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Manifestos on tackling GBV — not much beyond ‘knee-jerk reactions’ pandering to populism, say experts

Manifestos on tackling GBV — not much beyond ‘knee-jerk reactions’ pandering to populism, say experts
Action Society, a civil rights group, holds a peaceful demonstration against gender-based violence outside the Paarl Regional Court on 27 June 2023. Sithobele 'Rasta' Qebe appeared on charges related to the murder of Siphokazi Booi in 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Jaco Marais)

Just how some parties plan to deal with gender-based violence is spelt out in their election manifestos. The problem, as in years past, is that the details are often sketchy, sometimes dealt with in a sentence or two. Still there is some hope.

Sasha Lee Shah died in a shopping centre parking lot shot with a firearm police were meant to have seized from her stalker ex-boyfriend.

Kyle Inderlall shot Shah in October 2022 at the Gateway shopping centre, in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, then turned the gun on himself.

For months he had stalked and threatened Shah with the same firearm. He would park his car outside her house and threaten her family.

Then, 33 days before her death, Sasha was granted an interim protection order against Inderlall, but police failed to follow through and confiscate his firearm.

In Soweto in February 2020, Dimpho Mohau was kicked to death by her boyfriend Vusi Mjoli. Just as Shah would do two years later, Mohau had approached the police for protection.

GBV manifestos Sasha Lee Shah

Sasha Lee Shah was killed in 2022 when her ex-boyfriend shot her before killing himself. (Photos: Facebook)

Mohau opened a case against Mjoli at the Moroka police station in Soweto. A month later she withdrew the charge after being told by the investigating officer that it was up to her to locate her ex-boyfriend and then phone the police on their call centre number 10111.

On the day she withdrew the charge she wrote in the statement: “Once he can get bail, he will hunt me and he will kill me. I know him very well, he is evil and I am so scared of him.”

Some parties see harsh penalties and even mutilation as the best solution to sorting out South Africa’s gender-based violence crisis.

Shah and Mohau were two women failed by the state in that period that falls between our previous election and the one at the end of this month. In that time incidents of gender-based violence have worsened.

The murder rate of women has for the past couple of years clocked more than 3,000 a year. These are numbers last seen in the 1990s.

In 2023, 3,880 women were murdered in South Africa. 

In that time one out of five women has reported having experienced physical abuse by a partner.

Now, once again, South Africans have the opportunity to do something about gender-based violence when they go to the polls at the end of the month.

Just how some parties plan to deal with gender-based violence is spelt out in their election manifestos. The problem, as in years past, is that the details are often sketchy, sometimes dealt with in a sentence or two. Still there is some hope.

“More political parties are paying attention to gender-based violence than 15 years ago and I guess you can call this progress,” says gender research and project consultant Lisa Vetten.

Still some parties see harsh penalties and even mutilation as the best solution to sorting out South Africa’s gender-based violence crisis. The death penalty and the sterilisation of male gender-based violence (GBV) offenders have made it into election manifestos.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Reflections on the intersection of gendered violence and corruption in an election year

The Patriotic Alliance for one wants the return of the death penalty to deal with GBV.

“We will bring back the death penalty for certain classes of offences. These sentences will only be carried out for cases in which there is direct, and not circumstantial, evidence in the below categories: Murder, but particularly the murders of women by men”, the PA manifesto states.

Its manifesto also includes bolstering the sexual offences unit and establishing “rape courts” with specialists “who understand the sensitive nature of such crimes, and who get watertight results to prosecute offenders and thus raise deterrence”.

The official opposition DA, in its election manifesto, says it wants to halve the GBV rate. It plans to do this by training staff at police stations and healthcare facilities for GBV-specific services, so that they can use the necessary screening tools to identify GBV cases and report them to the police.

Incidents of gender-based violence have become more gruesome, emboldened and commonplace over the years. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

Also that survivors of GBV get access to help such as the provision of healthcare, legal services, safe houses and dignity kits.

The governing ANC’s manifesto says it wants, over the next five years, to reduce GBV crime through adequately resourcing community policing forums.

