Where are our leaders in the fight for gender justice?

  • Patrick Godana

How many more people need to be violated, assaulted and murdered before our government takes the scourge of gender-based violence seriously?

We ask this question a lot in the Sonke offices but the last few months have felt particularly brutal with a spate of horrific acts of violence perpetrated against women and children making headlines. So when the crime statistics were released on 2 September, it was difficult to believe that crime has decreased overall in most categories as the report stated.

I can’t forget reading of the heroic death in August of six year-old Kutlwano Garesape from Kimberly who placed his life on the line trying to defend his mother from being attacked by a man who wanted to rape her. I can’t forget the reports of a night of horror during the same month in Port Elizabeth, which started with two students aged 21 and 28 from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University relaxing in their car, and ended in the rape of one and murder of the other.

I was reminded – yet again – of the brutal murder of Reeva Steenkamp when the State’s application to appeal the sentence of Oscar Pistorius was dismissed by Judge Thokozile Masipa, who felt the six years in prison she had sentenced the former athlete to, fitted the crime of murder.

All this while Sonke’s Community Action Team (CAT) members and I picketed outside Ngqamakhwe Magistrate Court in Butterworth at the Eastern Cape. We were calling on the state to put the interests of a 13 year-old girl, who had allegedly been repeatedly raped by a 51 year-old school principal, first. We were there to send a message to all would-be abusers that we will support survivors to attain justice. Mr Shosha was appearing before the local magistrate applying for bail. After deliberations between the state and the defence lawyer, the magistrate dismissed the application and the case was postponed and shifted to Tsomo Regional Court on the 13 September for trial. A small victory. On the 16th and 30th September the accused appeared in Ngqamakhwe Magistrate Court requesting bail based on his ill health. On both occasions the matter was dismissed. Justice delayed is justice denied, which is why Sonke’s CAT members continue to be present at these court appearances to express our concern at the delays and postponements. Monday 10 October will see the delivery of a full psycho-social report on Mr Shosha’s health from Thuthuzela Centre in Butterworth.

This is just one of the cases Sonke’s CATs are monitoring in the Eastern Cape. Another involves a 16 year-old girl who was raped on 1 January 2016. The accused was released on R1000 bail. The trial is set for 30th October at Willowvale Regional Court in the Eastern Cape.

Yet, if we are to believe the recent crime statistics, sexual offences have decreased by 3.2% over the last year. Really? While the cases Sonke is monitoring have thankfully made it to court, the fact is that most instances of gender-based violence go unreported.

And then there is the case of corporal punishment involving a teacher from Nal’ikamva Primary School in Blue Downs in the Western Cape, who is accused of paralysing the right hand of a 14 year-old student, by beating her with a pipe for failing to present her homework. Internal processes at the Department of Education found the teacher guilty. However, having been given a warning, the teacher was allowed to return to the same school and the same class. The case was postponed until 28 September where it was heard at Blue Downs Regional Court and has now been postponed until 10 November.

Corporal punishment in school was banned in South Africa in 1996 and yet, despite laws and policies in place to protect them, children continue to suffer. According to the 2015 Optimus Study on Child Safety, one in three children have been physically abused by the time they reach 18.

Civil society is working tirelessly in communities across the country to improve public safety by addressing the factors that contribute to violence, including toxic gender norms, alcohol abuse, stress and poverty. We are also actively supporting survivors. But we can’t do it alone. We need to work with government. We need more than empty rhetoric from our leaders. We need them to lead.