In June 2020, during a COVID-19 update address to the nation, President Cyril Ramaphosa referred to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) as a second pandemic raging in the country. The President also reiterated government’s commitment to direct R1.6-billion in government funding to support the implementation of the Emergency Response Plan to combat gender-based violence and femicide. The amount was rightly criticised for being too little to adequately fight the scourge of GBV in the country, with more funds needed to be made available. With government facing fiscal pressures exacerbated by COVID-19, government was going to find it difficult to win this battle alone, requiring business and societal stakeholders to play their part.
The launch of the Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) Response Fund by President Cyril Ramaphosa, on the 4th of February, represents a key development in South Africa’s efforts to fight GBVF. The private sector-led fund, developed with the assistance of government, is intended to support the implementation of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) to guide national efforts against GBV, and its pillars, along with the country’s wider GBVF strategy. As noteworthy as this development is, a few concerns remain where the country’s fight against GBV is concerned. Concerns remain regarding our leaders’ dedication to the fight and the extent of support afforded to GBVF victims by the country’s institutions.
The South African government’s track record on tackling GBV is dismal, to say the least. Among the key drivers of this dismal performance is the seeming absence of political will by those in leadership positions. Public condemnations tend to falter when such acts are committed by those in close proximity to our political leaders. GBV cases involving prominent leaders are often not afforded the swift action and explicit condemnation they deserve. Responses from the politically elite of fellow cadres being accused of sexual harassment and gross GBV acts are usually dispassionate. Perpetrators of GBV with political power or influence are not shunned from their circles and in some instances are kept in their leadership positions despite the allegations leveled against them. While there are arguments regarding the balance between offering unequivocal support to victims and affording the accused the opportunity to prove their case, the heavy prevalence of GBV in our country calls for society to promote the interests of victims, even while allegations are weighed by courts of law.
Recently there has been the allegations of sexual harassment leveled against Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu. The Minister remains in his position, despite calls by the ANC Women’s League, the Economic Freedom Fighters and Democratic Alliance for him to step aside until he clears his name. Previous examples of how the ANC has responded to cases involving leaders such as Mduduzi Manana and former President Jacob Zuma make it rather easy to anticipate how the allegations against Mchunu are likely to be treated. It is time that our leaders stop paying lip-service to the fight against GBV and start acting without fear or favour. Although we cannot completely ignore the complexities involved in abuse allegations, the country’s high abuse rates call for nothing short of a swift response. A good place to start would be through introducing set standards calling on accused persons to face suspensions as their cases are weighed by the law.
Although the GBVF crisis has not been highlighted as one of the focus areas during this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), it should be noted that government has done some good things in addressing the scourge in our country. According to the President, government has increased the number of shelters reserved for GBV victims; 13 regional courts have been upgraded into sexual offences courts; police stations now have survivor friendly rooms; police, prosecutors, magistrates and policymakers have undergone sensitivity and awareness training; and legislation has been introduced in parliament to address the scourge of women and children abuse in South Africa.
However, more work needs to be done, and at a much greater pace, to overcome the GBV crisis. Financial allocations are necessary and welcomed but will not be sufficient in the face of weak political will, poor coordination, slow legislative reforms and insufficient support to victims through institutional measures. Unless these issues are addressed, the country’s national GBVF response will remain insufficient, and no amount of money can adequately address such.
Written By Pearl Mncube