South Africa, Politics

Op-Ed: SONA2017 President Zuma should have given

By Karen Robertson 16 February 2017

Imagine if SONA actually was meaningful? By KAREN ROBERTSON, Sonke Gender Justice.

The Speaker of the National Assembly (NA),

The Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP),

Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP,

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa,

Former President Thabo Mbeki,

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and all esteemed members of the judiciary,

The President of the Pan African Parliament, Mr Roger Nkodo Dang,

Ministers and Deputy Ministers,

Premiers and Speakers of provincial legislatures,

Chairperson of the South African Local Government Association and all Executive Mayors present,

The Heads of Chapter 9 institutions,

Chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders,

Leaders of faith-based organisations,

Invited guests,

Veterans of the struggle for liberation,

Members of the diplomatic corps,

Fellow South Africans,

Good evening, sanibonani, molweni, dumelang, goeienaand, lotjhani, ri perile, ndi madekwana.

Thank you for the opportunity to address Parliament and the nation.

My fellow South Africans,

Today marks a turning point for South Africa. Too long have our promises just been lip service without any action. Too long have our people suffered. Too long has there been a lack of accountability. This is going to change.


Levels of gender-based violence (GBV) in our country are at epidemic proportions. While I am aware that our official statistics show a decrease in sexual offences, this is not a time to celebrate just yet. We must also take into account that most cases of abuse, violence and assault go unreported due to fear, stigma, secondary victimisation and many other reasons. GBV must, and will, become our government’s priority for 2017 and beyond! Women in South Africa live with a daily fear of harassment, assault, rape and murder by an intimate partner: this affects women of every walk of life. Think of Anene Booysen; think of Reeva Steenkamp; think of Nomanesi Klawushe and before and after them, so many other women killed by men claiming “love” for them. This fear limits the lives of women and girls, and deprives them of their fundamental right to freedom of movement, to physical integrity and to equality. Think of how women’s and girls’ fear restricts our country: think of the loss of their participation in the economy, and social and political life. This has to stop. Urgently.

Of course, many men also worry about the violence other men threaten or carry out against women. I hereby commit to working together with women and men across the length and breadth of the country, wherever we find ourselves, to put all the resources needed to respond to and prevent gender based violence.

In 2012, I formed the National Council on Gender-Based Violence with the mandate to develop a costed National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and to co-ordinate responses to GBV. It comprised government, non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, faith-based organisations, academia, research institutions, government, men’s groupings, and representation from women, children and persons with disabilities. In 2013 during my SONA address I reassured the nation, shaken by the deaths of Anene Booysen and Reeva Steenkamp, that the GBV Council would develop a response. I have to acknowledge that we have failed you in that regard. I accept responsibility for not following through as I promised I would. I can do better; the ANC can do better; the opposition parties can do better; South Africa can do better – because we must.

It is with great regret that I say: this body and its important vision have become dysfunctional. I firmly believe in its importance and hereby reinstate the National Council with immediate effect, and my office – together with civil society will monitor its progress closely.

I wish to acknowledge here civil society’s role in addressing the scourge of GBV and applaud and support their dedication to overcoming this enormous social problem. I want to tell you – I have heard you.

With the reinstatement and reconfiguration of the National Council on GBV, GBV will no longer be a forgotten issue, but rather the priority that it should always have been for the South African government. We are committed to working together with civil society to develop a national strategic plan on GBV, and for Treasury to cost this plan and to provide 100% of the necessary funding to fully implement the plan. I am happy to announce that the GBV Council will now be modelled after the South African National AIDS Council which operates independently of government and creates a platform for civil society and government to meet on equal terms and hold each other accountable.


Over the past few years we have seen an increase in violent xenophobic attacks. I strongly condemn this violence, and urge you, my fellow South Africans, to treat everyone with respect and dignity. Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants: we welcome you, remembering how you welcomed us in our hour – indeed, our decades – of need.

In South Africa we welcome diversity and do not discriminate against race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or disability.

Madam Speaker,

For years, the mining sector has been addressed during SONA. What has never been mentioned are those affected by poor mining practices. They are forgotten – the mineworkers injured on the job by lax enforcement of existing regulations and by the prioritisation of profit over people and the women and girls who take care of sick former mineworkers, when they are sent home to die. We thank the legal teams and NGOs who have forced us to confront the epidemic of silicosis amongst us that affects as many as half a million former mineworkers across the region, who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the gold mining industry compensates miners for the fatal injuries and illnesses they acquired while generating revenue for the industry.

As your government we commit to also making sure that the women and girls who quit their jobs or drop out of school to take care of their husbands, sons and brothers, will receive proper compensation from the mining houses for this work, which the industry has unfairly displaced onto them. Today, my sisters, my brothers, I say you are no longer forgotten. These human rights violations are a serious matter and the mining companies must pay. The Mining Justice Task Force has been established to hold gold mining companies accountable and ensure that the recommended compensation of R40billion is paid out to families over the next 12 months. The Task Force will also oversee that the poor working conditions are improved to international standards, and that sick mineworkers will receive necessary medical attention.

These injustices caused by the mining industry, including those of unpaid gendered care work must be addressed; and they will be addressed. Again I say: the mining houses can do better; the government can do better; South Africa can do better – because we must.


Violence takes many forms and our country in particular is a violent one. But we do not always pay attention to the various forms of violence that take place in the home.

