'I almost drank Rattex,' says abuse survivor at shelter funding picket

2019-07-23 20:15
Funding for shelters protest at Parliament. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Funding for shelters protest at Parliament. (Jenni Evans, News24)

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"I bought the Rattex, and I almost drank it."

Domestic abuse survivor Rachel remembers the moment well as she joined others picketing outside Parliament over the lack of funding of shelters for abused women and children. 

"I was at a point where I wanted to kill myself and my children," said Rachel as women around her sang in the driving rain and wind outside Parliament on Tuesday.

The women and a handful of men, carrying banners and umbrellas bearing anti-gender violence messages, were demanding that shelters be given the urgent funding and support they needed from the government instead of "lip service" to combat gender-based violence.

For domestic violence survivor Rachel, being taken to a shelter was the difference between life and death, not just for her, but for her children as well. 

The week before she left her husband, she had been beaten "to a pulp" and she could not even talk about it to anybody because if she did he would beat her again as punishment.

Rachel said she had been to the police previously and they told her: "Sorry miss, but we don't interfere with house issues." She found refuge with relatives but they could only afford to help her for short periods due to their own financial constraints.

Rachel said she was eventually isolated from family, friends and neighbours by her husband who would not allow her to work.

But one day after a particularly bad beating, she went back to the police for help under the guise of running errands. 

"I told him that I was going to the shops to buy food for the house," she said. "It was either that or it was going to be me and my kids ending up dead."

She said she had waited for hours to be attended to at the police station and during that time she thought about the rat poison she had bought in a moment of despair, seeing death as the only way out for her and the children.

"People tell you: 'You must leave him', but where do you go to?" she asked.

The wait was so long that her baby boy's nappy became wet, her breasts were hurting because he needed to be fed, and her daughter was hungry. 

Rachel was about to get up and leave when police officers walked up to her and told her they were going to take her and her children to a place of safety.

"I felt relief," she said. "I didn't know what it would look like, or be like, as long as it was not home." 

Now, Rachel works at the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children in Cape Town, helping women who felt just as helpless as her.

However, these shelters are struggling financially and they want the Department of Social Development to step up and help them.

The executive head of the National Shelter Movement of South Africa and director of the Nisaa Institute for Women's Development, Dr Zubeda Dangor, said people who sought refuge at the shelter stayed there for at least six months and all their needs needed to be met - from food to school clothes for their children, but this costs money.

Dangor added they often needed to get new IDs, birth certificates or move to a different province for their safety and staff members deserved to be paid a national minimum wage.

Helping victims get restraining orders, teaching them a skill they can use, finding a job and counselling all cost money and the shelters are not getting enough or not getting it on time.

Dangor estimated there were around 85 shelters nationally, and 16 in Cape Town. These are accredited and are in line with the norms and standards set by the government. There also other initiatives set up in various communities, but the organisation would like to see the standardisation of shelters.

She said the Department of Social Development was sometimes late with subsidy payments to the shelters it had registered - forcing one shelter manager to take out a personal loan to cover the shortfall to keep it open - or the payments were too little.

Dangor added, despite this, good work was being done and cited a shelter in KwaNobuhle, Port Elizabeth, which had permanent counsellors on hand, something she wished all shelters had. 

However, the department not paying shelters on time or not properly providing for them flies in the face of research done by the Centre for Gender Equality that states shelters are "absolutely critical" for abused women and their children. 

The chairperson of the Western Cape Women's Shelter Movement, Bernadine Bachar who is also the director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre, said the subsidies ranged from as little as R9 a day in one province to R71 in another one. 

"This lack of subsidies and other funding from shelter infrastructure and maintenance to the employment of key shelter personnel affect our ability to provide food and other essentials to those seeking to escape abuse," added Bachar.  

The protesters' memorandum was accepted by Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu who hugged the women in the rain.

Zulu said she would do her best to take their concerns forward, especially with Women's Month in August approaching. 

With the protesters huddled around her, she encouraged them to keep raising the issues affecting women and children. 

The organisations' demands are: 

  • To adequately cost and sufficiently fund all shelters rendering services to survivors of gender-based violence, uniformly, and across all provinces;
  • Ensure sufficient funding for the employment of minimum staff complements including shelter managers, social workers, social auxiliary workers and housemothers;
  • Ensure that no shelter staff receive less than the national minimum wage;
  • Ensure that funding models allow shelters to render standardised, quality services for survivors at all shelters;
  • Desist from delaying tranche disbursements and employing onerous bureaucratic funding processes that inhibit shelter service rendered to survivors of violence. 

Asked if she could have one wish, Rachel said it would be for a job placement agency to hire women who live in shelters after they have completed their training and skills development they were deprived of because of their previous hellish living conditions. 

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Read more on:    cape town  |  woman abuse  |  shelter  |  protest
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