South Africa

On the streets against gender-based violence

By Daily Maverick Legacy 20 March 2013

After the rape of Anene Booysen and other acts of violence outraged many South Africans, some organisations have publicly demonstrated their view that enough is enough. GREG NICOLSON & SHASHA MODIKE look at a few groups who have expressed their outrage and want to do something about violence against women.

Democratic Alliance

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Photo: The Democratic Alliance marched to Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg, against gender-based violence on 8 March, International Women’s Day.

8 March, International Women’s Day – The Democratic Alliance marked the day by leading a march to Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg, against rape. “We cannot pretend that everything is all right. It is not. We must face this issue, and defeat it,” national spokesman Mmusi Maimane told the crowd. “The women who suffer, our sisters, our daughters, our mothers, our grandmothers – will most likely be raped by someone known to them, from their community, perhaps even from their own street. These victims will be rich, poor, white, black, coloured, Indian. They will be in cities and in rural areas. They will be young and old. At the current rate, at least 50,000 other women will be raped by the end of
the year as well.”

Maimane continued: “We all know women – be they friends or family or acquaintances – who have been raped. Some of us also know rapists. We all know the hurt this tragedy causes. So let the message ring out from here today: Men of South Africa, take responsibility for yourselves and your family. Respect yourself enough to see the humanity in others. Respect the women in your life. Teach these values to the other men around you. Stand up; and stop rape now.”

The DA called on the National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities to fulfill their mandates and do more against gender-based violence. The party’s parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko says she wants public hearings across the South Africa “so that we can begin a national dialogue on the epidemic of sexual violence against women and children in our country.” The party has also pointed to the low conviction rates of rapists and lack of accountability of sexual abusers in the school system, saying that these must be improved to confront the epidemic.

African National Congress

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Photo: Brian Hlongwa, ANC chief whip in Gauteng, said he wants the demonstration to be the start of a long engagement process with other arms of the state to alleviate rape and domestic violence.

On Tuesday, male ANC members of the Gauteng legislature demonstrated outside the provincial legislature building before they were required to sit inside the chamber. Chief Whip of the ANC in Gauteng, Brian Hlongwa, said, “Our aim is to put faces of the legislature in front of this campaign. That is why we carried placards to the streets. It is again part of the international human rights ambition to embark on the condemnation abuse and rape of women and children. The agreement was that male members should picket on the streets of Joburg CBD.” He stressed that the picket was the start of a more comprehensive campaign involving different branches of government, the ANC-led alliance and the police.

Provincial spokesman Spokesperson Jacob Khawe said, “We simply cannot be a society derided worse than animals by an atrocious few monsters amongst us. Let all men in Gauteng take a stand and state categorically that this is not in our name, and we are committed to working together to rid our society of these scumbags.”

In February President Jacob Zuma launched an anti-rape campaign aimed at South Africa’s 10 million school children. “What we are launching today is not a women’s campaign. It is everybody’s campaign,” he said. “We have come together to say that these horrendous attacks must stop.” Justice Minister Jeff Radebe is expected next month to announce the steps to reintroduce sexual offences courts. Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana has called for harsher sentences for those guilty of gender-based violence and suggested curtailing gun ownership. Last month, Xingwana announced a turnaround strategy to eliminate the scourge, supporting other ANC initiatives and suggesting we “mobilise all members of the community to join this fight. When we know that someone is being abused in our own home or in our neighbour’s house, we have a duty to report it. We also have a duty to stand in court as witnesses to make sure that these abusers are prosecuted successfully.” Her department, however, has been criticised as an ineffective shambles.

The ANC Women’s League national executive committee recently commented on the issue. “Recent incidents have sparked national outrage and for the first time public sentiment around the issues of violence faced by women dominate the public discourse. It is clear that there are many issues that fuel violence in our society. However, as the ANCWL, we strongly feel that enough is enough,” read a statement. The ANCWL is hosting a series of events as part of a campaign beginning on Human Rights Day on 21 March and culminating on 27 April, Freedom Day.

Sonke Gender Justice Network

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Photo: The Sonke Gender Justice Network demonstrated in Johannesburg’s Park Station on International Women’s Day.

On International Women’s Day the non-profit working to promote gender equality took to Park Station, Johannesburg. Dozens of demonstrators carrying placards walked through the busy station, turning heads, with some onlookers taking pictures. It participated in the international Ring the Bell initiative, a symbolic gesture to remember those who didn’t survive gender-based violence, break the silence around the issue, and persuade government to allocate more resources to alleviating the crisis.

“Men can and must take concrete action to change the conditions that fuel violence against women. This means speaking out when they see or hear violence in their homes, on the streets, in taxis and in the workplace,” said Patrick Godana from Sonke. The organisation’s Aadielah Maker added, “We are calling on government to take decisive action by setting up a dedicated fund to address violence, and by establishing a national commission of inquiry to investigate why government laws, policies and programmes are not being adequately implemented. It is only with dedicated resources and definite action that we can turn the tide on gender-based violence.”

Congress of South African Trade Unions

Cosatu has consistently spoken out against gender-based violence, both mobilising against the problem and trying to lobby other parties to take action. “The violent nature of our society is of great concern… this is not only about rape, but the brutality and extreme violence that accompanies the crime,” said Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi after the death of Anene Booysen in February. On International Women’s Day the federation of trade unions issued a call to arms. “Let us hold informed debates about issues affecting us in the family and community. Does the South African state deal adequately with the scourge of violence against women? What are its root causes? How can it be prevented? How can we bring the perpetrators of violence to justice, eliminate impunity and give them the punishment they deserve? Working class women, raise your voices! Working class: unite to end violence against women! Let’s put policies into action! Enough is enough!” The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa tried to get the Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs to wear black armbands and dedicate their recent derby to fighting rape and gender-based violence.

Cosatu’s efforts, like that of many of the organisations mentioned, bar Sonke, seems to ebb and flow according to the level of public attention gender-based violence receives in the media. The high-profile cases of violence have this year put the issue on the national agenda and kept it there longer than in the past, and there has been a corresponding increase in public demonstrations and a higher scrutiny of government policy. The challenge for the organisations making clarion calls will be to continue to implement their plans once stories of rape, domestic violence, child abuse, and murder fall off page one of our attention. DM

Photos by Greg Nicolson

Main photo: Male ANC members from the Gauteng Legislature demonstrated on Tuesday against gender-based violence.

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