The declaration finalised during the two-day national summit against gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide has been adopted, but not yet signed. However, Social Development Minister Susan Shabangu says failure is not an option.
Shabangu was speaking at a media briefing on Friday at the Saint George’s hotel in Pretoria, following a summit attended by more than 1 200 delegates and 400 organisations from across the country and from all walks of life.
“The summit has adopted the declaration,” said Shabangu. “We are satisfied that this is a binding document.
“As government we are committed. The government will be committing resources to make sure the mechanism [of an interim structure] is viable.”
The summit resolved “to work collaboratively towards the eradication of gender-based violence and femicide,” and committed to 16 action points which include: getting political community support to champion the cause of eradicating GBV and femicide, the immediate establishment of an interim structure which, the summit hopes, will become a multi-stakeholder council.
The summit also committed itself to the development of a national strategic plan on GBV within the next six months and it promised to fast-track all outstanding laws and bills that relate to GBV and femicide, including the decriminalisation of sex work.
When asked what would happen if government and civil society do not meet the six-month deadline for the national development plan, Shabangu said that as mothers first, then ministers, the issue of GBV was so critical, that government “has not budgeted for failure”.
The importance of this summit and the accountability of civil society organisations and government in implementing the declaration was expressed by Brenda Madumise from the #TotalShutdown movement when she said: “We want to face South African women and tell them that this document is going to be a reality.
“If we have taken a decision at this summit, like the interim structure, it will become permanent. This is a crisis, we cannot wait six months before we implement anything.”
Civil society has promised to hold government and itself accountable in implementing the document. “When we feel that things are not happening as they should, we will push and agitate until there is change,” Madumise said.
As the summit drew to a close, the mood of the delegates seemed triumphant as they sang igama lamakhosikazi malibongwe and chanted “Run, rapists, run”. But tension soon filled the room when a young woman took to the podium to apologise for her actions.
On Thursday survivor Phindile Ncube showed the scars from five surgeries after she was kidnapped and gang raped by eight men in a house in Tembisa. She expressed her anguish that her attackers continued to walk freely in the streets after serving only four years in prison.
Although her story was captured on live television, the images were blurred and her identity hidden but the apologising delegate photographed Ncube, and placed the image on social media.
The photo trended on social media where people left disparaging comments, sexualising the image of her lifting her black dress to show her scars.
The person who took the photo came onto stage to apologise but was whisked away by minister for women in the presidency, Bathabile Dlamini, when the crowd from the #TotalShutdown movement started shouting at her and accusing her of revictimising Ncube.
Ncube herself ran to stage crying “hai mina (not me)”.
People Opposing Women Abuse board member, author and media personality Rosie Motene raised an issue with how Dlamini handled the apology.
“The woman [Ncube] was body shamed. The woman who took the photo was protected by government, you saw Bathabile [Dlamini] pulling her out. Bathabile is always protecting perpetrators. The president needs to make changes.
“The first change needs to be a shift in terms of who is going to be heading up our leadership and understand that it’s not a campaign, it’s a crisis,” Motene told the Mail & Guardian.
Another delegate – South African National AIDS Council deputy chairperson, Access Chapter 2 founder and LGBTI activist Steve Letsike — told the M&G that although a march and summit highlighted the scourge of GBV, more has to be done to “revitalise the prioritisation of gender-based violence and femicide.”
Letsike emphasised that the conversation around GBV could not happen without taking note of hate crimes, socio-economic issues, social and health burdens.
The summit came as a result of the #TotalShutdown marches across the country in August. At the Pretoria march, members of the movement delivered 24 demands to President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Union Buildings. The biggest demand was that a summit be held which Ramaphosa committed to.
In his keynote address on Thursday, Ramaphosa noted statistics that indicate just how dire the GBV and femicide situations are in South Africa.
According to The World Health Organisation, South Africa’s femicide rate, in 2016, was 12.1 per 100 000. This is almost five times higher than the global average of 2.6 per 100 000.
Statistics SA has also reported that 138 per 100 000 women were raped in 2017, also the highest rate in the world.
Many activists believe the number to be much higher with a large percentage of rapes going unreported.
Ramaphosa also promised to increase government spend at government-funded Thuthuzela Care Centres.
According to the Surviving Sexual Assault & Gender Based Violence website, Thuthuzela Care Centres are “one-stop facilities that have been introduced as a critical part of South Africa’s anti-rape strategy, aiming to reduce secondary victimisation and to build a case ready for successful prosecution.”
Since 2006, 51 of these centres have been established and they operate under the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs unit of the National Prosecuting Authority.
Ramaphosa described the centres as one of governments “more effective interventions” that requires “concrete proposals” on how to run the centres.
“We cannot, and we will not, rest until we have brought those figures down to zero. We are aiming for a femicide rate of zero per 100 000. We want to reach a point where no woman, child or man has to experience the violence, violation and trauma of rape. There is no acceptable level of gender-based violence. We want to eradicate it,” Ramaphosa said.