The number of women who have committed violent crime globally, is very small in relation to male perpetrators. Women are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators. But when women kill their husbands, they are considered to either be highly traumatised which leads them to murder their partner to find a way out of a living hell, or they are psychologically unstable.
Compiled by Kotie Geldenhuys
The crime rate for women as perpetrators in South Africa is low and according to the 2018/2019 Annual Report of the Department of Correction Services, of the total inmate population of 162 875, just more than 4300 were women, some of whom were incarcerated for mariticide.
According to the Collins Dictionary, mariticide is derived from the Latin word “maritus” which is “married” and “cide: from “caedere” which means “to cut, to kill”. Mariticide literally means the murder of one’s spouse, but has become most associated with the murder of a husband by his wife (Collins Dictionary, 2012).
The name of Daisy de Melker is one of the first that comes to mind when mariticide is discussed. She was a trained nurse who poisoned two of her husbands with strychnine during the early 1900s to benefit from their life insurance money. Thereafter, many more women murdered their husbands to get their hands on money. Najwa Petersen, the wife of musician Taliep Petersen, was involved in the murder of her husband in December 2006. Her motives seemed to have been jealousy, fear of rejection or an attempt to secure her own financial position. Najwa was sentenced to 28 years’ incarceration (refer to the Crime Series published in Servamus: December 2013). Another woman with deadly motives was Mulalo Sivhidzo from Northriding in Gauteng, who ordered the murder of her husband, Avhatakali Netshisaulu in December 2006 as she wanted to inherit from him. In February 2011, she was sentenced to life incarceration for the murder of her husband (refer to the Crime Series published in Servamus: September 2019). Fransisco Paulo Ferreira was yet another man who died at the hands of his wife for money. He was stabbed to death in his home by three men in February 2014 after his wife Hazel had ordered his murder to prevent him from finding out that she had stolen his savings. Hazel Ferreira was sentenced to life behind bars (De Lange, 2016). Female murderers like Hazel, Mulalo and Najwa are nicknamed after the black widow spider, who consumes her mate after conceiving. Similarly, the killing black widow typically murders her spouse or lover. These women are described as gold diggers, masterminds, and they are arrogant and callous.
Although women murder their husbands for financial reasons or out of jealousy, there are those who are convicted of murder or manslaughter of a male partner where there is a history of domestic violence. For the purpose of our article, our focus will be on those women who stay alive by murdering their abusive partners. Some of these women are serving lengthy sentences of incarceration because they took the lives of their abusive, violent partners in self-defence.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find accurate information on how many women have been incarcerated for this reason. There is also limited academic research into women who murder their abusive partners.
Domestic violence is common all over the world and in the majority of these cases, husbands tend to be the culprits and women the traumatised victims. In South Africa, crime statistics for domestic violence and femicide are high with numerous examples of women who had lost their lives at the hands of their partners, such as Karabo Mokoena. Cases where abused women murdered their abusive partners are not that common. International research how-ever, illustrates that the majority of women who murder their intimate male partners are victims of domestic violence. They act in what they perceive as self-defence or out of total hopelessness, by murdering their intimate male partners to end the spate of abuse (Pizarro, DeJong and McGarrell, 2010). Often, the abused women hope that the abuse will end and that the offender will change, but when this does not happen, murder becomes the result of lost hope (Hesselink and Dastile, 2015).
Ending the abuse
Fifty-seven-year-old Martha Libuseng Marumo regarded murder as the only option to end the abuse she suffered. She is serving a life sentence at Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Centre in Pretoria for murdering her abusive husband, Clitus Marumo, in 2003. During a two-day national summit against gender-based violence and femicide which was held in Pretoria, Martha told activists that her husband was abusive and that he refused to use a condom when they had intercourse. "He was sleeping with different women, using his car as a bedroom," she said. When she turned to her husband's family for help, they turned their back on her and his uncle even threatened her. Desperate for help, she sought assistance from the police and a counselling organisation for the abuse she was suffering, but they did nothing to help her. For her, her only option was to kill her husband which was why she contracted three men to shoot him (Fengu, 2018).
Another woman who faced abuse at the hands of her husband and decided that enough was enough was Ruby Marais from Stilbaai, who also ordered the death of her husband, Basie. During her trial, she painted a less than flattering picture of her husband, the ill-tempered man to whom she had been married for almost two decades. She raised the defence that she was a battered woman who had been suffering abuse at Basie’s hands for many years. The court heard that Basie was an abusive husband who frequented brothels and who relished terrorising her. Some of her claims were that he physically abused her by kicking, hitting and throttling her, that he abused her emotionally by shouting at her in public, that he threatened to kill her daughter, that he had extramarital affairs and encounters with prostitutes, that he raped her regularly, that he threatened her with weapons and knives and that he would sometimes kick her dogs or throw them against a wall. The night before he died, she had to sleep on her haunches on a cement floor. She was terrified of him. “He was very unpredictable, very bombastic. The physical violence started in 1990,” she told the court. She noted that her husband’s affairs had started early in their marriage and his regular visits to brothels were reflected on their bank statements. “I often confronted him, and would then be assaulted,” she said.