12 Mar Please Don’t Forget Sinoxolo
While most of the media was abuzz with mentions of International Women’s Day, I couldn’t shake the sinister feeling that was growing in my stomach. How ironic it was to be “celebrating” womxn* in a society governed by misogyny and sexism; in a society where womxn continue to live in fear of exploitation, judgement, prosecution, rape and even murder.
Indeed, the past week has been a grim one – one where the gross violence against womxn in South Africa has been hard to ignore. From reports of another UCT student rape in the Rhodes Memorial vicinity to the tragic news of sixteen-year-old Franziska Blochliger who was found strangled in Tokai forest, it seemed like things couldn’t get much worse. But alas they already had – only nobody knew it just yet.
A week before the dead body of Franziska was discovered hours after she had been reported missing, a commuter in the SST Section of Khayelitsha made a gruesome discovery of his own: the corpse of nineteen-year-old Sinoxolo Mafevuka in a communal toilet. Sinoxolo was half naked with her head in the toilet bowl and her clothes stuffed in the cistern when he found her. It appeared that much like Franziska, she had been strangled but according to Sinoxolo’s sister-in-law, the family had still not heard anything a week after she was found. The cause of death remains unknown.
Mafevuka’s cousin, Dan Mtanam, says that the family was deeply saddened by the fact that there is so much police attention geared towards the case of Franziska while Sinoxolo’s murder remains a mystery. Deputy Police Minister Maggie Sotyu, who visited the area on Thursday, echoed Mtanam’s sentiments. “Everywhere you go here, the focus is on Franziska,” she said. “When is it going to be Sinoxolo’s turn? I am a mother of children of the same age as Franziska and Sinoxolo, you can’t expect me to sit in my office and say the police have it handled.”
Forty-eight hours after Franziska died, three arrests had already been made. Hundreds of people attended a silent vigil in Tokai Forest in remembrance of the teen. Franziska’s father, Florian Blochliger, said that the family was overwhelmed by support from the local community. The family also received counselling from the police.
What happened to Franziska can only be described as any parent’s worst nightmare. But as disturbing and saddening as her murder is, there is something that Franziska has – even in her absence – that Sinoxolo does not; and that is, the privilege of support from not only the authorities but from a family with money.
I am in no way criticising the Blochliger family for the R100 000 reward they offered for information relating to their daughter’s murder nor the fact that they hired a private investigator – I am sure any victim’s parents would do the same if they had the money. However, I wish to highlight how these financial advances have helped to accelerate progress in bringing the teen’s killers to justice. It seems that money is still what buys justice in South Africa; and unfortunately this kind of incentive and paid-for investigative expertise is not within the reach of the Mafevuka family who has not received any police counselling and is dealing with what’s been termed as “shoddy police work” – a euphemism at best.
In Khayelitsha, residents live in fear knowing that the killer is out there – free to kill again. A week after Sinoxolo’s murder was reported, the police had still not taken statements from the Mafevuka family. No suspects have been identified and no arrests have been made.
Although some have reported that the Khayelitsha police station has adequate resources to offer a professional service to the community – the same way that Kirstenhof does – it seems that this not in the case. Sinoxolo’s murder is less of a police priority than Franziska’s, or so the evidence suggests.
Sinoxolo’s family has expressed their anger and frustration saying that no-body cares because they are black. It is a heart-breaking reality that incidents of rape and murder are all too common within poorer communities such as Khayelitsha where police patrol is scarce or non-existent. Social Justice Coalition spokesperson Axolile Notywala comments: “(In) Areas like Khayelitsha, where crime is rife and happens so often, police action is poor because it seems so normal.”
In 2014, SAPS said that it dealt with an average of four murders on an average weekend. But unfortunately, the countless victims of Khayelitsha will unlikely make the news; much like Sinoxolo, they will remain nameless and faceless in the public eye. There will be no silent vigil to mourn their absence; there will be no court cases or private investigators called in. The victims’ families will go on living without closure. Justice will not be served.
There is a phrase used by social scientists, “missing white woman syndrome”, which describes the extensive media coverage of missing people involving young, white, upper middle class women or girls as disproportionate to other ethnicities and social classes. I cannot help but feel that this phrase is relevant in this context because even if the police had not managed to find Franziska’s killers, her absence would not have gone unnoticed. Extensive media coverage ensured that her life was worth more than a short-worded obituary in the paper.
EDIT: Although Franziska was not “white by definition” (i.e. she was born to a Swiss father and Cape Malay/ South African mother), I still feel that, in this context, one cannot overlook the significance of being raised in a predominantly white area where there is access to public amenities which are not available in impoverished areas such as a township. For example, Franziska would not likely have had to walk a great distance to use a communal toilet in the dark of night, with no street lamps, to relieve herself as was the case for Sinoxolo which ultimately resulted in her death.
As findings emerge in Franziska’s case at a rapid pace, I urge society not to forget about Sinoxolo Mafevuka. I pray that we will not forget about those living in the shadows of the places our privilege does not allow us to see. Franziska’s murder served as a shock to Cape Town’s middle to upper class community – one which is not accustomed to violence in this capacity. But for many South Africans living in townships, murder is a daily occurrence and those whose lives are claimed often go unmentioned. Chances are, these murders will not be solved. Instead, the names of these victims will slip away into the abyss of time along with all the other tragedies that don’t make the paper.
If I could, I would tell Sinoxolo that her life mattered – just as much – and that her safety was just as important, just as necessary. What disgraceful inequality it is that the authorities do not uphold these virtues. If they did, black womxn would not continue to be erased from existence without the world batting its eyelids and without police turning their backs.
Let’s remember Sinoxolo Mafevuka.
Let’s remember #BlackLivesMatter.
Rest in peace, young soul.
If you would like to make a donation to contribute to the reward fund for justice and support Sinoxolo’s family, please click here.
*The word womxn is a trans-inclusive feminist term for feminine identifying genders.