How do you know the government really cares about an issue? It puts money behind its decisions.
Since South Africa locked the country down to tackle Covid-19, we have conducted nearly 3.6-million tests. An entire new system for testing had to be built. On any given day, as many as 30 000 tests are being done.
Contrast this with our lead story this week. Our laboratories are sitting on a backlog of more than 30 000 DNA specimens. These are all needed to prosecute people for rape and other gender-based attacks. The government blames contracts and all sorts of administrative problems for the failure to clear this backlog.
As we report, as a result, a mother has to live down the street from the family of the man who raped her five-year-old daughter. In the Eastern Cape, the family of Aviwe Wellem have to live without any closure, unsure of who raped and killed the 21-year-old a year ago.
Her aunt tells us: “The police can’t tell us anything about the case because they can’t get the DNA results either. It’s a year now and I can’t understand why this is not a priority.”
This means that thousands of gender-based violence cases will not progress. Thousands of men who are rapists and murderers will continue walking in our streets because DNA results are still not available.
Every woman and child is affected by this.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa used his address to the nation on Covid to talk about gender-based violence as another pandemic, he set a verbal marker of intent. He did the same after the rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana last year.
But when you look at these basic failures in something as mechanical — and therefore easy to solve — as testing, you get an insight into how little our system really takes violence against women seriously.
We have come through yet another month ostensibly dedicated to women. Another month of speeches and promises.
Ramaphosa and his colleague Bheki Cele speak at podiums about action that needs to be taken, yet the basic tools needed to put murderers and rapists behind bars have not been given to the justice system.
Mothers want answers as to why their daughters were found butchered in bushes. Toddlers are scarred for life because men violated them. Women cannot walk at night fearing being raped and murdered while nobody ever gets closure.
What chance do we have of tackling the deeper psychological and societal problems that drive violence against women if we cannot even do the basics?
Covid has shown what we can achieve if we really want to.