Dear Minister Lulu Xingwana,
Well done on the call for the harshest possible sentences to be imposed on those who abuse women. This is way overdue. Although many people are discouraged with government campaigns that don’t seem to produce much, hopefully your call will not fall on deaf ears.
The seasonal nature of the way we focus on this problem is what is making many people lose hope that these campaigns will ever be effective.
Why is this call for the harshest possible sentences, for example, only now being placed on the agenda? Is there a process beyond the campaign to make it actually come to pass? Is there, maybe, a Cabinet memorandum that proposes a raft of measures that can begin to stem the tide of women abuse?
You have addressed a call to Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe, but what is the Department of Justice concretely going to do to heed your call? And what is your department, the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, doing to put in place measures that encourage communities to combat this rampant violence and abuse while waiting for yet another law going through the parliamentary motions?
One of the most serious issues facing our country is the horrendous issue of rape. The country has been disgusted by the rapes of infants and elderly people, highlighting the rampant breakdown of the moral fibre of our society. A department that is dedicated to women should make this a huge campaign that will call on women, young and old, to fight against rape both in the home and outside. The painful non-reporting of rape is shocking. Some women wait for years before they have the courage to report a rapist because the justice system is not structured to handle rape reportage. Many police, even female police, are flippant in the manner they handle rape victims. This is where you need to pressure your colleague in the Department of Justice to get his act together.
To make matters worse, our society still frowns on those who report rape within the home between married or live-in partners. We need educational interventions from your department, to change that mentality. People often get raped by people they know well and it often becomes and embarrassment to report them, because families and society are judgemental and will ask the question of what the role of the victim was. So I was quite heartened to learn what you said in Rustenburg over the weekend: that the matter can no longer merely be left for families to resolve.
Similarly, high profile rape cases are no longer coming to the surface because some of the culprits are highly powerful men who could make their victims disappear and their lives miserable. In your speech to launch the 16 Days Against Gender Violence campaign, you make clear your commitment to combat all manner of abuse. But there is also the matter of business and political leaders who are wife beaters. They still sit alongside you in the various political structures and, painfully, some of the victims are high-profile women in our political and business circles. Some female political leaders and senior civil servants are carrying embarrassing wounds where their husbands are beating them up as we speak.
Minister, we can’t turn a blind eye to this, difficult as it is. If these luminaries do not speak out about their abuse, what chance in the world is there for younger women who are being abused in their homes to come out, so that there is a message that goes out to abusers that society can no longer tolerate their conduct? Clearly if we don’t do something drastic the slogan “peace in the home” will ring hollow for many women in our country.
Given that this is an umpteenth time that we are running this campaign, it is clear that there is a need to do something a lot more radical than call for more stringent sentences to stem the rising tide of abuse. Abusers need to be removed from society urgently and need not be given the space to repeat their abuse.
There are people who are frustrated with your ministry and the fact that there seems to be nothing earth shattering that is on the table at the moment to reverse these trends. The relationship of your department and the National Youth Development Agency and its collaboration with the Gender Commission also has to be improved considerably. Your guidance of these structures is key, given your gravitas and role in the struggle for our liberation.
Surely there should be more campaigns, throughout the year, focusing on the plight of young women? Seeing you marching with young people in Rustenburg the other day, was moving and symbolic, but must be translated into visible action to protect these children and ensure that concrete measures to do so are in the country’s national plan when it comes to this thorny issue of rape and general abuse of children.
Given that you are the second minister of women, children and people with disabilities since the Zuma administration came to power, there are many eyes on you, especially following the failure of your predecessor to crack the portfolio, resulting in her dismissal by President Zuma. On that note, congratulations on appointing a competent communicator in Cornelius Monama, who has cut his teeth in development communications over many years. I hope you realise that half of your job is to communicate with women and children about their rights and create mechanisms for you to listen to their challenges. If this is done effectively, it will go a long way to ensuring the kind of awareness in our communities necessary to combat violence. Breaking of the silence of victims is the number one challenge we must crack. Such silence distorts the statistics that are now being used to plan for the combating of this scourge.
On another note altogether, it must frustrate you when the ANC Women’s League issues statements such as the one it recently issued declaring that South Africa is not ready for a woman president. Your department has to implement programmes that teach our girl children a sense of equality not subservience. This way they can negotiate their way in relationships and learn how to extricate themselves from chauvinistic situations. Thankfully, the ANC position is that of “50/ 50” equality between the genders. The sentiment of the ANC Women’s League is a clear betrayal of this policy position and hopefully will not find resonance in the policy deliberations at the Mangaung conference. You and many of your female ministerial colleagues, methinks, are quite capable of rising to the very top of the ANC. One such colleague has recently been elevated to the helm of the African Union, clearly in contradiction of this non-progressive sentiment by the ANC Women’s League.
So, as you criss-cross the country towards the international day for women’s rights in December, please reflect on these issues. Your portfolio is simply too important to be left only in the hands of government bureaucrats who are still figuring out the red tape. The mobilisation of stakeholders is going to be a significant key to success. There is already so much being done out there by civil society that your support of initiatives such as People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa) will increase the chance of our collective impact to stamp out the abuse of, and violence against, our society’s most vulnerable members.
Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM
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