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Protests Against Gender-Based Violence in South Africa Continue

Protests against the severe state of gender-based violence in South Africa are continuing. Many citizens are taking to the streets – in their own areas, alongside main transit routs, at universities, or in front of Parliament in Cape Town – to speak out against violence by men, against women, that has become the norm in South Africa.

Some are advocating for criminal justice reform, such as no bail for sex offenders, a public sex offender registry, and lifetime sentences for gender-based violence offenders. Some are even advocating for the death penalty to be written into law. Others’ main concern is that all men recognize there is a problem, and speak out against it, even if they have not committed acts of violence themselves. Many feel that men who keep quiet, instead of educating themselves about the situation and shaming those who do ill, are complicit.

The situation

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside parliament in Cape Town on Thursday to register their voices against gender-based violence, after a University of Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana was found dead this week after she went missing.

Police recorded 177,620 reported crimes against women, 36,731 sexual offences, including rape, assault and the murder of 2,930 South African women, according to the SAPS annual report in the 2017/2018 financial year.

Many women feel unsafe when walking alone (or even in groups) on the street, going to the bathroom, declining advances by men when at a bar, attending parties, or even just going about their business in the workplace or at school. All this, while many men are oblivious to the situation, and privileged in their feeling safe while doing the exact same things.

Amnesty International comments

Human rights’ group Amnesty International said on Thursday that gender-based violence in South Africa had reached “alarming levels”.

The organisation’s executive director for South Africa, Shenilla Mohamed, made the statement in response to a speech given earlier in the day by president Cyril Ramaphosa in which he addressed the country’s gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide rates, following a spate of brutal incidents that left many in the country incensed.

“Gender-based violence has reached undeniably alarming levels in South Africa. It is absolutely unacceptable that women feel they have to watch what they wear in public and be careful about where they are seen socializing, for fear that they may face violent reprisals including rape or even death,” said Mohamed.

“The time for sloganeering and politicking has passed. President Cyril Ramaphosa must now translate into action his vow that ‘enough is enough’. It’s nothing short of a national emergency that femicide and rape rates are increasing countrywide, and the government must act decisively to tackle these issues.”

According to Mohamed, decisive action would entail appropriate training for police officers, to enable them to “sensitively and objectively” investigate incidents of GBV and domestic violence.

“In order to ensure alleged offenders are brought to justice, the government must also ensure that gender-based violence is taken seriously at every level of the justice system, including by challenging discriminatory stereotypes about victims and survivors.

“However, calls to bring back the death penalty, by some in society, are misguided and will not solve this problem. The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence not a solution to it, and there is no credible evidence that it has a greater deterrent effect on crime than a prison term.

“The government would do better to channel its resources to ensure the effective administration of justice through proper investigations into incidents of gender-based violence and fair trials for those accused of the crimes.”

UCT students crowdfund to retaliate

A group of UCT students, lead by Samantha Perkins and Zoar Lewis has launched a crowdfunding campaign on BackaBuddy to stand up against gender-based violence in South Africa.

In the wake of a very dark period in South Africa’s history, the initiative aims to honour Uyinene Mrwetyana, Jesse Hess, Leighandre Jegels, Lynette Volschenk, Meghan Cremer and others who have lost their lives due to senseless acts of violence this year.

“We currently face what’s akin to a war against women in South Africa. Recent events have demonstrated that women are not at liberty to go anywhere without having to fear for their lives – albeit to, from or at the grocery store, campus, a club, a pre-school, the post office, or even one’s own home. It has been clearly illustrated that there simply is NO safe place for the women of this country,” says spokesperson and law student, Perkins.

“This is the breaking point, the ‘enough is enough’ moment, the time to stand up and say that we WILL NOT tolerate this any longer. We have to deal with this culture of violence against women that is so deeply entranced within our society,” says Philosophy and English Literature, student Nomazwi Nkoane.

In retaliation to the 11% increase in murders and violent attacks against women in South Africa, the #IWillNotBeNext initiative has been launched on donations based crowdfunding platform, BackaBuddy.

Funds raised will be used to purchase and distribute a minimum of 1400 units of pepper spray to female students at the University of Cape Town.

“It is in our collective best interest to address this sickness that exists in our country, so in addition, we ask that you continue the conversation and help us keep this narrative alive. Enough is enough,” says Perkins.

