Photo: Al Kohlstock, News24
Photo: Al Kohlstock, News24

Bafana Khumalo & Rumbie Elizabeth Chidoori: Lack of GBV interventions are costing women’s lives

The National Strategic Plan is a little too late for Uyinene, Nosicelo, the little girl in Soshanguve, the thousands of teenagers who find themselves pregnant and the many thousands of other womxn and girls who continue to face violence and discrimination on a daily basis without access to appropriate remedies, and without protection and equal benefit of the law, writes Sonke Gender Justice’s Bafana Khumalo and Rumbie Elizabeth Chidoori.

This is according to the quarterly crime statistics released by Police Minister Bheki Cele just last week. These figures represent a 72.4% increase when compared to the previous reporting period. A total of 5 760 people were killed during the same reporting period, and while 164 murders are linked to domestic violence, 487 of the rape cases were reportedly domestic violence related.

Inanda (KwaZulu-Natal), Delft (Western Cape) and Lusikisiki (Eastern Cape) recorded the highest incidents of rape in the country. The minister also revealed an increase of 74.1% across all sexual offences, and out of the 76 936 cases of common assault and assault with grievous bodily harm that were opened during this period, 15 000 are domestic violence related. This demonstrates that the scale of gender-based violence (GBV) remains significant for a country not embroiled in armed conflict.

Another bright life taken

It has been two years since 19-year-old Uyinene Mrwetyana was brutally murdered and raped as she visited the Clareinch post office in Cape Town to collect a parcel. This year, in the same week as we remember Uyinene, another bright young life was taken. Nosicelo Mtebeni, a law student at the University of Fort Hare, was brutally murdered reportedly by her boyfriend Alutha Pasile in a house in Quigney, East London. Her body parts were subsequently dismembered, and some discarded in a suitcase on a street corner, whilst her hands and head were found in the residence she shared with Pasile.

Both womxn were young university students, with prospects of a bright future ahead of them. Both were killed in August, Womxn’s Month, a time when the country pays tribute to the more than 20 000 womxn who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to womxn. This two years after the launch of the GBVF (gender-based violence and femicide) national strategy. It begs the question: will we ever manage to turn the tide against GBVF in SA?

In a similar fashion, Sonke Gender Justice, along with feminist alliances and thousands of womxn, marched under the banner of #TotalShutdown to the Union Buildings on 1 August 2018 in protest against the extreme levels of gender-based violence and femicide. This march was subsequently followed by the first-ever National Summit on Gender-based Violence and Femicide. It is now three years after President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted this summit and promised a National Council for Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, yet this has still not been convened. The National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (NSP on GBVF) adopted by Cabinet in March 2020 was designed as a comprehensive and cohesive framework guiding the national response to GBVF for the next five to 10 years, with a specific focus on violence against womxn in all their diversity.

The Ministry of Womxn has now released the National Strategic Plan (NSP) Year 1 Implementation Report 2020-’21 on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide to President Ramaphosa. However, despite the few gains that have been made, progress is very slow and GBV continues to wreak havoc on victims/survivors and the families and the community at large. Not much change has been seen on the ground or in the daily lived realities of womxn and girls.

About two weeks ago, a 6-year-old Grade 1 pupil was raped by a general worker at a school in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria. A few days ago, the Gauteng health department revealed that it recorded more than 23 000 teenage pregnancies between April 2020 and March 2021, with 934 of the girls aged only between 10 and 14 years, raising more serious questions about teenage pregnancies.

Many womxn continue to be failed by the state as they are denied access to an efficient, responsive, inclusive and victim/survivor centred criminal justice system. The Covid-19 pandemic and accompanying lockdown restrictions have exacerbated the situation of womxn and girls, with a devastating impact on access to basic socio-economic services. 

Progress achieved

Some of the gains reflected in the NSP Year 1 Implementation Report 2020-’21 include the following: 

  1. Finalisation and adoption of the NSP itself and the reprioritisation of the R1.6 billion to support the Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP) – (NSP on GBVF is built on the ERAP);
  2. The redirection of resources to support the network of sexual offences courts, Thuthuzela Care Centres and the SAPS Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Investigation Units;
  3. The establishment of systems including the Rapid Response Task teams to track the processing of GBV cases, the roll-out of a rapid results method in courts and the formation of a cold case task team aimed at addressing access to justice for survivors of gender-based violence;
  4. Fast tracking the provision of evidence collection kits at all police stations; priority processing of DNA in sexual offences (although there remains quite a significant backlog);
  5. Fast tracking legislation, notably the three GBV bills;
  6. The courts have passed some significant judgments that promote gender equality. These include the Constitutional Court decisions that doctrine of common purpose can be applied to the common law crime of rape (2019); and that Section 21(2)(a) of the Matrimonial Property Act 88 of 1984 is unconstitutional and invalid to the extent that it maintains and perpetuates discrimination created by the Black Administration Act, in respect of marriages of black couples entered into before 1988 are automatically deemed out of community of property;
  7. Raising awareness of legal rights of womxn through webinars and other media including community radio stations and resource materials.

Also noteworthy is the establishment of the GBVF Response Fund by the private sector raising a pledge of R128 million as part of their efforts towards the collective national response to gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa. However, in a country ravaged by corruption and political patronage, it still remains to be seen if the money will actually reach its intended beneficiaries.

Lack of implementation

So, whilst on paper it may appear that we have improved, the status quo remains that we have “beautiful laws” and yet very little implementation on the ground. Most of the changes that are coming into effect are yet to be felt by millions of womxn on the ground. There are still large and existing gaps in our response to and prevention of GBVF. The institutions that hold and perpetuate patriarchal violence are still firmly rooted and continue to enable gender inequality.

Much more is required in order to effectively dismantle these institutions and systems. The NSP is a little too late for Uyinene, Nosicelo, the little girl in Soshanguve, the thousands of teenagers who find themselves pregnant and the many thousands of other womxn and girls who continue to face violence and discrimination on a daily basis without access to appropriate remedies, and without protection and equal benefit of the law. The constant delays in Parliament and government bureaucracy are costing womxn’s lives as the urgency of this matter appears to be lost on the relevant authorities.

In order to achieve a just, peaceful and inclusive world, we must endeavour to transform existing notions of gender that favour male power and privilege whilst facilitating violence, to one of social justice, one that centralises our gender identities, experiences and our unique lived realities.

– Bafana Khumalo is the co-executive director at Sonke Gender Justice and the co-chair of MenEngage Global Alliance.

– Rumbie Elizabeth Chidoori is the Legal Fellow at Sonke Gender Justice, in the Policy Advocacy Unit.

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