JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Police fired a water cannon at demonstrators who gathered in Cape Town Wednesday demanding the government crack down on gender-based violence, as several recent and brutal murders of young South African women have gripped the nation.
Protesters gathered, some with mouths taped shut, Wednesday in protest outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre where a meeting of the World Economic Forum on Africa was underway.
In the last week, reports of the murders of several young women, one as young as 14, have dominated national news headlines.
On Aug. 24, University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana, 19, was allegedly raped and bludgeoned to death by a post office worker when she went on an errand to check on a parcel in Cape Town. Days later, on Aug. 30, South African boxing champion Leighandre Jegels, 25, was shot and killed by her estranged boyfriend, a police officer.
The deaths have prompted women from across the nation to share their experiences and fears over being violently attacked by men on social media under the hashtag #AmINext.
More than half a million people had signed a change.org petition by Wednesday calling for the government to enact the death penalty for crimes against women and children. Another petition calling for the government to declare gender-based violence a state of emergency has gathered more than 400,000 signatures.
South Africa is one of the most violent countries in the world for women, with the world’s fourth highest death rate due to “interpersonal violence,” according to fact-checking web site Africa Check. The group says one woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has called the recent spate of violence a “dark period” for the country.
“We remain gripped in an increasing crisis of violence in South Africa, underpinned by levels of impunity and a social and economic system that continues to drive gender-based violence and other forms of violence,” Ramaphosa said in a Twitter statement on Tuesday.
“We call on ALL South Africans to respond to the call: no more violence, no more femicide,” he said.