The national fight against gender-based violence lacks the sufficient political will to succeed, says Rape Crisis Centre director Kathleen Dey.
"We've never had a leader in government who feels strong enough to take this matter forward to champion the issues and ensure the correct legislation is formed to protect and empower the victims of rape," Dey told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday.
Dey's comments came on the same day as Jonathan Davids and Johannes Kana appeared in the Bredasdorp Magistrate's Court in connection with the brutal gang-rape and killing of seventeen-year-old Anene Booysen. Booysen was raped and disemboweled on February 2, after visiting a club in the Bredasdorp area. Davids and Kana were remanded in custody as the case was postponed to February 26 for bail applications.
Women, Children and People with Disabilities Minister Lulama Xingwana said in court that tough sentences could be a deterrent to criminals that abused and killed women and children.
"We are saying to the courts today there must be no bail, they must be punished," she said.
Xingwana's call is just one comment in a massive public outcry against the incident.
It has also seen politicians from across the political spectrum become vocal about the high instances of rape and gender-based violence in South Africa.
"What we need to start with is the knowledge that any person who rapes must know that they will be reported, that they will be tried, and that they will be convicted," Western Cape premier and Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said at an anti-rape protest outside parliament on Tuesday.
But Dey said the response from politicians is akin to lip service and rhetoric needs to be replaced by steadfast action.
"On the one hand I have been moved by the outcry and the public support that has come with it," she said. "But I am shocked at how politicians have now only started coming to the table and asking the tough questions and calling for action. Why only now?"
Since the attack on Booysen, the M&G has been unable to ascertain what government's overall approach is to the issue or how much money has been committed to take the fight forward.
In spite of extensive enquires, several government departments ranging from Finance and Social Development to Justice and Women & Children were unable to identify what exactly the state's strategy was to deal with sexual violence.
Dey argued that legislation needs to be formulated that will streamline the process of reporting sexual violence and increase convictions.
A scourge of violence
"There are no overnight cures to the scourge of rape that is affecting South Africa. We have the highest instance of rape in the world and we cannot continue in this way," she added.
According to statistics every 17 seconds a woman is raped in South Africa while it is also estimated that only 1 in 9 adult women report being raped and that only 14% of perpetrators of rape are convicted.
Dey added that legislation must ensure adequate financial support and the correct funding models are followed in the fight against gender-based violence.
The financial sustainability of non-governmental organisations like Rape Crisis are currently under threat. In August last year the Mail & Guardian reported that civil society services for rape survivors are being forced to scale back due to funding issues.
Rape Crisis even served retrenchment notices on all of its staff – barring Dey – in July last year due to financial constraints.
Although their financial situation has improved, the center is operating in "tough times", according to Dey.
A centre in crisis
For 36 years, Rape Crisis has been the first number to call for many Capetonians who have experienced sexual assault. Their team of 16 employees and 80 volunteers has provided both practical and emotional support to rape survivors, stepping in to fill the gap left when government resources fall short.
But as of the beginning of July, a lack of funding has meant that retrenchment notices were served from the board of trustees to the organisation's entire staff, with the exception of director Kathleen Dey.
Dey was putting a brave face on things to the Daily Maverick on Monday. "Our services have always been largely volunteer-staffed, and the quality of our volunteers compares favourably with professionals in many cases," she explained. "It's the support and co-ordination of their efforts that we are going to have to figure out.
"At the moment government and the private sector underestimate the cost of prosecution when it comes to instances of rape. There must be a concerted effort to ensure we have the necessary funds made available to continue this fight," she said.
Dey also made an impassioned plea to president Jacob Zuma to address the issues surrounding rape and gender-based violence in his State of the Nation Address this Thursday.
"It will become an invisible issue if we don't keep up the momentum that has been created. I would at the very least expect him to say something about it and lead the nation on this issue."