactment of the Domestic Violence Act, as well as the inclusion of and recognition of gendered violence as a form of inequality in various other national frameworks and policies, the specific recognition of GBV statistics in police periodic reports on crime statistics as well as the establishment of the gender-based violence Court are all evidence that we are a state which recognises the gravity or the extent of the problem we have with gender-based violence.
What is alarming, however, has been the tendency to avoid addressing the specific forms of violence which have plagued us as a nation, particularly, violence against women. We seem more comfortable de-gendering the problem and assuming we can address the broader violence problem, without confronting the disproportionate ways that women suffer at the hands, often, of partners, and a society steeped in inequality of the genders. We dilute the reality by suggesting, as in the recent Relationship Study, that violence in Botswana is not as gendered a problem, as in other societies. This is completely incongruent with the statistics we see of rape and the incidences of rape culture as well as indecent assault in our country.
Although it is undeniable that the factors which lead to violence against women operate at individual , relational, community and societal levels, and that this explains the variations in social groups, to silently place violence against women as a form of violence not addressed on its own, lands us in struggles of calling out murderers when they have murdered, and particularly recognising their murder for what it is. Other nuances in our society, like referring to intimate partner femicide, or murder, as a crime of passion, also goes a long way in enabling the god-complex accompanied by an esteemed sense of entitlement that men exert over other members of our society, when they violate them in these most unacceptable ways.
This perhaps is the reason why, when on the 14th of January 2021, a young promising lawyer’s life was unceremoniously cut short, when she was murdered by her lawyer ex-boyfriend, the tendency was for the legal fraternity to silently turn a blind eye,
Firstly, the apparentness with which we have failed to take a collective stand when it comes to violence against women was exposed in the palpable silences of the death notices of the victim and the murderer. They were also ostensible and deducible from the ways many insisted that the murderer be remembered for his good deeds, and the position he had previously occupied in our society. In becoming apologists to this extent, there were nuanced suggestions that a man of such calibre would not, or could not, unprovoked, commit such a heinous crime. This classist approach to violence against women was indeed a revolting scene to observe, as the fraternity toiled and turned in suggestions that a person is in fact not their last and final deed, no matter how cruel it is.
What made it worse, was the complaint lodged to the complaints mechanism of the Law Society of Botswana, by members of the bar for the murderer to be removed from the bar, posthumously, on the basis that his act of murdering a colleague amounted to professional misconduct. The desire to be sanitised from their colleague’s acts in totality is suspiciously reminiscent of the “not all men are trash” bandwagon, who want to distance themselves from ubiquitous suggestion that infact if not all men were trash, then those who are not would, from a hierarchically horizontal position appeal to those who are, and ensure, to the best of their capacity, that those who are, stop their trashy deeds. If you were to ask me, I would say, it is important for Steve Rankwane to remain as a member of the bar, posthumously for those of us occupying the positions of power and influence which we occupy, to remember that violence against women is not a problem which affects certain classes of people in our society. It is important that we see this stain on our fraternity daily, until we, collectively, take an active stand against it, engaging realistically with it, and not superficially and performatively.
It is important that we see the extent to which we, as a collective, failed the victim, both in her life and more deeply in her death with the silence of even the noises we make.
Our failure to incessantly call murder just that – murder; coupled with our support of the murderer’s act of silencing her, in remaining silent ourselves, are critical stains for us to wear as reminders in hopes that we will, if we continue to see these on ourselves, take the necessary action, and not the theatrical performance of taking action.
It takes movements to revolutionise the ways we confront social misnomers. A movement is driven by its own. If ever there was a time to take visible action, it would be right now – moving towards calling violence against women, by its name; moving towards gendering the extent of gender-based violence in our society; and moving towards ending it in our own social strata, taking our privilege and power and using it positively, to respond to matters which affect us as a society.