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Fighting for justice, with Yolandi Van Der Watt

Imagine you are a divorce attorney, who once represented a client caught in an abusive marriage. One day, you are with your father and your client, when her now ex-husband turns up on the scene. An argument breaks out and the man starts shooting. He kills his ex-wife and your father and injures you before turning the gun on himself.

This was the reality for Durban-based attorney Yolandi Van Der Watt. She survived two gunshots, one that went through the back of her head leaving her temporarily paralyzed and one through her neck. The neurosurgeons and vascular surgeons did not believe that she would survive the ordeal. But Yolandi pulled through. The mother of two young girls now says that she didn’t have time to feel sorry for herself or even to dwell on the fact that her dad had been killed trying to protect her. She says that she focused on recovering because of her daughters, who were aged seven months and two and half years at the time. Yolandi only saw them after three months. For a while, she refused to let them see her in such a poor state.

“The doctors told my husband that I would be a blind paraplegic. Five minutes later, the doctor shone a torch into my eyes and I asked him to switch off the light. When the swelling went down, they changed the prognosis to my having limited movement in my upper body and arms.”

Her recovery is considered somewhat of a miracle to the medical community that helped her get back on her feet again. Yolandi had to relearn all her fine motor skills, as well as how to read and write again. She still finds it difficult to gauge the distance between the floor and her feet when she walks. Her right peripheral vision is impaired but she is regaining her sense of touch as her nerves slowly regrow.

Despite suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Yolandi still practices as a lawyer. She handles pro bono divorces and cases of domestic violence.

Yolandi deplores the fact that people have such easy access to guns in South Africa. Another issue is that it is difficult to enforce protection orders. She hopes that her ordeal will help to raise awareness and eventually lead to stricter enforcement and the removal of loopholes.

Her client was in possession of a protection order, but the police did not adequately protect her, as is the case for so many women in South Africa. Thus, protection orders have just become pieces of paper.

The South African justice system does not serve to protect women at any level.

The South African comedian Trevor Noah also highlights this issue in his book. He explains that his mother Patricia was shot in the back of her head by his step-father after years of brutal abuse, which the police blatantly disregarded. The perpetrator was convicted of attempted murder, but served only a probation sentence and was able to return to “normal” life.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign was one of the occasions to point out once again that real and effective justice not only has to be talked about but actually put into practice. Abused women should not suffer an additional burden because of a broken justice system. People such as Yolandi, have made it their life’s purpose to challenge the system so that women finally get the protection that they deserve.

Author: Sarona Wolter

Editor: Anne Thomas


See also:

A story of violence: 16 objects from real cases of abuse

From 25 November to 10 December, the world observes the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. As the world observes the #16Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, United Nations Population Fund features 16 objects from real cases of abuse.




Bunny Tail vs Superwoman

Time to hang up that Bunny suit … and bring out your Superwoman costume. About eight years ago in South Africa, I started my own magazine. It was born out of the idea that mainstream publications did not represent the real beauty of the people who surrounded me. I had subscribed to Cosmopolitan magazine since I was 16 and had read the issues cover to cover. I scanned the percentage of advertising in each issue and deconstructed the content, themes and styles until I got bored by the predictability.

GirlHype – Empowering women and girls in South Africa

Amidst the grandeur of Cape Town, SA’s main tourist hotspot, lies the informal township of Khayelitsha. In stark contrast to the affluent neighboring towns in Cape Town, many people are afraid to venture here and few believe that any good can come from this community. However Baratang Miya, a self-taught software developer and the founder of the non-profit organization GirlHype, believes otherwise. Through her organization, she aims to empower women and girls with technology and entrepreneurship. She delights in finding “wealth” in a community such as Khayelitsha.



11.12.2017 | 12:33