On page eight of today’s paper, a trigger warning is carried for readers. The warning is there because the stories of mental, physical and social abuse that women within the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) have experienced are traumatising and beggar belief.
The stories detail a level of male impunity, arrogance and privilege within the SANDF that must not only be outrightly condemned, but must also be met with the full might of the law.
In an institution charged with the safety of our nation, that is allegedly governed by the strictest levels of discipline and adherence to a code of conduct, the abject failure to take command of transgressors, court martial them and send them to jail amounts to an abuse of human rights and a failure of the justice system – military or civilian.
A report commissioned by the defence minister, titled Ministerial Task Team Report on Sexual Harassment, Sexual Exploitation, Sexual Abuse and Sexual Offences within the Department of Defence, highlights that the SANDF has an inadequate and incomplete sexual harassment and ethics strategy.
It also has an inadequate discipline bill.
It is a damning document of institutionalised patriarchy, where women are often told “this is the way it is”, “just ignore it”, “we’ve all had to handle it”, “don’t ruin his career” and “men have needs”; where bribery is paid to not report cases of abuse; where a culture of prosecutorial impunity is accepted and the consequences of such behaviour is negligible.
Fines of up to R6 000 (with continued employment) have been documented as outcomes in rape cases.
As one of the members of the ministerial task team asked: “How can people who salute the flag of the Republic and who take an oath to this Constitution that respects the rights and dignity of others dehumanise others like this?”
The report must not gather dust. Transgressors must not just be named and shamed, they must pay heavily for turning the institution into their playground and normalising sexual abuse, harassment and assault.
They have got away with murder for far too long.
Enough is enough.