The Right to Life: Using Data Journalism for Social Justice Solutions

In early 2020, Bhekisisa received the Collins Sylvester Stein fellowship award from the Canon Collins Trust for a data project focusing on femicide.

Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism searched English online media outlets for stories of women who were murdered in South Africa between 2018 and 2020. Only 4% of the official cases showed up. One in four female homicides reported in the media was of a woman killed by her partner at the time. The other women who were murdered remain nameless; their stories untold.

Highlights from the findings:

  • An average of seven murders a day

In the five-year period between 2015 and 2020, a total of 13,815 women over the age of 18 years were murdered, according to the South African Police Service (Saps). That’s an average of 2,763 murders a year, or about seven women a day.

  • The map is a work in progress

The South Africa Police Services released information about Gender Based Violence hotspots in the country. Their results raised questions,  in particular why three provinces, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape had no hotspots. Bhekisisa asked Saps four months ago for data on the number of women murdered per police precinct, but they haven’t provided it yet. That data will be included on the map if they receive it.

  • South Africa ranks among the five countries with the highest female homicide rates

In 2017, the UNODC estimated the global total female homicide rate at 2.3 per 100,000 female population. South Africa’s rate that year was 10.1 per 100,000.

  • The highest number of femicides was in Gauteng Province, home to the country’s biggest cities Johannesburg and Pretoria

The average age of the victims whose age is known was 36 years. Forty-five percent of those victims were in their 20s and 30s. The youngest was six months old. Her name was Bonolo and she was allegedly murdered by her 27-year-old father after he had a fight with her mother, who, according to the Sowetan, had dumped him after he physically abused her for three years.

31% of victims were unidentified because they were minors or because the police had not yet identified them.

Half of the victims were allegedly murdered by someone they knew. Roughly one in four of the victims was murdered by her current intimate partner.

  • The power of advocacy

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) started to report on murder convictions and intimate partner femicides in its 2017 annual reports  around the same time activists pushed the government to address gender-based violence.

It is the hope of the Canon Collins Trust that this data will be strategically used by journalists, researchers, activists and service providers in the ongoing work to protect the right of women to life.