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African shooting camp aims to empower Black women

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For the first time in her life, Ntando Mthembu, 33, holds a revolver in her hands. Ten bullets towards the cardboard target, no hesitation.

In November, she lost her cousin. Alone in a house for a few hours, she was raped by several men. Then she was killed. “Before it happens to me, I want to be ready,” says Ntando.

In South Africa, murders are on the rise. In 2019-2020, 21,325 people (+1.4%) were killed according to the latest annual police report. And the rate of feminicides is five times higher than the world average.

“Women are targets in this country,” says Matsie Noge, another participant in the women-only weapons training course organised by the Gun Owners Association of South Africa (GOSA).

The mother came with her 24-year-old daughter. “I should have brought her much earlier, when she was 15 years old. The sooner the better”.

“These courses are aimed in particular at young black women, who are statistically the most targeted by crime,” explains Themba Kubheka, from the GOSA association and creator of these courses. “Every woman here knows a woman who has been raped, robbed, beaten. Each one has a story about violence in this country.”

“Instead of calling for help, they must be able to defend themselves,” says Kubheka, recalling that in the event of an assault, the police take an average of 15 minutes to arrive.

– “Keep quiet” –

Approximately 4.5 million weapons are legally circulating in South Africa. Nearly as many on the black market, according to the NGO Gun Free SA, a South African association that campaigns for a restriction on the carrying of weapons.

Every day, 27 weapons are stolen and come to feed the illegal market, according to the NGO, which records 23 deaths per day from firearms.

“A weapon is almost never used in self-defence, but it increases the risk for the individual and his family, and helps criminals to arm themselves,” the organisation stresses.

After three bullets, Nthabiseng Phele puts the gun back on the shooting range table. Her hands are shaking and she is sweating. The 32-year-old woman is visibly shaken.

“It reminds me of the time when I would have liked to have had a gun”, she blows her mind.

Nine years ago she was raped. Several times, in her room. The neighbour of the house she was living in with her parents, in a suburb of Johannesburg, came in through the window.

She did not file a complaint, she received no support. Only the dogs started barking when she screamed. Her parents blamed her for bringing shame on the family.

When she confided in a friend, he in turn raped her. “It teaches you to keep quiet,” she says.

In South Africa, 110 complaints of rape are registered every day by the police. In 2019, sexual assaults increased by 1.7% (+873 cases) compared to the previous year, for a total of 53,293 cases.

Comparing the level of violence inflicted on South African women “to that of a country at war”, President Cyril Ramaphosa made the fight against this scourge a national cause at the end of 2019.

Today, Nthabiseng lives with her boyfriend. He knows his story. Together, they have decided to install a safe in their home. So that she can keep a weapon in it.