THE MANDY WIENER REPORT Is femi­cide the new di­vorce?


Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - @MandyWiener

WHEN NEWS BROKE on so­cial me­dia that a teacher from Riebeek Col­lege Girls’ High School in Uiten­hage was miss­ing, the on­line com­mu­nity ral­lied. Pic­tures of Jayde Panayiotou’s face went vi­ral, ac­com­pa­nied by a des­per­ate plea to help nd her. The search gath­ered mo­men­tum and #FindJayde trended.

Per­haps it was a well or­ches­trated so­cial me­dia cam­paign or maybe it was be­cause she was white or beau­ti­ful or mid­dle-class, but the story res­onated. When her body was later found, #RIPJayde be­came a ral­ly­ing cry as the pub­lic vented their out­rage at the high crime rate and brazenly called for her killers to be hanged and the death penalty to be re­in­stated. But then the al­most in­evitable twist in this story was re­vealed – Jayde’s hus­band, Christo­pher Panayiotou, was ar­rested for al­legedly or­ches­trat­ing the hit on her, pay­ing money to have her killed. In South Africa, where the rate of in­ti­mate femi­cide is at 57% and where you are more likely to be killed by a lover than by a ran­dom stranger, we should not have been sur­prised at all. In truth, many weren’t. It has got to the point that when a woman goes miss­ing in South Africa, many of us in­stinc­tively sus­pect the part­ner. Why is this and what does it say about us as a na­tion that this is our de­fault set­ting?

The fact that Jayde’s case came in the wake of sev­eral high­pro le lo­cal killings in which the hus­band, wife or lover has been re­spon­si­ble, added fuel to that sus­pi­cious re. The most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple is that of ‘Blade Run­ner’ Os­car Pis­to­rius, who shot and killed his model girl­friend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valen­tine’s Day in 2013. The so-called hon­ey­moon mur­der ac­cused, Shrien De­wani, stood trial for ar­rang­ing a hit on his bride, Anni, in Gugulethu in Novem­ber 2012, but was later ac­quit­ted. In 2013, the ‘Black Widow’ Thandi Maqubela was con­victed of killing her hus­band, act­ing judge Pa­trick Maqubela, in his apart­ment in Bantry Bay in Cape Town. In June 2007, Na­jwa Petersen was ar­rested for (and later con­victed of) the mur­der of her hus­band, the­atre per­son­al­ity Taliep Petersen. In Pre­to­ria, Nico Henning is cur­rently stand­ing trial for al­legedly mas­ter­mind­ing the shoot­ing of his es­tranged wife, Chanelle. Within days of Jayde’s death, a sim­i­lar sce­nario was play­ing out in Polok­wane, where busi­ness­man Rameez Pa­tel ap­peared in court for al­legedly mur­der­ing his wife, Fa­tima. The 28-year-old’s body was found in her home af­ter what was be­lieved to be a rob­bery.

This ap­par­ent trend has made Jo­han­nes­burg-based clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Leonard Carr ask the ques­tion: is femi­cide, or mur­der in gen­eral, the new di­vorce?

‘I’ve had clients where one re­ceived a phone call say­ing that the other has taken out a hit on them. They’re on the verge or in the process of di­vorce and the hit­man says, “They’ve of­fered me R10 000, how much will you give me if I do the hit on them?” It’s like auc­tion­ing.’

In­cred­i­bly, Leonard says this has oc­curred with more than one client and it’s a pat­tern he’s no­ticed over the past few years. ‘Gen­er­ally, it’s where there is lots of money and, even when there hasn’t been di­rect con­tact from the hit­man, the per­son has been highly anx­ious or sus­pi­cious that this could be com­ing. I think peo­ple have be­come com­modi­tised to them­selves and to each other. Re­la­tion­ships are spo­ken about in very com­modi­tised terms. “She’s mine. He’s yours”.

I think so­ci­ety has be­come much more nar­cis­sis­tic – peo­ple are more fo­cused on their own needs and grat­i­fi­ca­tions as op­posed to au­then­tic in­ti­macy. We’re also in a so­ci­ety where ev­ery­thing is dis­pos­able. What you prac­tice with phys­i­cal pos­ses­sions be­comes part of you.’

Leonard is also of the view that South Africa’s high rate of vi­o­lent crime pro­vides the ideal cover. ‘I think what’s given rise to it in this coun­try, what’s made it an avail­able op­tion, is hi­jack­ing. Be­cause a hi­jack­ing is al­most the best way to com­mit the per­fect crime and con­ceal a hit. No one will ever know. I think only a small num­ber of cases come to pub­lic at­ten­tion but these things are go­ing on all the time.’

From what Leonard is sug­gest­ing, it may seem pos­si­ble that some are choos­ing to take out their spouses rather than go through the process of di­vorce. In the case of Christo­pher Panayiotou, he ad­mit­ted to an a air with his em­ployee Chanelle Coutts over three years. The state al­leges his rea­son for killing his wife was straight­for­ward. ‘The mo­tive for killing the de­ceased is very sim­ple,’ in­ves­ti­gat­ing o cer Lieu­tenant Rhyn­hardt Swanepoel said in an a davit. ‘The ap­pli­cant was in nan­cial di culty. He hardly man­aged to keep head above wa­ter. He was now in the process of ac­quir­ing a fur­ther R2.2 mil­lion debt, which meant it would be im­pos­si­ble for him to keep his mis­tress and wife happy. He was be­ing forced into cre­at­ing more debt so he de­cided to have the de­ceased killed, not to gain nan­cially, but to cur­tail his ever-in­creas­ing debt.’ Christo­pher re­futed this.

But Lisa Vet­ten, re­search as­so­ci­ate and gen­der ex­pert at the Wits In­sti­tute for So­cial and Eco­nomic Re­search (Wiser), says sug­ges­tions that femi­cide may be the new di­vorce are not only wrong, but dam­ag­ing.

‘I think that is such a mis­taken point of view and it ob­scures what is go­ing on,’ she says, ex­plain­ing that the op­po­site is true. ‘I have been re­search­ing this sub­ject since 1995 and looked at the data in­ter­na­tion­ally and the sec­ond most com­mon rea­son women get killed in this coun­try is be­cause they try to leave. It is their hus­bands who won’t let them go. It is a com­pletely di er­ent prob­lem. The most com­mon rea­son women are get­ting killed is around themes of jeal­ousy and sex­ual own­er­ship. The re­search doesn’t in­di­cate that. I think you’ve al­ways had that small num­ber of men who in­sure their fe­male part­ners and kill them in or­der to cash in and to them, a di­vorce is out of the ques­tion be­cause then they won’t bene t from the in­sur­ance pol­icy.’

Lisa says the fo­cus should rather be on what is caus­ing femi­cide, like sex­ual own­er­ship and en­ti­tle­ment. ‘What is it that causes you to have a be­lief that women are your prop­erty? And why is it so cat­a­strophic for some men that women want to leave them? Why do they want to main­tain the fan­tasy that the re­la­tion­ship will con­tinue by killing her, to pre­vent her from ever leav­ing?’

How­ever, Lisa says it is right that we in­stinc­tively sus­pect the part­ner when a woman is killed. The sta­tis­tics show that this is justi ed.

Ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics South Africa’s Vic­tims of Crime Sur­vey 2013/2014 on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors, the ma­jor­ity of vic­tims were mur­dered by known com­mu­nity mem­bers. A to­tal of 39% of vic­tims were killed by some­one they knew in their en­vi­ron­ment. A re­mark­able 24% of vic­tims were mur­dered by a rel­a­tive

or a house­hold mem­ber, 20% by friends or ac­quain­tances and just a minis­cule 2% were tar­geted by ‘un­known peo­ple’.