In less than 24 hours, the campaign has raised a total of R44,523.72 towards the fundraising target of R100,000.

“If overfunded, we hope to benefit as many tertiary education institutions as possible. It is our hope that this will at least make a small difference to the safety of women in the interim before Government decides to initiate serious efforts to solve this deep structural issue within our society,” says Perkins.

Support this campaign, by making a donation on BackaBuddy, by clicking here.

26 Vice-chancellors from SA universities to meet with the President on September 13

Vice-Chancellors at all 26 universities have called for a meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss the scourge of gender-based violence.

“All 26 Vice-Chancellors will engage the Presidency by Friday the 13th of September, with the view of registering our anger and developing a plan of action for addressing the scourge at the universities,” Universities South Africa spokesperson Mateboho Green explained.

She said universities had agency and much to contribute to transforming the culture that produced this form of “cowardly violence”.

“Our people are angry – angry about the violent abuse of women that happens daily, angry about not being heard, angry about the irrational violence that robs people of their lives, angry about the lawlessness in our country, angry about the wanton destruction of infrastructure and angry about the empty promises and lack of political leadership on these matters,” said Green.

“We have every right to be angry. At the same time, we cannot allow our anger to spill over in a way which reduces us to lawlessness or advances further harm.”

Green believed there were political forces at play who were keen to manipulate the national tragedy for their own agendas “both within and beyond the academic sector, regardless of the rules of universities or the law of the land”.

“Universities South Africa and its members have a zero tolerance approach to gender based harm and progressive policies are in place to ensure that perpetrators are dealt with decisively.

“All complaints of gender-based harm should be referred to the respective Gender Equity Offices at the universities who have committed to investigating all complaints expeditiously.”

The President speaks, but many say his words are not enough

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a host of measures against gender-based violence in the wake of protests against the increasing rate of rape and femicide in SA.

After thousands marched to demand that he act, Ramaphosa told the nation the government would overhaul and modernize the national sex-offender register and he would ask parliament to consider amending the legislation to make the register public.

Sonke Gender Justice, a gender rights group, has questioned whether it will amount to any real changes.

During last night’s address, the president described the recent deaths of Uyinene Mrwetyana, Jesse Hess, Leighandré Jegels as well as the scores of other women and children as a “crime against our common humanity” and a “national emergency”.

While saying he was appalled by the violence, Ramaphosa claimed that there has been progress on the implementation of decisions which were taken at last year’s summit on gender-based violence.

He cited the review of laws on domestic violence and sexual offences, and said there will be efforts to “prioritize the needs and interests of survivors”, while boasting the opening of 92 dedicated sexual offences courts since 2013 and plans for a further 11 in this financial year.

He also promised an overhaul of the the sexual offenders register, promising that parliament will be asked to consider amending legislation to make the register public, while also proposing harsher minimum sentences for gender-based crimes, and an instruction to the state to oppose bail and parole applications for those guilty of sexual offences.

“Violence against women is not a women’s problem. It is not a problem of what a woman said or did, what a woman was wearing or where she was walking. Violence against women is a men’s problem. It is men who rape and kill women,” Ramaphosa said.

“There is therefore an obligation of men of our country to act to end such behavior and such crimes. As men, let us speak out. We must not look away. We must face gender-based violence head on.”

He also promised re-opening of all gender-based crimes that have been irregularly closed or not investigated, while promising increased protection for the LGBT+ community.

Nonhlanhla Skosana, community education and mobilization unit manager at Sonke Gender Justice lauded the president for “making all the right noises” but bringing “nothing new” to the table.

“He said nothing new,” she said after his address last night, citing the lack of implementation of resolutions taken during previous engagement regarding the scourge of gender-based violence countrywide.

“He talked during last year’s Gender-Based Violence summit. He talked during the ANC manifesto launch, and he generally talks the right language, but what we need is implementation and funding.”

Skosana questioned the effectiveness of the sexual offences courts, saying they are under-resourced, while Thuthuzela Care Centre, an organisation that caters for survivors of sexual and domestic abuse, with 54 branches across the country, is facing a financial crisis, leaving them unable to render services.

She mentioned that there is a need for at least R42 billion to ensure the gender-based violence interventions run smoothly.

While Ramaphosa last night said the finance ministry would be instructed to make sure funding is available for this, she questioned why little has been done until now.

 

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Sources: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]. Image sources: [1], [2].