South Africa

GENDER EQUALITY COMMISSION

Provincial officials told to get their shelter affairs in order

Caption: Activists gathered outside Parliament to protest against gender-based violence and demand more funding for women's shelters on 23 July. Photo: Marike Herselman

The Commission for Gender Equality has maintained a strict stance at the Public Investigative Hearings into South African Shelters, sending two provincial department of social development officials packing for being ill-equipped to present findings before the commission.

On Wednesday 4 December 2019, an unimpressed bench of commissioners ordered the North West and KwaZulu-Natal provincial departments of social development to return to their respective provinces to do their homework after both departments failed to arrive prepared to report on the state of their own provincial shelters.

The provincial department of social development’s heads of departments were responding to a set of five requisite and identical questions submitted to them by the Commission for Gender Equality, which address shelter specifics including numbers, budgets, funding and administrative issues.

The report backs seek to ascertain how far each department has gone to implement mechanisms that improve conditions and ensure the availability of shelters for women and children.

Head of department Masego Makgwe for the North West department of social development was at least able to begin her submissions, but was soon cut short when it became clear to the commissioners that she was speaking about everything except the queries put before her.

It was revealed that the North West department of social development had provided the commission with a single presentation late in the afternoon of the previous day, despite the cut-off date for written submissions having elapsed many weeks before. And of the five questions the North West had answered only one, if not completely.

The KwaZulu-Natal department of social development did not even make it to the podium.

The acting head of department of KwaZulu-Natal’s department of social development had excused himself in a letter, which the commission had accepted on condition that the acting Deputy Director-General, Phindile Sithole, appear on his behalf.

But on Wednesday, Sithole was nowhere to be seen, with the few KwaZulu-Natal department of social development delegates hoping to appear in her absence, explaining that she was “at another commitment”.

It is a requirement that each department of social development is represented by a senior official and without the excused Ngubane or the missing Sithole, KwaZulu-Natal was sent home, accompanied with the commission’s final remarks, which return to the root of South Africa’s problematic state institutions.

I want this house to note the wasteful expenditure on [KwaZulu-Natal department of social development’s] part in the amount of R22,500 that was spent on the wrong delegation appearing before the commission. The flights, accommodation, the care hire — how is the department of social development going to account for that?” asked Tamara Mathebula, chairperson of the commission.

Both provinces left with strict instructions to redo their reports and return to the commission on a date to be determined.

As the investigative hearings reached the end of the third day, it has become clear that the Commission for Gender Equality will not tolerate the uninspired attitudes of underperforming DSDs.

Shelters are performing a government function, they are not doing the department of social development a favour,” said Commissioner Tlaleng Mofokeng, during her questions to the Freestate DSD.

You should be doing the shelters a favour, and your lacklustre approach is concerning.”

The hearings, which began on 2 December 2019, will continue until Friday 6 December.

With one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, South Africa is home to hundreds of thousands of women and children in need of a safe space. It is evident and encouraging that the current commission is raising the bar on the standards of shelters in the country.

Having conducted an investigation into the respective provinces, the hearings provide a platform for constructive engagement and the commission has used this platform to express grave concerns.

Having done investigations, having looked at documents and having visited the provincial departments of social development, there is a strong feeling that the Department of Social Development is becoming a post box where you simply deposit your money,” said Mathebula.

And when that money is deposited, you don’t care where that money is intended to go.”

Mathebula used the KwaZulu-Natal department of social development as an example and the fact that of the R65-million budget allocated to the department for the 2019/20 financial year — from its own published expenditure patterns — less than half has gone towards victim empowerment services in the province.

This is evident throughout all of the nine provinces, as well as the National Department of Social Development,” she says.

The commission found that there were major inconsistencies in what the National Treasury had said it had allocated to the National Department of Social Development and the figures that the department had reflected in its own report before the commission.

These huge discrepancies are even more obvious when we look at the money that is allocated to provincial [departments of social development],” she said.

The Free State is an example of this.

The Free State will tell you that the provincial department of social development received R32-million and the National Department of Social Development will tell you that it allocated to them R45-million,“ said Mathebula.

The commission is left looking at this difference and asking, “where does this other money go?”

For the commission, this question is even more important when it comes to how this money gets dispersed to shelters and to NPOs that are assisting the department to deliver on its duty to provide safety to survivors of all types of abuse.

Mathebula explains that when you look at overall budgets, only around 0.005% is allocated to smaller NPOs, while provincial departments of social development cannot account for or elaborate on other shelter-related services that purportedly use up the balance.

These departments of social development say that Victim Empowerment Programmes within their provinces are huge – but where? Where are they huge? What are the other services or programmes that are requiring these large allocations when smaller organisations are receiving so little?” she asked.

The bench of fierce and dedicated commissioners did not hold back as they interrogated each department’s report, hounding the provincial HODs with appropriate, investigative questions and demanding accurate and substantiated responses.

If a head of department was unable to respond on the spot, that department of social development was given until Friday 6 December 2019 to provide the commission with written submissions and supporting documentation.

While many questions remain unanswered and many areas have raised red flags, it is clear that the Commission of Gender Equality is clamping down on social development in South Africa and placing pressure on the departments to be transparent and to perform. DM

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