South Africa


Ramaphosa adviser’s grip over Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Fund

Dr. Olive Shisana presents HIV/AIDS findings survey on 30 November 2005 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Business Day/Robert Botha)

South Africa has an epidemic of gender-based violence. One positive step was the announcement of a Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Fund to increase support to survivors. However, there are already major concerns before the initiative is even ready to leave the starting blocks.

At a special joint sitting of Parliament in September 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a meeting with representatives of the private sector to discuss the establishment of a Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Fund (GBVF) to increase support to survivors. Since that joint sitting, neither the Presidency nor the president has made any further statements about the fund, and tender documents for managing it have not been published. 

Yet, in February 2019, SABCOHA – the South African Business Coalition on Health and AIDS – accepted five electric BMWs from the German government as managing agents for the GBVF Fund. Don’t worry if you have never heard of SABCOHA – many people working in the GBV space hadn’t either. 

With the process for appointing the administrators of the fund already murky, the management of billions of rand in future investment aimed at addressing gender-based violence may be in doubt. 

The not-so-interim Interim Steering Committee on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide

Before we go any further, it’s necessary to understand a bit about the Interim Steering Committee on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (ISC). 

The ISC has been operating since the GBV Summit in November 2018. It is made up of government, civil society, and donor representatives with the inclusivity of civil society, which was a requirement of the declaration and the GBV Summit. The Commission for Gender Equality is also on the structure for monitoring purposes – more on that later. 

The ISC has two co-chairs who lead the structure: advocate Brenda Madumise-Pajibo (Total Shut Down/The Wise Collective) represents civil society, and Professor Olive Shisana (presidential special adviser on social policy) represents the government. 

As a special adviser to the president, it is strange that Shisana was selected to lead this grouping on behalf of the state. The Dispensation for the Appointment and Remuneration of Special Advisers (Considerations in terms of Section 12 A of the Public Service Act) states: 

the serving of special advisors on statutory bodies or councils (or similar bodies) for which the Executive Authority is individually or collectively accountable, would be inappropriate, since it could give rise to a direct or indirect conflict of interest or advice which could be biased or perceived to be biased.” 

The declaration gives the ISC two tasks – one, establish a permanent multisectoral body to co-ordinate efforts to end and prevent GBV; and two, implement actions in the declaration as agreed on by the ISC. According to the declaration, the ISC should have concluded its work by October 2019. 

In fact, it submitted a draft national strategic plan (NSP) on the GBVF and a GBVF co-ordinating structure model to Cabinet in December 2019, but it was not approved. Since the consultations around the draft NSP in mid-2019, no updated version has been published, and nor has information about the co-ordinating structure it proposed. Even Parliament’s joint efforts to discuss the plan and council in 2019 were stymied when the ISC arrived but did not bring proper documentation – including the NSP. 

They are not the only ones struggling to do their legislated oversight duty. The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) reported in Parliament on 3 March that it faced challenges in accessing information from the ISC because of hostility from the leadership and the refusal of ISC members and roleplayers to participate in CGE interviews “for fear of retribution from members of the ISC.” The research team reported their challenges to the CEO of the CGE, who wrote several letters to the leadership of the ISC to resolve the issues, but to no avail. The commission also wrote to the Director-General in the Presidency, Dr Cassius Lubisi, to express its frustration. It further reported           

“The issues that arose during this study [on the ISC] (especially the obstructions and lack of cooperation from the Members and the leadership of the Interim Steering Committee on GBV) were of such a serious nature that they boarded [sic] on the obstruction of the work of a Chapter 9 institution.” 

An interim steering committee that is neither interim, nor transparent in its operations. Right, now we’re all on the same page about the ISC, let’s get back to the GBVF Fund. 

The GBVF Fund

Although the president has not said more about the GBVF Fund, Shisana has. At an event hosted by the Irish Embassy and the Southern African Liaison Office on 17 February 2020, Shisana encouraged all foreign donors in the room (and there were many) to direct all of their funding on GBV into the GBVF Fund so that, in her words, “like with HIV we can all fund a single country plan”. 

A single fund for a single plan – the NSP – which nobody in the public has seen since the draft version at consultations. Should all foreign donors follow Shisana’s call and do so, the fund could grow to be quite large indeed. 

Back to SABCOHA – according to its website (last updated in 2014) SABCOHA is a member-based non-profit organisation established in 2001 and established by the private sector to facilitate and co-ordinate a private sector response to HIV/AIDS. It was formally registered as an NPO in 2004, and in 2012 expanded to focus on health more broadly in addition to HIV/AIDS. Its slogan is “healthy workplaces shaping healthy communities”. Its board (at least in 2014) was led by Dr Lesego Rametsi of Absa Group, with board members from De Beers, African Rainbow Minerals, Aveng, the Chamber of Mines, Life Occupational Health, the ILO Southern Africa, and South African Breweries.  

SABCOHA hasn’t produced an annual report since 2014, though media reports suggest that its work has continued to focus on HIV/AIDS, in particular in the mining sector working with the Chamber of Mines and EOH on screening for HIV/AIDS (2017), implementing an HIV prevention programme on behalf of the Aids Foundation of South Africa (2019), and partnering with the Department of Health (2019) to distribute condoms to taverns. 

While it may have experience in managing private sector funds to address HIV, its website doesn’t speak to any experience in the GBV sector. However, SABCOHA accepted five electric BMWs in February on behalf of the ISC, which implies it had already been selected to manage the GBVF Fund. Dr Rametsi received the BMWs on SABCOHA’s behalf. 

I wrote to SABCOHA to ask simple questions – how did they hear about the fund, what was the tender process for being awarded the right to administer the fund, have they received any donations and how will SABCOHA be reporting on the income and expenditure to the public? 

