“Dear Cyril” by Naomi Ncayiyana

Published: 14 September 2019 > South Africa

In this time of escalating femicide in South Africa – ONE BILLION RISING (OBR) – AS A GLOBAL MOVEMENT AND AS A GLOBAL COMMUNITY – STANDS WITH OUR SISTERS IN SOUTH AFRICA, as we RISE, RESIST and UNITE for their freedom.

We thank Naomi Ncayiyana for writing and sharing this letter she wrote to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Dear Cyril

I’m going to refer to you as Cyril for two reasons. The first being, I need you to realise the seriousness of what I’m about to say and two, because the honorific of ‘Mr President’ is earned and I am of the feeling that you have not earned it yet.

I’d like to begin by asking how are you sleeping? I ask this because from the look of things, you seem to be sleeping pretty well. I have to tell you, I’m not sleeping well. Especially in the last few days. You see Cyril, I’ve been triggered by the state of our nation. I have been triggered by the fact that a few of my female colleagues all went out yesterday and bought pepper spray to protect themselves. I’ve been triggered by my own sexual assault that happened years ago and survived. How very lucky I am that I did. By the way, I use the word lucky, because these days it’s all about luck that you don’t get dumped in a sand pit or a backyard or in a hospital or in a black bag in an apartment. I’m triggered and I hate that because it means that right now I, along with the majority of this nation is in a state of terror.

Did you hear the one about the man that lynched his wife’s four children? Hung them all. A 16 year old. A 10 year old. A 6 year old and a 4 year old. Madness right?! Did you hear how the 16 year old, Ayakha Jiyane had said to her friends the day of her murder that if she didn’t come to school, it would be the result of a kidnapping or worse. You tell me Cyril, what 16 year old should have to say this? What crime did they commit? What crime did their mother commit that for the rest of her life, however long or short, she will be triggered. The man on the other hand; his reasons as yet, have not come to the foreground. But then again, these days who needs reasons right?

Did you hear the one about Jesse Hess? She was a UWC student who had just won R5000 and was going to treat her grandfather with a gift for giving her a stable home. She wanted to give back and take care of him. What crime did she commit? Or did you hear the one about Angelique Clark Abrahams who had a restraining order against her husband who beat her to death. Let me say that again, a restraining order. A legally binding piece of paper that meant if he came near her, contacted her, or did anything to her; that there would be consequences.

Then there’s Naledi Chaka, aged 4 who was found in a toilet pit in the backyard of her grandmothers house. She was lured away by a man promising sweets who then raped and murdered her. A four year old! Surely she should be able to trust that someone offering her candy should be safe. But of course no, because you’ll have those people who will blame the parents. Why didn’t they teach their child to not talk to strangers? I was certainly taught that. But you and I both know it’s not the parents fault, right?

Have you heard enough? No, I’ve got more. Did you hear the one about Uyinene Mrwetwana? She was a student at UCT with a bright future. She wallked into a post office with a police station not more than 50 metres away and was raped and bludgeoned to death with a stapler. A stapler!! And the man that did it described in great detail how hard it was for him to kill her. In his confession, he said something to the effect of ‘it took her a while to die.’ This man as it turns out; had already been accused of rape! Why I ask you was he not rotting in jail.

Then there’s the one of Leighandre Jegels, Baby Lee as she was known as. She was shot to death by her boyfriend, a police officer. She also had a restraining order. She was a boxer. A champion boxer. And people always say, men especially, that we should defend ourselves, or key up, or fight back, or carry pepper spray, or a taser, or not walk alone, or not dress provocatively, or not flirt, or not accept drinks from strangers, or not give mixed messages, or not not not not. All the things that we should not do as women. But yet.

I’ve got one more for you. Then you can go to bed and rest easily. This one is my favourite. I mean favourite ironically of course. Her name was Lynette Volschenk. She was found dismembered in black bags. You see I’m triggered, because when I think of black bags, I think disposable.

I’ve always tried to be pragmatic about South Africa and her incessant crime. I’ve told myself that the root cause is poverty. But you know what Cyril, I’m afraid. I’m afraid to walk out of my apartment building because these days in a quiet panic I know if things continue as they are, I will be a hashtag on twitter. I will get your thoughts and prayers. Condolences don’t save lives Cyril. I will get a prayer day from your Minister of Women and Children and People with Disabilities. I will invoke brief social media outrage. So I’ve got to ask, how do you sleep at night? How do the screams of your citizens not keep you up? How do the details of raped babies not keep you up?

And these are just the horrors that have had media attention. We both know Cyril, that there a hundreds maybe even thousands of stories we have not read about in the papers. So I want to ask you, how are you sleeping? How do you sleep when this is happening? How do you take hours to respond? How do you not have nightmares? I’m angry and I’m just scared.

And I know it’s hard. You almost have to cuckhold yourself into action. Be manipulated. Be coerced. Be convinced, be forced. I mean sheesh, we are definitely forcing you into a situation that you have no involvement in. And fair enough, it’s not your job alone. You need a good team. One that will support you. Not one that will say ‘thoughts and prayers’ or women defend yourselves. Not one that will say what women should do, instead of saying what men can do. Not one that will say that I should use my voice because I gotta tell you, I have no voice left. Not one that will say things like and if I remember correctly is your Police Minister; said after the discovery of Karabo Mokoena’s body called her “such a beautiful girl, a yellow-bone.” So I get it. But you know what Cyril, I don’t care. It is not my job to protect myself in my home. It is not my job to protect myself on the streets. I should not have to carry pepper spray. I should not have to cross the road when a man walks towards me. I should not have to carry a taser. I should not have to get my friends to watch my drink in a bar. I should not have to be lured back to a post office. I should not have to defend myself to the police when I’m hiding my ripped clothes under a jacket. I should no have to go out in a group. I should not have to explain how I spoke to my husband, boyfriend, friend and stranger. I should not have to use my voice in a cry for help. I should not have to worry that my friend’s children are going to be taken. I should not have to feel unsafe because I am a woman. I should not have to protest outside the cticc in my school uniform while you purport your nation’s virtues to the world; even after four other presidents rescinded their invites. Because that is your job and you are not doing it. Do better! Do something. DO SOMETHING!

– Naomi Ncayiyana

Read more about the current situation in South Africa here: