Femicide: What turns a husband or lover into a killer?

SA's rate of what is known as 'intimate femicide' is five times the global average


When Rob Packham stepped into the dock this week, charged with killing his wife, Gill, he joined an unholy alliance of men across the country.
The 57-year-old Cape Town businessman is one of at least five men on trial countrywide for the murder of their partners - and those are just the ones in the public eye because of their wealth and status.
According to studies by the South African Medical Research Council, a woman is murdered every four hours, and half of the victims are killed by their partners.The umbrella term for these murders is "intimate femicide", and South Africa's rate is five times the global average.
Amid the high-profile cases, Dr Malose Langa, an expert in community psychology and the study of masculinities, said it was important to analyse how we "critically interrogate" what is "scripted" for black men from poorer communities and white men from middle-class communities in the minds of the public.
When details emerge from cases that involve white men, "scripts that tell us black men are the perpetrators of gender-based violence become disrupted".
Langa said cases involving white men were often seen as being out of the norm, so observers began looking for unusual details to explain their behaviour.
As a result, their trials - like those of Oscar Pistorius and Jason Rohde - saw psychologists being called as expert witnesses to propose "pathologies" explaining why a wealthy man who was in charge and in control might have killed his wife or partner.
This often "does not happen in cases of black men, where violence tends to be seen as the norm" in poor, working-class contexts. With everything else stripped away, though, the perpetrators' maleness was at the heart of their actions, said Langa."Masculinity develops in context. Race, class and age are taken into account when explaining masculinities, but the basic principle remains the same: being male means you get patriarchal dividends.
"Regardless of whether you are rich or poor, there are benefits you get on the basis of your gender as a male."
Criminologist Dr Andrew Faull said South Africans had long used violence to "solve interpersonal conflict, discipline the disempowered and pursue personal justice". This included everyday social interactions between intimate partners, parents and children, teachers and pupils, and friends.
The persistence of violent conduct was, in part, a product of inequalities, including those of status and income which have historically privileged men over women.
"While most violence is perpetrated by men against men, when it is directed at women it is very often by a man who is close to the victim, such as a lover, partner or husband. It is therefore common, both in South Africa and elsewhere, for police to look to such men when a woman is assaulted or murdered," he said.
Another issue raised by Langa about the murder trials of wealthy men, usually white, was that of multiple partners. Packham's sex life has been under the microscope in the media this week.
According to Langa, multiple partners were traditionally associated with black men. Claims such as those that emerged this week about Packham - that he had received therapy for a sex addiction and that his penchant for "handcuffs and whips" had reportedly placed his marriage under strain - disrupted "the script" of white masculinities as "pure, clean, loyal and monogamous".
Wynberg magistrate Goolam Bawa released Packham on bail of R50,000 on Friday and said he would be under house arrest at his Constantia home. The body of Packham's wife, Gill, a secretary at Springfield Convent School in Wynberg, was found in the boot of her burnt-out BMW behind Diep River railway station.
As his lawyer, Ben Mathewson, read an affidavit explaining that his daughters needed him after losing their mother and that after losing his wife he equally needed his daughters, Packham started sobbing.
Both daughters were in court. He said the elder was 27 and lived in the UK where she was a teacher and was engaged to be married. The younger is 25 and recently graduated from Stellenbosch University.
Packham did not look at his daughters as he left the courtroom, but after paying his bail he walked down the steps hand-in-hand with them.THE ROLL OF SHAME
Sandile Mantsoe
The foreign-exchange trader, a married father of three, will appear in a Johannesburg court tomorrow charged with murdering his 22-year-old girlfriend, Karabo Mokoena, in April last year. Mokoena’s charred remains were found in a shallow ditch in Lyndhurst.
Rameez Patel
The wealthy Polokwane businessman is on trial for the murder of his wife, Fatima, in 2015. Fatima’s uncle Farook Choonara, of Laudium in Gauteng, said there were rumours that Patel was having an affair with a married woman and that Fatima confronted the mistress and her husband.
Christopher Panayiotou
The Port Elizabeth businessman was sentenced to life for engaging a contract killer to murder his wife, Jayde, in 2015. Panayiotou showered his mistress with gifts but it emerged during his trial that he had severe financial problems. His lawyer, Alwyn Griebenow, said in December that he had applied for leave to appeal against his conviction.
Jason Rohde
The multimillionaire stands accused of killing his wife, Susan, in 2016 amid an affair with a younger woman, estate agent Jolene Alterskye. Rohde, whose trial resumes in the High Court in Cape Town on Wednesday, claims she committed suicide.George Barkhuizen
The Johannesburg businessman is accused of murdering his wife, Odette, in 2015. According to the indictment he obtained life insurance policies for her valued at R7.5 million. His trial continues in the High Court in Johannesburg in July.
Tshimologo Huma
The 38-year-old businessman and IT engineer was convicted in 2016 of murdering his pregnant wife, Carla‚ 32, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Huma stabbed Carla to death in Cosmo City‚ Johannesburg. He pleaded not guilty and said his wife provoked him when she spat in his face.
“The murder [of a wife] is not an unintended result of violence that went too far, as most of these murders are well planned. Furthermore, wife murder cannot be understood in terms of loss of control or local insanity. It is rather a deliberate act, which is the result of emotional ripeness that created mental readiness for committing the murder as an act of profound despair that is ready to destroy the other even if this means destroying oneself.” —Israeli philosopher Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, co-author of In the Name of Love

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