Maverick Citizen


Reflections on the intersection of gendered violence and corruption in an election year

Reflections on the intersection of gendered violence and corruption in an election year
Protesters march against gender-based violence at the JSE in Sandton on 13 September 2019. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

As South Africa prepares for the elections on 29 May, and political parties rally behind their manifestos full of promises of change, it is important for us as the citizenry to reflect on gender-based violence. This week, Corruption Watch released its annual report which includes a focus on the intersection of corruption and gender-based violence.

The deeply entrenched gender-based violence (GBV) in our society invites an important question: where is the will of South Africa’s political leadership to address not only the high levels of GBV, but also the extent to which they are affected by power dynamics and vulnerabilities brought about by corruption in the law enforcement sector? 

Reality vs priority

Corruption Watch receives a significant number of complaints that relate to impropriety by the police. Among these are reports that highlight the vulnerability of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community at the hands of those in the criminal justice system. The incidents of abuse of power, sextortion and other crimes alleged by reporters may be isolated, but viewed collectively, they paint a picture of the distortion of power against these groups relative to their vulnerability. 

Furthermore, they occur in an environment that enables their prevalence due to the misalignment of strategies in dealing with this challenge. According to political parties, GBV and corruption are separate issues. By treating them as such, to the detriment of vulnerable sectors in our communities, politicians are missing the opportunity to rectify a culture of abuse of power and negligence in the criminal justice system.  

An academic research paper authored by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Global Resource for Anti-Corruption Education and Youth Empowerment, dedicates a module to corruption and gender that elaborates on this issue.

It says, “The gendered impact of corruption is related to societal gender roles, social inequality and discrimination. Thus, women’s disadvantages in many areas of life result in greater vulnerability to corruption compared to men, who enjoy more power and protection, and better access to countervailing strategies, including the justice system.” 

Women, LGBTQ+ people, children and other minorities are so vulnerable to femicide, sexual abuse and exploitation in South Africa, that the country has among the highest incidence of rape in the world. In the first quarters of both 2022 and 2023, more than 10,000 rape cases were reported, and in many cases, the victims’ assailants were their male intimate partners. The rate at which women are killed by their partners in South Africa is five times higher than the global average. 

We are also a country gripped by corruption, where the two scenarios merge to create a societal crisis that cannot continue unabated. The UNODC paper further notes, “Corruption severely influences the extent to which women’s rights are ensured and protected … law enforcement institutions and processes may rely only on anecdotal evidence, which leaves room for discretion by officials and therefore corruption such as bribe-seeking and extortion.” 

The lived reality for many women and members of the LBGTQ+ community, certainly for those who report corruption to us and many others who may not do so out of fear, is that this lack of protection adds to the trauma and brutality of the physical violence.   

Violence against the vulnerable

We have in the past few years witnessed those who are vulnerable and marginalised being hit the hardest by ongoing social issues. The Covid-19 pandemic intensified femicide and domestic violence as per data released by the South African Police Service (SAPS) in 2021: “…As the country moved into level three of lockdown, it witnessed a spate of brutal femicide cases.” The stress, financial uncertainty and psychological impact of the pandemic became the driving factors of GBV and in 2022, nine women were murdered every day in South Africa. 

In the same year, more than 400 people lost their lives in the floods in KwaZulu-Natal. About 40,000 residents were displaced and this may have exposed girls and women to sexual and physical abuse in vulnerable circumstances. There was increased food insecurity when already the burden of providing food and other essentials fell on women in many families. The floods hindered access to education and healthcare for some time and, particularly for women, access to reproductive healthcare services. More than 240 schools and 84 clinics were reported to have been damaged.  

The gendered impact of corruption 

As we demand an end to the rampant and devastating corruption in our society, we must acknowledge that it threatens the lives and livelihoods of those who expose it, and impedes access to basic services such as health, education and social grants for many more. 

We must also recognise the levels of impunity with which those with political and financial power have operated in a culture that doesn’t prioritise accountability. Individuals implicated in corruption remain in key positions, abusing their power. Some move from one public institution to the next, while others still participate in the procurement environment, exposing the lack of political will to prevent corruption or hold many of its perpetrators accountable.  

This has disproportionately affected the most vulnerable groups, especially poor and working-class people who rely heavily on service delivery as well as public resources, which are often depleted by corruption or diverted into private pockets, creating more vulnerability for groups that already have less power, safety and protection. 

Women are often forced to secure access to these services and public resources through the exchange of sexual favours — in a word, sextortion. It is both a form of corruption and sexual violence, as explained by Transparency International:  

“A request (implicit or explicit) to engage in a form of unwanted sexual activity, which should be understood beyond simply sexual intercourse. It includes being forced to expose private body parts, demanding pictures or pornographic material, and unwanted touching. Furthermore, the person making the request must occupy a position of authority, which they abuse by exacting or accepting the sexual component/benefit in exchange for exercising the power that was entrusted to them.”  

Election messaging on GBV-related corruption 

When making a political choice or engaging with a political party’s manifesto, we must recognise that it is not enough for political parties to simply acknowledge the impact of patriarchal violence — they should have solutions. The feminist author and activist Professor Pumla Gqola reminds us in the book Female Fear Factory to “think against [patriarchy], strategise against it, and consistently work to destroy it”. 

The response to the violence has been inadequate — very few GBV desks and rape kits are available at police stations, while shelters meant to care for GBV survivors have experienced funding challenges.

There must be a stronger commitment to addressing the legal and psychosocial needs of victims and survivors of GBV. Interventions are needed to shift harmful gender norms, moving us towards positive gender socialisation. The implementation and enforcement of the three GBV laws — the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Act must be improved to prevent the ongoing human rights violations against women. 

Furthermore, an intentional strategy driven by the principles of our Constitution should be used in the sensitivity and responsiveness training of our police. It is not enough to establish GBV trauma centres at selected police stations across the country. The will to change how police respond to victims of GBV and hate crimes should be there.

From the political parties competing for votes in the upcoming elections, there should be a thorough understanding, in their messages, that it isn’t only for women to raise awareness about violence driven by patriarchy in our society. 

Any government that comes into power must decisively engage with GBV on the same level that it does with every other societal ill, understanding that the key issue is not how to respond to it, but how to prevent it, along with the corruption that often follows it. DM

Siphokuhle Mkancu is part of Corruption Watch’s communications and marketing team.


Daily Maverick has closed comments on all elections articles for the next two weeks. While we do everything in our power to ensure deliberately false, misleading and hateful commentary does not get published on our site, it’s simply not possible for our small team to have sight of every comment. Given the political dynamics of the moment, we cannot risk malignant actors abusing our platform to manipulate and mislead others. We remain committed to providing you with a platform for dynamic conversation and exchange and trust that you understand our need for circumspection at this sensitive time for our country.

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