South Africa is a nation in crisis where gender-based violence (GBV), femicide, child murders, and human trafficking are at a peak, with not much done about it. Every day we scroll through social media, read a newspaper, or turn on the television to a news story about another child or woman gone missing or brutally raped and murdered. We are dying at the hands of our justice system.
We have become a country where the police – whose job it is to protect us – ignore, violate, and kill us. Recently Police Minister Bheki Cele announced 30 GBV hot spots across the country. This announcement comes after the brutal gang rape of a mentally ill woman and the discovery of two children’s bodies in Orange Farm. The hot spots are not an accurate reflection of the extent of GBV in South Africa, as many cases still go unreported. The South African Police Services (SAPS) has no immediate plan to address these hot spots, other than continuing their “public awareness and community-based campaigns in these areas”. Promoting campaigns that are not working, since GBV remains prevalent, cannot be the answer.
It is clear that the South African police are incapable of focusing on more than one pressing matter at a time – like a recent weekend when Cele raided “troublesome” areas in search of people violating lockdown for drinking and driving past the given curfew. More than 2,700 women were murdered in South Africa in 2019. While they are raiding these areas, our women and children are begging for a safer society. However, more than 30 days after Women’s Month, here we are still screaming for the attention of the government and the police to combat GBV and femicide.
What more is needed for us to be heard?
To make ourselves heard, we continue to protest against GBV and femicide across the country. In one of the first protests during the Covid-19 lockdown, police brutally tried to disperse the peaceful protesters with teargas and stun grenades. Nearly 15 women were arrested and charged with public violence and malicious damage to property. Ironically, the women protesting against a violent society were met with violence from the police. A week later, a Move One Million protest against corruption, GBV and crime drew crowds of women, men, children, and anti-GBV organisations.
Bronwyn Litkie, the founder of SA Women Fight Back, has had enough. “We have to stand up for South Africa. We have seen too much violence around our country. We are sick and tired of corruption and gender-based violence. There needs to be a change.”
Litkie says GBV is never going to go away, but “we can try our best to come up with innovative ways to help women, assure the proper assistance structures are in place for victims, bring about awareness to get people to get involved and to educate our youth”.
Organisations like SA Women Fight Back help keep the anti-GBV and femicide movement in South Africa alive.
It is evident that patriarchy is so systemically entrenched in our society that it surfaces in institutions mandated to serve and protect women and children, indicating they do not know how to address GBV. As an alternative to the police, an increasing number of women are seeking the help of GBV safehouses and anti-GBV organisations.
These organisations have become a safe haven for GBV survivors where they can share their stories of abuse, trauma, loss, to seek help, and confide in each other. With a limited number of safe spaces available in South Africa, these anti-GBV organisations give women a voice and create safe spaces for women to get help and not feel alone. They also propel GBV issues in South Africa by calling for justice to be served and lobbying for more legal protections for women and children. They also offer important resources to GBV survivors such as free legal advice, trauma counselling, and court support.
GBV, femicide, and human trafficking have become a pandemic for civil society and the people of South Africa to resolve, while the authorities turn a blind eye and meet efforts with brutality. So just how far has the government come in addressing GBV and femicide?
In an address on GBV this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa said GBV offenders should not be granted bail, more shelters should be built, more social workers should be employed, and police and judicial officers should be trained. However, we have yet to see this take effect. It is only with the assistance of GBV organisations earlier this year that the government released the National Strategic Plan on GBV and Femicide with the hope of realising “human dignity and healing, safety, freedom and equality in our lifetime”. In addition to this, earlier this month, the government introduced the amendments to three bills to help tackle GBV and femicide. These amendments include:
- The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act:
- Includes sexual intimidation, seeks to broaden the offence of incest, and places certain reporting duties on those who suspect that a sexual offence against a child has been committed;
- Expands the scope of the National Register of Sex Offenders to include the details of all sex offenders; and
- Makes the sex offenders register public.
- The Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill:
- Aims to tighten, among others, the granting of bail to GBV and femicide perpetrators and expand the sentences where the minimum sentence is imposed.
- The Domestic Violence Amendment Act:
- Expands the definition for domestic violence to include those who are engaged, dating, in customary relationships, and actual or perceived – romantic, intimate or sexual relationships of any duration; and
- Extends the definition of “domestic violence” to include the protection of older people against the abuse from family members.
GBV, femicide, child murders, and human trafficking are at an all-time high in South Africa. Here, the murder rate of women is five times higher than the global average, domestic violence at the hands of their partner is alarmingly high, and the country has some of the highest incidences of child and infant rape in the world.
GBV statistics continue to soar even after Ramaphosa promised to address GBV and femicide in 2019 after women and children took to the streets. The bill amendments, although not a solution to GBV and femicide, are a step in the right direction. There is still so much more that needs to be done to combat GBV and femicide in South Africa. We have to act fast as these crimes come at a cost for girls and women and their ability to achieve their full potential. DM
Elaine Pypers is an ambassador for SA Women Fight Back, an anti-GBV and femicide non-profit company. She works at Democracy Works Foundation where she focuses on youth civic education and leadership, as well as capacity building within community-based organisations for active public participation. Previous roles include work at the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference. She has a master’s of administration in political studies (University of the Western Cape) where her thesis was ‘The State Capture of Independent Institutions: an analysis of the National Prosecuting Authority, 1998-2017’.