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GBV SERVICES

Gender-Based Violence Command Centre is operational — but just barely

Gender-Based Violence Command Centre is operational — but just barely
Gender-Based Violence Command Centre was established in 2013 and is supposed to be a 24-hour service. (Photo: iStock)

The Gender-Based Violence Command Centre, which is meant to provide psychosocial services to survivors of gender-based violence, is reportedly on the verge of collapse.

In the middle of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign, the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre (GBVCC) is on rocky ground.

The centre was established in 2013 as a 24-hour facility with social workers taking calls to provide psychosocial services to survivors of gender-based violence. It is also designed to trace, assist and refer victims to safe shelters.

However, the centre is reportedly on the verge of collapse.

Lisa Vetten, a research associate at Wits University’s Southern Centre for Inequality Studies, said the Department of Social Development’s annual reports indicated that the GBVCC wasn’t operating as it should.

GBV Command Centre

Lisa Vetten, research associate at Wits University’s Southern Centre for Inequality Studies. (Photo: Chris Collingridge)

“It’s very clear that in October last year [2022], the USSD and SMS functions which allow people to see a message saying ‘please call me’ are no longer functional,” she said.

The Skype line is also no longer working.

“Why Skype was important, was because that was how deaf callers were able to communicate with social workers at the call centre,” she said.

“The ability to geolocate calls has also disappeared, and that ability to geolocate enabled whoever answered the call to send out emergency services if that was required, or to be able to connect somebody to the closest service because you knew where they were calling from and you could see who to refer to in the area, and it is also linked to a social worker,” she said.

Previously, the GBVCC would report on the number of calls it received, what they were for, and what proportion of these calls were GBV-related, said Vetten.

“That was very useful information. For the most recent financial year, it was unable to do that… all it could say is that [it] had about 53,000 calls,” she said.

Vetten explained there was a significant difference between calls and actual cases. People would sometimes cut the call the moment it was answered, either because they were too nervous to speak or it was a hoax call.

“Most of your calls are not cases… your call becomes a case when you talk to somebody for long enough for them to say, ‘I have this problem and this is what I need help with’,” she said.

After analysing the number of cases the GBVCC receives, and the percentage of cases that are for GBV, low figures are indicated, said Vetten.

“The years when you had a full analysis of calls and cases, you could see that GBV cases were about  2% of all calls to the command centre,” she said.

Victims bearing the brunt

Several social workers no longer work at the centre, said Siyabulela Jentile, president of the civil rights movement, Not In My Name International.

“That alone affects the operations of the GBV command centre because its main task is to offer psychosocial services to the many victims of GBV in South Africa,” he said.

Services such as victim support, victim empowerment and assisting the police with data collection have all been affected.

“The most important thing is that the victims are not getting the support they are supposed to be getting,” he said.

Jentile said people who run GBV empowerment programmes experience difficulties when trying to call the centre.

“They’ve tried several times to call the centre and the calls were not picked up… that is really worrying for us,” he said.

Questions of cost

Before issues around its functionality were raised, there were questions about the facility calling itself a GBV command centre as that was not the bulk of what it was doing, said Vetten.

There were also questions about the cost of the centre.

“When you look at the cost, and how little it’s likely to be doing in relation to GBV, then you have to wonder about its value,” she said.

The costs for the centre include social workers and service provider Brilliantel  — which took over from Vodacom when the contract expired in 2022.

Under Vodacom, it was costing between R20-R21 million a year, with about R5-million going to Vodacom for specialised functions and the rest to social workers, she said.

Vetten said she took part in a project for the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation to look at core services for GBV in South Africa, and the cost of these.

One of the services looked at in the study was telephone lines.

“We looked at the three national lines, which were the GBV command centre, Childline and the Lifeline GBV helpline,” said Vetten.

It was a comparison of what each service performs, the kind of staff each service uses, and the cost of each service, she said.

“Every actual GBV case that the command centre was handling, was costing about R3,000 versus the R200 it was costing to call Childline or the Lifeline centre,” she said.

“It is a very expensive service and we recommended that there be a cost-benefit analysis… that was before Brilliantel even arrived on the scene.”

The annual report indicates that the centre was given permission to deviate from procurement procedures, said Vetten.

“The reason? They just said it was impractical, which is not a very good or clear description. But there was some kind of deviation which Treasury authorised to skip standard procurement procedures in relation to the centre, and that should be asked about,” she said.

One department, differing messages 

City Press reported last week that a contractual dispute between the Department of Social Development and service provider Brilliant Telecommunications (Brilliantel) had contributed to the challenges faced by the centre.

GBV Command Centre

Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

In an interview with eNCA, Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu said the GBVCC was operational, although she was unhappy with the dwindling number of social workers and that the centre was not performing to its maximum capacity.

However, Deputy Minister of Social Development Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu appeared on the same channel and contradicted Zulu:

“I’ve listened to the minister, so I will not attempt to respond to anything. But from where I am sitting, the command centre has collapsed. And I use that language very confidently because the command centre, as we speak right now, is just a hello and goodbye,” she said.

Bogopane-Zulu said she had tried to engage with Zulu about the problems with the centre before things got worse, and that she had learnt about Brilliantel only when a submission for termination was taken to her.

GBV Command Centre

Deputy Minister of Social Development Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

Jentile said the contradicting messages coming from the two indicated there was a leadership crisis within the department and that something was “fundamentally wrong” with it.

“The GBV pandemic in South Africa does not afford us the luxury of ignoring such disturbing incidents, especially during the 16 days of activism campaign when we should all be raising awareness about the devastating impact of GBV,” he said.

Jentile said he was more inclined to believe Bogopane-Zulu’s version, as indicated by the many people who had complained about the service at the centre. He said he welcomed the  Public Protector’s probe into the centre.

A statement issued by the Department of Social Development said it was “factually incorrect and misleading” to state that the GBVCC had “completely collapsed”.

“It is indeed operating and functional, albeit with some technical challenges which are typical of operations of this nature, and to which the department has been engaging with the relevant government departments and the service provider,” said department spokesperson Lumka Oliphant.

The centre was initially based in the Pretoria suburb of Salvokop but has since been relocated to the Human Sciences Research Council building in the city, where the Department of Social Development is temporarily housed.

GBV Command Centre

Social Development Department spokesperson Lumka Oliphant. (Photo: Gallo Images / Rapport / Conrad Bornman)

“The centre is processing calls that come from either the victims or those reporting known cases of abuse, and Social Service Professions are directing these calls to the relevant bodies for intervention in line with established protocols,” said Oliphant.

The department refuted allegations that social workers had been dismissed from the centre or their numbers deliberately reduced.

“The command centre originally employed 56 social work professionals and six officials providing technical support, who were distributed into four shifts. The current count of officials is 48, due to natural attrition, resignations and retirements, and not as a result of any deliberate action by the department,” said Oliphant.

Oliphant said the department had diligently followed due processes prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act and National Treasury regulations in appointing the service provider.

If someone is concerned about a domestic violence situation, there are free helplines available:

  • Lifeline South Africa: 0861 322 322/Crisis line: 011 728 1347
  • Childline South Africa: 0800 055 555
  • Tears Foundation: SMS *134*7355#
  • National Shelter Movement: 0800 001 005 or SMS, WhatsApp or Please Call Me on 082 057 8600/082 058 2215/072 230 7147
  • People Opposing Women Abuse: 011 642 4345

DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Janine Clayton says:

    To the government – Are we serious about supporting victims of GBV? This is a national shame and once again points to Ministers who talk the talk but fail dismally to walk the walk. Shame on you ANC – and shame on you for continuing to violate the women of this country.

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