President Cyril Ramaphosa says if a nation’s character can be judged by how it treats women and children, then South Africa is falling desperately short.
Through his weekly newsletter, the President reflected on the latest crime statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS) showing an increase in rape, domestic violence and child murder.
The stats released just a week before the launch of the annual 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, revealed that in just three months, between July and September 2021, a reported 9 556 people, most of whom were women, were raped. This is 7% more than in the previous reporting period.
Of the nearly 73 000 assault cases reported during this period, more than 13 000 were domestic violence-related, while the rate of child murder has climbed by nearly a third, compared to the previous reporting period.
“These statistics are shameful. We are in the grip of a relentless war being waged on the bodies of women and children that, despite our best efforts, shows no signs of abating.
“We have said before that the violence perpetrated by men against women is the second pandemic that our country must confront and like the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be overcome if we all work together,” the President said.
President Ramaphosa said government has a duty and responsibility to devote the necessary resources to combat crimes of gender-based violence.
Highlighting the progress made by government to address gender-based violence, he said that since the launch of the National Strategic Plan to Combat Gender-based Violence and Femicide (NSP) in 2020, there have been a several interventions to respond to GBVF.
“This includes far-reaching legislative reform; support to survivors through the provision of evidence kits at police stations and psycho-social services; the establishment of a GBVF Fund and supporting the network of Thuthuzela and Khuseleka Care Centres.
“The SAPS has indicated we are making progress in reducing the significant backlogs in DNA analysis, which is crucial to securing justice for survivors of sex crimes. The SAPS also operates 134 GBV desks at police stations around the country and is in the process of establishing more,” he said.
Violence against women is a men’s problem
The President has made a clarion call on men to be at the forefront in speaking out and reporting gender-based violence, raising awareness, peer education and prevention efforts.
He said gender-based violence is a problem of male violence, as it is “predominantly men who are rapists and it is mainly men who are perpetrators of domestic violence”.
“It should be men in positions of authority in our educational system, whether as school principals, educators or lecturers, who should be making schools and places of higher learning safe spaces for female learners and students, and never, ever abusing their position of authority to demand sexual favours.
“Men should also be playing a more formative and present role in their families, particularly in raising their sons to exhibit healthy, positive masculinity that is respectful of women and children,” he said.
The President has urged communities and community organisations to work with government to implement interventions that redefine masculinity so that society raises men with empathy, tolerance and respect.
“Just as ending gender-based violence cannot be the state’s responsibility alone, the onus cannot be on women and children to end the shocking levels of violence and abuse being visited upon them. South African men need to play a greater role in preventing GBV.
“They need to understand what constitutes gender-based violence, especially sexual violence,” President Ramaphosa said.
With the latest crime stats showing nearly 4 000 people were raped in their homes or that of the perpetrator, the President said that this suggests that some men do not understand that sexual activity without explicit consent is a crime.
“Men must respect their wives and girlfriends, and understand that being in an intimate partner relationship is never justification for domestic violence. If each man gathers two men and the three pledge to never rape a woman, never lay a hand on a woman and hold each other accountable to this pledge, we can start to seriously tackle gender-based violence in our country,” the President said.
16 Days of Activism
Speaking on this year’s 16 Days of Activism campaign, President Ramaphosa said that it aims to shift from awareness to accountability, and create an environment for men to play a greater role in GBVF prevention.
He said it is not enough to intervene only once perpetrators have entered the criminal justice system but gender-based violence must be prevented before it happens.
“I call on all South African men, young and old, city dwellers and rural dwellers, modernists and traditionalists, married and unmarried, to be part of the prevention efforts that are sorely needed in homes and in our communities.
“By refusing to condone violence against women and children, by not being party to it yourself and by reporting such acts, you are setting an example to your fellow men, especially to young men and boys.
“You will be sending a clear sign that neither kinship, friendship or loyalty can be an excuse for not standing up for the rights of women and children,” the President said.
The President urged all South Africans to work together as one to ensure that this year’s 16 Days of Activism campaign is meaningful, that it moves beyond mere words, and that it results in real change in the lives of South Africa’s women and children.