Let me, Honourable Speaker and Chairperson, therefore urge all South Africans to take a firm stance against corporal punishment at schools and in the home. I would like to remind my fellow citizens, that corporal punishment is illegal in schools. It is unacceptable that more than two thirds of schools across the country still used corporal punishment, according to the latest survey in 2012. We look forward to ensuring that prohibition be extended into the home too, and as such, into all spheres of a child’s life, which within the Third Amendment to the Children’s Act of 2005 will be tabled for the year 2017 as our Department of Social Development has committed. We know that children exposed to violence in the home, including to corporal punishment, experience a range of negative consequences, including higher likelihood of mental health problems. We know they are much more likely than their peers to be perpetrators or victims of violence later in life, depending on their sex. We know that they carry the pain forward for another generation to bear; and we say no! We can do better: we will do better, as a country, and as individuals, because we must.


The National Strategic Plan on HIV, TB and Sexually Transmitted Infections has had many successes over the past four years, including reducing new infections and dramatically increasing the numbers of people on life-saving treatment. This is a huge accomplishment and I applaud our health care workers and all the citizens who support them through their activism. We will redouble our efforts and continue to roll back HIV and stop AIDS. I am delighted that key populations, such as inmates and sex workers are included in the new national plan for 2017-2021. Without these key populations, combatting HIV and TB will never become a reality in South Africa.


We must increase the focus on sex workers and how the criminalisation of this profession fuels HIV infections and violence against sex workers. The new NSP on HIV recommends the decriminalisation of sex work – a recommendation I fully support. I will personally oversee that that law reform is fast-tracked so that sex work will be fully decriminalised in 2017. We must also deepen our commitment to engaging men with HIV services. Due to a complicated mix of gender socialisation and healthcare services which are mostly oriented towards women of reproductive years, we too often fail to notice that men are not getting tested and treated at the levels we need to achieve our ambitious HIV targets. We will implement the UNAIDS Platform for Action on Men and HIV and champion their regional strategy on men and HIV to ensure we get to zero new infections, zero new deaths by 2030. We will do it – because we must!

Madam Chairperson, Madam Speaker,

It is time to recognise that inmates are an important part of our society and communities, and the issues that affect them, affect us all. We must reduce overcrowding in prisons. The current conditions in prisons are a severe public health concern affecting not only inmates, but our communities too. Too often inmates return to our communities traumatised and damaged by the conditions they experience while being held in prison. This is in nobody’s interest. The Department of Correctional Services and all heads of prisons must ensure that overcrowding is significantly reduced during 2017 through implementing alternatives to imprisonment. Bail must become more accessible, particularly for petty crimes. We must ensure an end to the torture and ill-treatment of inmates, in line with our domestic, regional and international obligations. To do this, we must ensure the independence of our Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services. In 2017, we will ensure that it becomes a financially and operationally independent institution that works closely with the SAPS and the NPA to hold our correctional services accountable. 

My fellow South Africans,

As we strive towards gender equality, let us celebrate the wonderful achievements of our young women in 2016. Let us celebrate Lebogang Mashigo, a Young African Leaders Initiative alumnus and the founder of Nubreed – a non-profit organisation that gives music lessons to children in rural Mpumalanga. Let us celebrate Leeka Mokoena, the founder of Made with Rural – an empowerment programme for small-scale farmers, who are linked to sustainable markets. And let us also celebrate Gugulethu Sigasa – the president of the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants in Southern Africa and one of the youngest people to hold this seat.


Liberation and democracy have created space for an active civil society and a free media, and we should continue to safeguard these essential components of an open democracy. Liberation also brought for the first time, the promise of gender and racial equality. The representation of women in public institutions has increased since the dawn of freedom, but we are nowhere near the ideal. Transformation must continue and become a priority in both the private and public sectors.

Black judges now constitute 64% of all judges. However, the acute under-representation of women on the bench remains of concern. As of March 2016, out of 242 permanent judges, only 86 are women (that is, just 35.5%). The challenge is to transform the legal profession broadly in order to nourish the pool from which female judges can be appointed.

Comrades, we will withdraw the Traditional Courts Bill. We heard you when you successfully opposed its passage in 2012 and agree with you that it compromises women’s access to their rights and creates and reinforces the powers of unelected male leaders. The Bill before Parliament will not pass constitutional muster. We will find other ways to affirm our respect for our traditions and culture. Our future as South Africans depends on us taking forward everything that supports our diverse cultural expression. We can do better as a country celebrating all that is good and nurturing from our past – because we must, or we will lose our past and never achieve our future.


I would also like to take this opportunity to issue an official apology for the Nkandla and Gupta sagas. I hereby commit to earn back your trust by weeding out corruption at all levels of government. We have Chapter Nine institutions which support democracy and protect the rights of citizens. We have seen great, courageous and independent leadership from the women and men who serve these institutions. I honour their legacy: and I pledge to allow the independence of these institutions and participate in any investigations and inquiries in the future. I have cancelled my order for a new presidential jet and declare that all government officials will from here on out will only travel with South African Airways and will no longer abuse state funds for their own personal gain.

Last, I have heard your fear and distress over the spectacle that has been made of our country’s highest and most venerable institutions: I promise that Parliament will never again become a site of extreme military intervention, displays of male arrogance and intolerance, and violence.

Fellow South Africans,

I want to restore your trust in me.

2016 was a tumultuous year, politically, socially and economically. With the promises made to you today, 2017 will be a better year.

During this year, we rededicate ourselves to unity, social justice and hard work, to ensure continuous success in our beautiful country.

Together we will move South Africa forward.

I can do better; the ANC can do better; the opposition parties can do better; South Africa can do better – because we must.

I thank you. DM

Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma delivers his State Of The Nation Address (SONA) in Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa 09 February 2017. EPA/SUMAYA HISHAM / POOL


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