CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Shamed by daily headlines about murder, rape and assault and a study showing four women are killed every day by their partners, South African authorities are trying to launch community-based campaigns to curb the rate of domestic violence (search).
Local officials organized a meeting Wednesday in the township of Soweto to discuss ways of involving church and community groups to tackle an upsurge in family killings in the Johannesburg area after concerns by police that it was spiraling out of control.
"We come from a violent past which did not have respect for human rights," said Phumla Mthala, spokeswoman for the department of community safety. "We need to rebuild our communities and we need to protect our gains."
During the apartheid (search) decades, the government brutally suppressed all demonstrations against white racist rule and thus provoked armed opposition. With many men forced to work in cities and live in hostels away from their homes, long-standing family traditions were uprooted.
This, according to many experts, has contributed to the crime and violence that still plagues the new democratic, multiracial South Africa (search).
A new Medical Research Council (search) study showed a woman is killed every six hours by her partner — the highest rate in the world.
The research, conducted in 1999, said that 1,349 women were murdered that year by a boyfriend or husband. It said South Africa's "intimate femicide" murder rate of 8.8 per 100,000 compared to a rate of less than 2 per 100,000 in the United States.
Women from the mixed race community were most at risk, with a murder rate of 18.3 per 100,000 compared to 8.9 for blacks and 2.8 for whites, the study showed.
In a statement released Wednesday, the research council said that one our of every five South African men who killed their partner went on to commit suicide.
Alcohol, guns and jealousy often combined in a lethal concoction, it said. Nearly 60 percent of men who killed their partners and then killed themselves worked in the security industry and so had a legal weapon.
"South Africa is still a very patriarchal society with men holding on the notion that they own their women," said one of the study's authors, Shanaaz Mathews.
The research findings were illustrated in Cape Town, where 13 people died in family killings in the space of six days.
An off-duty policeman gunned down his wife and three young children and then drove to the house of her alleged lover and murdered him, before being lynched by a mob on May 17.
Shortly after that, another man killed his wife, infant daughter, mother and aunt and then committed suicide.
Last weekend a security guard known for his violent jealousy killed his fiancee and another family member and then turned the gun on himself.
"What the hell is going on?" agonized a headline in the local Cape Argus on Monday as it reported the "orgy of family murders."