South African’s favourite Afrikaans soapie has been trending on social media for including gender-based violence (GBV) in its storyline.
Women in South Africa live in one of the most dangerous countries in the world. In 2019 the World Health Organisation estimated that 12.1 in every 100 000 women are victims of femicide in South Africa each year, which is five times worse than the global average of 2.6 for every 100 000.
This was highlighted over the national lockdown when women made a record number of calls to the GBV Command Centre.
President Cyril Ramaphosa also has spoken out in his national address in mid-June. He condemned femicide and the killing of children, noting that South African women fought two pandemics: COVID-19 and GBV.
The scourge of violence against women and children has reached into every facet of life so it was a natural move for a television show to reflect the reality of its viewers.
In this 7de Laan storyline, the characters, Andre (played by Marcus Muller) and Mariaan (Deidre Wolhuter) are in a relationship. However, as soon as they move in together things unravel.
Andre starts to emotionally abuse Mariaan, which she overlooks at first.
Andre plays a hotshot lawyer who fights for the rights of abused women and children. At a very young age, Andre killed his father in self-defense because he was very abusive towards him and his mother. His past starts to haunt him and he takes out his frustrations on Mariaan.
Mariaan confides in her friend Erika that Andre has slapped her. Her friend offers her accommodation for a few days but Andre begs Mariaan to come back “home” and promises that things will change.
Unfortunately, that was not the case and, after moving back, the violence increases. In the story, and in common with many victims of GBV, Mariaan does not report the sexual assault.
The most recent episode of 7de Laan last week saw the two driving to an airport in Johannesburg to take an overseas trip but they never reach their destination.
Andre instead takes a detour on back roads, emotionally abuses Mariaan and accuses her of cheating. He then physically attacks her and she ends up trapped in the boot of his car.
Eventually Errol (played by Christo Davis) tracks down Mariaan and manages to bring her safely home.
This is not the first time the Afrikaans soap has highlighted GBV in its storyline. In 2016 Errol had a girlfriend who abused him emotionally and physically but he was too scared to report it.
The talented Wolhuter told All4women that viewers are both engaged and distressed by this storyline.
“Women who have had experience of abuse say that whilst the storyline has triggered memories and feelings of that which they survived, they acknowledge the need to highlight the reality and the nuances of GBV and they state their support for what we are doing,” Wolhuter was quoted as saying.
“A few cases make the headlines and we respond in outrage, sorrow, with hashtags and protest marched. However, that doesn’t change the daily reality of countless of women where violence and fear is their most constant companion.”
Twitter users also weighed in to congratulate the show for reflecting real live, and teaching valuable lessons.