On the 28th of January 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill. The signing of the bills is one of the several deliverables from the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on Gender-based Violence and Femicide, which was called for at the November 2018 Presidential Summit against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF).
South Africa is battling one of the highest GBV rates globally. Intimate partner femicide is five times higher than the global average. A 2020 survey conducted by the Mail & Guardian found that 51% of South African women admitted to having experienced GBV, with 76% of men admitting they have perpetrated GBV.
Statistics by the South African Police Service (SAPS) revealed that between July and September 2021, 9556 people were raped, a 7.1% increase from 2021’s second quarter figure of 8922. In the same period, over 13000 out of 73000 assault cases were gender related. Despite efforts by government in addressing the scourge, the pandemic of GBV persists.
The development and finalisation of the NSP is commendable. If properly effected and prioritised, it has the potential to ensure meaningful gains. The NSP, structured along six main pillars, aims to ensure effective government coordination, install preventative and social programmes, strengthen the country’s justice systems, provide healing and support mechanisms for survivors, ensure the economic empowerment of women, and strengthen research and information management systems. This comprehensive document effectively responds to the demands made by women and activists, in a march to the Union Buildings in 2018.
With the GBV bills signed, the focus now turns to their implementation. While eloquently outlining the issue at hand and proposing comprehensive solutions, the NSP has largely failed to prioritise implementation mechanisms. This has meant that its implementation and progress has been at a snail’s pace.
Directly linked to the challenge of implementation has been lack of progress in forming the National Council for Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, which will drive and track the effective implementation of the NSP. The Council represents one of the key initial steps in ensuring the effective operationalisation of the NSP and was hoped to have been formed within 6 months. The Council is meant to ensure that commitments are more than just lip service and translate into meaningful gains. It is also key to the goal of strengthening collaborative efforts for government, civil society and other sectors to address GBV. Any further delay in finalising the formation of the Council is a major hindrance in the fight against GBV.
A 2021 report published by the Commission for Gender Equality has highlighted that the operationalising of the NSP continues to be shrouded in uncertainty despite being approved by Cabinet in 2020. It also found that 63.75% of targets set out in the Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP), a short-term response to GBV set up prior to the NSP, were not achieved. This simply speaks to a lack of will and prioritisation to address GBV issues. The COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown period have often been used as a scapegoat for unmet targets, while the very same pandemic has greatly contributed to rising cases of violence and abuse against women and children.
Despite the mortifying prevalence of GBV in South Africa, it forever seems that any and every other issue the country faces constantly takes precedence and priority over the need to urgently deliver justice for past, current and future survivors of GBV. In the face of rising unemployment, a weak economy, and a global pandemic, the lives of millions of women and children impacted by GBV continue to take the backseat. This, year after year, as though all issues cannot find equal priority and be efforted the same level of prompt action. It is for this reason that South Africa’s version of activism, of drawing up strategies that are not effectively implemented, of delivering occasional speeches and statements, is not particularly moving. At most, it represents a superficial, performative brand of activism that does not lead to any meaningful change – 365 days of inactivity.
While the signing of the GBV Bills is a notable development, it is but one of many interventions outlined in the NSP. The country can no longer afford to move at a snail’s place in the implementation of key GBV interventions. Although collaboration between government, business, labour and civil society is key to addressing the GBVF pandemic, political commitment within government in particular is vital. A comprehensive roadmap to address GBV exists in the form of the NSP, government only now needs to ensure that its implementation is prioritised.
Written by Pearl Mncube