Siyabonga Jikwana, newly appointed CEO of SABCOHA, avoided answering these, responding instead that SABCOHA “was identified as a co-ordinator of the private sector response in partnership with government and civil society” and that they “boast a unique strategic position of being able to co-ordinate all sectors of our economy by having direct access to industries at all levels.”

Despite more than one request from me to respond to the actual questions I’d asked, Jikwana did not oblige. 

Rubber stamps and rushed decisions

How and when SABCOHA was chosen to administer the fund, and by whom, is a question that bears considering, especially since the ISC hasn’t put out any public information on any tender process. 

But that might be because the larger body didn’t make the decision at all. An email thread among minutes from the ISC that were forwarded to me points to Shisana as the sole decision-maker. 

On 11 November 2019, Shisana sent an email to SABCOHA asking it to respond on questions of clarity so that they could “finalise” the response on the GBVF. In that November email thread, Shisana suggested SABCOHA be part of the ISC, asked the board of SABCOHA whether they would be changing their name to reflect a GBVF focus, and to confirm that GBVF funds would be ring-fenced (ie, not included in SABCOHA’s existing community fund). 

Based on the written response from Dr Rametsi (not included in the email thread) Shisana emailed them just a day later (12 November) stating: 

“We are pleased to advise you that the interim steering committee on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide has agreed to appoint your good offices as a GBVF Fund Management Non-Profit Company.” 

Shisana then asked them to develop the terms of reference based on documents she would supply and noted that “these documents should not be distributed beyond the people on this list. They are sent to you on a need to know basis.” On that list were just five people from the ISC – Shisana, Madumise-Pajibo, Sibongile Mthembu (Secretariat of the ISC, Total Shut Down), Shoki Tshabalala (acting DG of the department of women), and Esther Maluleke, (chief director of Governance, Justice, Transformation and Security in the department of women).

Only Shisana said anything in the exchange. 

SABCOHA CEO Jikwana is the primary contact between the ISC and his organisation. On 13 November, Shisana wrote to SABCOHA acknowledging that they had confirmed acceptance of the responsibility to serve as the GBVF Fund co-ordinator and manager. The terms of reference, a special resolution, and implementation framework were only sent back to Shisana by Jikwana on 19 November. Yet, the ISC Co-Chair Report to the President for the week ending 15 November already indicated that 

the steering committee has agreed to appoint SABCOHA to set up a Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Fund to receive private sector, donor, and Development Partner funds and disburse it to communities.” 

In fact, the broader ISC had not made that decision. The decision was only communicated to members of the ISC via email on 20 November, with a request that they approve the TORs and implementation framework submitted by SABCOHA. Just two days later, on 22 November, Shisana again emailed the ISC stating that no response had been received, and thus they would be proceeding with SABCOHA, who would also receive electric BMWs for the ISC’s use. 

The message seemed clear – the decision had been made, and it was the duty of the ISC to endorse it, not discuss it. On 25 November, a Treasury representative to the ISC raised concern about this rushed decision, stating: 

“We have not run a fair competitive process for this, should this be the onus of the DoW [department of women] or Presidency? Normal SCM processes should ideally be followed or else we may be found wanting.” 

The representative from Treasury declined to comment for this piece. 

I asked Shisana in writing about the decision to appoint SABCOHA. She did not respond. Thus, I approached her in person on 17 February, after the Irish Embassy event mentioned above, to ask about the decision to appoint SABCOHA and how it had been made. 

She was reluctant to talk to me, but did say that it was SABCOHA which had approached government, a suggestion that seems discordant with the interactions on the email thread. She wasn’t sure what the fuss was about.

“Who else should we have chosen?” she asked.

Given the potential size of the GBVF fund I asked whether SABCOHA would be earning an income for administering the fund. Shisana indicated that running a fund of this size would of course cost money, and thus SABCOHA would be getting a fee for administering it. Yet, when I asked about the tender process Shisana concluded our interview, suggesting that I had an ulterior motive for writing this piece. 

“I know who you are, and who your friends are” Shisana said. “You are part of a group that does not want to see change.” I sought clarity on who I was being grouped with, and what in fact she was saying. Shisana then began to list my former employers, as though they were the reason that I decided to write this article. When I indicated that in fact I was writing the piece as a freelance writer affiliated to no organisation at all, she said “If you write this piece, I could just as easily write one about you.” She then refused to respond to any further questions.

Repeating old mistakes

In the rush to seem responsive, the state has made the same mistakes it made almost a decade ago. 

In 2012, the government attempted to set up a National Council on Gender Based Violence, led by the Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities. It failed for various reasons, including that it was housed in the department and relied on their administrative capacity, it overstepped its mandate as a co-ordinating body, there was a lack of collaboration and cooperation between council stakeholders – particularly between government and civil society – and it failed to implement its own plan on gender-based violence. 

Despite what seems like history repeating itself, the 2020 Budget allocates the department of women R15-million over the medium term to establish the National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide. 

And now a new development – a GBVF Fund to drive private and donor investment in programmes that solve the crisis. But with the government representative and the appointed administrators unable or unwilling to respond to simple questions on how the fund will be run, the fund is at risk. 

The GBV summit declaration notes that. 

“There is poor accountability across all sectors providing services to survivors of gender-based violence, particularly in the allocation and use of resources in order to address the breadth and depth of the crisis” 

Sadly, it seems that nothing has changed. DM

Jen Smout is a feminist writer and researcher based in Cape Town, with a decade in the field of researching and writing about gender-based violence in South Africa. She was formerly a commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality, and a parliamentary researcher.


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