Opinionista Alison Tilley 7 February 2019

Ramaphosa’s SONA and the issue of gender-based violence

Cyril Ramaphosa will have to explain on Thursday how the state will give effect to majority party January 8 statement commitments in the light of a shrinking fiscus.

Gender-based violence made it into the January 8 statement of the majority party. And not just a mention – a relatively thorough and honest assessment of the state of women and girl children in South Africa, and in particular the unprecedented levels of abuse, violence and murder suffered by them. The president said “we must hang our heads in shame” at the state of gender-based violence and the patriarchal practices that give rise to it in the country.

Indeed. He also asked the men in the stadium to stand and make a commitment to end gender-based violence. Contrast this with no mention of gender-based violence at all in last year’s January 8 statement.

The harrowing stories told by survivors at the recent Summit on Gender-Based Violence seem to have persuaded the party to highlight the issue as a national crisis. The women who took to the streets for #totalshutdown can legitimately claim the summit as a success, and it is very pleasing to see a rhetorical commitment to ending the scourge.

But when the president promised that “the ANC government will continue to scale up the network of Thuthuzela Care Centres and other victim empowerment initiatives” I really started paying attention.

Thuthuzela Care Centres are one-stop facilities, aimed at preventing secondary victimisation of rape and abuse victims, improving conviction rates, and reducing the time taken to finalise cases. There are 55 Thuthuzela Care Centres across the country.

The care centres are proving an antidote to the general level of non-reporting of sexual offences. Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust compared the patterns of reporting at three local Thuthuzela Care Centres that it recorded in Cape Town.

  • In 2014 there were 2,628 cases.
  • In 2015 there were 3,153 cases.
  • In 2016 there were 3,210 cases.
  • In 2017 there were 3,425 cases.

These increases match a decrease in reporting to local police stations. It makes sense – at most care centres counsellors inform the survivor about the complex processes involved in reporting rape: a nurse will counsel the survivor about potential health risks, including potential HIV infection, and prepare them for the forensic examination, which is conducted by a doctor specially trained to collect forensic evidence for the crimes of rape and sexual assault. After this examination, the first responder gives the survivor a care pack containing toiletries so that she can shower, change into clean underwear and brush her teeth.

A police detective takes a statement immediately or escorts the survivor to their home and makes an arrangement to take the statement the next day.

In some care centres, they work with or near a sexual offences court, which provides specialist infrastructure, personnel and services to survivors.

Donors have funded the care centres for some time. This funding will end on the 31st March 2019.

In recent research produced for the AIDS Foundation of South Africa and the Networking HIV & AIDS Community of Southern Africa, they highlight the ending of the Global Fund grant funding for the care centres. “The extensive funding provided the Global Fund to almost all care centres across the country raises concern around the care centres ability to effectively implement the provision of psychosocial services without support from other donors.”

All Thuthuzela Care Centre stakeholders interviewed thought that the ending of this tranche Global Fund grant funding on 31 March 2019 would have dire consequences for the services currently being offered. The withdrawal of Global Fund grant funding at the care centres may result in the loss of a number of NGO services.

So where will the funds come from to sustain the care centres? The president will have to explain how the state will give effect to majority party commitments, in the light of a shrinking fiscus. DM

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In other news...

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