It also wants the implementation of the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide which has been worked on since  2018. Its manifesto also calls for expanding support services such as the Thuthuzela Centres and GBV desks at police stations. And with it the use of public campaigns that work against toxic masculinity.

Added in its manifesto is the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. This would be done through working with businesses and trade unions.

The one manifesto that gender activists and researchers highlight and say provides the most detailed response to the fight against GBV is the EFF’s.

The party’s approach is listed in 54 points. Besides the usual establishment of specialised law enforcement units, the empowering community-based crime organisations and resourcing forensic laboratories, it goes further.

The EFF wants to break the cycle of gender violence by addressing economic disparities and poverty through 50% representation “in all spheres representing economic benefit, political participation, managerial and leadership responsibility”.

It wants to develop effective child maintenance court systems and introduce a new mechanism to report GBV. This will include place of safety visits by police.

There are no mentions of preventative approaches. We argue that you can’t deal with GBV simply by putting people in jail

“The EFF government will develop prevention strategies which will address the root causes of violence against women,” the EFF’s manifesto reads.

But there is controversy too. It is the party that wants to take decisive action against perpetrators of GBV by using forced sterilisation.

The problem with election manifestos, of course, is that jotting down political rhetoric is the easy part, the implementation after the election is won is when it gets hard.

Many gender activists have seen it all before. In fact, at election time Sonke Gender Justice has sent suggestions to the main political parties for how to address GBV, but hasn’t done so for the 2024 polls.

“We feel that there is no point, from our experience none of the interventions in the past were taken up by the big parties,” says Bafana Khumalo, the organisation’s co-founder.

Amanda Gouws, a professor of political science at Stellenbosch University, believes the manifestos for this election are mostly gender blind and don’t single out women’s rights.

Much of what Khumalo sees in the manifestos are typical knee-jerk reactions that pander to populist rhetoric, such as returning the death penalty.

“There are no mentions of preventative approaches. We argue that you can’t deal with GBV simply by putting people in jail,” he says.

These preventative approaches include getting men and boys to better understand gender relations through education, he explains.

The problem, says Vetten, is that none of the political parties appears to have introduced new ideas for tackling GBV.

“If it is about the same ideas about police training then it means the problem is with the training itself. You now have to ask the next level of questions about why the training isn’t working. And what does this tell us of institutional capacity,” says Vetten, who adds that the problem is with the quality of the state at the moment.

You also want to see if any of their policies on gender forms of violence go beyond police and courts.

“You can have the best recommendations in the world but if you don’t have strong institutions in place you are wasting your time,” says Vetten. “If you look at Shah’s murder, the Firearms Control Act is in place but it was a policeman who was not willing to do their job.”

Then there is the problem of politicians not following the same values laid out in their manifestos.

Recently EFF MP Naledi Chirwa was forced to tender a public apology after she missed the impeachment vote of Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe. She said she had missed the session to tend to her sick four-month-old child.

Then there was EFF leader Julius Malema who in 2009 suggested that Fezekile Kuzwayo, the woman who accused Jacob Zuma of rape, had had a nice time with him. Malema, who was the leader of the ANC Youth League at the time, later claimed that he apologised to her.

16 Days gender-based violence

A crowd protests against gender-based violence outside Parliament in Cape Town on 30 June 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images / Nardus Engelbrecht)

Vetten believes voters need to delve a little deeper into those manifestos to get a handle on how parties will deal with gender issues if they come to power.

“You need to look at their capacity to administrate, you want to see actual plans of how they want to build institutions of state,” she says.

Also in how they plan to insulate services from politicians and attract competent people to run institutions.

“You also want to see if any of their policies on gender forms of violence go beyond police and courts.”

But if women really want to be serious about dealing with GBV issues they can sort it out if they really want to, says Gouws. All that is required is to pitch up on voting day and with the cross of an X initiate some change.

There are three million more women registered to vote in South Africa than men – they have the power to sway an election.

“Women, when they go to the polling booth, should look at the manifestos and see what the parties are saying about gender-based violence, reproductive health and employment. You can’t just go into an election blind and vote for party loyalty,” Gouws says. DM

This reporting is supported through a Media Monitoring Africa fellowship.

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