Paradoxical legacies and unattainable futures

South Africa’s national self-narrative and the haunting of gender-based violence in the post-transitional era




South Africa, gender, violence, national identity, public discourse, national self-narrative


This article examines how, over the past two decades, South Africa’s post-apartheid narrative shaped the public’s perception of gender-based violence (GBV) by focusing on three significant events: the Jacob Zuma rape trial, the murder of Anene Booysen, and
the murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana. It is argued that South Africa’s post-apartheid narrative, which was grounded in the hopeful discourses generated during the transition, played a significant role in shaping postapartheid national identities but simultaneously sidelined
the problem of gender-based violence. Despite its hypervisibility in society, violence against women was suppressed and, in some cases, denied due to its incompatibility with the nation’s hopeful visions for the future. The rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana
eventually revealed the limitations of these hopeful discourses and the fragility of South Africa’s democracy. The national response to Mrwetyana’s death pointed to a subversion of South Africa’s contradictory narrative of hope. It revealed the social paradox embedded within South Africa’s democratic nationhood, as embodied by the oversight and denial of gender-based violence at a national level. This article examines how South Africa’s transitional narrative of hope overshadowed the ubiquitous problem of GBV and distorted public perceptions of the problem. It highlights the need for an inclusive and accountable narrative that addresses the root problem of gender-based violence.


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Author Biographies

Robyn Murning, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands

Robyn Murning (MA) holds a BA in History and English Language & Literature from the University of Cape Town and an MA in History from Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is a research associate of the Center for Historical Culture at Erasmus University Rotterdam and a lecturer in the History Department.

Robbert-Jan Adriaansen, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands

Dr. Robbert-Jan Adriaansen is assistant professor in the theory of history and historical culture at Erasmus University Rotterdam and executive director of the Center for Historical Culture.




How to Cite

Murning, R., & Adriaansen, R.-J. (2023). Paradoxical legacies and unattainable futures: South Africa’s national self-narrative and the haunting of gender-based violence in the post-transitional era. Southern Journal for Contemporary History, 48(2), 113–139.