The National Shelter Movement (NSM) will host a picket outside Parliament on Wednesday to demand government priorities shelters for abused women and children, as an emergency joint session takes place inside. Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the urgent sitting of the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces will draw MP’s focus on “their responsibility” to address the gender-based violence plaguing South Africa.
In July this year, the Shelter Movements handed a joint memorandum to Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, which highlighted the significant and positive impact shelters are making in abused women’s lives. To date, little action has been taken to act on their proposals.
The joint parliamentary sitting comes on the heels of increased reports of brutal acts of rape and murder of women and children, which gave rise to mass protests against femicide. In recent weeks, several pickets have been held across Cape Town and the country, that had escalated into calls for a “National Shutdown”.
News of the rape and murder of UCT student, Uiynene Mrtwetyana, and UWC student, Jesse Hess, drew public outrage as their names became just two that appeared on a long list of deceased women and young girls. Two weeks ago, Ramaphosa was initially boo-ed as he addressed a crowd of thousands as they gathered outside Parliament to demand action from government. He committed to overhaul the database of sexual offenders and potentially make it public and enforce harsher sentences for those who commit crimes against women. He also challenged men to face gender-based violence directly.
The scene was tense and emotional as many expressed disgust at the level of fear South African women have to bear daily, while others were disappointed in a “failing justice system”. Students, organisations, political parties and locals took place in the demonstrations which also sought to raise awareness that the issue was a global problem that required urgent attention.
Police also arrested a total of 23 protesters in Cape Town between 4 and 6 September. The state later withdrew the charges, which included the contravention of the Regulation of Gatherings Act (RGA), public violence, and assault of a police officer.
Struggle songs rang through the Cape Town CBD as protesters carried placards that bore bold messages, some of which were accompanied by striking images. Some of the most emotive ones were written in red as a symbol of the blood of thousands of victims. Among them were:
“I don’t want to die with my hands up or legs open”,
“I am her. She is us. That is why we can’t breathe”,
“She is not dressed like a slut. You are just thinking like a rapist.”
and “We will fight. We must fight. So that the bruises of our fallen sisters do not become the blood of our daughters”
It also saw the emergence of hashtags on social media such as #EnoughIsEnough, #MenAreTrash and #AmINext; the latter of which led to women “anonymously outing” their alleged rapist or sexual violators online. Legal and Media experts, however, warned strongly against this as it could have negative consequences such as leading to the alleged perpetrator being acquitted or land up on the receiving end of defamation and slander charges.
The 2018/19 Crime Statistics further showed an increase in violence in the country, including increases in sexual offences, such as rape and other violence against women. The Western Cape also ranked second for the number of murders, while Cape Town is home to 4 out of 10 stations recording contact crimes including sexual assault, common assault, robbery and assault with grievous bodily harm. These districts are Mitchells Plain, Khayelitsha, Delft and Nyanga- which maintained it’s notorious status as the top murder precinct in the country.
A parliamentary statement released this week quoted President Ramaphosa as having said all citizens have “ the responsibility to ensure that these events become the turning point in our fight against gender-based violence.”
Chair of the Western Cape Women’s Shelter Movement (WCWSM) and Director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, Bernadine Bachar, said government and businesses need to fully acknowledge and support the efforts of shelters.
“While shelters will form part of the discussion, we need to ensure that the President hears from those who work in the field every day and that he focuses on the issues that need attention. Even though studies confirm that shelters are a crucial crisis intervention for domestic and gender-based violence, shelters still battle to secure sufficient funding from government. As a result, shelters are often unable to provide all the services required of them to adequately address the needs of survivors and their children, and help them fully recover from their ordeals.”
Manager at Sisters Incorporated, Delene Roberts, said a holistic plan is needed to ensure the sustainability of such institutions.
“While preventative action is a key issue, this will require a longer-term and more comprehensive strategy, and will need to address and interrogate our societies’ most basic values. For now, however, we urgently need government to focus on what can be done immediately to keep our country’s women and children safe from further violence and abuse.”
Other demands included adequate funding for shelters which is often “incredibly delayed, as a result of sporadic funding models that vary from province to province”. The issue of service delivery was also thrown into the spotlight, with the organisation noting that the South African Police Services is “ill-equipped to respond to domestic violence”. Research has found that police often become sources of secondary abuse for survivors.
“It is important that no victim of domestic violence, sexual violence and other forms of abuse should be turned away because police failed to comply with what is expected of them,” added Roberts.
The organisation, in a statement, recommended the following to improve SAPS service delivery:
- All police stations to be immediately supplied with the contact details of shelters and other social welfare organisations;
Training for police officers must be improved to ensure that officials understand the contextual reality of domestic violence and respond more empathically to survivors;
Police officers must adhere to what is required of them as set out in the Domestic Violence Act and the National Instruction, monitoring of their ability to do so must be improved;
SAPS must employ more effective screening processes to avoid the employing of officers who themselves may be perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual abuse
- Consider the findings by various findings from the 3-year research project undertaken by the Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF) and the NSM in the Policing Responses to Domestic Violence: Exploring Reactions by the Police to Women in Need of Shelter.
The issue of health care was also brought up as Roberts noted WCWSM’s call for President Ramaphosa to ensure the implementation of more practical measures to ensure proper treatment.
“President Ramaphosa must allow for GBV survivors to be fast-tracked to access any healthcare services needed – implementing mechanisms to minimise/eliminate the obstacles they face when trying to do so – and in particular, to ensure the provision of free and immediate access to psychosocial services.”
Executive Member of NSM and Director of St Anne’s Home for Women and Children, Joy Lange, also noted that housing is an issue.
“Access to safe and affordable housing for women and children who are exiting shelters, is another key issue that needs to be addressed immediately. However, to resolve these issues, improved inter-departmental cooperation at all government levels is paramount.
Support from the broader community and businesses is a concern that hit home. Lange said that victims deserve opportunities.
“We also hope that the President calls on businesses to play a more active role in tackling GBV in the country. This will ensure that survivors are provided with a full and holistic bouquet of services including potential employment opportunities, and support from the companies they work for.”
“To address the inadequate funding of shelters, the WCWSM advises the state to consider implementation of the funding model developed in collaboration with the NSM entitled “What is Rightfully Due? Costing the Operations of Domestic Violence Shelters.”
“Measures must put in place to ensure that all payments to shelters are made in good time. Delays of up to four months at times, is not acceptable. Furthermore, funding allocations to shelters – from Treasury to the Department of Social Development (DSD) – must be ring-fenced and protected from re-allocation, and funding must include additional resources for shelter infrastructure and maintenance. DSD rarely sets aside money for this,” adds Lange.
Director at The Safe House and Deputy Chair of WCWSM, Kathy Cronje, explained that the organisation will analyse the outcomes of the sitting, which will also be debated by parliament.
“We need a commitment from the President and his government that they will stand up and fight for the human rights of the women of this country, even after the outcry from the past few weeks has died down.”