Two days of protests outside parliament that coincided with the World Economic Forum is what it took for President Cyril Ramaphosa to reaffirm government’s commitment to bolstering the fight against gender-based violence and femicide in the country.
Speaking to protestors in Cape Town last week and later in a televised address to the nation, Ramaphosa announced a series of measures the state will implement involving the criminal justice system as well as social and educational interventions meant to respond to the violence against women.
“Is there going to be sufficient financial resources to make sure that we protect the women of our country? My answer is yes, we are going to find the money,” Ramaphosa told protestors.
While speaking to the nation on television, he said that finance minister Tito Mboweni should “allocate additional funding to the national machinery to coordinate our campaign against gender-based violence”.
Ramaphosa’s remarks come on the back of requests made by National Treasury for departments to cut their budgets by between 5% and 7% over the next three years in order to contain the government’s budget deficit.
This after Eskom received an additional R59 billion bailout in July – a move that Moody’s, the last rating agency to keep South Africa’s credit rating at investment grade, said left the government with little fiscal room to manoeuvre.
Yet other state-owned entities such as Denel and the SABC have also been allocated government cash injections from the contingency reserves, a situation Mboweni said cannot be allowed to continue.
How much would be needed
Adjunct Professor at Wits University’s Southern Centre for Inequality Studies Michael Sachs has said the difficulty in finding the money will be clearer once government determines exactly how much will be needed to fund the proposals.
“It is a very different thing if it is in the millions as opposed to the billions,” says Sachs, a former deputy director-general in National Treasury’s budget office.
Sachs says government would have to raise the money by shifting resources from non-performing programmes, and if it is a really large amount that is needed, this could affect more than one portfolio.
Doable, says expert
However, he says the measures Ramaphosa announced do not appear to need a huge amount of money in the context of a trillion-rand budget.
Even if huge amounts are allocated, Sachs says that in a huge organisation like government, the issue will become the rate at which spending occurs “because you need time to ramp up the capacity”.
“So even if you had a large number in mind for one of those programmes, you may find that for next year’s budget it starts with a small amount and then it grows the following year and so on, and the full impact is a few years away.
“I don’t think budget limitations are a big problem on this one,” says Sachs.
“For example, at police stations, is the issue the technology that you have around rape or is the issue the training of the police officers in the stations to be gender-sensitive? I would imagine the second issue is a much bigger issue.”
Sachs points out that police officers are affected by the same issues that colour society when dealing with victims of gender-based violence. A solution here would be to enhance already-existing training programmes for police officers, which will not require much funding input.
He says that in the context of a slowing economy and rising unemployment, the justice, crime prevention and security cluster has generally been less of a priority in terms of funding as opposed social needs such as education, social welfare and health.
Government’s rationale has been that these items would be felt more keenly by the poor. However, the unrest that has raised the profile of gender-based violence as a priority to the state “gives credence to arguments that we should regard the security cluster as having important social elements”, says Sachs.
Can’t afford complacency
With the exception of items such as making the national register of sex offenders public, spokesperson for the Total Shutdown movement Lesley Ncube says the promises Ramaphosa has made are not new and come from the declaration that was signed after the gender summit in November 2018.
However, Ncube says government needs to act faster and show commitment by allocating resources towards the measures meant to combat gender-based violence, especially given the rate at which women experience violence in South Africa.
Despite Ramaphosa promising in his February state of the nation address to address resources at the Thuthuzela Care Centres and Khuseleka Care Centres, which provide a range of services for victims of sexual and domestic violence, or strengthening relevant specialised units, no new allocations were made towards this in Mboweni’s budget.
Ncube says things that could be expedited in the short term include allocating money towards shelters, having rapid response teams up and running, and denying bail to those who have been arrested for gender-based violence.