Empty promises, unfunded mandates, and lip-service. These are all terms used to describe the South African government’s approach to stopping gender-based violence. Despite the horrifying statistics that show the rate at which women and girl children are being abused and killed, the government’s response has been disappointing.
In 2017, a round table was held by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands and UNODC to address the national response to sexual and gender-based violence in South Africa. The meeting brought together “national authorities dealing with social development, health, and women equality along with Police, National Prosecution Authority (NPA), Court and civil society organizations.” From these discussions, it was noted the initiatives that were in place to address GBV, which include, “the establishment of the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit in the NPA, Thuthuzela Care Centres, Sexual Offences Courts, as well as Rapid Response Teams, which include DJCD, NPA, SAPS and representatives from SCOs.” However, it’s been made clear that these responses are not enough. A number of changes need to be implemented to make the response to GBV more efficient:
Despite these conversations and promises of implementation, high profile cases continued to soar. In response, the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence (NSP GBV) campaign was born, which demanded: “a fully-costed, evidence-based, multi-sectoral, inclusive and comprehensive NSP to end GBV.” This campaign has carried out a number of initiatives since its inception and has spearheaded diagnostic reviews of government strategies, all of which are available to the public.
However, 2019 saw new levels of outrage when Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old University of Cape Town student was raped and killed at a post office in Clairmont. This sparked national protests and forced the government to reassess how they were tackling such a major problem. Grassroot organisations, NPOs, NGOs and the general public called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to take a stand and make some meaningful and impactful changes to how GBV cases are dealt with. In his speech, President Ramaphosa committed to reforming the Sexual Offences Court, making the sex offenders list publicly available, stricter jail sentences and focus on rehabilitation programmes, a strengthened response to GBV and strategic partnerships to end GBV by 2030.
The question that follows is, will all these promises be kept? According to Kayan Leung, the legal advocacy and litigation manager for Sonke Gender Justice, “The president has to get a fully functional National Strategic Plan on gender-based violence and it cannot be platitudes, because this was promised at the summit last year and to date, we haven’t seen anything.”
“We have things called sexual offences courts, the problem is we are not getting funds and adequate resources.”
In order for the fight against GBV to be effective, the entire cause needs to be funded adequately, supported by all government and law enforcement sectors, and, most importantly, promises need to be kept.