The Soul City Institute for Social Justice welcomes President Cyril Ramaphosa’s remarks on femicide in South Africa

South Africa has one of the highest per capita rates of women being killed by their partners according to the statistics provided by the South African Medical Research Council.

Our extremely high rates of gender based violence, which includes rape, assault and intimate partner violence, should scar the conscience of every South African.  The acknowledgment from President Ramaphosa is important and long overdue. More importantly, it should be seen as a signal that the South African government, working in partnership with the gender based violence sector, will engage seriously with the root causes of violence against women and improve government accountability on these issues.

President Ramaphosa should put in place measures to ensure that the various arms of government implements concrete, actionable steps that will rapidly reduce and eventually eliminate femicide altogether in South Africa.

This includes the enforcement of existing law to protect and defend the rights of survivors of gender based violence. We need to ensure that the existing policies and laws already in place are actually implemented in ways that prevent secondary victimization and reduces impunity.

Effective administration within the current criminal justice system should ensure that perpetrators, in line with the prescribed sentencing guidelines, and survivors of gender based violence, are enabled to engage with the police and courts in order to ensure that their rights are protected.

Soul City is concerned that failures within the criminal justice system has led many voices to call for the reinstatement of the death penalty. State violence is neither the answer to deal with the culture of violence, nor the ideologies and belief systems that give rise to and sustain gender based violence.  If anything, state sanctioned violence will lead to the legitimization of violence and only entrench the prevailing culture of violence. Thus, the Constitutional Court finding that the death penalty was not only unconstitutional and contrary to South Africa’s international obligations, but that it was also inconsistent with the vision of a democratic society underpinned by peace, equality and respect for the human rights of all people.

There are no quick fixes - including substituting revenge for justice - to remedy the veritable war on women in South Africa. What is required is work by all to change the ideologies, values and attitudes that ‘other’ women, that ‘other’ children, that ‘other’ the LGBTIQ+ community and that continues to ‘other’ people based on race, religion and origin.

As a society we need to invest at the community level to change these belief systems so that we are able to manifest the values enshrined in our Constitution.  The President should, in fact, commit the government to a ‘constitutional manifesting’ government so that it leads the whole of society to building a rights-based peaceful and equitable country.

Some immediate steps towards this by the President should include the following:

  • The immediate removal of politicians and public office bearers who have been found guilty of violence against women from their positions.
  • The state should invest in and support consciousness raising work amongst all communities. This will require work with traditional, religious and community leaders to identify and change or eliminate harmful practices that demean or degrade women with a particular focus on breaking down ideas and beliefs that women are less than men, that men own women, and are entitled to all aspects of their being - including their lives. This will further require the immediate roll out of Comprehensive Sexuality Education in all schools so that young people fully understand gender equality and that girls are educated from a young age about their rights as equals in society.
  • Encourage the creative industries to eliminate any instances of the glorification of gender based violence transmitted in the media, and, instead, make a conscious effort to highlight the plight of women and issues of femicide and gender based violence, as well as promote gender equality in popular culture.
  • Creating an environment that makes survivors of gender based violence feel safe in approaching the criminal justice system and law enforcement to protect and enforce their rights. This will require the elimination of secondary abuse of women by SAPS, the court system and social development, where officials are, too often, indifferent to reports of domestic violence or refuse to register cases of rape, or worse, tell women they had been ‘asking for it.’ Government should prioritise social context training for all relevant public officials who deal with these matters.

This can be achieved by properly implementing Victim Empowerment Units at local police stations, which are currently ineffective. These units should be staffed with dedicated officers who are trained to sensitively handle gender based violence, and are integrated to social development and the NGO sector, as well as effective systems for women to report any secondary abuse at the hands of government officials. This will ensure that we can slowly help survivors of gender based crimes restore their own sense of dignity and personal security.

President Ramaphosa acknowledged that violence against women and femicide is not a tragic event isolated to a family from time to time, but instead is a scourge that scars our society. Femicide is deliberate, brutal, and should not be hidden away from the public discourse.

By beginning this conversation, we trust that President Ramaphosa will now take a ‘whole of society’ approach with fierce urgency to eliminate gender based violence, and we call on him to implement the proposed actions being called for by women’s organisations across civil society to meaningfully realise women’s rights.

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