Platitudes and short-term plans

Outrage: President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the thousands of people who gathered outside Parliament yesterday in protest against violence, in particular assaults upon women and children. (Brenton Geach)

Outrage: President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the thousands of people who gathered outside Parliament yesterday in protest against violence, in particular assaults upon women and children. (Brenton Geach)


Slogans, speeches, tweets, marches and summits. Government has done a lot to be seen to be doing something about the assault on women.But a woman is still killed by a man every three hours, every single day.

The women who marched to the Union Buildings in August last year — to hand over 24 demands for action on gender-based violence — say they are fed up with the lack of progress. This is despite a draft plan for dealing with femicide being released last month.

On Wednesday, students and other people gathered outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, where the World Economic Forum on Africa was being held, and then gathered outside Parliament.
Police vehicles used water cannons and officers in riot gear to keep protesters off the freeway.

Yesterday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation, saying that the government will bring harsher penalties and that all gender-based violence cases that had been closed would be reviewed.

He also announced various other measures to be taken by government in the coming year.

These include the opening of 11 new sexual offences courts in this financial year and the overhauling of the national register of gender-based violence offenders.

Ramaphosa said he would ask Parliament to consider amending legislation to make the register publicly accessible.

Yesterday afternoon he told protesters outside Parliament that the government would advocate changing laws so that “once you have raped and you have killed a woman you get life — and life must mean life”.

Parliament would also debate implementing emergency measures to tackle gender-based violence and femicide.

This is the first time concrete measures have been communicated. They are, however, short-term

measures. Experts and activists who the Mail & Guardian spoke to agreed that long-term solutions are critical.

Nthabiseng Moleko, a development economist at the University of Stellenbosch Business School and a commissioner on the Commission for Gender Equality, said the level of gender-based violence in South Africa is higher than those in war-torn regions.

“It is almost as though South Africa is at war within itself. The statistics point towards a government and society crippled by an inability to protect women and — especially concerning — children. We clearly need to develop more than just reactive slogans and media responses to the incidence of such systemic violations and tragedies.”

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Armed Conflict Survey in 2017, South Africa’s murder rate is on par with countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq.

The Global Peace Index 2018 ranks 163 countries in terms of their levels of peacefulness. South Africa is ranked 125th, in the same category as the Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Chad. It is the level of violence in South Africa that places the country near the bottom of the rankings.

After the news of the rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a University of Cape Town student, government departments flooded social media with more slogans and media responses. The official government Twitter account offered its “deepest condolences” — a line that was taken up by others. Another tweet, calling on women “to speak out and not allow themselves to become victims by keeping quiet”, came in for heavy criticism for being callous and victim-blaming.

The M&G sent questions to the police ministry and the minister for women, youth and persons with disabilities, asking how the violence can be combatted without adequate gender-based data and whether the departments believe there is a war on women. The presidency was asked about the progress made on the list of 24 demands handed in at the Union Buildings by people marching under the #TotalShutdown banner, which gave rise to last year’s national summit against gender-based violence and femicide.

No one replied.

Last month, the first draft of the National Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Strategic Plan was released for public comment. The strategic plan is envisioned as a roadmap that will set out priorities and create an accountability mechanism for the performance of government, the private sector and civil organisations in addressing gender-based violence by 2030. It focuses on responses to gender-based violence and femicide, and addresses the “underlying joint drivers of violence” against women, children and gender diverse people.

#TotalShutdown spokesperson Lesley Ncube said: “Because women are dying right now. Children are dying right now. And this NSP [national strategic plan] project should have happened already and it is taking way too long. We need funding. We need things to be legislated to ensure that there are tangible steps right now.”

Gender equality commissioner Moleka said that because the plan had not been finalised it could not be budgeted for in the medium-term budget. “This is a big problem because the timing and the urgency that the department should have had in terms of crafting the plan has taken far too long.”

Nonhlanhla Skosana, the community education and mobilisation unit manager at Sonke Gender Justice, said the real concern about the plan is whether there will be funding to implement it. “We now have this nice, good plan, but then where do we get funding to make sure there are results. Because if the government doesn’t commit, if the private sector doesn’t commit, where are we going to get the money from?”

But in Ramaphosa’s address yesterday evening, he said he would ask the minister of finance to allocate more funding towards tackling gender-based violence.

Moleka added that even without the funding readily available right now there can be immediate steps taken such as making sure that sexual crime courts are capacitated especially for long-standing cases.

“The prosecuting authority and the South African Police Services; pressure must be put on them to finalise cases, but also to expedite sexual offences and gender-based violence related matters. There are long-standing cases where people don’t even know where they are. I think those are the two things that they can do to alleviate the situation so that citizens and women don’t feel like they’re just being ignored,” Moleka said.

She added that it would be essential to establish indicators to monitor progress and to evaluate whether programmes were effective. This would require data on gender-related indices to be collected in the same way that Statistics South Africa collects data on matters such as the unemployment rate and macroeconomic indices on gross domestic product growth.

Ramaphosa addressed some of these concerns. But the people the M&G spoke to were clear that, without a long-term plan, supported by funding and detailed data, South Africa will remain a country where women are objectified, groped, raped and murdered.

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.
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    • Athandiwe Saba

      Athandiwe Saba

      Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.
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