President Cyril Ramaphosa did not exactly say South Africa is going into therapy, but his utterances on gender-based violence (GBV) and alcohol abuse amounted to an intervention.
Wednesday night’s speech was supposed to mark the 100th day of the Covid-19 lockdown, but the president spent almost half of the address on what the state will be doing to tackle issues regarding violence against women and children and the role alcohol plays in it.
Ramaphosa did not mince words on the scale of the problem.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I stand before the women and girls of South Africa this evening to talk about another pandemic that is raging in our country – the killing of women and children by the men of our country.
“As a man, as a husband and as a father, I am appalled at what is no less than a war being waged against the women and children of our country.”
He said the reprieve in violence against women brought by the lockdown has not lasted and it was especially disappointing that the violence increased when the ban on alcohol sales was lifted.
“It is deeply disturbing that the spike in crimes against women and children has coincided with the easing of the coronavirus lockdown. According to the police, violent crime – especially murders and attempted murders – has increased since alert level 3 took effect on June 1.”
In the last few weeks, 21 women and children have been murdered.
They were as young as six and as old as 89.
He then went on to name some of them: Naledi Phangindawo, Nompumelelo Tshaka, Nomfazi Gabada, Nwabisa Mgwandela, Altecia Kortjie, six-year-old Raynecia Kotjie, Lindelwa Peni and Tshegofatso Pule along with her unborn daughter who had already been given a name.
Slow steps forward
The state has made some progress since a R1.6 billion emergency response plan to combat gender-based violence and femicide was announced in parliament in September last year. Since then, survivors of gender-based violence have had access to support and services, including the GBV hotline, shelters and centres providing support to victims of sexual violence.
Since December, 10 government-owned buildings have been handed over to the Department of Social Development to be used as shelters.
There are now over 1 000 survivor-friendly rooms at police stations.
Police, prosecutors, magistrates and policymakers have undergone sensitivity and awareness training, and more than 3 000 government employees have been checked against the National Register of Sex Offenders.
Aside from supporting the victims, tackling the perpetrators of this kind of violence is also on the agenda.
Ramaphosa urged lawmakers to amend legislation on minimum sentencing in cases of gender-based violence, bail conditions for suspects, and greater protection for women.
He also pointed out that although alcohol played a part, it is South African men who are ultimately responsible. “Of course, it is not alcohol that rapes or kills a woman or a child. Rather, it is the actions of violent men.”
But it’s not just men. It’s society as a whole that allows these men to get away with this type of violence.
End the silence
“These perpetrators are known to us and our communities. By looking away, by discouraging victims from laying charges, by shaming women for their lifestyle choices or their style of dress, we become complicit in these crimes.
“I once again call on every single South African listening this evening to consider the consequence of their silence.”
Asking people to drink less and to support the laying of charges might not sound like much of an intervention – but it can play an outsized role as it will reduce the space these perpetrators operate in.
These types of men are always trying to press what they can get away with. If everyone had too many drinks, for example, who can be certain of what actually happened? If they can get friends and family to talk someone out of not pressing charges, there is no formal record to track their abuse.
Creating reasonable doubt and fostering peer pressure is part of their plan.
I know guys like these.
They are always looking for grey areas and constantly building social capital to justify their bad behaviour. “I’m a good guy but … ”
They are abusers first and husbands, brothers, friends second. They might not murder a woman, but they will hurt them in as many ways as they possibly can.
It’s time we take away the space they operate in and call them out if we are serious about ending violence against women.