A serious and pragmatic conversation about femicide and violence against women and children is being held after the murder of University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana.
Women have been encouraged to speak about their stories on public platforms and political parties have written statements calling on government to act swiftly against gender-based violence.
But, there are crucial questions that we gender and political activists feel are being ignored. How are political parties dealing internally with issues of gender-based violence? What policies and mechanisms are in place?
It is all well and good for political parties to boast about policies in their manifestos on how to deal with sexual violence against women once they are in government. And the ruling party is failing to implement these policies.
If political parties are committed to dealing with the high rate at which women, children and other vulnerable members of society are dying every day at the hands of men, what are they doing to eliminate these predators not only from their parties but also from the streets?
It is unjust for a party to allow men who have been accused and charged with sexual violence to hold positions of leadership. Worse still are parties that allow an environment that discourages women from speaking out against offenders.
The political arm of our democracy is inefficient and lacks a sense of urgency in combating femicide and gender-based violence.
We need to re-evaluate some of the rights enshrined in the Constitution.
It was drafted as a reaction to the apartheid regime, during whose rule saw numerous innocent black people convicted for crimes they did not commit. As a result, section 35, which protects the rights of accused persons, ensures that this dark period never repeats itself in a democratic South Africa.
But, women and children are abused and killed, so one must question section 35. It is no longer justifiable to use a broad application method for this section. Political parties, in their capacity as lawmakers in Parliament, need to formulate laws that the protect victims of gender-based violence and re-look at section 35, particularly its application to persons accused of violent crimes against women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people and those with disabilities.
The innocent until proven guilty narrative is ineffective and, in most cases, harmful to the victims and their families. While pushing for reform of internal disciplinary procedures of political parties, it is imperative that the Constitution and the law in general sings the same tune.
When Karabo Mokoena, Palesa Madiba, Mrwetyanaand Natasha Conabeer were murdered and raped, the country saw this as more of a societal ill than one that is also political. For decades we have learnt that the political is personal, and the personal is political, but this understanding is never applied when looking at cases of gender-based violence, femicide and sexual harassment.
Political parties’ inability to deal with these issues internally has a ripple effect on the laws, policies and motions that political parties advocate for and implement in Parliament.
Many women in political organisations have come out to “name and shame” their perpetrators, only to be lambasted, ostracised and disappointed by the internal processes of their parties, because there is already a justified internalised culture of suppression, abuse and victimisation that occurs at the cost of women’s mental, physical and psychological health.
Even with 50% representation in some political parties, women still face the challenge of self-actualising in an environment that practices gender inequality because of the gendered nature of power. If we are genuine about dealing with gender-based violence, femicide and sexual harassment in South Africa, we must begin with dealing with the patriarchal, abusive and sexist culture in political organisations.
Avela Mhlwazi is an LLB graduate, writer and researcher. Nwabisa Sigaba is completing her master’s and Busisiwe Seabe is a writer and is completing her master’s degree