Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence makes promises, promises, and more promises…

Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence makes promises, promises, and more promises…
Women picket at Constantia Circle on 8 August 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government has repeatedly said it is making the eradication of gender-based violence (GBV) a priority. But as the recent presidential summit showed, the gap between promises and implementation is still vast.

“It was at the first Presidential Summit on GBV and Femicide in 2018 that we collectively made a firm commitment to the nation to undertake a comprehensive, effective and united response to gender-based violence and femicide,” President Cyril Ramaphosa told an audience of about 1,300 in Midrand on 1 November.

Ramaphosa was reporting back, four years after the inaugural Presidential Summit, on progress since that “firm commitment”. Yet, even he had to admit: “There is much more that still needs to be done.”

Two out of 10 pledges met

Daily Maverick identified 10 key promises made by Ramaphosa’s administration on GBV since 2018. These were drawn from resolutions taken at the first Presidential Summit, from the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on GBV & Femicide, and from other pledges made by, for instance, Police Minister Bheki Cele.

Of these 10 promises, we found that two have been clearly fulfilled to date. The first involves a pledge made by Ramaphosa, at the first summit, to fast-track all pending legislation relating to GBV and femicide. As he told his Midrand audience this week, the president signed into law in January 2022 three pieces of legislation – the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Act – aimed at ensuring that “perpetrators are no longer able to use legislative loopholes to evade prosecution”.

The second promise kept was meeting a call from gender activists to tighten protection offered by the National Register for Sex Offenders. These changes, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola told the summit this week, came into effect at the end of July 2022.

An activist from Impilo Collection Foundation stands amongst 6,000 women’s bras at a gender-based violence demonstration at the Women’s Prison at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, South Africa, 27 November 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / KIM LUDBROOK)

Easiest, and cheapest, promises unmet

Although the Department of Justice deserves credit for getting the job done on reviewing bills, delays have beset the legislative framework around a seemingly straightforward pledge from the first summit: to establish a national council on GBV. The fact that this is not yet on its feet is one of a big own-goal – and the only excuse offered to date is “a rather long period of consultation”, in Ramaphosa’s words.

A draft bill setting out the powers of such a council is currently before Parliament, which has to approve it before referring it to President Ramaphosa to sign into law. Only then can the council actually be formed.  

Establishment of the council is one of six key pledges made by government since 2018 which have not yet come to fruition. Blame for the majority of these unmet promises can be placed at the feet of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and Cele.

An activist at a demonstration at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, last year. (Photo: Kim Ludbrook/ EPA-EFE)

Cops let down the GBV fight

A promise first made by Cele in August 2020 was that the SAPS would roll out GBV desks at all 1,155 police stations nationally – as part of what the NSP calls “victim-centric criminal justice services”. As of May 2022, the SAPS was claiming: “There are currently GBV desks at all police stations across the country. These desks are manned by police members trained in GBV-related courses.”

Themba Masango, spokesperson of activist movement Not In My Name, scoffed at the idea that SAPS now has GBV desks at almost every station. “It is simply not true; we deal with GBVF cases every day on the ground and I can you that there are hardly any GBV desks,” Masango told Daily Maverick.

“We have had to mobilise the community just to put pressure on some of the police stations to handle GBV cases with the seriousness they deserve… Victims sometimes get turned away and get told to get elders in their families to resolve their domestic [violence] cases as police have to prioritise other crimes which are deemed to be more serious than GBV.”

An even more basic police resource the NSP included in its “key interventions” should have been implemented by March 2020: Ensure all police stations had the necessary evidence collection kits (paediatric rape kits, adult rape kits and buccal sample kits) “to speed up the case progression to the court”.

As with the GBV desk issue, SAPS authorities have consistently claimed greater availability of evidence collection kits than appears to actually be the case. In August 2020, when an advocacy group called SA Women Fight Back phoned 35 Western Cape police stations to check their stock of rape kits, only seven had sufficient supplies. More recently, police claim this situation has been resolved – but as of August 2022, SAPS conceded that the Eastern Cape did not have enough rape kits.

The SAPS has also failed to meet another NSP target, trumpeted by Cele, of clearing the backlog of all DNA samples at forensic labs related to GBV. Nor has it yet opened a promised laboratory for DNA testing in the Eastern Cape. As for the pledge that police would clamp down on unlicensed alcohol outlets: the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy of June 2022 says it all.

Activists at the Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide. (Photo: Siyabulela Duda / GCIS)

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Good and bad news together

At the first Presidential summit, Ramaphosa promised more Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) and more Sexual Offences Courts (SOCs) – and, on paper at least, these have been delivered. As announced this week, there are now 61 TCCs nationally, which serve as one-stop centres for victims of GBV. Daily Maverick’s attempt to confirm the updated number of SOCs nationally was unsuccessful, but, as of April 2022, the Department of Justice was listing 116 in operation around the country.

Most gender activists say this is genuinely good news. Gender law and policy specialist Sanja Bornman described SOCs to Daily Maverick as “the model which is our best chance for a more victim-centred court experience, and in turn, improved conviction rates”.

One issue, however, is that less than a third of the advertised SOCs function as “pure” sexual offences courts. The vast majority are “hybrid” courts, which also hear other matters – and there are concerns that not all are resourced as the SOC model actually envisages.

The issue of resources is also a major stumbling block when it comes to the functioning of the TCCs. Ramaphosa told the GBV summit this week that cases reported at TCCs have a 77% conviction rate, and Bornman confirms that cases coming through TCCs “have a better chance of making it to court”.

This shows the potential of the TCC model – yet activists say that in practice, the centres often do not operate as they should due to lack of resources. Not In My Name’s Masango told Daily Maverick: “The counsellors can’t handle the numbers that flock into the centres. Some of [the counsellors] need counselling themselves.”

Katlego Rasebitse of the Sisonke Movement said the TCCs are notorious for being hostile to sex workers. “As a movement we’ve had to [conceal] such information because we fear they might not get assisted,” Rasebitse said. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    I don’t want to rain on women’s parade, but is GBV not a fixed proportion of crime in general? I would be surprised if that proportion can be improved without general crime levels dropping. (Statistics please!) In fact, where is the concern about our crime levels that have become some of the highest in the world?

  • Allan Wolman Wolman says:

    Fighting GBV indeed laudable from Ramaphosa but where are the leading women of the ANC standing against violence of woman around the world. Where is Naledi Pandor tight-lipped when she recently visited Saudi Arabia – surprised she was allowed an audience with the king/princes – and what about Navi Pillay totally blind to the plight of woman in Iran and Saudi Arabia – the top woman of S. Africa too afraid to set an example to their own people but cosy up to the despots of the world!

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