In South Africa, two ma­jor stud­ies have been con­ducted on femi­cide, de ned as the killing of a woman be­cause of her gen­der. Ex­perts also re­fer to ‘in­ti­mate femi­cide’, speci cally when a woman is killed by an in­ti­mate part­ner – a hus­band, ex or cur­rent boyfriend; some­one who pro­poses love. The Gen­der and Health Re­search Unit of the Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil com­pared the gures from a study done in 1999 and another in 2009 and the study showed a de­crease of fe­male homi­cides over­all as well as for in­ti­mate femi­cides but the de­crease for in­ti­mates was at a lower rate. They found that in 2009, one woman was killed by a part­ner ev­ery eight hours in South Africa com­pared with one women killed by a part­ner ev­ery six hours in 1999.

When com­par­ing the pro­por­tion of all fe­male homi­cides that were in­ti­mate femi­cides in t he t wo study years, a greater pro­por­tion of cases (57%) are seen to be in­ti­mate femi­cide in 2009 than in 1999 (50%). This means that in­ti­mate femi­cide has be­come the lead­ing cause of fe­male homi­cide in South Africa.

With all this in mind, the chances of Jayde Panayiotou – or any other woman, for that mat­ter – be­ing kid­napped and mur­dered in an anony­mous crime are ac­tu­ally min­i­mal.

So­ci­ety’s re­sponse to these sky-high rates has gen­er­ally been one of ap­a­thy, un­like in Ar­gentina, where, in May this year, the dis­cov­ery of a preg­nant 14-year-old school­girl’s body un­der the pa­tio of her boyfriend’s home sparked a na­tion­wide protest against femi­cide. South Africa ranks higher than other re­ported rates glob­ally, but there has been lit­tle re­search done around the world to pro­vide a true re ec­tion.

Pro­fes­sor Naeemah Abra­hams was part of the Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil team that con­ducted the 2009 study. Like Lisa, she also thinks so­ci­ety’s de­fault set­ting in these cases should be to sus­pect the lover.

‘Our data shows that 50% of women killed in the coun­try are killed by an in­ti­mate part­ner. I do think that it is great that po­lice sus­pect the peo­ple clos­est to her as a pos­si­bil­ity. A cou­ple of years ago they didn’t do it.’

What is it about our cul­ture and so­ci­ety that makes these types of killing so com­mon­place? Is it an en­trenched gen­der hi­er­ar­chy, our vi­o­lent past, lax gun laws? ‘It is all of that,’ Naeemah says. ‘It’s a com­bi­na­tion of things: our psy­che, our in­ter­gen­er­a­tional pass­down of our trauma, of a peo­ple who only knew vi­o­lence as a way to deal with con ict. It is our easy ac­cess to guns. It’s not one sin­gle thing and that’s why our in­ter­ven­tions shouldn’t be tack­ling just one sin­gle thing, ei­ther.’

De­spite the preva­lence of in­ti­mate femi­cide, Naeemah says the re­search glob­ally does not sup­port the no­tion that lovers may be choos­ing to kill rather than leave.

‘Con­sis­tently, not just here but in the US also, you are at higher risk if you are in an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship and you are plan­ning to leave. This is not about the guy try­ing to get rid of her for his own mo­tives and rea­sons, his re­la­tion­ships or money, this is the woman want­ing to leave and the man not want­ing her to do that. Usu­ally, it is in cir­cum­stances where she wants to leave to go to a new re­la­tion­ship or she wants to get out of an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship and he loses con­trol over her. This is what we have seen in our data. So whether it is the new di­vorce… it might be some­thing new, we’ve not seen it. It could be a new trend, the fact that you can do it so eas­ily in South Africa, that vi­o­lence and mur­der is such a com­mon thing so you won’t nd another mur­der or botched rob­bery strange. It’s just another side to the coin, I think.’

Nov­el­ist Mar­garet At­wood said, ‘ Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.’ It is a re­frain that is prov­ing to be trag­i­cally true in South Africa.



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